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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Nass

Empowering Girls: strong female characters in children’s literature

The strongest female characters in children’ s literature are almost always controversial. But girls can be empowered by strong female characters that inspire them to be independent, strong and reliable.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstalking as we know her in English, is the brainchild of Astrid Lindgren. Published first in her native Sweden in 1945 and later in the English in 1950. Pippi’s hairdo are two pigtails that shoot sideways from her head. She wears a mismatched outfit with knee-high socks that don’t match. Her shoes are too big for her and she always wears a dress or a sweater that is not really flattering. That’s wacky for us now, 70 years into the future. But in the 1950s girls (and boys) were expected to conform to many rules when it came to clothes. These were mostly chosen by their parents, so we can only imagine. But Pippi goes beyond that with her independence. She lives by herself, in a house called Villa Villekulla, with her monkey and her horse (the most fantastic pets a girl can hope for) and, she has superhuman strength.

As far as resources go, Pippi wants for nothing because she has a bag of gold coins which was given to her by her father, Ephraim Longstalking, who is the king of the South Seas. As a result, Pippi is not only financially well-off; she is also well travelled, having visited most of the world, partly with her father and partly by herself. Pippi, fights burglars, who try to steal her gold coins, defies a teacher who treats her condescendingly, and goes on adventures riding her horse, with her monkey on her shoulder and sometimes with the neighbor kids, who become her friends. At 9, she’s independent, and completely self-sufficient. Pippi’s books (and subsequent movies and TV shows) have empowered countless girls (and boys) throughout the decades. She is one of the most beloved characters of Swedish literature.

Mathilda Wormwood

Mathilda Wormwood is a notable girl that sprung from the mind of Roald Dahl. (He also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate factory along with countless books and short stories.) “Mathilda” was first published in the UK, in 1988; one of his last children novels and arguably the most popular.  Mathilda is another independent girl who, though self-reliant is not really financially independent.  Mathilda does pretty well for herself at home, despite her parents who find her lack of interest in TV disturbing. Mathilda lives and studies in an oppressive environment. Her parents neglect and oppress her, taking away her books and forcing her to watch TV. The principal of her school, Crunchhem Hall Elementary, is dreadful, dangerous and cruel. Despite all that, she manages to do rather well. This is thanks in part to her telekinetic powers, her interest in literature and the welcomed guidance of a similar-hearted teacher.

Hermione Granger

Hermione Granger is one of the three main characters in the Harry Potter series. The books are about an orphaned boy who is accepted at a wizarding school called Hogwarts. Although the protagonist is Harry Potter, Hermione is always instrumental. Despite coming from non-magical parents, she does better than most. This is thanks to her love of learning and determination to study. Hermione is always one step ahead of everyone else. She advocates for the rights of house elves, and other marginalized groups. Hermione Granger has become a feminist icon. She empowers girls (and boys) by being a role model and an inspiration.


Pippi, Mathilda and Hermione may come from different backgrounds and from different points in history, but they all share something in common: When confronted with problems, they don’t wait around for a boy (or a man) to come and solve it form them. They take care of business themselves! They make their own decisions, and they don’t let other girls (or boys) tell them how to look or what to wear. Their greatest achievement is being themselves.


Do you believe there are other strong female characters that can be as empowering for girls, if not more? Let me know in the comments below!


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