Quite a few things make me sad when reading the news, but this, in particular, caused me to feel unexpectedly blue: according to a new study, young boys still aren’t reading books that star a central girl character. That’s according to Charlie and Lola author Lauren Child, who spoke out about gender disparity in books this week. “I don’t know if it’s just in our culture, or whether it’s a boy thing, that they find it very hard to pick up a book or go to a film if a girl is the central character,” Child told BBC News. “I don’t know where that comes from but it worries me because it makes it harder for girls to be equal.”
And girls are not equal on the pages of children’s books; a landmark study of over 6,000 children’s titles in 2011 found that just 31% feature female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the survey found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the fact that gender disparity is starting from such a young age is so worrying. There are so many brilliant female heroes that are meant to inspire everyone who reads about them – this means girls and boys. Below, yours truly has chosen her favourite five. All these inspiring girls deserve to have a spot on your child’s beloved bedroom bookshelf.
Matilda Written by Roald Dahl and Illustrated by Quentin Blake
My first female heroine and one that has inspired so many to chase their dreams. She cares not that she is a bookworm, but about how the stories broaden and stretch her imagination. Reading is her solace when she feels alone and rejected by her awful parents and it is through this that she discovers she has more power than she realises. Oh, and and that grownups aren’t always right. There’s hardship but she gets the happy ending she deserves. Essential reading for all.
Harriet from Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet wants to be a writer and a spy, dresses “like a boy,” and I longed to be her as a child. Okay, so spying on people wasn’t exactly great but she was always unashamedly herself. She felt like an outcast but never changed any aspect of her personality to fit in or please others. Girls and boys can relate to her; dealing with social pressures in school and issues with her parents. Her story is one that all impressionable kids should read and enjoy.
Madeline from Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
This fearless French heroine was a rebel in all the best ways. She had red hair, a weakness for “bad hats,” and even hospitals, scars or Tigers didn’t phase her. Whenever you look at the crowd of schoolchildren lined up in a row, she stands out from the crowd. Any youngster reading should love her adventures.
Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
The books focus on Mildred Hubble, a young witch who attends Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, a school of magic. These books had the magic thing down way before Harry Potter came on the scene. The thing is, poor Mildred was always at the wrong place at the wrong time; she rarely got things right. But that didn’t matter, she was the quintessential ‘rebel’ witch: her plaits were always untidy, her cat was not black, but a tabby and he couldn’t sit on a broom to save his life. But she always had the best – and most fun – adventures and knew early on, that there was more to life than being a good witch anyway. This is a book series any and every child will enjoy.
Nancy Drew from the Nancy Drew Series created by Edward Stratemeyer
The feminists of today are quick to point out that there are many things wrong with straight-laced heroine Nancy Drew but to a young child, this will not matter. Nancy is brave and fierce and curious in her mission to solve any number of mysteries, and this makes her adventures perfect for those young inquisitive minds.