I notice that just about all young children's stories (fairy tales, etc) depict women in a subordinate role. This hit me while reading Cinderella: her ultimate goal in life is to be the prettiest so that she can marry the rich boy and make babies. More generally, females are absent, or if present, they're following boys or performing household tasks.

Having two daughters, I can't help but think that they'll in some way absorb this cultural baggage. I would rather raise them to be self-reliant and independent, and ready to embrace desires other than cooking and finding a boyfriend. Can anyone recommend any good sources of beginner-level books/movies/etc that have a more egalitarian approach?

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    @Beofett Finding good role models for girls in literature is a very real problem for parents. I suggested an edit (that asked for reading lists instead of individual books) to get this question reopened, but apparently it was rejected. Literature is information, and as such is not a "product" in the same way a brand of shoes is. Can anything be done to get this question reopened?
    – MJ6
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 4:36
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    @MaryJoFinch I agree finding a good role model for girls is a real problem for parents. The issue is questions that ask for open-ended lists are simply not a good fit for our format. If the question can be formatted in a way that can have fairly comprehensive answers that aren't subject to link rot (such as a list of web sites you can go to), and doesn't encourage a bunch of answers that contain just a single "try this one out!" answers, it would help.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 11:18
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    I've reopened the question, but with the condition that it gets rephrased to avoid being "please give me a list of titles" because that's not the intended purpose of this site as per our FAQ. See also this discussion on our meta site! Also, "no Stack site allows questions like 'what is your favorite source about ...'". Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 12:16
  • Note: The moderators discussed this close/reopen issue here, and everybody is welcome to join the Parenting Chat. Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 12:26
  • Per the discussion, I've converted this question to Community Wiki. This means anyone who has additional information to add to the topic should edit the existing answer to include their contribution. The goal of community wiki is to have a single, comprehensive answer to an important question.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 14:07

4 Answers 4


The American Library Association is a sponsor of the Amelia Bloomer project, which looks each year for children's literature (both fiction and nonfiction) with strong female characters.

Your local library is a great resource. Ask the librarians at your local library. They should be able to make some suggestions and recommendations.

It is important to remember that fairy tales operate on many levels - they are archetypal and symbolic, and while we as adults often read them very literally, children are sometimes more open to underlying messages. Put simply (and probably over-simply), we are not meant to associate only with our own gender in the story, but to relate to all characters in the story, irrespective of gender. So when I read Cinderella as a girl, I see myself not only as Cinderella, but as the prince, and the stepmother and the godmother and the stepsisters. I connect with a part of myself that wants to be beautiful, a part that wants to rescue, a part that is jealous and petty, a part that is kind and generous...

Some specific titles that portray strong female role models:


  • Author Jane Yolen might be of particular interest to you as she has written many fairy tales that emphasize the strong female character. She is also the author of Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood which explores the importance of fairy tales and mythology.
  • Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess Take a look at his works and see if something resonates.
  • Sun's East, Moon's West by Merrie Haskell inverts the traditional questing prince format for a questing princess. And while I have yet to read The Princess Curse, at least from the description, it looks to be exactly what you're looking for.
  • Mafalda hates soup and loves Beatles. Supercharged with adult attitudes, Mafalda is just too good to ignore.
  • Andrew Clements: The School Story and The Landry News. The first has a 12-year-old girl who has a determined girl friend (i.e., also passes Bechdel test) who helps her get her novel published. The second is about the new girl in class who publishes her own newspaper and shakes up the teacher who was in a rut in the process.
  • Ellen Klages: The Green Glass Sea. An 11-year-old girl joins her scientist dad in Los Alamos in 1943.
  • Pippi Longstocking is a good rolemodel, because she is not just a strong and independent girl who shows that she doesn't need someone to protect her, she also actively opposes those who try to protect her (by trying to put her in a foster home).
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman. The eponymous heorine discovers a strange parallel world in which a warped version of her mother initially attracts her, but then turns out rather sinister.
  • Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series of Discworld books: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. Can't recommend this enough.
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Some of the powerful girls in the series include Annabeth Chase (a total genius, despite dyslexia), Thalia Grace (one of the most powerful demigods alive), Clarisse La rue (all the guys fear her) and many, many others.




  • The A Mighty Girl website contains articles and product suggestions for empowering girls of all ages on a wide range of topis. Their Facebook page is also updated daily.
  • Thanks - I'll look into it. I'm aware that stories can be looked at in several ways; what bothers me is the ubiquity of the subordinate female. I haven't crossed any stories so far where a female character is definitely the competent, leading hero.
    – Kricket
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 9:28
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    Ask the librarians at your local library. They should be able to find you plenty of them.
    – MJ6
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 14:51
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    Half of these answers are films, I've edited it to separate them out.
    – deworde
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 15:33
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    I would add that pretty much most of Miyazaki's films have strong female leads (there are a few exceptions). So definitely look into Miyazaki! Great list! Thank you.
    – poweratom
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 18:26
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pippi_Longstocking
    – Eekhoorn
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 7:23

Once your daughters are older, around six or seven or older, introduce them to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Some of the powerful girls in the series include Annabeth Chase (a total genius, despite dyslexia), Thalia Grace (one of the most powerful demigods alive), Clarisse La rue (all the guys fear her) and many, many others. There's even a group of immortal teenage girls who swear off boys. There is some romance (in the fifth book) but all the girls can stand on their own two feet and are normally as good, if not better, than the guys at nearly everything. There's nothing rude or inappropriate about these books but they do have a lot going on (you could read these to them at a younger age though) Also films like Disney's Brave (2012), Mulan (1998), Kung Fu Panda (2008) and St Trinians all feature strong female characters standing up and proving they are strong and independent. In future, when they are older, introduce the Hunger Games since Katniss is a strong fictional charcter. Most strong female characters are in novels available to the teenage audience though, since younger girls are normally more interested in princesses.


Picture books: Amazing Grace - Miss Rumphius - Outside Over There - "Pish Posh", Said Heironymus Bosch - The Enchanter's Daughter - The Pirate Queen - Trouble With Trolls - Young Guinevere

Chapter books: Gwinna - The Borrowers - The Secret Garden - Caddie Woodlawn - Julie of the Wolves - The 'Little House' books - The Chronicles of Prydain - The Tombs of Atuan - The Changeling - Self-Portrait With Wings

Movies: The Secret of Roan Inish - The Three Lives of Thomasina - Fern Gully - The Secret Garden (1993) - Tangled - Brave - Frozen - Spirited Away - Howl's Moving Castle - The Secret World of Arrietty -


Pollyanna, the leading character of a novel by Eleanor H. Porter is a great role model because she taught kids optimism.

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