Think of the greatest characters in literature and you may notice something: You immediately think of male characters. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that strong female characters in literature can be found throughout all reading levels. Whether they are standing up for themselves or standing up for others, these characters can inspire and entertain your students.
For Young Readers
The title character from a series of books by Ian Falconer may be a pig, but she’s still a role model. Inspired by the author’s niece, Olivia embodies confidence as she truly believes anything is possible.
The Paper Bag Princess
Elizabeth, the princess in this book by Robert Munsch, has to resort to wearing a paper bag as a dress when a dragon burns down her castle, but she doesn’t let that stop her from having a series of adventures. She’s the antidote to the damsel in distress as she does the rescuing of a not-too-grateful prince.
In a series of books, this French heroine is a 7-year-old girl attending boarding school. Although she’s the smallest of the 12 girls at her school, she proves to be the bravest as she navigates life in Paris.
For Elementary and Up
Roald Dahl’s classic tells the story of a little girl who is very different from her family. Curious and intelligent, she has to overcome a series of obstacles to find happiness.
While Fern stands up to her father and saves Wilbur the pig from being slaughtered in “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, there’s another female hero here, too: Charlotte the spider. Charlotte embodies the characteristics of kindness, intelligence, and ultimately, selfless spirit.
Created to be the female counterpart to the Hardy Boys detective series, Nancy Drew has entertained and inspired readers since 1930. She’s a strong female character in literature because she’s brave and outspoken, and she never gives up in her sleuthing quests.
Pippi is a 9-year-old girl who marches to her own beat. From her crooked braids to her mismatched stockings, she’s not afraid to stand out in the crowd, proving she’s a perfect role model for being yourself.
Like Pippi, Beverly Cleary’s heroine likes to stand out. Known for her imagination, she handles a variety of setbacks with courage, strength, and a sense of humor, proving attitude is everything when it comes to success in life.
For High School
The tomboy lead character of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is high-spirited and energetic, which often gets her in trouble. But she stands firm in her principles as she comes face-to-face with racism and hatred in her hometown.
Said to be modeled after author Louisa May Alcott, Jo is the main character in “Little Women.” She’s strong-minded, creative, and independent — all qualities worthy of a role model.
This heroine of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” uses adversity to bring out her best —determination, intelligence, and some major math skills.
In Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Janie transforms from a sheltered, quiet woman into a true role model for the feminist movement. Throughout her life, she finds her voice, grows in confidence, and discovers who she is.