Children’s media and books are packed with gender stereotypes: princesses waiting for Prince Charming, fairies dressed in pink and sparkles and heroic characters that are almost invariably male. The list is long. This booklist for KS2 pupils offers an alternative view of girls and women in books – perfect for developing a sense of gender equality in your classroom.
If you have any more suggestions or even planning for any of these books, please comment and share.
Feodora in The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (recommended for ages 9+)
Feodora and her mother live in the snowy wilds of Russia and make up a strong, female unit, reintroducing previously domesticated wolves in to the wild. This is not a cutesy process, the wolves are never pets – Feo’s scratches are testament to that. What is startling is that Feo’s single mother is never portrayed as downtrodden, tired and trying to “get by” as so often literary single mothers are. Instead, she bravely and resolutely stands up to the hostility of the Russian army.
Daja Kisubo in the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (recommended for ages 9+)
Daja is a freshly orphaned young black girl from a seafaring caravan of traders. Cast out by her people for being bad luck after the deaths of her family, she is taken in by a temple where she lives with three other young people with troubled pasts.
She has a strong sense of justice and hard work, and is always a champion for her friends. She apprentices to an older blacksmith, Frostpine, who teaches her skilled and magical metalwork, and eventually becomes a master of her craft.
Sade Solaja in The Other Side of Truth by Beverly Naidoo (recommended for ages 8+)
Sade’s father is an outspoken journalist who criticises the corrupt Nigerian government and thereby endangers his family. After witnessing the murder of her mother by government officials, Sade is trafficked out of Nigeria to the UK with her younger brother. Alone in London, Sade has to be brave, resilient and strong as she navigates the asylum-seeking system.
Sophie Hatter in Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (recommended for ages 8+)
Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste and turns into an old woman – which makes her pretty invincible. She finds a confidence in being old that helps her discover her own magical ability and be pretty bossy, mainly in a useful way…
I think it’s really interesting how Diana uses Sophie’s experience of being old to help her show her strength and capabilities. When she seems to be playing expected female roles like sewing, she turns out to be subverting them, as she actually is very powerfully enchanting clothes and hats as she sews.
Lolly Salt from Siren Sisters by Dana Langer (recommended for ages 9+)
Lolly, the main character, is by turns nervous, brave, loving, jealous, confident and insecure. She feels real and well-developed. And the book features an entire quartet of sisters, a lovely female teacher, a surprising sea witch, and two well-developed mother figures. The book is full of complex girls, and it’s actually difficult to choose just one empowering character.
I love all of the interactions between Lolly and her sisters. They care for and support one another in a really subtle but touching way. They also run their family’s diner, and they’re funny too!
Thirrin in The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill (recommended for ages 10+)
Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, is a teenage warrior princess, and later queen. She is about about as far from a Disney stereotype as possible. She is incredibly skilled with all types of weapons, she fights on the frontline and is generally badass. She is also a three-dimensional character with flaws – her headstrong nature being one of them – and really grows throughout the trilogy.