100 children’s books with leading ladies (part 1)

It was 100 years ago today that Parliament passed a law to give British women the vote for the first time.

Since then, we’ve had two female prime ministers, astronauts, soldiers and other countless amazing deeds, never mind the everyday wonder that is growing a child within your body, feeding them and raising them.

We’ve come a long way ladies yet a recent study of the 100 bestselling picture books of last year found only a fraction had female lead characters – or even in a speaking part.

This isn’t good enough for the women of the future – or the men.

So to mark the centenary of Votes for Women, I asked parents, authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians and just about anyone who loves books to nominate their favourites with a female lead or main character (human, animal or otherwise).

Here are the first 50 choices, in no particular order, to inspire your bedtime stories. We’ll have a second post with the next 50 very soon.

Don’t forget to tell us which ones are your favourites – or any we’ve missed…

1. Little People, Big Dreams: Emmeline Pankhurst by Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo (Frances Lincoln)

This series sees the real life stories of history’s greatest women – such as leading suffragette Emmeline – turned into beautiful picture books to inspire little girls and boys to change the world. Buy from Amazon

2. Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr (HarperCollins Children’s)

The first book about the cat who can’t help but get herself into a pickle sees Mog save the day thanks to her forgetful ways. Buy from Amazon

3. Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins (Red Fox)

Rosie the hen sets out on her daily walk – followed by a hungry fox. Will she make it home in time for tea? A vividly illustrated, slapstick classic for tiny readers. Buy from Amazon

4. What The Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (Macmillan)

Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len are two robbers with a cunning plan to steal the farmer’s prize cow. But little do they know that the tiniest, quietest creature of all has overhead their plot, and she has a plan of her own… Buy from Amazon


5. Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins Children’s)

A kooky sausage dog travels around the world to find her tribe – only to realise that it’s cool to stand out from the crowd. Buy from Amazon

“Probably the most requested book out of the huge selection on my son’s bookshelf. The story doesn’t make any kind of point of the lead character being female, she just is. And that’s fantastic!” says illustrator Jenna Herman of Doodles & Scribbles 

Our review of Odd Dog Dog

6. Something’s Fishy by Jean Gourounas (Phaidon)

An angling penguin gains quite a crowd as she attempts to catch a fish for tea using cake as bait. So why aren’t they biting? Buy from Amazon

Our pick of the best snowy stories

7. Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Adams and Alison Adams (BabyLit)

Start them on the classics nice and early with this counting primer book based around the love story of the spirited Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr Darcy. Buy from Amazon

8. Unplugged by Steve Antony (Hodder)

Female robot Blip spends all day plugged into her computer, playing games. But when there is a power cut, she is forced to go outside and find other ways to have fun. Buy from Amazon

9. Maisy’s Bus by Lucy Cousins (Walker)

The much-loved mouse – who has starred in dozens of adventures on Earth and beyond – gets behind the wheel to pick up the other animals for a trip to the seaside. Buy from Amazon

10. Charlie & Lola: A Dog With Nice Ears by Lauren Child (Orchard)

The little sister everyone loves is at her humorous and imaginative best as she ponders over what characteristics would make the perfect pet. Buy from Amazon

“Charlie and Lola had just come out when my daughter was little. She loved them and the way Lauren illustrated and the text on the page was so exciting to me as a designer. She writes with a rhythm and a truth about how children talk,” says author-illustrator Sophy Henn.

11. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet (Puffin)

The truly inspiring story of Malala is retold for a younger audience in this moving autobiographical picture book. Buy from Amazon

12. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan)

A tiny snail hitches a ride with a whale and together they see the world. But when her giant friend gets into trouble, it’s down to the mini mollusc to save the day. Buy from Amazon

We meet Julia Donaldson

13. Bloom by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by David Small (Simon & Schuster)

A magical tale about how a seemingly ‘ordinary’ girl can save the kingdom with the help of a mud fairy called Bloom. Buy from Amazon

14. Edie by Sophie Henn (Puffin)

Edie is what you might call an ‘enthusiastic’ helper, from getting her parents up in the morning with her guitar playing to assisting with shopping by choosing everything she wants. Very funny. Buy from Amazon

Read our interview with Sophy Henn


15. That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (Hodder)

The Queen has heard how great Emily’s toy Bunnywunny is and dispatches everyone from her footmen to her special commandos to try and procure this rabbit for herself. But she has one fierce young lady to contend with. Buy from Amazon

“What I really love about Emily Brown is the fact that she doesn’t take any nonsense from ANYBODY. She’s not afraid to put her point of view across to whoever she encounters, no matter how important, and even delivers a few home truths to the Queen herself. This, added to the fact that in her leisure time she likes to traverse the Sahara, explore outer space and go diving off the Great Barrier Reef, makes her an absolute legend of the picture book world and a fabulous role model for all children,” says author-illustrator Rob Biddulph.

16. Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck, illustrated by Karl James Mountford (Little Tiger Press) 

Being apart from a loved one at Christmas is at the subject of this striking story, where heroine Mia boards a mysterious reindeer and travels across snowy mountains and beautiful cities to deliver her card to Daddy. Buy from Amazon

The best Christmas books from classics to baby’s first stories


17. Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots)

The flaxen-haired damsel in distress turns kiss ass witch slayer in this strikingly illustrated twist on the traditional fairytale. Buy from Amazon

Bethan Woollvin picks her top five fairytales

18. Pretty by Canizales (Templar)

There’s a wicked twist in this tale about a witch who is told her unconventional looks will put off her date and uses her magic to try and become more pretty. Buy from Amazon

The best books about witches

19. The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allright (Egmont)

When Tom discovers a crew of girl pirates stealing the front of his house, he sets off on a swashbuckling adventure with them to take the treasure of some lazy, grown-up man pirates. Buy from Amazon

20. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams)

The power of women scientists and pursuing answers to the word ‘why?’ is at the heart of this story about a stereotype smashing schoolgirl set on finding answers to everything. Buy from Amazon

“A great story about a girl with an insatiable sense of curiosity,” says @forfieh on Twitter.


21. One Moonlit Night by Zanna Davidson and Seo Kim (Templar)

Dreams come to life for a little girl in this night time pop-up adventure on the back of a majestic dragon.

Five beautiful books starring the moon

22. Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith (Scholastic)

The fairytale is colourfully reimagined in Africa with our heroine heading through the jungle to visit her sick auntie and taming a stalking lion on her way. Buy from Amazon

Four of the best versions of Little Red Riding Hood

23. My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Paterson (Jonathan Cape)

Bella is having one of those days and like all grumpy toddlers, the only way she can cope with her emotions is to shout. A witty tale that parents and kids will all identify with. Buy from Amazon

24. Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow)

Tidy Timothy Limpet feels out of place with his messy troll family while Tabitha Lumpit has the opposite issue with hers. Would they be happier they swapped places? Buy from Amazon

25. Spyder by Matt Carr (Scholastic)

Her name is 008 (on account of her legs) but it’s not easy saving the world when you are only the size of a badge. Can our secret agent Spyder still save the day when a birthday cake comes under threat? Buy from Amazon

“I opened the book thinking James Bond and male bravado and was pleasantly surprised when the spy was a girl,” says @getkidsintobooks on Twitter.

26. Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara (Penguin)

A modern fairy tale that draws on classic fables and the O’Hara sisters’ Eastern European heritage, about a girl who wishes her shadow away. Buy from Amazon

The best snowy stories for small children

27. Millie’s Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura (Andersen)

When Millie can’t afford a hat of her own, the milliner gives her a box containing a hat too beautiful and special to behold, if only she dares to imagine it. Buy from Amazon

28. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl and Jan Pienkowski (Puffin)

The first book in this much-loved series sees the well-meaning witch turn her friends into mice when a spell goes very wrong. Buy from Amazon


29. I Really Want The Cake by Simon Phillips (Templar)

A boisterous toddler is torn between her desire for a slice of cake and the knowledge that it would be wrong, with comedic results. Buy from Amazon

Our review of I Really Want The Cake

30. Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon by Axel Scheffler (Nosy Crow)

Pip is very proud of his red balloon and it pops, he is inconsolable. Luckily his clever friend Posy has an idea how to cheer up him up again. Buy from Amazon

“They are lovely and equal in terms of being brave and vulnerable male / female whilst not being afraid to lean towards a natural talent amongst males and females,” says @1980helsbells on Twitter.

31. Trixie: The Witch’s Cat by Nick Butterworth (Puffin)

Trixie would do anything to get rid of her one white paw and realises magic might make her happier. But she is to learn that life is nicer when you accept who you are. Buy from Amazon

32. Beegu by Alexis Deacon (Red Fox)

Beegu is lost. She isn’t supposed to be on Earth and the large inhabitants don’t seem very welcoming. But when she meets the smaller ones, she discovers friendship does exist on this planet, after all. Buy from Amazon

33. Look Out, It’s A Dragon by Jonny Lambert (Little Tiger Press)

Saffi isn’t like other dragons – she doesn’t like crushing castles or capturing princesses. But how can she persuade her new neighbours to overcome their prejudices and accept she is a helpful sort of creature? Buy from Amazon

34. Eat Your Peas: A Daisy Book by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt (Red Fox)

There’s set to be a dinnertime showdown as determined Daisy will not eat her peas, even when Mum promises extra pudding, a chocolate factory and a space rocket. Buy from Amazon

35. If I Had A Dinosaur by Alex Barry and Gabby Dawnay (Thames & Hudson)

A little girl dreams of having a pet but the usual suspects don’t sound like ideal companions. What about if she could adopt a real, live dinosaur instead? Buy from Amazon

“Great story and bonus visual jokes for parents,” says @allinthegutter on Twitter.

36. The Three Robbers by Tom Ungerer (Phaidon)

A tale that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and one strong little girl called Tiffany, an orphan who is scared of no one – not even a trio of scary robbers. Buy from Amazon

37. Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip by Lou Treleavan, illustrated by Julia Patton (Maverick Arts)

A wacky rhyming tale about a smart young inventor and her latest crazy contraption which proves science is for girls. Buy from Amazon

38. She’s Not Good For A Girl, She’s Just Good by Suzanne Hemming, illustrated by Jacqui Hughes

When Frank says Florence can’t be good at sport because she is female, she sets out to challenge his misconceptions. An empowering read for boys as well as girls. Buy from Amazon

39. Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans (Scholastic)

Feisty French schoolgirl Madeline is the epitome of small but strong. In this festive rhyming tale, the iconic character spreads Christmas kindness, caring for her flu-stricken teachers and friends, and taking in a magical carpet seller. Buy from Amazon

The best classic Christmas books for kids

40. Sarah’s Shadow by Nick Jones (Full Media Ltd)

When Sarah is teased about her shadow in the playground, she finds herself wishing she didn’t have one. But will losing part of herself really make her happy? Buy from Amazon

“Great for encouraging self-confidence in young girls. Highly recommended,” says @rachelmcroy1 on Twitter.


41. Dogger by Shirley Hughes (Penguin)

When Dave’s beloved toy Dogger accidentally ends up for sale at the school fair, his selfless big sister Bella saves the day. Buy from Amazon

Why we love Dogger 

42. Fussy Freda by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Fred Blunt (Hodder)

There’s no pleasing Freda, who won’t eat anything her family cook. But her cat is not so choosy, leading to a comedic culinary disaster. Buy from Amazon

43. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (Puffin)

Princess Smartypants enjoys being a Ms. But being a rich and pretty princess means that all the princes want her to be their Mrs. How can she preserve her independence? Buy from Amazon

44. Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess (Bloomsbury)

This tale of a brave, liberated girl was written by Gaiman for his friend Tori Amos, when she was pregnant with her daughter. Buy from Amazon

45. Very Little Red Riding Hood by Heapy and Heap (Puffin)

In this amusing take on the famous fairytale, Red becomes a strong-willed toddler who recruits Mr Wolf for a trip to Granmama’s, making him play tea parties and hide and seek. Buy from Amazon

“Such a great twist on this fairytale, full of humour and interactive shouting,” says Lucy Macnab of Ministry of Stories.

46. Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch (Cartwheel Books)

Tina loves her new socks so much that she’s never going to take them off. But when her socks start to get smelly, her friends have to take action. Buy from Amazon

47. Katie Morag Delivers The Mail by Mairi Hedderwick (Red Fox)

The first book in the series featuring feisty and independent Katie, who lives on an isolated Scottish island with her postmistress mum and shopkeeper dad. Buy from Amazon

48. On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (Thames & Hudson)

When a mum snaps at her child do stop playing the computer game and do something else, so ensues a wet and wonderful outdoor adventure. The gender of the main character is unknown, allowing readers of both sexes to put themselves in the main role. Buy from Amazon

49. Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights by Steve Lenton (Nosy Crow)

When the knights of the realm prove to be utterly useless, plucky Princess Daisy sets out to save the kingdom – armed with a book rather than a sword. Buy from Amazon

50. There’s A Tiger In The Garden by Lizzy Stewart (Frances Lincoln)

Nora’s grandmother says there’s a tiger in the garden but she knows that just isn’t possible. Or is it…? An award-winning story about the power of imagination. Buy from Amazon

“Stewart’s quietly measured narrative begins with boredom and then erupts with a blaze of colour and imagination,” says Justine Crow of Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace.

Read more: Which books made part 2 of our list?

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Nadia Shireen picks her favourite five inclusive picture books

We meet rising picture book star, Bethan Woollvin

How Trump and toxic masculinity inspired Ed Vere to write How To Be A Lion

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