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Establishing Strong, Autonomous Female Characters within Children’s Books

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Establishing Strong, Autonomous Female Characters within Children’s Books

Tess Ackland

Every night when I put my children to bed we read a book. I pulled out one of the books we had borrowed from the local library. A new book was a nice change from reading Dr. Seuss for the 50th time.  Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Dr. Seuss, but the adage change is good, definitely applies in this context!

My daughter adores animals. This book was all about Noah’s adventures, more specifically, “Noah and his wife have travelled to Australia in search of kangaroos…”

It seemed interesting enough and being advertised as a ‘first book for beginner readers’, a good way to brush up on my daughter’s reading. The first two lines read,

“Land ahoy!” cried Noah

“At last!” said Mrs Noah

Anyone else bothered by this? Mrs. Noah?! Really? She isn’t the main character in the book, but does play a role and surely deserves to be presented by her own name, rather than “Mrs. Noah”. I checked the publication date. Maybe the book was written in the 1940s and if in this case, I could make some sense of it. Nope, there it was in black and white print, copyright in 2011!

I seriously thought about not writing this blog. Some may think I’m blowing this out of proportion – it is a children’s book after all, BUT, the fact that it is a children’s book underscored that something needed to be written. The concept behind identifying the only female character in the book as “Mrs. Noah”, a shadow of her husband, irks me and I think sends girls the wrong message. I don’t want my daughter thinking that her identity is a reflection of her husband...that is, if she chooses to marry.   

I stopped reading at this point and commented to my 6 year old that Noah had his own name, but Mrs. Noah didn’t have a name of her own name. I asked my daughter why she thought this was so. She didn’t’ have an answer. She didn’t question it, but rather accepted it. I began to wonder if this sent a very subtle and unconscious message, that it is acceptable to form your identity based on someone else.

Moving forward with the book, I said, let’s give Mrs. Noah her own name. And so we did. We read the book about Noah and Niamh (my daughter’s name), which gave the only female character within the story an identity of her own. I don’t know if this made an impact in anyway. What I do know is she felt proud and happy every time we inserted her name in place of Mrs. Noah.

On the up-side, the book does redeem itself to some extent as ‘Mrs. Noah’ shows strength and smarts when she rescues Noah. In the end, I hope my daughter absorbed that women do matter, have an impact and have an identity in their own right. It is a shame however, that I needed to change a book that had been published as recently as 2011!


Blog by, Tess Ackland

Tess is the founder and Director of ON! Juniper, a conscious lifestyle brand that supports girl empowerment through building self-awareness, health and happiness. ON! Juniper hand-makes organic + natural lip balms and bath bombs for girls.