Skip to content

World Book Day: Children’s literature characters to the rescue

Posted on 1 March 2017

To celebrate World Book Day 2017, we asked children’s author and lecturer at the University of York’s Department of Education, Dr Clementine Beauvais, to nominate her top five children’s literary characters. She writes here about heroic characters, written by authors from across Europe, who have the ‘supernatural’ ability to make the world a better place:

Image from the 1969 film, Pippi Longstocking

1. Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren)

"Pippi lives in a huge, multicoloured house, with a horse and a monkey, and two best friends, Tommy and Annika, whose parents don’t look too kindly on her odd acquaintance.  Pippi’s otherworldly strength makes her the Asterix of Sweden, minus the reliance on performance-enhancing potion. Principally, she uses her enormous amounts of money wisely, namely, by buying the contents of a whole sweet shop. It is a good moral lesson for the austerity-obsessed." 

Image from the 2007 film, The Golden Compass

2. Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman)

"Lyra is a child of a parallel universe, created by British author, Philip Pullman.  Finding herself at the heart of a cosmic war, Lyra has the ability to read the truth in an Alethiometer – a compass-like device that, if in the wrong hands, could cause whole worlds to collide.  Not only must Lyra protect this artefact, but she must learn to understand its teachings.  Unlike the scholars occupying the adult world of the novel, Lyra does not need academic study to harness the powers of the device; she instead relies on her intuition to reveal the truth from the lies. Hers is a talent that is useful at a time of alternative facts and fake news."

Image from the Toby Alone book cover, 2006

3. Toby (Toby Alone, by Timothée de Fombelle)

"This absolutely tiny French hero has the ability to read the secrets of the tree-world that he lives in, and can sense when it is in danger.  An environmental warrior for our times, Toby will also learn, in the course of his adventures, that there is a world beyond the tree - a whole meadow, in fact, and perhaps even more than that. This is a tale about protecting our world and also about looking farther afield."

Image from The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily book cover, 1945

4. King Leander (The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, by Dino Buzzati)

"In this beautiful, wacky, classic Italian tale, a bear King, whose son has been kidnapped, leads a military invasion of Sicily, where its human inhabitants mount a resistance.  It’s a bit like Finding Nemo, but with exquisitely-drawn ink silhouettes instead of CGI, and more poetic. The bears are victorious, but it comes at a price.  They slowly start to lose their identity, taking on human characteristics. King Leander, in the end, is wise enough to know when dictatorship should end for the sake of peace. It is a book to put in all small hands."

Image from the Artemis Fowl book cover, 2001

5. Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer)

"This child genius, from Irish author Eoin Colfer, has been brought up only knowing crime as a way to survive.  He uses his genius to inflict suffering, but he’s not such a bad character after all, especially not compared with today’s computer hackers. His kidnapping of the fairies in book one brings about an understanding of their culture and an eventual alliance.  Artemis’ genius is both a deadly weapon and a tool for redemption." 

Dr Beauvais’ book Piglettes, a translation of her French novel Les petites reines, is due to be published by Pushkin Press in the UK in June.  Visit her website for a full list of her works:

Notes to editors:

For more information on World Book Day 2017 visit the official pages: