Mwahahaaaa! An awesome villain can really make a great book. Oh sure, it’s great to have a hero who models virtue and courage, but it’s the villains who are often the most interesting and memorable characters. What would Charlie and the Chocolate Factory be without the outrageously spoiled Veruca Salt, or without gluttonous Augustus Gloop? In a word: BORING!
Yes, great villains are creepy, sly, and revolting, so why am I recommending your kids read them?
Why Kids Need Villain Characters
1- Villains teach children important lessons about coping with evil in our world. A lot to be learned from the effects of villains on other characters, and from the heroes who fight them. Examples: a- Absolute power corrupts absolutely. b- Even the most intimidating bully is weak at heart. c- Friendship, persistence and honesty triumph over evil.
2- Villains are especially motivating for reluctant readers. Great villains add elements of humour and adventure that up the excitement in a book. I love when kids rally with the hero for the downfall of the ridiculous villain.
The Best Villains in Children’s Books
From the biggest brats to the worst dictators, here are some of my favourite books with great villains for kids from ages 3-13.
AGES 3 and up
FAIRY TALES! Read them to your kids, again and again. The language, characters, and plot have survived the test of time for a reason. I LOVE the villains in these two stories:
1 - THE WOLF: (Little Red Riding Hood by The Brothers Grimm.) “All the better to hear you with my child.” ”But, Grandma, What big teeth you have!” You know what comes next. This is nail-biting, on the edge of your seat, classic fairy tale villainy at its best.
2 - The Stepmother/Witch (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.) Her desire to be “the fairest of them all” fuels her obsession to rid the world of beautiful Snow White. I love the irony of this villain: In the name of beauty, she must transform herself into an ugly hag to murder her rival. Unable to find an accomplice, she does her own dirty work that ultimately results in her destruction. An old tale of vanity and ruthless ambition retold by the Brothers Grimm.
Ages 6 and up
The sinister and the funny. At this age, kids can really begin to appreciate dark humour. Here are a few villains to laugh at:
1 - AUNT SPONGE AND AUNT SPIKER. (James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.) These sisters take pleasure in insulting and starving their young nephew, who is far more intelligent than the two put together. Yet, even these most awful of villains come off as ridiculous, and that makes them all the more memorable. (A great one to read out loud to younger readers.)
2 - MR. GUM. (From Mr. Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire, and other books in the series.) He never bathes, and he steals money He’s vile, and yet downright funny. Quirky characters in the town of Lamonic Bibber round out this laugh out loud and clever book. Exceptionally motivating for reluctant readers, as it is a chapter book with few sentences on each page. Some illustrations.
Age 11 and up
1 - Napoleon (Animal Farm by George Orwell.) “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad!” Orwell captures all the intricacies of power corrupting a ruler. A great introduction to the Communist Revolution, without needing to know anything about that particular revolution. Characteristics of tyranny and dictatorship are conveyed in a way that’s far from dry. Kids really appreciate Orwell’s insight into the workings of social dynamics. Napoleon is the bully who uses fear and slick words to play everyone to his advantage.
2 - THE WHITE WITCH. (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.) She tempts young boys with hot chocolate and Turkish Delight (ewww), and then turns them into stone. Underneath that beautiful face and body is cold-blooded evil. I have read this book at least ten times, and not just as a child.
So, the next time you’re looking for a book your kids will love, think evil! Some of the meanest, baddest, villains around are the ticket for motivation, great discussions, and education.
Do you or your kids have a favourite villain?
Bio: Ruth Spivak (Education Diva) blogs about quality books, music, online resources, and activities that inspire a lifelong love of learning. “Because learning never goes out of style!”
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