The Best Villains in Children’s Books

by educator, mom, and “education diva,” Ruth Spivak

Mwahahaaaa! An awesome villain can really make a great children’s 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:

villains in children's books

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.

villains in children's books

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:

villains in children's books

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.)

villains in children's books

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

villains in children's books

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.

villains in children's books

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.

villains in children's booksSo, 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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  • http://revitolskinbrightnerreviews.com/ Miguel H. Barette

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  • http://TinkerLab.com Rachelle | TinkerLab

    What a fun post! My 3 year old and I like to talk about how every good story has a “problem” that needs to be resolved, and the villan is often at the heart of the matter. Ruth, thanks for doing all this research and pulling all these dark characters out of the woodwork for us to enjoy (and hate).

  • http://www.educationdiva.com ruth spivak (Education Diva)

    Thanks Rachelle. That’s a pretty sophisticated kind of conversation to be having with a 3 year old, I’m impressed! Just hopped on to TinkerLab. I really like your creative projects! I will definitely be visiting regularly for some inspiration.

  • http://www.tiftalksbooks.com Tif

    I absolutely adore this post!!!! Nothing beats the classic fairy tale villians, though there are many that come close. You’ve got me thinking now which one would be my favorites!

    • http://www.educationdiva.com ruth spivak (Education Diva)

      Thanks Tif! Another favourite villain is Quilp from Charles Dickens’ Olde Curiosity Shoppe. I wouldn’t recommend that for kids under 13, though.
      Do you still have the Fairy Tale Challenge? I just noticed it on your site. Looks like fun!

  • http://vivaxaexpsed.com/ Jessica D. Murphy

    I would love to read this book; but first I have a nephew who is struggling right now and I’ve give it to her first! She is a 5 year old girl. She loves to read a fairy tale.

  • http://PragmaticMom.com PragmaticMom

    OOOOh, you are so right about loving a bad villan.

    A series of unfortunate events and The Willowbys have great evil relative villians!

    We really disliked Jeffrey’s mother but especially his step dad (which is a modern spin) in The Penderwicks series. His mother, at least, had redeeming qualities, but that step dad is an idiot. He’s easy to hate and everyone can relate to him.

    • http://educationdiva.com Educationdiva (Ruth Spivak)

      Hi,
      I couldn’t get my kids to like The Penderwicks. I don’t know why, because I think it’s a great series. They really enjoyed Lemony Snicket, which has some great villains too. Thanks for the comment and for the recommendations!

  • Shelisa

    Awesome post! My 8 year old daughter and I have enjoyed the many villians of The Sisters Grimm Series. And, of course, Lord Voldemort, from Harry Potter! My 7 year old daughter is pretty indifferent to villians, but my 5.5 year old son despises villians. If a villian shows his/her face in a book or movie, he’s outta there! I recently started him on The Magic Tree House, which is very tame on the villian front.

    • http://www.educationdiva.com Educationdiva (Ruth Spivak)

      Thanks Shelisa! Yes, I forgot about Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. That also reminds me about some great villains in the Percy Jackson series. I wonder if your 5.5 year old distaste for villains will remain as he gets older. Magic Tree House is definitely the way to go if villains are not to his liking, but I have to say it’s not easy to find books without villains!

  • http://thiskidreviewsbooks.com/ Erik A.K.A. This Kid Reviews Books

    What a great post! I like how you say villains are important in stories. I agree! My favorite villain is The Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”!

    • http://educationdiva.com ruth spivak (Education Diva)

      Thanks for your comment, Erik! I hopped on over to your blog, and am really impressed. It’s a great resource for young readers, and I plan to visit more often for ideas and recommendations.

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  • http://havingfunathome.com Katey (Having Fun at Home)

    I agree!! I like that you included the white witch. It’s so valuable for kids to see that villains don’t always seem bad at first. The white witch was so cunning!

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