12 Best Villains in Children’s Books

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Mwahahaaaa! The best villains can really make a great children’s book. Oh sure, it’s great to have a hero who models virtue and courage, but the villains are often the most exciting 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, villain characters are creepy, sly, and revolting, so why am I recommending your kids read them?

Note: written in 2012 by educator, mom, and “education diva,” Ruth Spivak, with updates and revisions by Melissa Taylor.

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.


a-  Absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Darth Vader?)

b- Even the most intimidating bully is weak at heart. (Real life!)

 c- Friendship, persistence, and honesty triumph over evil. (One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest)

2. Villains are incredibly motivating for reluctant readers. Great villains add elements of humor and adventure that up the excitement in a book. I love it 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 favorite books with great villains for kids from ages 3-13.

Best Villains: AGES 3 and Up

DARTH VADER: (Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex)
You don’t even need to love Star Wars to love this book. The narrator wants to find out if Darth Vader is scared of anything. But, nothing will scare Darth Vader. Except, one thing…


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 fairy tale stories:

The Best Villains in Children's Books
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.


The Best Villains in Children's Books
The STEPMOTHER WITCH: (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by The Brothers Grimm.)
The Stepmother’s 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.

Best Villains: Ages 6 and Up

The sinister and the funny.  
At this age, kids can really begin to appreciate dark humor. Here are a few villains to laugh at:

The Best Villains in Children's Books
AUNT SPONGE AND AUNT SPIKER. (James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.) These mean villains sisters take pleasure in insulting and starving their young nephew, who is far more intelligent than the two put together. In this children’s book, these most awful of villains come off as ridiculous which makes them all the more memorable. (A great one to read out loud to younger readers.)

MR. GUM. (Mr. Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire by Andy Stanton.)
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 and some illustrations.

THE TRUNCHBULL. (Matilda by Roald Dahl.)
I have never been able to understand why small children are so disgusting. They are the bane of y life.” The Trunchbull loves to terrorize her students. Worse yet, she abuses them physically and throws them in the dreaded Chokey. We come to learn that she’s probably murdered poor Miss Honey’s parents to get their money. In short, this is one nasty lady …but young Matilda with her smarts and kindness beats this awful headmaster in the end. And we get the last laugh.

Best Villains: Age 9 and Up

Of course, not all the best villains in children’s books are funny. You already know the worst “bad guy” of middle-grade fiction, someone who is not redeemable at all…He Who Shall Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort.

best villains in children's books
VOLDEMORT. (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.)
He’ll do anything, including murder and lie, to achieve power. And even followers, if you don’t perform up to his standards, there are no second chances. Lord Voldemort is the best villain in literature. He gives Harry Potter a bad guy to fight against and ultimately defeat showing children that good can triumph over evil.

DOLORES UMBRIDGE (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.)
We love to hate Dolores Umbridge, she’s a meanie. And she is also a villain with a fantastic pinked-up outfit. (Halloween or World Book Day costume idea!?)


BABA YAGA (Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola)
Baba Yaga, depicted as a hag or crone, kidnaps kids to cook and eat them. Yikes!

villains in children's books
THE WHITE WITCH. (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.)
The White Witch tempts young boys with hot chocolate and Turkish Delight (ewww) and then makes them slaves or turns them into stone. Underneath that beautiful face and body is cold-blooded evil. She’s a memorable children’s book villain with no redemption story arc.

THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST (The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum)
You may know the wicked witch from the movies but it’s also a book– a really good book! This bad guy witch lady is horrible and mean and everything you’d want in a villain.

Best Villains: Ages 13+ and Up

SAURON (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Of all the villain characters, Sauron is the worst, evilest, power-hungry villain of them all.

villains in children's books
NAPOLEON (Animal Farm by George Orwell.)
Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad!” While not technically a children’s book, most kids are required to read this in high school, so it should be included. 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 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.

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 favorite villain?

the best villains in children's books


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  1. 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!

    1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. This is very interesting blog and for sure, we will be happy to read it. Thanks that you shared. I love this link up… Good thing you post such valuable information like this.
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