Top ten heroes and villains of children's literature

Female characters dominate lists as literary lovers mark World Book Day

(Image credit: Phillipe Lopez/Getty)

Bitter rivals Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort have been voted the greatest hero and most evil villain of children's literature in a new survey to mark World Book Day.

Six of the top ten heroes were female, including Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Roald Dahl's Matilda, despite concerns over the under-representation of women and girls in children's literature.

The poll also showed that some characters remain memorable more than a century after their first appearance, with Little Women's Jo March and Anne of Green Gables' Anne Shirley both ranking highly, while Oliver Twist's Bill Sikes made the top ten villains.

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Kirsten Grant, director of World Book Day, told the BBC the results "show that classic characters and stories stay with us, no matter how long ago we read them".

Women also dominated the list of ultimate baddies in children's literature, although the number one spot went to Harry Potter's nemesis. All in all, author JK Rowling seems to have quite the flair for crafting unforgettable villains, with two other characters from the series – sadistic teacher Dolores Umbridge and ruthless Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange – in the top ten.

When broken down by gender, the polls look slightly different. Harry Potter was the female readers' choice for best hero and won out overall, although among male respondents, he came second to The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins.

While women tended to slightly favour female characters and men leaned towards males, their top tens suggest reading habits are no longer sharply divided along gender lines.

"Readers are refreshingly open to reading about characters of the opposite sex - though is it worrying so many of the greatest fictional villains are female?" Grant said.

See the top ten heroes and villains below:

Favourite heroes:

1. Harry Potter (Harry Potter, JK Rowling)

2. Matilda Wormwood (Matilda, Roald Dahl)

3. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)

4. Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien)

5. Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman)

6. Jo March (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)

7. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins)

8. Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne)

9. Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery)

10. Paddington Bear (A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond)

Most evil:

1. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter)

2. Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter)

3. Cruella de Vil (The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith)

4. The White Witch (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, CS Lewis)

5. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda)

6. Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter)

7. Bill Sikes (Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens)

8. The Grand High Witch (The Witches, Roald Dahl)

9. Count Olaf (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket)

10. Mrs Coulter (His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman)

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