20 Kids’ Books That Redefine What’s ‘Normal’ For Genders

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Boys can’t wear pink? All girls want to be princesses? Don’t let others define what’s “right” for different genders. Here are 20 kids’ books that redefine what’s ‘normal’ for genders.

From an early age kids are bombarded with messages that rigidly define gender: Boys like pirates and sports and being rough, and girls are sweet princesses who love all things pink and sparkles. Even many children’s books still promote harmful gender stereotypes for both boys and girls; limiting how they play, dress, and express themselves. And even when we work toward making that less of a ‘thing,’ it still seems very apparent that we assign certain colors, toys and concepts to girls and boys.

How To Help Build Strong Girls, Sensitive Boys

Experts at Harvard suggest talking about gender biases early with your children, as parents are the first teachers and can forge the path for what their children believe about gender stereotypes and norms. Doing so can give them foundations for their tween, teen and adult lives when they are looking at relationships, choosing majors in college and becoming workforce participants.

Author and Harvard Developmental Psychologist Dr. Richard Weissbourd has strategies for helping create bias-free homes, and we’re also sharing tips that come from Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases. The report comes Making Caring Common at Harvard.

One of the most important things parents can do is check their own biases and stereotypes. When we use language we’ve grown up hearing, we can be reinforcing the ‘boys will be boys,’ and ‘girls don’t like math or science,’ thoughts of old. It’s hard to look at how we ourselves behave and talk, but it’s pivotal for how our children see what we think and believe.

As well, talk about things at home. Many stay-at-home-moms consider ‘the house’ their work, and if that’s the case, that’s okay. But…be sure your children see that a valuable contribution to the home and family and not just what’s expected because ‘moms clean and dads go to work.’ Whenever anyone asks if you ‘work,’ be sure to clarify that you work, just maybe not out of the home for pay. When our children see household chores as things we need to do that are just as contributing to quality of life as bringing home a paycheck, they’ll value those chores more in you doing them as well as when they themselves do them.

Also talk to your kids about their ideas and their beliefs. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the belief systems your kiddos pick up from others. Talk about how they feel about those stereotypes and norms–whether they believe they’re valid and why or why they aren’t. Open discussion can always include not just how things are, but how we can make them different. You can do this by sharing how bias and gender expectations have actually changed through the years. Particularly valuable may be a situation where you and your kids talk to the grandparents about how roles and gender views have changed. It may be eye-opening for you and your children!

Another way to help redefine gender stereotypes is to encourage your kids to try various extracurricular activities. Boys can and do love ballet. Girls are joining ‘Boy’ Scouts troops and enjoying co-ed activities that show the strength and interests of girls doesn’t differ from boys all that much. Discuss that passions come from the inside and are not bound by stereotypes.

And, a great way to reinforce nontraditional gender roles as being the norm is to give them books that feature those roles. Share books with female athletes and businesswomen as well as male dancers, homemakers and teachers. Kids relate to books in ways we often cannot, and so these 20 book we’ve found will open up a more gender-normed world.

Here are 20 books tht break the mold and show the importance of diversity in gender roles, giving all kids a chance to see the many ways they can be themselves, whether they’re a boy who loves pink sparkly things, or a rough and tumble girl who loves sports—or even the other way around.

1. When the Bees Fly Home by Andrea Cheng. Sensitive, artistic Jonathan isn’t sturdy enough to help his father with bee keeping, but when a drought hits, the family struggles to make ends meet and Jonathan uses his art skills to save the day.

2. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood. A plucky retelling of Cinderella with a fairy godrobot and a princess who dreams of fixing up rocket ships.

3. Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida. Little Kunoichi is a ninja in training who finds that ninja skills don’t come easily. She needs determination, perseverance and hard work to unleash her power.

4. 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert. Bailey dreams about beautiful, magical dresses every night, but during the day no one wants to hear about it. Until a new friend helps Bailey make her dreams of dresses come true.

5. All I Want To Be Is Me by Phyllis Rothblatt. A book that reflects the diverse ways that young children express and experience their gender identity.

6. Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Jacob loves to play dress up, when he can be anything he wants to be. But what Jacob really wants is to wear a dress to school.

7. Play Free by McNall Mason and Max Suarez. Girls can wear pants, boys can wear dresses. None of that should make any messes. A story of gender expression and acceptance and a special playhouse where everyone is free to be who they are.

8. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. Rosie Revere creates great inventions from odds and ends and dreams of being an engineer. Afraid of failure, she hides her creations away, until her great-great-aunt Rose shows Rosie that only true failure comes from quitting.

9. Princesses Can Be Pirates Too! by Christi Zellerhoff. No Girls Allowed? Not only can girls be pirates too, they can do it in a crown and a puffy pink gown!

10. Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs. Angelica Longrider, also known as Swamp Angel can lasso a tornado, drink an entire lake dry, and wrestles a bear in this tall tale set on the American frontier.

11. Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT? by Eileen Kiernan-Johnson. Roland Humphrey loves wearing pink and sparkles and doesn’t understand the “rules” for what boys should like. If girls can like sports and ballet, why can’t he?

12. Players In Pigtails by Shana Corey. A fictional account of the All Girls Professional Baseball League formed during WWII, about a girl named Katy who is determined to make it to the big league.

13. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp. Biff is a dog who loves music and moonlight and walking on his tiptoes. Biff also thinks he’s a ballerina. But dogs don’t do ballet— do they?

14. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. Morris is a little boy who loves outer space and painting beautiful pictures and most of all, his classroom’s dress up center. A story about creativity and the courage it takes to be different.

15. I Look Like a Girl by Sheila Hamanaka. Young girls imagine themselves as a dolphin in the sea, a horse on the mesa, a wolf and tiger and “what is wild, in the heart—so I can be me.”

16. Madam President by Lane Smith. A little girl spends a day imagining what it would be like to be president, a reality that may be not so far off.

17. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. Grace loves stories, all stories. So when her school decides to perform Peter Pan, Grace longs to play the lead, despite all the naysayers. Grace’s grandmother helps her see that she can be anything she wants.

18. My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? by Jennifer Fosberry. Isabella imagines herself as different women who made history and ends the day empowered to be herself.

19. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. Sometimes Dyson wears dresses. Sometimes he wears jeans. He likes to wear a princess tiara, even when climbing trees.

20. Shopping With Dad by Matt Harvey. When mom heads to work, a little girl and her dad go shopping, where an enormous sneeze sets off a small calamity.

The general goal of redefining gender norms and stereotypes is to explain to your children that humans are humans. Treating people equally is what we should do as humans. We’re all in this together, and we all want to be treated as the people we are–our genders shouldn’t define that.

Image from: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress


22 thoughts on “20 Kids’ Books That Redefine What’s ‘Normal’ For Genders”

  1. Thank you for including my book (with artist Rex Ray) 10,000 Dresses on your list – but, for the love of god, Bailey is *not* a boy (despite what everyone around her says.) That’s kind of the point of the book.
    #jus sayin

      1. A boy who likes to wear dresses is indeed a boy. But a girl who is regularly misgendered as a boy is still not a boy. These two people don’t contradict or invalidate each other. But it’s very rude regardless to misgender them.

  2. 10,000 dresses is about a transgender child and Bailey should be referred to as a her, not a him. This is so important and while this is an amazing, list, that description misses the mark, big-time.

  3. Great list! Thanks for creating and sharing it. As mentioned, in the annotation of 10,000 Dresses it would be very easy to change just two letters and great improve it, as Bailey makes *her* dreams come true.

    Again, thanks.

    And this error is in many reviews of the book, so don’t feel too bad about it.

  4. Little Kunoichi is a cute one! Off the top of my head, “Violet the Pilot” by Steve Breen would be a great addition to this list as well. I look forward to checking out some of the other titles here!

  5. Thanks so much for mentioning Play Free, the book my (autistic) son Max and I wrote and illustrated about his friend Morgan who likes to wear ‘girl stuff’ – we’re honored to be on your list! -McNall

  6. I’d also like to recommend Matteo B. Bianchi’s _Cher Upon A Midnight Clear_. Here’s a brief blurb: “How do adults know when something is for boys and when it’s for girls? Who tells them so? Where do they learn it? For eight-year-old Luca, it’s a mystery, but if he can’t convince his parents to give him the white ice skates he has his heart set on, Christmas is going to be ruined. Who does a child turn to when he can’t even count on Santa Claus?”

  7. Add to the list B in the World by Sharon Mentyka which tells the story of seven-year-old B Browning who doesn’t know why sometimes he feels like wearing overalls and a flannel shirt and other days wakes up wishing he could dress like his sister Patti-Anne. It is a beautiful book both in story and illustrations. Look for it on Amazon and elsewhere.

  8. Thanks for the list. There is a great series of books by James Howe and Melissa Sweet called Pinky and Rex. Pinky is a boy who likes stuffed animals and pink clothes. His best friend is a girl named Rex who likes sports. The books cover many different youth challenges or fears (dealing with a bully, going to camp, annoying siblings, etc.).

  9. Robert Munsch’s We Share Everything is another one for the list. A boy and a girl in Kindergarten have to learn to share after fighting over toys, so they decide to share clothes.

  10. JillVettel, please either correct the misgendering of Bailey in the synopsis of 10,000 Dresses, or remove the book from the list. In referring to Bailey as “he” you actually work against your headline by reinforcing culturally dominant ideas about what’s “what’s ‘normal.’” Furthermore, while you correctly observe in your preamble that “many children’s books still promote harmful gender stereotypes for both boys and girls,” you yourself promote harmful gender stereotypes about transgender girls by saying that they are boys. I know that your intentions are good with this list, but this is a case where you are in error and need to correct that error.

  11. I apologize for this serious oversight concerning 10,000 Dresses and for not seeing the comments earlier. Ultimately, as the editor, it is my responsibility for not noticing this. The error was, of course, unintentional — but that does not make it any less severe. Thank you to all of the commenters for pointing it out, I have updated the description to “her.” If you do not see the updated description, please make sure to clear your browser’s cache.

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