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