There are a few tough topics that can come up when you're talking with your child about the way the world works. Fairness seems to play a huge role among kids, and they'll let you know the exact instant they believe something unfair has taken place. That's why any social issues which involve inequality or discrimination can be especially sensitive subjects for kids, regardless of age. For many parents, myself included, incorporating children's books that help kids understand sexism into your discussion time can be beneficial and helpful for everyone.
Now, it may be that your child actually initiated the conversation on gender inequality with you because of something they noticed. Or, if you're starting at a young age, this may be the first time they are learning about sexism and gender bias. Either way, books offer great conversation starters so that both you and your child can be equally involved in the dialogue.
It's also worth noting that, though sexism generally affects females, it can go both ways. My son has been teased for liking "girl" things, like Peppa Pig, the color purple, and playing with my makeup. So it's wonderful when books show the broad spectrum of gender bias and how it shapes many people's life experiences.
What's even cooler about books, in my opinion, is that they have the ability to truly engage children in ways that ordinary conversation simply can't. Vivid illustrations, subtle themes, and easy to understand text can go a long way in your child's journey to better understanding the world around them. So check out these children's books that help kids understand sexism, gender inequality, and gender bias.
1. 'The Basket Ball' by Esmé Raji Codell
The main character in The Basket Ball is Lulu, a girl who would much rather play sports than play with dolls. But the boys in her neighborhood think that basketball isn't "for girls." So Lulu decides to start her own team and recruits other girls by hosting a Basket Ball where girls trade in ball gowns for basketballs. This story challenges gender roles in an upbeat way and shows that you can march to the beat of your own drum, proudly.
2. 'The Story Of Ferdinand' by Munro Leaf
A classic dating back to 1936, The Story of Ferdinand is about a bull named Ferdinand who has no interest in the roughhousing other boy bulls partake in, and would rather sit under trees and smell flowers. The same way sexism exists for girls, saying they should play house instead of sports, it also exists for boys, telling them they should be rough and tumble, not delicate or sensitive.
3. 'Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story Of Elizabeth Blackwell' by Tanya Lee Stone
Based on the real life story of the first woman to become a doctor, Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors shows how Elizabeth Blackwell faced sexism and discrimination throughout her pursuit of a medical career. Though this book has a happy, true ending, it definitely can spark a conversation on how sexism exists in the workforce and how there is a gender bias in place for certain career fields.
4. 'Ballerino Nate' by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
What's a bit different about Ballerino Nate is that Nate faces sexism from both sides. His male friends make fun of him for wanting to dance and the girls at the ballet studio tell Nate that, "boys can't dance." So this brings up a complex dichotomy that many children face when it seems like neither side is accepting.
5. 'Elena's Serenade' by Campbell Geeslin
A beautiful blend of vivid imagery and bold characters set against a culturally rich backdrop in Mexico, Elena's Serenade follows the title character as she disguises herself as a boy and goes on a journey to learn how to become a glass-blower — something only males traditionally do. She meets different people and animals, all of whom help her on her quest.
6. 'For The Love Of Music: The Remarkable Story Of Maria Anna Mozart' by Elizabeth Rusch
Based on the sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, For the Love of Music tells a classic tale of sexism. While Wolfgang is allowed to pursue music, Maria is told to give up music and focus on fulfilling the traditional female role of wife and mother. Though she still played music in her private life, this story shows just how sexism separates girls and boys starting at a young age.
7. 'William's Doll' by Charlotte Zolotow
A twist on the whole "boys can like girl things," William's Doll takes a deeper look at gender inequality and how that can play out in adulthood as well. Not only does the title character, William, want a doll, but his friends, father, and others tease and discourage him. It's not until William's grandmother brings him a doll of his own that the reader understands what kind of impact this can have because the grandmother points out that William caring for a doll might help him become a good, nurturing father in the future.
8. 'You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer' by Shana Corey
Set during the early days of the women's rights movement, Amelia challenges the stereotype that decent women must dress and present themselves a certain way. She dresses for herself, and not to meet society's expectations or to entice a male suitor. Still relevant today, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer, shows how sexism can lead individuals to make unfair assumptions of others based solely on how they dress.
9. 'Derek, The Knitting Dinosaur' by Mary Blackwood
Though the main character in Derek, The Knitting Dinosaur is a boy, the underlying message speaks to any child who enjoys expressing themselves and playing in ways that are outside the traditional gender norms. Derek is a boy dinosaur and doesn't like loud roaring or roughhousing like the other boys do. He's sensitive, introverted, and prefers quiet activities. Still, he faces discrimination because he doesn't fit the mold society deems acceptable for boys. A great conversation starter of a book for any child.
10. 'Prince Cinders' by Babette Cole
In a gender-reversed version of Cinderella, the story of Prince Cinders is somewhat similar in the challenges the title character faces. This story, however, takes a look at what people think it means to be a "real man." Though Prince Cinders is small, pale, and not very hairy, his step-brothers are tall, brawny, and very hairy. This is a great book to start a dialogue with your child on how sexism can affect people who don't look a certain way and why that's wrong.
11. 'The Girl Who Could Dance In Outer Space: An Inspirational Tale About Mae Jemison' by Maya Cointreau
You might have heard of the film Hidden Figures, which is about three NASA mathematicians — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jacksons — who helped make John Glenn's historic launch happen. They also happened to be women of color in an era when sexism and racism were at their peak. That's why The Girl Who Could Dance In Outer Space is a great read for young children. Dr. Mae Jemison is an engineer, astronaut, doctor, and dancer and has shattered gender stereotypes across the board. This children's book does touch on how sexism can impede a person's journey towards achieving goals in the workplace, which is an important topic for kids to learn about.