16 Books For Kids That Challenge Gender Stereotypes & Open Their Minds
I talk about gender with my kids a lot; probably more than the average mom. One of my children is really interested in gender and why so many things seem to be divided so neatly into "boy things" and "girl things." I don't plan on limiting any of my children's experiences by only allowing them to try out roles that correspond with their sex or their gender. As a natural extension of this, I've sought out books to read with them that don't necessarily fit in either category. In fact, I've found books that challenge gender stereotypes and what it means when we let go of labels.
Each year, more children's books being are published about gender. I've read a lot of books in the last year that have main characters who fall outside of the gender binary. But it's also important to find characters that don't fit "neatly" in their gender's stereotypes. (I swear I wasn't looking for more than one book about boys who like to knit, but there are two of them that are absolute gems.) You want books about sensitive boys and wild girls, and everything in between. And, luckily, the following books break these gender stereotypes in more than one way.
1'Baby Dance' by Ann Taylor
Baby Dance shows that moms are not (and should not) be the only ones to take on childcare. In the book, the baby's dad takes over when its mom falls asleep on the couch (I like to think she was tired from smashing the patriarchy.)
2'Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale' by Mo Willems
Knuffle Bunny is a favorite in our house. Trixie has a tantrum after losing her beloved stuffed bunny, making her dad desperate to calm her down. Not only does it shows a father as the main caregiver, but it portrays a girl being wild and inconsolable. So often girls are portrayed as docile, and this book shows that they can be every bit as energetic and emotional as boys.
3'Made By Raffi' by Craig Pomranz
Raffi doesn't like "boy" things. He doesn't like being rough or loud. What he does love is knitting. His peers don't understand, but Raffi does what he loves and proves to his friends that knitting can be cool. Made by Raffi is a great book to show that kids really miss out if they limit themselves to activities based on their gender.
4'Rosie Revere, Engineer' by Andrea Beaty
Rosie Revere, Engineer is a wildly popular book for good reason. More than just showing a girl interested in STEM fields, it teaches perseverance and to not fear failure.
5'The Story of Ferdinand' by Munro Leaf
Ferdinand isn't like other bulls. He doesn't like to fight or be aggressive; he doesn't even want to be in the bullfights. Instead, he's happy sitting in the shade and smelling the flowers. The Story of Ferdinand is a classic book that emphasizes being yourself, because it's the only way to be happy.
6'Pearl Power' by Mel Elliot
Pearl Power is about Pearl, a small and plucky 5 year old who cares a lot about equality. She shows friends in her new town that doing anything "like a girl" isn't a bad thing. Pearl has a sequel, Pearl Power and the Toy Problem, which tackles the silly notion that toys are either for girls or for boys.
7'Ladybug Girl' by David Soman and Jacky Davis
At first, Ladybug Girl doesn't look like it breaks any stereotypes. But the main character Lulu proves that being small get in her way of having big fun.
8'Real Cowboys' by Kate Hoefler
While most people envision cowboys as having one of the most masculine professions, Real Cowboys depicts the nuance and nurturing that this job entails. From caring for their cattle and their dogs, to missing their families, to telling tales around a campfire, this book paints an altogether different picture of what it means to be a cowboy or cowgirl.
9'Pippi Longstocking' by Astrid Lindgren
What makes the titular character if Pippi Longstocking exciting is that she lives on her own and is unapologetically herself. She doesn't care about being prim and proper, but she does care about doing what's right and having fun.
10'Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen' by Debbi Michiko Florence
Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen follows a young girl and her family's New Year celebration of mochi making. No longer a "kid" Jasmine decides to help the men pound the rice for the mochi, proving she won't let tradition exclude her from the fun.
11'Better Nate Than Ever' by Tim Federle
Better Nate Than Ever is one of the funniest books I've ever read. Nate is not your typical middle-schooler; he has big dreams of heading to New York City and auditioning for a new musical. His plans go hilariously wrong, but Nate's passion for musical theater carries him through.
12'The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World' by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Everyone knows girls can be superheroes, but Squirrel Girl is in a class of her own. She doesn't wear a sleek super-suit. And with her squirrel-powers, she also has squirrel cheeks and even a squirrel tail. She's awkward, hilarious, and smashing gender roles at every turn.
13'Doll Bones' by Holly Black
Doll Bones is about three best friends, and their epic imaginary games. Poppy, Zach, and Alice feel enormous pressure to grow up and outgrow the games they love. Zach, in particular, gets a lot of pressure from his father to give up playing games and focus on basketball. The three friends take one last adventure to bury the doll that has ruled over their games, and the doll seems to have a mind of her own.
14'Boys Don't Knit (In Public)' by T. S. Easton
In Boys Don't Knit, Ben has to take an extracurricular class as part of his probation. He chooses to learn knitting and ends up falling in love with the craft. Ben feels like he has to keep his new passion a secret, especially from his masculine father.
15'Girl Mans Up' by M-E Girard
Perhaps the most on-the-nose of the books on the list, Girl Mans Up is about so much more than gender. While the main character Pen is trying to define her identity, she's also breaking away from labels and from social constructs. She has to let go of cultural expectations while staying true to herself.
16 'I'll Give You The Sun' by Jandy Nelson
I'll Give You The Sun is about brash and outgoing Jude, and her twin brother Noah, who is imaginative and withdrawn. The twins could not be more different, except for one thing: their passion for art. It's a beautiful book that describes how these once-inseparable twins drift apart and then slam back together.