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 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.) Baby Dance Click here to buy. 2 'Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale' by Mo Willems 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. Knuffle Bunny Click here to buy. 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.
is a great book to show that kids really miss out if they limit themselves to activities based on their gender. Made by Raffi Click here to buy. 4 'Rosie Revere, Engineer' by Andrea Beaty 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.
is a classic book that emphasizes being yourself, because it's the only way to be happy. The Story of Ferdinand Click here to buy. 6 'Pearl Power' by Mel Elliot 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 which tackles the silly notion that toys are either for girls or for boys. Pearl Power and the Toy Problem, Click here to buy. 7 'Ladybug Girl' by David Soman and Jacky Davis
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. Ladybug Girl Click here to buy. 8 'Real Cowboys' by Kate Hoefler
While most people envision cowboys as having one of the most masculine professions,
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. Real Cowboys Click here to buy. 9 'Pippi Longstocking' by Astrid Lindgren
What makes the titular character if
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. Pippi Longstocking Click here to buy. 10 'Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen' by Debbi Michiko Florence 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. Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen Click here to buy. 11 'Better Nate Than Ever' by Tim Federle 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. Better Nate Than Ever Click here to buy. 12 'The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World' by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Everyone knows girls can be superheroes, but
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. Squirrel Girl Click here to buy. 13 'Doll Bones' by Holly Black 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. Doll Bones Click here to buy. 14 'Boys Don't Knit (In Public)' by T. S. Easton
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. Boys Don't Knit, Click here to buy. 15 'Girl Mans Up' by M-E Girard
Perhaps the most on-the-nose of the books on the list,
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. Girl Mans Up Click here to buy. 16 16 'I'll Give You The Sun' by Jandy Nelson 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. I'll Give You The Sun Click here to buy.