For parents a non-parents alike, raising children in a world free from gender stereotypes is becoming more important than ever before. And one way to do that is to turn to your nearest bookshelf. It’s not hard to find lists of stereotype-busting books aimed at young girls. But when it comes to books that break boy stereotypes, the titles tend to be more limited. It’s easy to find books about sporty, adventurous, and brave boys, but it can be difficult to find stories that encourage qualities like gentleness, empathy and nurturing.
From “Here Comes Trouble” bibs, to battle-themed toys, to the “boys will be boys” culture, society has made it difficult for boys to express their sensitive sides. And what makes it worst is knowing that these childhood experiences shape their personalities later it life. Could the roots of problems like poor academic performance, higher rates of suicide for men, cultural entitlement and even violence against women, be found in the way boys are raised?
Children are bombarded by media messages today in a way like never before and the evidence suggests that, despite advances in equality legislation for women, children are being sold an increasingly gendered version of the world. At an age when they are very impressionable it’s important to let them know that they can be who they want to be and don’t have to fit into a narrowly prescribed idea of what it means to be a girl or a boy. Good books can help them realize it's OK to be, and these particular books challenge stereotypes about boys and help young children understand that there’s more than one way to be a boy.
A beautifully illustrated book, I’m Sorry tells the story of a boy and a girl who are best friends until they get in a fight. But don’t get too sad. The book ends with the two being best friends again and having a hug after saying sorry to each other. A simple story with an emphasis on social skills and boy/girl friendship, that challenges the prevailing media messages that tell boys and girls they are vastly different to one another.
Raffi is a shy boy who doesn’t like noisy games, and often gets teased by other children at school. When he learns to knit and sew his hobby is dismissed as ‘girly’, but before long everyone wants to have one of his custom items. Made By Raffi challenges the idea that knitting, sewing and arts and crafts are just for girls.
Bill’s New Frock follows a young boy who wakes one day to discover he is a girl. He’s sent to school in a frilly pink dress and is baffled by the way people treat him. This award winning book by the former children’s laureate helps children to think about the ways that boys and girls are treated differently.
This amusing collection of four stories deals with themes of insecurity, confidence and fear of the unknown. Ben’s imagination goes into overdrive as he anticipates the arrival of a new sibling, but talking about his feelings turns out to help. Being Ben both challenges stereotypes and promotes good communication.
Any book with a girl as the main character who gets to do the fun stuff is going to challenge boy stereotypes. How? For boys, it will help them see that girls are interesting, just as much fun to read about as boys are, and for girls, it will help them to see that it’s not always boys who get to take the lead. It’s good for all children to experience the world from as many different viewpoints as possible so it’s a great idea to give children access to a wide range of books with characters of variable ethnicities and abilities.