If you follow us on Instagram, you may have noticed that in the wake of our Book Worm T-shirt launch, we have been sharing some of our favourite picture books every Friday that empower children and challenge stereotypes. With World Book Day just around the corner (one more sleep to go!) I thought I’d pull together some more of our favourite books in a blog post.
As mum to two boys, I realised that a lot of the gender stereotype challenging books that we have at home are focused on boys – they are books I started collecting after my eldest was given a hard time at his old school for being different, to show him and his brother that there are lots of different ways to be a boy. To give a more balanced view, I also wanted to include some books that put girls in the spotlight, but instead of just raiding our local library I reached out to some fellow indie business owners to ask them for their favourites. I’ve ended ups with so many suggestions, I’ve decided to split them over two posts. So, today you’ll be hearing mostly from me and our gender stereotype busting books about boys, and tomorrow I’ll share all the fabulous gender stereotype busting books about girls that we have been recommended. So without further ado…
Pink is for Boys, by Robb Pearlman & Eda Kaban
Despite the title, this book actually features both boys and girls. It introduces all the colours of the rainbow one by one, repeating the message that they are for both boys and girls, or girls and boys. Our favourite part is the ending: “All colours are for EVERYONE.” which is our motto too! It’s a really great, simple little book to discuss colours with children.
Pink! by Lynne Rickards & Margaret Chamberlain
When Patrick the penguin wakes up one morning, he’s turned pink! His parents take him to the doctor, who can’t find anything wrong with him and tells him maybe he’ll get used to it. “But I’m a boy!” shouts Patrick, “And boys can’t be pink!” Patrick is so ashamed, he leaves home and goes on a quest to find somewhere he’ll fit in. Ultimately, the quest leads him back home after he realises it’s fine to be different, and it’s fine to be pink even if you’re boy. A great story about learning to be happy with who you are.
The Boy with Pink Hair, by Perez Hilton & Jen Hill
Life isn’t easy for the boy who was born with pink hair, as he gets bullied a lot for being different. But with the help of his supportive best friend he can do just about anything and ends up saving the day. A good lesson about not judging others by their appearance.
The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers
A boy discovers that all his crayons have run away, and each left him a letter to let him know why they quit. I wanted to highlight the pink crayon in this, who is very upset that they’ve not once been used in the past year except by the boy’s sister. Pink crayon says “Is it because you think I am a girl colour?” and really wants to be used to draw a pink dinosaur or a pink monster or a pink cowboy.” When my eldest switched schools in Primary 3, his new teacher (who knew about the hard time he’d been given at his old school) used this book to talk to the children about all colours being for everyone.
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), by Keith Negley
With its bold illustrations and simple text, this book introduces an array of tough guys, from wrestlers, ninjas, and astronauts to cowboys, superheroes and pirates. And they’re all showing their feelings – some are sad, some are scared, some are crying. A wonderful little book to talk to all children about having emotions and that it’s okay to show them.
Big Boys Cry, by Jonty Howley
Levi is scared about starting at a new school. Instead of giving him the reassurance he needs, his father tells him “Big boys don’t cry.” On his way to school, Levi passes many different grown men openly showing their fears and feelings. By the time he gets to school, he has a tear in his eye but realises things aren’t as bad as he thought. When he later returns home, his father greats him with tears in his own eyes, and admits that he was scared too. A wonderful book with beautiful illustrations, about how it’s okay to express your feelings.
The Knight who wouldn’t Fight, by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty
In a variation on the ‘expected to be a tough guy’ theme, this story centres around a little knight who does not live up to the stereotype of what a knight should be and do. Rather than fighting dragons and monsters, he prefers to read, and ends up defeating a bunch of scary creatures through the power of reading and without having to fight at all. A great story that shows there’s not one right of being a knight (or a boy, or a girl).
The Viking Who Liked Icing, by Lu Fraser & Mark McKinley
Another great story about being yourself, this book actually features both gender stereotype busting boys AND girls. Brave Leafling the Viking is great at sword fighting and amazing at archery, while her Nut prefers baking. When Nut fails at Viking Sports Day, but gets declared chef for the next Viking banquet instead, he learns “That you don’t need to be like anyone else, for happiness comes when you just be yourself.”
Sparkle Boy, by Lesléa Newman & Maria Mola
The story of a wee boy who loves everything that sparkles. He wants to wear a sparkly skirt and nail polish just like his big sister. Here it’s the sister who is the judgemental one, until other children star to harass him at the library and she stand up for her little brother and says it’s okay for him to be a boy in whatever way he wants to.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, by Christine Baldacchino & Isabelle Malenfant
Morris loves wearing his tangerine dress, but the other kids are mean won’t let him play with the rocket they’ve built as astronauts don’t wear dresses. So Morris creates his own imaginative world where it’s okay to wear dresses and go in to space and be whoever you want to be. Then the other kids all join in with HIS make believe play, except for one girl who still insists that boys don’t wear dresses, to which Morris just replies “This boy does.”
Frockodile, by Jeanne Willis & Stephanie Laberis
A crocodile finds a sparkly dress, some pearls and high heels out in the wilderness and falls in love with them. Some mean hyenas threaten to rat him out to his very macho dad, so he pretends it’s a costume for a play. The hyenas then pressure him to actually do the play, but the last laugh is on him as it turns out his dad is super proud. And there’s a funny little twist at the end too, but I won’t give it away.
My Shadow is Pink, by Scott Stuart
This is one we haven’t read ourselves yet, but has been recommended by my good friend Amanda who runs the online children’s bookshop Books & Pieces (disclosure: I also work part time for Amanda). Amanda says:
“This is a fabulous book teaching young children that it’s ok to be different and not to be afraid to show the true you. It tells the story of a young boy who feels different because he likes things that are ‘not for boys’, and struggles to live up to his macho dad with his blue shadow. He feels self-conscious when he wears his favourite dress on his first day at a new school, but with the help of his dad, soon learns the power of being true to yourself. This is such a great book choice for all children, and will help little ones talk about and navigate lots of different themes around inclusivity, emotions, friendships and being yourself. I particularly love that it’s based on the experiences of author Scott whose own son loves to dress up in princess costumes.”
I Love My Purse, by Belle DeMont & Sonja Wimmer
Charlie loves his red purse (we’d call it a handbag here in the UK). Everyone makes fun of him, but he doesn’t care and keeps on wearing it. By the end of the book, he’s given others confidence too, to wear what they want to wear, and like what they want to like.
Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans, by Jessie Miller & Barbara Bakos
This is such a silly story, but we love it. Rooster is so proud of his new skinny jeans and shows them off to his friends, but they all make just fun of him. Initially, this makes him sad and question himself, but then he realises that HE loves the jeans and that’s all that matters, so he continues to strut his stuff. His friends admire his new found confidence and soon apologise, and by the end of the book Rooster is happily picking out his next snazzy purchase.
Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love
This stunningly illustrated book features a little boy who loves meets three ladies on the subway, dressed as mermaids, and dreams of being a mermaid himself. He creates his own mermaid costume, and his very supportive grandma ends up taking him to a parade to live out his dream. A beautiful story about allowing children to dream and play and be themselves.
This was also chosen by Leona from Indie Roller as her favourite, who shared: “My daughter says she loves the outfits in the book.”
William’s Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow & William Penn Du Bois
William really wants a doll to play with, and hug, and look after. His grandma fulfils his wish, but to his father’s displeasure and questions why a boy would need a doll. The wise grandma tells him “He needs to to hug, and to cradle, and to take care of, so that when he is a father like you, he’ll know how to take care of his baby.”
The Knitting Gorilla, by Giles Andreae
A sweet little book about a tough daddy gorilla who looks forward to doing lots of big and fierce daddy and son things with his new baby boy, after six daughters. But his son turns out to be small and gentle, and loves flowers and knitting. After some initial disappointment, he comes to appreciate his son’s hobby and realises he loves him for who he is.
Made by Rafi, by Craig Pomranz & Margaret Chamberlain
Another story about knitting, Rafi wonders why he’s do different from the other boys and loves doing quiet things. He learns to knit and really loves it, but the other kids make fun of him – until he saves the school play with his knitting and sewing skills.
Dogs don’t do Ballet, by Anna Kemp & Sara Ogilvie
Biff is not like any of the other dogs. He dreams about being a ballerina. Everyone keeps telling him “Dogs don’t do ballet”, but he perseveres with his dream and ends up dancing on stage. A great story about going against stereotypes, and doing what you want to do and being who you want to be.
Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, by Ian Eagleton & James Mayhew
And, finally, we’ve picked two great books that turn traditional fairy-tales on their head. In the gorgeously illustrated Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, a merman who feels like something is missing from his life, ventures to the forbidden world above where he meets and falls in love with a fisherman. After a terrible storm, called up by Nen’s irate father, almost spells out disaster for the two lovers, there’s a happy ending in sight. A lyrical, beautiful celebration of love and acceptance.
Prince & Knight, by Daniel Haack & Stevie Lewis
And this modern twist on a classic fairytale trope sees the roles reversed once again, when prince charming and his parents set out to travel the kingdom in search of a suitable bride. But it’s the knight who protects the kingdom from a fierce dragon, that prince charming ends up falling in love with.
What are your favourite gender stereotype busting picture books? Do let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Part 2!