37 Children’s Books that Crush Gender Stereotypes

Karen Patten

I had a Contracts professor in law school who was a curmudgeon. Students suspected he had been around when the Constitution was signed and snickered that he might be better suited to teaching Constitutional Law for that reason. His skin was leathery and wrinkled and his teeth were crooked, chipped, and strangely colored. He wore tinted Coke bottle glasses and none of us would have been surprised if he had a ruler in his desk drawer to whack knuckles. And he could be crude and crass.

So when a student asked him how long our essays should be, a gasp spread throughout the room like the wave at a football game. I watched that student frantically looking around as if  looking for some magical device to pull his words back into his mouth. I think we might have sucked most of the air out of the room. And then came the answer…

Children's books that defy gender stereotypes are great conversation starters! I love having something as easy as a book to help me ask some great questions! #genderroles #childrensbooks www.themidlifemamas.com

 

You can check out most of these books at your local library, or use the affiliate links provided to add them to your personal library. Spoil My Family makes a small commission on sales, but the price to you is exactly the same!

He grumbled something about stupid first years asking the same vapid question every year. But then he explained that essays are like a lady’s skirt. They should be long enough to cover everything that needs to be covered and short enough to be interesting. I refer you back to a little crude and crass…

I tell that story to explain why there are the seemingly random number of thirty-seven books on this list of children’s books that defy gender roles and not some pretty round number like thirty-five or forty. I tried to include enough to cover everything that should  e covered and to still keep it short enough to be interesting! This list of books that defy gender stereotypes includes lots of great books – neither too many or too few.

Captain Pearl Fairweather is a brave, fair and strong pirate captain. She and her diverse crew of twenty-four women sail the seven seas on the good ship, Harmony, looking only for adventure. All is well, until the day Captain Sandy McCross sails into their lives and demands to take over Pearl’s ship! This beautifully illustrated children’s picture book explores crucial issues such as gender equality, respect, respectful relationships, empowerment, diversity, leadership, bullying behaviors, self-esteem, the prevention of violence, and conflict resolution. The aim of this book is to empower young girls to be strong, assertive, self-confident and self-reliant, and for boys to respect that empowerment, and to embrace and value it. Boys can learn that their lives can be so much richer if they partner with girls on an even footing with each sex contributing their talents unreservedly.

A beautiful baby, a sinister spell, a pricked finger, a hundred-year sleep, a true-love wake-up kiss. We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, but not the one that Will and Mary Pope Osborne tell — with a handsome prince named Bob, a feisty princess who wakes him from his enchanted slumber, and charming artwork from acclaimed illustrator Giselle Potter. Here’s a fresh, magical reworking of the classic fairy tale that’s sure to have kids begging, “Read it again!”
As soon as he touched the wheel’s spindle, a splinter pricked his finger.
“Ouch!” said Bob.
“Good night, Bobby,” said the old woman.

Elizabeth, a beautiful princess, lives in a castle and wears fancy clothes. Just when she is about to marry Prince Ronald, a dragon smashes her castle, burns her clothes with his fiery breath, and prince-naps her dear Ronald. Undaunted and presumably unclad, she dons a large paper bag and sets off to find the dragon and her cherished prince. Once she’s tracked down the rascally reptile, she flatters him into performing all sorts of dragonly stunts that eventually exhaust him, allowing her to rescue Prince Ronald. But what does Prince Not-So-Charming say when he sees her? “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” (At least he has the courtesy not to mention that the princess’s crown resembles a dying sea anemone.) In any case, let’s just say that Princess Elizabeth and Prince Ronald do not, under any circumstances, live happily ever after.

Nate has the heart of a dancer, and he is determined to learn ballet. Even his older brother, Ben, can’t change his mind with his claims that “boys don’t dance.” Or can he? When Ben tells Nate that he’ll have to wear pink shoes and a dress, Nate becomes awfully worried. And when he’s the only boy in his ballet class, he begins to think that Ben is right: Maybe boys don’t dance.

Ruthie loves to visit Nana, but they don’t always like to play with the same things. Ruthie loves fire engines and motorcycles, while Nana loves dolls and dress-up clothes. Nana’s neighbor, Brian, gets to play with fire engines and motorcycles. So why doesn’t Ruthie?

Dyson loves pink, sparkly things. Sometimes he wears dresses. Sometimes he wears jeans. He likes to wear his princess tiara, even when climbing trees. He’s a Princess Boy.

Inspired by the author’s son, and by her own initial struggles to understand, this is a heart-warming book about unconditional love and one remarkable family. It is also a call for tolerance and an end to bullying and judgments. The world is a brighter place when we accept everyone for who they are.

Grace loves stories, whether they’re from books, movies, or the kind her grandmother tells. So when she gets a chance to play a part in Peter Pan, she knows exactly who she wants to be. Remarkable watercolor illustrations give full expression to Grace’s high-flying imagination.

Boy, does Tony love to dance! And boy, would his father love for him to follow in the family footsteps and become a chef. Father and son appear to be on a collision course, but instead, they’re able to celebrate their differences — and the things they both love to do!

Granny Whiteoak, who was a star quarterback in her youth, hears on TV that her team is in trouble. She leaps from her bed and into the television, coming out at the stadium where she defeats the opposition with a startling touchdown. The supreme silliness is elevated by the rhyming verse and hilarious illustrations. While many young readers may be unfamiliar with the football terms, such as “snap from the center,” they will immediately get the rhythm and the playfulness of the words. Everyone will be cheering for Granny, who ends up back in bed nursing a sore head.

Mirette was always fascinated by the strange and interesting people who stayed in her mother’s boardinghouse. But no one excited her as much as Bellini, who walks the clothesline with the grace and ease of a bird. When Mirette discovers that fear has kept him from performing for years, she knows she must repay him for the kindness he has shown her — and show him that sometimes a student can be the greatest teacher of all.

Boris von der Borch is a mean, greedy old pirate–tough as nails, through and through, like all pirates. Or is he? When a young boy sneaks onto Boris’s ship, he discovers that Boris and his mates aren’t quite what he expected.

Out on the tundra, Nessa and her grandmother have caught more fish than they can carry home. So they pile some rocks on top of their cache to keep away the foxes, and settle in for the night. The next morning, though, Nessa’s grandmother awakens too sick to make the journey home, and Nessa must guard over her and the fish until she feels better During the day, a fox, a pack of wolves, and a great big bear come to try to steal the fish. But Nessa remembers everything her family told her about these animals, and one by one, she scares them off — even the great big bear!

Pinky’s favorite color is pink, and his best friend, Rex, is a girl. Kevin, the third-grade bully, says that makes Pinky a sissy. Deep down, Pinky thinks Kevin is wrong, but he’s still worried. Does Pinky have to give up his favorite things, and worse, does he have to give up his best friend?

Anna Banana is fearless. She swings high in the playground, invents stories about huge, terrifying goblins — and believes in magic.
The small boy she plays with is afraid. He would never do the things that Anna Banana does, even when they’re together. But one day, when he’s most scared, he uses a little bit of her magic — and makes some of this own.

Violet is a young princess who wishes she could show the world that she is just as brave and strong as her brothers. But her strict father insists that she get married, and her brothers only mock her when she wants to be included in their fun. So Violet decides to use her intelligence and bravery to show everyone–once and for all–what she’s made of. Disguising herself as a boy, Violet takes part in a knights’ jousting tournament. When she wins the contest, she reveals her true identity–and wins the prize of freedom!

Take a classic story, substitute a few key ingredients, season freely with silliness and imagination, dress it all up in jaunty illustrations, and what have you got? In the case of Cole’s Prince Cinders, an outrageously funny romp of a picture book. Prince Cinders is a spotty, skinny fellow who envies his brothers’ brawn and hairiness. Left behind to do the laundry while they zoom off to the Palace Disco, he is visited one evening by a fairy who seeks to grant his wishes. Trouble is, the fairy hasn’t quite gotten the knack of spell-casting and “big and hairy” translates into an oversized ape. Blissfully unaware of the slip-up, Prince Cinders heads off in his new incarnation to the Rock ‘n’ Royal Bash!

None of the kids in her class wear a ponytail, so Stephanie decides she must have one. The loud, unanimous comment from her classmates is: “Ugly, ugly, very ugly.” Steadfast, when all the girls have copied her ponytail, she resolves to try a new style. With true Munsch flair, each of Stephanie’s ponytails is more outrageous than the last, while the cast of copycats grows and grows.

Meet a city girl with a big Wild West dream.

“I don’t want to be a good girl-
Good girls have no fun.
I can’t play quiet games indoors,
I love the rain and sun.
I don’t want to be a girly girl
Who likes to sit and chat.
I just want to be a cowgirl, Daddy,
What’s so wrong with that?”

From the window of a high-rise city apartment, a little girl imagines a very different view and dreams of a very different life, but does it have to be just a dream?

When a tiny sea serpent tumbles from the bathtub faucet, a little girl finds an unexpected friend. As rainy day after rainy day passes, the two sing songs, take baths, and talk about the sea.
But little girls live on land, and a growing sea serpent needs wave upon wave of water.
Here’s a story about the true meaning of friendship, perfect for children, parents, and anyone who has ever had second thoughts about growing up.

Ten-year-old Justin hates that his sisters and his mama are always fussing at him. They make him feel stupid because he can’t clean his room or cook. But why should he? He’d rather be outside playing. After all, cooking and cleaning is just “women’s work.” That’s why Justin is glad when his grandfather invites him back to his ranch for the summer. Justin is sure he can get away from all the women and do some actual “men’s work,” such as cleaning fish, mending fences, and riding horses. But back at the ranch, Justin learns some unexpected lessons and soon realizes that anyone can do anything once they learn how.

We’ll jump and dig and build and fly
There’s nothing that we cannot try.
We can do all these things, you see,
Whether we are he or she!

A young he bear and she bear discover they can do anything and be anything they want to–regardless of gender–in this empowering and fun, fast paced Bright & Early Board Book!

Truly fun for all ages, this unique coloring book subversively and playfully examines the female gender stereotypes that pervade daily life. A diverse group of pictures reinforce positive gender roles throughout the book and show that girls are thinkers, creators, fighters, and healers. Some of the characters who show the new face of the feminine include Rapunzel, who now has power tools and Miss Muffet, who tells the spider off and considers a career as an arachnologist. Deconstructing the homogeneity of gender expression has never been so colorful.

Times sure are tough on the ranch, and Waynetta and her ma can use all the luck they can get. But when Waynetta trades their last longhorn for a handful of so-called magic corn, Ma is non too pleased. A fast-paced Texas retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk featuring a girl hero.

Lulu prefers playing basketball to playing with dolls. So when the boys won’t let her join their school-yard team, she decides to host a Basket Ball—where ball gowns are traded in for sequined basketball jerseys and high-top heels! Girls travel from all over the world to attend the ball, shooting hoops, showing off their skills, and forming a league of their own.

A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports.

Elmer is not like the other boy ducklings. While they like to build forts, he loves to bake cakes. While they like to play baseball, he wants to put on the halftime show. Elmer is a great big sissy.

But when his father is wounded by a hunter’s shot, Elmer proves that the biggest sissy can also be the greatest hero.

This bedtime story about bedtime stories shows how a lively, curious boy helps one of his moms create a magical tale. Together they weave a nighttime adventures that lands young Noah and his singing cat Diva deep in dragon territory. Join them as they make an unexpected discovery and help a new friend find his way.

More than anything, William wants a doll. “Don’t be a creep,” says his brother. “Sissy, sissy,” chants the boy next door. Then one day someone really understands William’s wish, and makes it easy for others to understand, too.

When Mama got a new baby, Phoebe got a new digger. And when Mama is busy with the baby, Phoebe and Digger are busy, too: “Waa!” says the baby. “Rmm!” says Digger. Poop! goes the baby. “Rmm!” says Digger. Finally, Mama says it’s time to go to the park, the one with real dirt — and while Mama and the baby sit on the boring bench, Phoebe and Digger happily build and knock down and dig things up. That is, until a big girl comes by, a kid with mean teeth and grabby hands. Phoebe tries everything she can, but what if she never gets Digger back?

A little girl imagines what her day would be like if she were Madam President. There would be executive orders to give, babies to kiss, tuna casseroles to veto (or VETO!) and so much more! Not to mention that recess would definitely require more security.

Morris is a little boy who loves using his imagination. But most of all, Morris loves wearing the tangerine dress in his classroom’s dress-up center. The children in Morris’s class don’t understand. Dresses, they say, are for girls. And Morris certainly isn’t welcome in the spaceship some of his classmates are building. Astronauts, they say, don’t wear dresses. One day when Morris feels all alone and sick from their taunts, his mother lets him stay home from school. Morris dreams of a fantastic space adventure with his cat, Moo. Inspired by his dream, Morris paints the incredible scene he saw and brings it with him to school. He builds his own spaceship, hangs his painting on the front of it and takes two of his classmates on an outer space adventure.

Not Every Princess takes readers on a journey that gently questions the rigid construction of gender roles and inspires readers to access their imaginations and challenge societal expectations. Also includes a Note to Parents by the authors.

Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she’s a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal–to fly–Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt’s dream come true. But when her contraption doesn’t fl y but rather hovers for a moment and then crashes, Rosie deems the invention a failure. On the contrary, Aunt Rose inisists that Rosie’s contraption was a raging success. You can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.

Raffi is a shy boy who doesn’t like noisy games and is often teased at school. But when he gets the idea of making a scarf for his dad’s birthday he is full of enthusiasm, even though the other children think it is girly to knit. Then the day draws near for the school pageant, and there is one big problem – no costume for the prince. And that’s when Raffi has his most brilliant idea of all – to make a prince’s cape. On the day of the pageant, Raffi’s cape is the star of the show.

Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training, is frustrated. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation when they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Ninja skills don’t come easily to Little Kunoichi. She needs determination—and a special friend—to unleash her power!

Basketball is Allie’s favorite sport she’s loved it ever since her father took her to her first game at Madison Square Garden. When her dad gives her a new basketball of her own, she hits the neighborhood courts, full of confidence. Once there, her enthusiasm ebbs as her shots fall short of the basket at least at first. Allie’s story of self-determination is one that young athletes, both boys and girls, will recognize. Perfect for anyone who has experienced the ups and downs of practicing and playing hard, Allie’s Basketball Dream is a spirited tribute to perseverance.”

Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows. . . . Unfortunately, when Bailey’s awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. Quite the contrary. “You’re a BOY!” Mother and Father tell Bailey. “You shouldn’t be thinking about dresses at all.” Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is touched and inspired by Bailey’s imagination and courage. In friendship, the two of them begin making dresses together. And Bailey’s dreams come true!

This gorgeous picture book—a modern fairy tale about becoming the person you feel you are inside—will delight people of all ages.

 

 

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Children's books that defy gender stereotypes are great conversation starters! I love having something as easy as a book to help me ask some great questions! #genderroles #childrensbooks www.themidlifemamas.com

6 Comments

  1. Jessica on June 1, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    As a female engineer, I’m annoyed that Rosie Revere made the list for crushing gender stereotypes. My aeronautical/astronautical engineering major at MIT was 40% female. It’s time to stop repeating the message that girls in STEM are defying gender stereotypes. While STEM should be encouraged for girls, it shouldn’t be seen as unusual or we will continue to propagate a tired old stereotype.



    • Karen Patten on June 6, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Thank you so much for this comment – I didn’t realize that class demographics had changed that much. As an attorney, I know it can be difficult to step out of the mold – and my law school class was, at least, 80% male. (But that was almost 30 years ago…did I just write that???) I do still think there are plenty of young women who are steered away from STEM subjects, or who believe that they can’t be successful in math. But I definitely agree that we shouldn’t view young women in STEM based professions as unusual.



      • T on October 28, 2017 at 7:45 am

        Most STEM based classes/majors are still vastly disproportionate in gendered representation of women (and I have yet to see stats from outside the binary). Representation and underrepresentation matter. “Seeing yourself” is so important. It’s awesome the commenter felt they were in a class where there was parody (at least visually). Sadly, that is not the case statistically.



        • Karen Patten on November 3, 2017 at 12:47 pm

          I agree – seeing yourself is so important! When I was in law school – females weren’t even close to half of the class. Thank you!



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  3. […] Alert: It’s not too hard to find books with main characters who defy gender stereotypes for younger children. They teach valuable lessons about equality and gender based double […]



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