12 Epic Tween and Teen Books That Smash Traditional Gender Roles
Spoiler 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 standards. But finding kids books that defy gender stereotypes and roles once they become school age and start looking for characters who don’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes, can be a challenge. So this post is a collection of some of the most entertaining stories out there for kids anywhere from nine to fifteen or so that also just happen to show characters turning stereotypical or traditional gender roles upside down!
From the moment that I began decorating my son’s nursery – I refused to follow gender stereotypes. So his nursery was gender neutral, predominately yellow, and I bought mostly gender neutral clothes and toys. (Although I did quickly learn that green and yellow on my newborn infant made him look more like Kermit the Frog than the juicy, healthy pink faced boy that he really was.)
But, as a result, it never occurred to my boys that there was something “wrong” to play with, enjoy, or watch on television. My youngest and I clearly share a bond over our love of all things sparkly. My oldest isn’t a “sports boy.” They don’t think twice about watching television shows with female lead characters.
Yet, they can still turn anything, even a cotton ball, into a “weapon of mass destruction” or a gun and we have plenty of fake shoot outs in our house. There’s no lack of “boy energy” there at all. And I’m delighted that I get to watch them grow into who their hearts guide them to be.
Scientists have learned that by age ten, kids have already internalized stereotypical views of gender roles in an extremely diverse cross section of cultures.
“We found children at a very early age—from the most conservative to the most liberal societies—quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” says Robert Blum, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Global Early Adolescent Study. (cite)
So it’s up to us to help our kids realize that these gender stereotypes are merely a societal construct that no longer serves us as a society. So after the first round of reading to little kids about gender stereotypes, keep the message going with one or more of these stories for older kids about gender roles, norms, and expectations.
Stories With Boys Turning Traditional Gender Roles Upside Down
Boys can be anything they want to be! This timely book joins and expands the gender-role conversation and gives middle-grade boys a welcome alternative message: that masculinity can mean many things.
You won’t find any stories of slaying dragons or saving princesses here. In Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, author Ben Brooks-with the help of Quinton Wintor’s striking full-color illustrations-offers a welcome alternative narrative: one that celebrates introverts and innovators, sensitivity and resilience, individuality and expression.
It’s an accessible compilation of 75 famous and not-so-famous men from the past to the present day, every single one of them a rule-breaker and stereotype-smasher in his own way. Entries include Frank Ocean, Salvador Dali, Beethoven, Barack Obama, Ai Weiwei, Jesse Owens, and so many more-heroes from all walks of life and from all over the world.
In The Witch Boy, in thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.
When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help — as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.
Odd Boy Out tells the story of Albert Einstein – who was a peculiar, fat baby with an unusually big and misshaped head. When he was older, he hit his sister, bothered his teachers, and didn’t have many friends. But in the midst of all of this, Albert was fascinated with solving puzzles and fixing scientific problems. The ideas Albert Einstein came up with during his childhood as an odd boy out were destined to change the way we know and understand the world around us . . .
In Better Nate Than Ever, Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.
In My Seventh Grade Life In Tights, all Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.
Dennis was different. Why was he different, you ask? Well, a small clue might be in the title of this book! Charming, surprising and hilarious — The Boy in the Dress is everything you would expect from the co-creator of Little Britain. David Walliams’s beautiful first novel will touch the hearts (and funny bones) of children and adults alike.
In The Prince and the Dress Maker, Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses.
In Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino, eleven-year-old musical prodigy, Elvis Ruby, was supposed to win the most coveted reality show on television, Tween Star. None of the other contestants even came close to his talents. But in the middle of the biggest night, with millions of people watching, Elvis panicked. He forgot the words to the song. He forgot the tune. He forgot how to play every single instrument he’d ever known and froze on national TV. So Elvis must run from the paparazzi camped outside his door and spend the summer working with his aunt and cousin at Piney Pete’s Pancake Palace in the remote wilds of New Jersey. It’s the perfect place to be anonymous, that is until Elvis meets Cecilia, a girl who can’t seem to help blurting out whatever’s on her mind.
“You’re just wasting your God-given talents if you don’t get yourself something besides a little ole harmonica to play.” Wylene made it sound so easy. Martin had always like music — liked to listen to it, liked to make up tunes in his head. But all he had to do was say the word “piano” to his father and all hell would break loose. His father thought music was for sissies, and was always mad at Martin for not being good at baseball. But with a lot of help from his friends Wylene and Sybil and his grandmother, Hazeline, Martin learns that, although he can’t change his father, he can learn to stick up for himself. With humor, pathos, and a colorful cast of offbeat characters, Barbara O’Connor shows that there’s room for genius wherever there’s a place for compassion– even in Paradise.
In Boys Don’t Knit, after an incident regarding a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi (and his friends), 17-year-old worrier Ben Fletcher must develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby, and do some community service to avoid any further probation.
He takes a knitting class (it was that or his father’s mechanic class) with the impression that it’s taught by the hot teacher all the boys like. Turns out, it’s not. Perfect.
Regardless, he sticks with it and comes to discover he’s a natural knitter, maybe even great. It also helps ease his anxiety and worrying. The only challenge now is to keep it hidden from his friends, his crush, and his soccer-obsessed father. What a tangled web Ben has weaved . . . or knitted.
Stories With Girls Kicking Gender Stereotypes To the Curb
Slut or saint? Good friend or bad friend? In control or completely out of it?
Life is about making choices, and in Not That Kind of Girl, Natalie Sterling prides herself on always making the right ones. She’s avoided the jerky guys populating her prep school, always topped honor roll, and is poised to become the first female student council president in years.
If only other girls were as sensible and strong. Like the pack of freshmen yearning to be football players’ playthings.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
“Play ball!” yelled the umpires as the teams of the AAGPBL took the field in the tense, war-torn days of 1943. Like all professional baseball players, these athletes scrambled to their positions, tossed balls across diamonds, and filled the air with chatter. But there was something different about them–they all wore skirts, went to charm school, and continually had to answer one question: “What is a woman doing playing baseball?”
National Velvet is a classic tale of dreams, ambition and one girl’s belief in a horse. ‘Velvet’ll sit on a horse like a shadow and breathe her soul into it …I never seen such a creature on a horse.’ Velvet is mad about horses. When she wins a piebald horse in a raffle, she knows he’s something special. His heart is as big as the five-foot fences he jumps, and he’ll do anything for Velvet. Soon, she and her friend Mi have their sights set on the biggest race in England. But can a girl win the Grand National? (And don’t forget to watch the movie after reading the book!)
It is the summer of 1950 and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
In The Servant, Faten’s happy life in her village comes to an abrupt end when her father arranges for her to work as a servant for a wealthy Beirut family with two spoiled daughters. What does a bright, ambitious seventeen-year-old do when she is suddenly deprived of her friends, family, education and freedom? Could the mysterious, wealthy young man who lives in the next apartment building help?
When Faten finally manages to make contact with Marwan, a musician and engineering student, he helps her figure out a way to pursue her studies in secret. Even against the uncertain backdrop of the civil war, their romance develops, as the two conspire to exchange notes and meet at an idyllic seaside cafe. But in Lebanese society the differences in religion, class and wealth are stacked against them, and their parents have very different ideas about what their futures should be.
In The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, Molly Williams is an eighth grader who has more than her fair share of problems. Her father has just died in a car accident, and her mother has become a withdrawn, quiet version of herself.
Molly doesn’t want to be seen as “Miss Difficulty Overcome”; she wants to make herself known to the kids at school for something other than her father’s death. So she decides to join the baseball team. The boys’ baseball team.
In Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged. Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu.
In Chasing Secrets, it’s San Francisco in 1900. The Gilded Age. A fantastic time to be alive for lots of people . . . but not thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy, stuck at Miss Barstow’s snobby school for girls. Lizzie’s secret passion is science, an unsuitable subject for finishing-school girls. Lizzie lives to go on house calls with her physician father. On those visits to his patients, she discovers a hidden dark side of the city—a side that’s full of secrets, rats, and rumors of the plague.
The newspapers, her powerful uncle, and her beloved papa all deny that the plague has reached San Francisco. So why is the heart of the city under quarantine?
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.
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Related Resources You May Also Enjoy:
- 37 Children’s Books That Crush Gender Stereotypes (this is a list of books for children 8 and under);
- One Thing Your Highly Sensitive Child Needs From You (this is a great read – especially if you’ve been struggling with a sensitive boy and not sure how to be there for him);
- 5 Secrets You’ll Want Right Now To Raise Fair Minded Kids (we all want to raise kind and respectful children – here are some affirmative ways to help you do just that).