Books should reflect a diversity of children's experiences. These are children's books that defy gender stereotypes. These titles celebrate the fact that not every child fits into society's preconceived notion of what it means to be a boy or a girl and they needn't be limited by expectations based on traditional gender roles.
Kids need to know that it doesn't matter if they prefer diggers to ballet slippers, or knitting to baseball. Children need to take pride in what they do, build the self-confidence they need to pursue non-traditional interests, and learn to accept that the diversity of their peers' experiences and identities.
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MAX by Rachel Isadora
This cheerful picture book is not only great to read if your child thinks ballet is only for girls, but also because it shows kids the benefits of thinking outside the box. Every weekend Max and his sister go to baseball and ballet, respectively. One Saturday, when Max arrives to his sister's class a bit early he finds himself accepting the teacher's invitation to join in. Max loves it and from then on, he attends class with his sister as a way to warm up for his baseball games, where, thanks to a few barre stretches, he hits home runs! Ages 4 and up.
BALLERINO NATE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, illustrated by R.W. Alley
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
After seeing a ballet, Nate begs his mom to sign him up for ballet class. Nate's his brother teases him and Nate starts to doubt himself a bit. Nate's mother remains supportive of his interest and encourages him along and Nate sticks with it, especially after meeting a professional male ballet dancer, a "ballerino". There is a darling illustration spread showing all the positions of ballet lined up against similarly numbered positions in other sports. Ages 4 and up.
WHEN AIDEN BECAME A BROTHER by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
This is such a sweet story and perfect for non-cisgender siblings. When Aidan was born everyone thought he was a girl but when he realized he was a boy, his accepting and loving parents changed the things that needed changing so he could live his best life. Now Aidan is about to become a brother and he wants to make sure everything is perfect for his sibling, just like everything is now perfect for him. Ages 4 and up.
WHEN LANGSTON DANCES by Kaija Langley, illustrated by Keith Mallett
Langston attends an Alvin Ailey Dance Company performance with his mother and is inspired! Encouraged by his mother who tells him he can do anything, he practices his leaps and twirls. When another child tells him that boys don't dance, Langston defends himself and heads off to dance class where he remains undeterred from pursuing his passion. Marvelous! Ages 4 and up.
OLIVER BUTTON IS A SISSY by Tomie dePaola
I was rather surprised to find this 1979 dePaola book. I get that the term, "sissy" is a little outdated, yet I enjoyed this book. Oliver Button likes to do things like play with paper dolls, dress up, draw and read. The other boys tease him and write "Oliver Button is a Sissy" on the school walls but his parents sign him up for dancing lessons, where he thrives and works hard on a routine for the talent contest. Oliver doesn't win the contest, but when he returns to school he finds the boys have crossed out "sissy" and written "star". At first I was put off by the way Oliver's father also rejected Oliver's differences, but his father not only let him start dance class, he ended up being proud of Oliver. I thought about how a lot of parents, unfortunately, still have trouble accepting their children when they don't conform to an ideal picture. I also liked the fact that Oliver's difference was not what got him down, it was the results of the talent contest. Let's face it, we all are a little bummed when we don't win, but the newfound support of his friends was just the right ending. Ages 4 and up.
KNIT YOUR BIT: A WORLD WAR I STORY by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
This story reminded me how my brother and I both made little cross-stitch ornaments and worked on the weaving loom when we were kids. Sewing and knitting are not just for girls! Based on an actual 1918 "Knit-In" in Central Park, this book is also a fun role reversal on the Rosie Riviter phenomenon. When Mikey's dad heads off to fight in The Great War, Mikey wants to do something to help on the homefront. His teacher suggests that he and his friends participate in the "Knit-In". Initially, Mikey and his boy pals reject it as something only girls would do. The clever girls, however, turn it into a challenge that the boys can't resist. This book is a great read aloud on many levels. There's the historical aspect, the encouragement for kids to help others and try something new, and that looking beyond conventions can bring great rewards. An author's note gives additional information. Ages 5 and up.
PINKY AND REX AND THE BULLY by James Howe, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
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Pinky And Rex And The Bully is a leveled easy reader about two best friends. Pinky is a 7 year old boy and is nickname reflects his love of the color pink. When a 3rd grader begins to tease him, Pinky learns to be confident about who he is and stands up for himself. Fortunately he also has the support of his best girl pal, Rex. This is part of a great series for new readers. Ages 5 and up.
JACOB'S NEW DRESS by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case
When we were young, my brother insisted on wearing dresses and my mom let him. My jaw dropped when she told me years later that one of her friends told her she was abusing him by letting him do so. Really? What does it matter if a toddler boy wants to wear a dress? It turns out all it was only a bit of big sister worship (let me tell you those days are looooong gone). When Jacob wears a makeshift dress to school, the other boys tease him. The teacher explains that Jacob can wear whatever he is comfortable him, even reminding the kids that girls used to not be able to wear pants. Later, Jacob's mom helps him make a real dress to wear. I love it when Jacob's mother validates that there are "all sorts of ways to be a boy." This is a book about learning self-acceptance and being proud of who you are. Age 4 and up.
SPARKLE BOY by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Maria Mola
Casey loves all things that sparkle. Yes, he loves to play with trucks and blocks, but when he sees sparkly skirts and jewelry he wants those too. The grownups are all accepting and let Casey be himself, but his sister Jesse is skeptical and insists that sparkly stuff is not for boys. However, one day at the library when another child teases him, Jesse stands up for her brother. Sometimes it takes a while for a child to find their voice, but this book shows that it's never too late. Ages 4 and up.
CLIVE AND HIS BABIES (All About Clive series) by Jessica Spanyol
I adore this board book series about Clive! This one, in which he wheels around his diverse collection of baby dolls and takes good care of them, is my favorite. Other books include Clive pretending to be a nurse and Clive playing with his collection of hats. All ages.
WILLIAM'S DOLL by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by William Pene du Bois
William wants a doll to take care of but no one seems sympathetic! His friends tease him and even his father continues to buy him stereotypical boys' toys in the hopes of squashing William's request. The only adult who understands William is his grandmother who buys William a doll so William can "practice being a good father." Ages 3 and up.
ROSA LOVES CARS (All About Rosa series) by Jessica Spanyol
Like the Clive series, above, I love the entire All About Rosa book series. Both series are wonderful for sharing with toddlers that it's okay to play with any type of toy or engage in pretend play of all kinds. Each book in the series shows Rosa engaged in pretend play or a learning activity, breaking traditional and stereotypical gender roles. She plays with cars, plays with a ball, does science experiments and rides a scooter. All ages.
PHOEBE AND DIGGER by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Jeff Newman
It's pretty clear to anyone whose ever visited a sandbox that boys and girls love diggers equally. Nevertheless, most depictions of kids playing with diggers are of boys, not girls. Phoebe and Digger is a refreshing change from that gender stereotype. At its center, this is a story about learning to live with a new sibling. Phoebe has a new digger, and her mom has a new baby. Phoebe must learn to share her mom, just as she need to navigate the sandbox with other kids who may want to share (or take) her new digger. Ages 3 and up.
THE PRINCESS KNIGHT by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Princess Violet loves learning how to be a knight and practices extra hard so she can keep up with her brothers. Her father encourages her in her pursuits, which is why she is so surprised when he announces a jousting contest in which the winner will get Violet's hand in marriage. Violet is understandably outraged and enters the contest herself, disguised as Sir No-Name. This a fun story about a girl taking matters into her own hands and ensuring she is the only one deciding the course of her life. Ages 4 and up.
HAIR TWINS Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Holly Hatam
This is a wonderful story about a father and daughter bonding over a shared hairstyle. (I bet you can count on one hand the books which are about that subject!) Father and daughter both wear their hair in the Sikh tradition. The girl describes how somedays they wear it long, other days, tied up and in a bun–his under a turban. When they visit the park, the scene includes a diverse range of families and hairstyles. Ages 3 and up.
VROOM! by Barbara McClintock
This is a wonderfully joyous read aloud for preschoolers. It is the story of a girl going on a journey in a race car while celebrating the pleasures of speed! One night Annie puts on her helmet (safety first!), hops into her car and zooms out the window of her bedroom, headed on an adventure limited only by her imagination. The text is simple and to the point, allowing the reader to travel vicariously with the racer across the landscape. The illustrations are clever and engaging. A gem. Ages 2 and up.
I'M A GIRL! by Yasmeen Ismail
The protagonist of this light-hearted book is proud to be a girl! She wears what she wants and engages in all kinds of activities and is often mistaken for a boy. "Young man," others call her. She corrects them with unabashed confidence, "I'm a girl!" She refuses to change who she is just to conform to others' expectations. She even makes a friend who is proud to "be a boy!" Ages 3 and up.
NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
The rhyming text and colorful illustrations depict a diverse group of girls engaged in all sorts of activities, from farming to ball-playing, from fighting evil sorcerers to skipping in the mud. The one thing they all have in common is that they don't wear pink, but they do wear a sparkly crown. It's a great message: that there is nothing incongruous about girls engaging in rough-and-tumble activities while still loving a bit of sparkle.Ages 3 and up.
RUBY'S WISH by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
In old China, Ruby lives with her enormous family. Boys are considered lucky and girls are expected to embroider and get married. Ruby is dissatisfied with her family's emphasis on traditional gender roles. Ruby doesn't want to get married, she wants to go to university like her brothers. Ruby tells her grandfather her wish, but doesn't expect things to change for her. Just before she thinks she will have to get married, however, she finds her wish has been granted. This is a great book to start a conversation, not only about how society's expectations for girls has changed (or not changed) over time, but also about the importance of speaking up for what you want. Ages 5 and up.
LUCÍA THE LUCHADORA by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez
This is a fun, exuberant book. Lucía runs through the playground with her red cape, and the boys tell her "girls can't be superheroes." This makes Lucía mad, "Spicy mad. KA-POW kind of mad." Then, her grandmother tells her about the luchadoras and together they hatch a marvelous plan. Ages 4 and up.
DAD BAKES by Katie Yamasaki
A father gets up early to work at a bakery, and come up to bake bread with his daughter. When he and his daughter wait for the bread to rise and bake, they spend time together in other pursuits like gardening, reading and playing soccer. It's tender portrait of a loving relationship. Ages 4 and up.