As a mom of two boys, I want them to grow up to be men who are intelligent, compassionate, responsible and comfortable expressing their emotions. If you have sons, those are your goals, too. As with most things in life, good books can help!
This list of books featuring boys from all walks of life give children (not just boys!) positive role models that allow them to see there is not one way to express masculinity "be a man." Boys can reject gender stereotypes, have a variety of interests, they can be sensitive, respectful and are learning every day about how to live with grace and wisdom.
Finally, these books allow boys to reject what some call, "toxic masculinity" and instead see gentleness, helping others, and being unique as a strength!
Yes, this list is a long one. If you want a printable copy, you can grab one at the end of the post.
Note: this list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn a commission for this blog. Bookshop also supports independent bookstores.
THE HEART OF A BOY by Kate T. Parker
Photographs of boys of all ages and from all walks of life are accompanied by quotes from those boys. Each page will prompt a conversation and promote the appreciation of the depth and range of boys. There are athletes, artists, brothers, dreamers and more who make us smile with statements like, "Being strong means believing in yourself and not putting other people down," "People think boys should be strong all the time. But that's not true. Sometimes I'm scared or sad or worried," and "My mom makes my scar into a happy face." This is the type of book you leave out on the coffee table so all who walk by can thumb through its pages. All ages.
I AM HUMAN: A BOOK OF EMPATHY by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
A child (not specified as a boy, but will read that way to most people) details all the things that makes them human. In the opening pages, they declare, "I was born. A miracle! One of billions but unique!” After that, in straightforward terms, the child explains how they have feelings, how they see the world, the choices they can make and how those choices can affect others. The book ends on a positive note, "I will keep trying to be the best version of me." Ages 3 and up.
WHEN LANGSTON DANCES by Kaija Langley, illustrated by Keith Mallet
This is a delightful book about a boy who, after seeing the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform, longs to dance. He twirls through the streets and joins a dance class as the only boy in the room. Even though some people tell him that boys don't dance that way, Langston stays true to himself and finds joy in dancing however he wants to. Ages 4 and up.
CLIVE AND HIS BABIES (series) by Jessica Spanyol
Spanyol's All about Clive board book series should be on the reading list for every family with toddlers and preschoolers. The charming Clive loves to push dolls around in strollers (caring!), make art (creative!), and play dress up (imaginative!). In Spanyol's second book about Clive, Clive's Jobs, Clive takes a turn at being a nurse, waiter and librarian. Ages 1 and up.
WILLIAM'S DOLL by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by William Pène 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 boy's 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 4 and up.
MORE: Books that challenge gender stereotypes
MAX by Rachel Isadora
This is not only a great book 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.
JOHN'S TURN by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kate Berube
On Fridays, students meet for a school assembly in which students share and perform their talents. John's turn is coming up and he's feeling nervous, even though he loves dancing. After several of his classmates perform, John gets ready, donning his dance outfit and starting his music. A few kids comment that his orchestral tunes are not dancing music, but when John performs, the other kids enthusiastically laud his performance. Lovely. Ages 4 and up.
BIG BOYS CRY by Jonty Howley
Here's a great story for teaching children it's okay to show emotion. Levi is nervous for his first day of school. His father tells him, "Big boys don't cry," and send him on his way. During his walk to school, Levi sees all sorts of men, and they are crying! At school, Levi's day improves and he enjoys the day. Back at home, he finds his dad shedding a few tears and father and son reassure each other that, "Big boys do cry." Ages 3 and up.
MORE: Children's books to build emotional intelligence
A BOY LIKE YOU by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Kayla Harren
This book celebrates the many ways to be a boy (albeit, gender conforming). Boys of all backgrounds engaging in a variety of activities fill the pages with positive messages about following your path, being kind, brave and unique. It's not the most original book on this list, but a good one to include in your reading diet. Ages 5 and up.
REAL COWBOYS by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Jonathan Bean
Hoefler's tale shows readers that cowboys are not just stereotypes of rough and tough men out on the ranch. They take care of stranded animals, keep the animals calm, sing lullabies, listen carefully and look after neighbors. They ask for help, are good to the earth and want peace. They even feel sad when they lose their animals. Could the illustrations depict a more diverse group of cowboys? Sure, but still a worthwhile read. Ages 5 and up.
MORE-IGAMI by Dori Kleber, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
This is a sweet story of perseverance. After his classmate's mother teaches him origami, Joey is determined to be a master folder. But it takes lots of practice! He finds the perfect place to hone his skills at the local restaurant. My son loved watching Joey fold household items, especially the money! Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Children's books about perseverance
THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Jeremy wants the latest pair of trendy shoes. All his friends have them but his grandmother can't afford to buy him a pair. Jeremy finds a pair at a thrift store and buys them even though they are too small. When he makes friend with a kid at school who needs them more than he does, he gives them to him. I love how this book is honest about the struggles Jeremy has about giving the shoes away. He really wants to keep them for himself but in the end does the right thing on his own. Jeremy feels embarrassed about the shoes he does have to wear and that doesn't disappear, making the act of kindness even more powerful. Ages 5 and up.
TOUGH GUYS HAVE FEELINGS TOO by Keith Negley
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Illustrations reveal stereotypical "tough guys" like superheroes, ninjas, a lucha libre wrestler, knights, etc. However, they are depicted all in emotionally complex situations. For example, best friend friend ninjas are sad over a falling out, a pirate is frustrated at not finding treasure, and a race car driver deals with a loss. The final illustration shows a father and son reading together. Ages 4 and up.
I AM EVERY GOOD THING by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Children hear messages from every corner as they grow up. Some may be full of praise, others are sadly critical, or even derogatory and meant to belittle. Caring adults must counteract these negative messages with hope. The reassurance that you are "every good thing" is a powerful and hopeful message for a child. Barnes' text sings loudly to children of their worth, the validity of their dreams and their right to define themselves as they wish. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Children's books that celebrate being unique
THE WORLD'S POOREST PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa
The text of Kusaba's book (originally published in Japan) comes from a 2021 speech given by José Mujica, the president of Uruguay at United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Muijca lived a life in which he eschewed riches and in his speech he spoke of the need to reject a life built on the cycle of owning and producing more and more goods. Reading his speech gives children a role model to which they can aspire–someone who has the power to change things and who actually "practices what they preach." Ages 5 to 105.
HOW TO HEAL A BROKEN WING by Bob Graham
In a busy city a boy notices a bird on the ground. He takes it home with him and nurtures it back to health. I've long loved this book with a loving family that supports the gentle boy's act of kindness. The oversized pages, with spare text, are filled with images that tell an intricate, sensitive story. Ages 3 and up.
SUMO JOE by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata
A fun, positive story about a boy who must learn how to balance his love of sumo wrestling with being a good big brother. I love how Japanese terms are seamlessly woven into the story. A great way to introduce kids to the sport, but still a lovely story about a sibling relationship. Ages 3 and up.
THE STORM WHALE by Benji Davies
This book tells the story of a boy who brings home a baby whale he finds on the beach. He tries to keep it hidden in the bathtub, but his father eventually finds out. This gentle tale focuses on the relationship between a boy and his working father, what it feels like to be lonely and how to make a connection with those we love. Plus, the illustrations are lovely. Ages 3 and up.
JEROME BY HEART by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
I loved this book! Raphael is great friends with Jerome. His parents don't really understand the friendship, but Raphael loves the way he and Jerome laugh together, the way his friend defends him, and the stories he tells. Raphael says it is easy to love Jerome. The book is so flexible because readers can acknowledge the importance of having caring, same-gender friendships. Others will take away a subtle message about acceptance of LGBTQ relationships. Overall, the tone of the story is one of joy. Lovely. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: LGBTQ Children's books with a positive message
THE BOY AND THE BINDI by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Rajni Perera
A boy watches his mother apply her bindi and asks about it. After she explains how her bindi keeps her safe and reminds her of her loved ones, he expresses interest in wearing a bindi, too, and so she gives him one. His classmates ask him about it and the boy explains to the reader how he will keep wearing his bindi because it makes him feel secure and helps him "be true." (The story doesn't discuss the religious or cultural significance of the bindi in relationship to Hindu women.) Ages 4 and up.
DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
This is an absolutely gorgeous book with a lovely intergenerational message. A boy and his grandfather are visiting each other, but they have trouble communicating as there is a language barrier. The key, however, is art. By drawing together, they learn to understand each other. Ages 4 and up
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID by Jessica Love
After seeing some fancily dressed women on the subway, Julián wants to dress up. At home he turns his abuela's fern into a fancy hat, and her curtains into a mermaid's tail. But instead of getting upset at Julián, his abuela takes him to a celebration where everyone is as fantastically dressed as he is. A lovely and warm story about acceptance and expressing yourself. Ages 4 and up.
DANIEL FINDS A POEM by Micha Archer
Nothing goes together quite like poetry and nature. In anticipation of a poetry in the park event, Daniel asks his animal friends, "What is poetry?" They all give him different answers which inspires Daniel to write his own ode to nature. Charming! Ages 4 and up.
DON'T HUG DOUG by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Finison's upbeat book empowers children to believe that it is okay to tell people they don't want to hug and that asserting personal boundaries is healthy and normal. Doug looks huggable but he doesn't like hugs. Others ask about a variety of situations, but Doug says no to them all. Children will learn that it's okay to like hugs always, sometimes or never, and teaches them to always ask before hugging. Ages 3 and up.
MORE: Children's books about the importance of consent
BILAL COOKS DAAL by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
I adore this picture book even more than I enjoy a delicious bowl of daal. Bilal is so excited to make daal with his dad! Food has a way of bringing people together, right? He explains to his diverse group of friends that the slow-cooked lentil dish takes lots of patience as well as lots of yummy ingredients. His friends have never tried it and they join him in the anticipation of eating the deliciousness. Ages 4 and up.
I TALK LIKE A RIVER by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith
I Talk Like a River is one of my favorite books of the year. A boy who stutters describes what it feels like to be unable to get out the words that flow through his mind and how his father has taught him that he "talks like a river." The boy and his dad head down to the river after a bad day and the water offers comfort while his dad describes how his speech is sometimes choppy, sometimes smooth, sometimes churning, just like the river. A gorgeous, compassionate picture book not to be missed. Ages 4 and up.
KEEP YOUR HEAD UP by Aliya King Neil, illustrated by Charly Palmer
I was blown away by this book. The narrative teaches kids that even when we have extra lousy days and our moods seem to control us we can show ourselves the grace to forgive ourselves. D is having a bad day. Everything seems to be going wrong and his frustrations eventually leads to a meltdown at school. But D is reminds himself to "keep his head up" because everyone can have a bad day. A fantastic book for social emotional learning. Truly wonderful and a must for every child’s bookshelf. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Picture books about anger and frustration
A BLUE KIND OF DAY by Rachel Tomlinson, illustrated by Tori-Jay Mordey
Author Tomlinson tackles a child's feelings of depression and the confusing emotions that it can produce. An Indigenous Australian boy, takes to his bed during a difficult day. He doesn't understand how to handle is "tangled" feelings. His parents show him patience and compassion, assuring him that his feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Picture books about hope and resilience
A FEAST FOR JOSEPH by Terry Farish and OD Bonny, illustrated by Ken Daley
Joseph, a refugee, likes his new home in America, but he fondly remembers the feeling of community when groups ate together in the refugee camps. He asks others to join him in a meal, but everyone his too busy. He makes friends with "Whoosh," a girl who is intrigued by the traditional Acholi food he brings to school. Eventually, Whoosh and her mother join Joseph in his home where they all prepare a feast. Ages 3 and up.
OSCAR'S TOWER OF FLOWERS by Lauren Tobia
In this wordless picture book, Oscar is staying with his Nana and he feels nervous, sad and lonely being without his mother. Nana tries to make him feel at home and when she sees him watering a plant she takes him to the store to buy seeds and gardening supplies. The wordless format of the book allows the reader to focus in on Oscar's emotional life and the journey from trepidation about being in a new place to joy at his gardening success. Aged 3 and up.
MORE: Picture books to help children who feel lonely
SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan
This gorgeous and moving book follows a George, a young boy, as he describes how he loves spending Saturdays with his grandmother, Stella. I love their close relationship and how they enjoy both going out and staying in. When Stella passes away, George is devastated. He misses his grandmother and has a hard time coming to terms with the new, empty Saturdays. But when George gets a new sister and learns her name he discovers that his grandmother's memories can be a blessing even as he makes new memories on Saturdays with the new Stella. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Picture books to help children understand grief and death
IN MY ANAANA'S AMAUTIK by Nadia Sammurtok, illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko
An inuit toddler (the child's gender is ambiguous) narrates the wonderful and utterly comforting experience of being wrapped up in the coziness of an amautik. Their narration describes the experience using sensory language like how it feels and smells. A soft sprinkling of Inuktitut words throughout the text enhances, rather than detracts, from the experience (glossary included) and I'm guess your child will never think of the northern terrain as frozen and barren again. Ages 3 and up.
THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld
Taylor (the child's gender is ambiguous) is building a block tower when a bird comes and knocks it over. Taylor is very upset and several animals come over to try and fix the situation. They go about it all wrong, however. They shout, vow revenge or try to dismiss Taylor's grief, not exactly comforting. The rabbit, however, listens and allows Taylor to experience an entire range of emotions over the loss of his tower. I absolutely adored this book and parents will learn a good lesson for themselves when reading it, too! Ages 3 and up.
WHEN AIDEN BECAME A BROTHER by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
This is such a sweet story and perfect for siblings. When Aidan was born everyone thought he was a girl but when he told them 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.
ARNOLD THE SUPER-ISH HERO by Heather Tekavec, Guillaume Perreault
You don't need to fly, have super strength or lightening speed to be a superhero. Arnold's family members are all superheroes, but as Arnold has yet to discover his special skill, he answers phones for his family's superhero business. One day, when he is the only one around to answer a distress call, he decides to take the task on himself. On his way to the rescue, he performs a slew of good deeds and gains the confidence he needs to realize he is a superhero after all. A fun and humorous read. Ages 3 and up.
MORE: Children's picture books about superheroes
ABDUL'S STORY by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Tiffany Rose
Any child who has faced a challenge in school, while watching their classmates perform a skill with ease will relate to Abdul's story. Abdul loves to tell stories but he struggles with writing. He letters never look the way they are supposed to and it takes so much energy out of him, he feels frustrated. During a class visit, an author shows Abdul his own messy notebook and Abdul finds a way to turn his own writing, imperfect though it may be into a story. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Picture books about kids with different abilities
WHEN SADNESS IS AT YOUR DOOR by Eva Eland
This is a lovely book that teaches kids that accepting sadness is part of life. Sadness, represented by the blue-green form comes into a (gender neutral) child's home and stays for a while, accompanying the child in all their daily activities. The overall message is not to be afraid of sadness, but to acknowledge it, name it and experience it. A wonderful, gentle book that every child should read. Ages 4 and up.
KING ARTHUR'S VERY GREAT-GRANDSON by Kenneth Kraegel
This is a wonderful twist on the knight adventure story. Young Henry Alfred Grummorson sets out to slay a few beasts and meets some very formidable creatures. At least they seem formidable. It just so happens that none of the mythical beasts want to do battle. They'd rather play games, make friends, blow smoke rings, that sort of thing. All in all, though, young Henry still finds it quite exciting. A marvelous story. Ages 3 and up.
IF YOU'RE A KID LIKE GAVIN by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by J. Yang
Grimm's autobiographical picture book teaches kids how important it is to stand up for yourself and not allow others to define you. Gavin is a boy, even though some people insist he is a girl. When the school tells him he can't use the boys bathroom, teachers bully him, and unsympathetic adults use the wrong pronouns, Gavin decides not to stay silent. He makes a choice to fight for his rights. An essential read that helps children (and grown-ups) see trans rights are human rights. Ages 5 and up.
MORE: LGBTQ history books for kids
GROWING AN ARTIST by John Parra
Juanito loves to draw and he is excited to accompany his father to work. His father is a landscape architect and along with an assistant, Javier, they perform maintenance jobs like weeding and mowing, beautifying the landscapes. Juanito draws scenes from nature when he sees something interesting and later helps his dad put a landscape design on paper. Both Juanito and his father take pride in their work, even when others don't seem to appreciate it. Ages 5 and up.
HELLO, JIMMY by Anna Walker
Whenever Jimmy goes to stay with his single dad, they have a lot of fun together. However, lately his dad has been quieter than usual and Jimmy wonders if is dad is lonely. After all, Jimmy knows what if feels like to be lonely. When a parrot enters the scene, it causes drama as well as laughter and now Jimmy wonders if his dad likes the parrot more than him. However, his dad is able to offer Jimmy the emotional comfort and connection he needs to chase his feelings of jealousy away. Ages 4 and up.
HAIR LOVE by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
This wonderful picture book shows that dads can problem solve, fix hair and bond with their daughters all at the same time. Zuri's hair "has a mind of its own," and she needs help. Lucky for her, dad steps up to the plate. After a few failed tries, Zuri shows him the products and the how-to video he needs to get things right. When mom comes home, she is mighty impressed. Joyful! You can also watch the Oscar-winning short film of Hair Love on YouTube here.
Don't forget the how to train your dragon books. The hero is a fabulous, sensible, quick thinking boy, and I was delighted to have found the series for my 6-7 year olds as a read together series. We actually listened to the Audible version and the narrator, which his Scottish accent made it even better. I cannot recommend enough.
The audiobooks for those are great! This list is confined to picture books, though. 🙂
I love this list! Do you have a similar one for teen/young adult books?
Hi Chris, I don't often review YA/teen books and I don't have another list on this topic, although I do have a list of early chapter books with boy protagonists, but that's ages 6-9. You can see all my book lists here: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids/
I always love your lists! I am a 1st and 2nd grade teacher and quite often share your lists with my families and colleagues. This list is a beautiful collection of heartwarming stories and I look forward to adding to my library with the titles I don’t already have. I really appreciate all of the time, effort, and thought that you put into your lists. Thank you!!
Thank you for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoy the lists!