Children's Books About Gender Roles and Stereotypes
These children’s books about gender roles shatter gender stereotypes, challenge gender norms and illustrate characters who don’t fit into “traditional” gender roles and are true to themselves.
Why Read Children's Books About Gender Roles and Stereotypes?
“People share a common nature but are trained in gender roles.” ~ Lillie Devereux Blake
When I was a teacher-librarian, I found boys wanted “boy’s books”. The girls seemed a lot more open to reading whatever interested them. For many primary age boys, reading a ‘girly’ book is embarrassing.
Where do they get this idea so young? I have always told my students there aren’t boys’ and girls’ books, just books that you will like or not like, but you have to read them to find out.
Research shows that gender stereotyping affects children negatively, particularly in terms of career aspiration and academic achievement. Children can suffer anxiety if they feel different or don’t fit in.
Having a positive sense of identity helps children feel confident about themselves and be more open-minded when meeting other people. Telling our students there are girls’ things or boys’ things, reinforces gender bias and what is right or wrong for them to do or like.
Who are we to tell a girl she can’t play with a truck or dress like a warrior, and that a boy can’t like dolls or sparkles?
Children establish gender stereotypes early, so we should counteract this with books that promote gender equality and the idea our students can do and aim for anything they want.
What You Will Find in these Children’s Books about Gender Roles
Reading about gender stereotypes in children’s books, like the ones below, is a wonderful way to challenge gender norms. They present characters who don’t conform to “normal” gender stereotypes.
On the list, you will find picture books that:
- challenge male and female stereotypes, as well as the idea that there are girls’ and boys’ things.
- promote positive role models who like what they like and don’t worry about what others think.
- portray characters who are working to establish their identity.
- focus on characters getting on with their lives while challenging gender bias.
- challenge what feminine or masculine characteristics are.
- asks questions about what is ‘normal’ about being a boy or a girl and how there is no normal.
Questions to Ask When Reading Children's Books About Gender Roles
- What does the word ‘stereotypes’ mean?
- What is gender stereotyping?
- What is gender identity?
- Where do you think gender stereotypes come from?
- Why do you think there gender stereotyping exists?
- Have you come across gender stereotypes in books you have read? What examples can you think of?
- What female gender stereotypes can you think of?
- What male gender stereotypes can you think of?
- How do you think gender stereotypes in books affect the reader?
- Do you think male and female characters are treated in the same way? For example, could [character] have been male or female? Explain your answer?
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Children’s Books about Gender Roles and Stereotypes
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Grace’s love of reading and role-play motivates her to audition for the role of Peter Pan in the school play. The other children tell her she can’t play a boys part. Her mama and Nana tell her she can be anything she wants, helping her find the confidence to audition and win the role of Peter Pan.
Angus all Aglow by Heather Smith
Angus loves sparkly things but when he wears a beautiful necklace from his gran he is teased by his classmates. Crushed, he loses his love of shiny objects until a new friend helps him remember why he loved the sparkle in the first place and helps him accept himself for who he is.
The Bluest of Blues by Fiona Robinson
A picture book biography of botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, the first person to publish a book of photography. Her scientist father raised Anna to be a scientist. Her interest grew in botany, along with the new science of photography. She created cyanotype photographs of plants and published her book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843.
The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz
Rink Bowagon is ignored by his teacher and classmates because he sprouts flowers from his body. He notices the new girl wears a flower in her hair and has one leg shorter than the other, so Rink makes her a special pair of shoes. Excited, she invited him to the school dance where he discovers the flower behind her ear is his.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
Cuba’s traditions don’t allow female drummers. A young girl tries to keep her passion a secret. But when others hear her music they dance and sing to her rhythm. This passion changes tradition and anyone who dreams of playing the drums, no matter their gender, can.
Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood
Elena's Serenade by Campbell Geeslin
Elena longs to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a glassblower. Despite his negative response, she is undeterred, and she disguises herself as a boy. With her new identity and her hard work, she becomes a successful apprentice in a glass factory. She blows out a giant bird, and her father realises her talent.
Emmeline Pankhurst by Lisbeth Kaiser
As a political activist, Emmeline Pankhurst dedicated her life to the fight for women’s equality. She organised the suffragette movement in the UK and was instrumental in women gaining the right to vote. The book includes a profile of Mrs. Pankhurst’s life accompanied by historical photos and a timeline.
Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown
Fred loves to be naked and loves to run around his house naked. He romps into his parents’ wardrobe and has fun dressing up in their clothes. His father’s clothes don’t look right, so Fred tries on his mother’s dress. Perfect. He puts on his mum’s jewellery and makeup, too. When his parents (and family dog) find him, they join in the dress-up session.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Travelling home with his abuela, Julian sees three spectacular ladies dressed in mermaid costumes. At home, he creates a mermaid outfit and proudly shows it off to his abuela. She takes him to the parade, joining others in their fabulous costumes.
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes
Explore the story of the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to become Vice President of the United States. Read how Kamala Harris’ immigrant parents instilled her with a passion for freedom and justice.
Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida
Little Kunoichi comes from a ninja family. She attends a secret ninja school for girls but has difficulty training. Her friend, Chibi Samura struggles with samurai practice but he trains with determination. This attitude inspires Little Kunoichi to train for the upcoming Island Festival where they both wow the crowd.
Little Red by Bethan Woollvin
Little Red comes across a wolf but she’s not scared. As she continues her journey to Grandma’s house the wolf rush to the house and eats Grandma. Little Red looks through the window to see the badly disguised wolf. Rather than a huntsman coming to her rescue, Little Red saves herself. Compare and contrast with the original Little Red Riding Hood.
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully
Mirette watches a guest at her mother’s boarding house walk on the clothesline without falling. Unaware he is the Great Bellini she begs him to teach her to walk the high wire. Through her determination and courage, she helps Bellini conquers his own fears.
A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice by Jasmine A. Stirling
Learn about the life and struggles of the remarkable writer, Jane Austen. Growing up, poetry, books, debates, performances and songs surrounded her. The book illustrates her struggles as a female writer and her emotional challenges to continue her creative writing.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret by Jess Keating
Marie Tharp faced sexism at every turn on her way to becoming the first person to map the Earth’s underwater mountain ridge. Women weren’t welcome in STEM fields and were considered too unlucky to be on research ships. Tharp fought gender stereotypes and used her resilience and problem-solving skills to be successful.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Piggybook by Anthony Browne
The Piggott men are chauvinistic and unappreciative of the fed-up Mrs. Piggott. She goes on strike, but on their own, the father and two boys literally live like pigs. They plead with her to return and when she does, things are very different.
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Ethel Payne fought for her education despite the adversity and racism she faced. After graduating in journalism, she wrote about segregation and racism, before becoming one of three black journalists to be issued a press page for the White House. She asked tough questions and was a vocal critic to those in power for their lack of action in the civil rights movement.
Prince Cinders by Babette Cole
A fractured fairy tale where Prince Cinders has to clean up after his three horrible brothers. When a fairy falls down the chimney, she promises Prince Cinders to make his wishes come true, but things don’t go exactly as planned.
You can compare and contrast this book with other Cinderalla versions.
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
The second of two children’s books about gender roles from Babette Cole. Princess Smartypants did not want to get married, so when she sets her suitors a task they all failed except for Prince Swashbuckle. Princess Smartypants kisses his cheek, turning him into a toad. She was never bothered again.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton
Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley created one of the most frightening monsters in literature. Her friend, Lord Byron, set Mary the challenge to write a ghost story. During a stormy night, she dreamt of a man who was actually a monster, and Frankenstein was born.
Simone De Beauvoir by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
Simone de Beauvoir was a philosopher, teacher, novelist, activist, feminist and, defender of human rights. As a child, her father encouraged her education so she could earn her own living and not have to rely on others. In 1949 her book, The Second Sex, was published and is regarded as a catalyst for the 20th-century feminist movement.
Wild by Emily Hughes
known nothing but nature from birth. She is unabashedly, irrefutably, irrepressibly wild, until one day when she meets a new animal that looks oddly like her. They take her home and try to make her live like them. In the end, she is returned to where she belongs… the wild.
Teaching your students about gender stereotypes is an in-depth topic. Learning for Justice has a couple of teaching units of this topic:
The National Union of Education has a series of resources called Breaking the Mould. Particularly relevant to this book list is “Stereotypes stop you doing stuff”. Inside you will find an overview of the impact of gender stereotypes in several primary schools.
Do you have any favourite children’s books about gender roles and stereotypes you use in the classroom? Let me know in the comments.
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