Defying Gender Stereotypes in Children's Picture Books

Princesses, makeup, pink and purple, dressing up, skipping rope, raising hands and minding manners, playing nicely, taking care of others, wanting to be just like mommy.

Sports stars, rough-housing, blue and green, heroes, dump trucks and fire engines, balls, blocks, mud and bruises, running and jumping, wanting to be just like daddy.

Many of the children's books that I grew up reading were full of characters that fit neatly into gender stereotypical roles and descriptions similar to the ones listed above. Aside from The Berenstein Bear's Sister Bear occasionally playing a sport with her brother, I have little recollection of the girls in my picture books defying social norms, likely because these kinds of books were few and far between back then.

Princesses rescued by knights in shining armor. Check.

Superheroes saving damsels in distress. Check.

The stories are classic. Entertaining. Heartwarming. The familiarity of them evokes feelings of comfort like a warm blanket on a cold day.

I want my daughter to have a story collection that evokes similar feelings of comfort.

Kind of.

Though I'm a sucker for the classics and my daughter's book shelf is full of books matching that description, I also can't help but be drawn to books that defy typical gender stereotypes. I want my daughter to know that it's ok if she wants to be just like daddy. That girls can play with trucks and balls, be tough and heroic, and save the day. I also want her to know that it's ok for boys to want to be just like their mommys. That boys can rock pink, be good dancers, like to cook, and be extremely nurturing.

Presently, The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch; Illustrated by Michael Martchenko) is one of the only books on my daughter's bookshelf that goes against the stereotypical princess fairytale. In light of my desire to add variety to my daughter's bookshelf this Christmas season, I went on a hunt for books that depict characters defying typical gender roles and stereotypes.

I was so impressed with the variety of books that show strong female characters; however, as happy as I was with these female character depictions, I was disappointed with the books about boys. If a book had a male character going against typical gender stereotypes he was either a 'sissy', wearing a dress, or taking a dance class. There are so many other stories waiting to be told in this area.

This list is the best of what I found but is certainly not comprehensive.

Not All Princesses Wear Pink - (Jane Yolen & Heidi E.Y. Stemple; Illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin) This book proves that girls can be princesses while at the same time working with tools, playing sports, and rescuing themselves.

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My Princess Boy - (Cheryl Kilodavis; Illustrated by Suzanne DiSimone) Written about her son, the author depicts a little boy who loves wearing dresses and the color pink. This book calls all of us to put our judgments aside in place of tolerance.

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Phoebe & Digger - (Tricia Springstubb; Illustrated by Jeff Newman) A little girl spends the day at the park with her favorite toy, a new digger.

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The Only Boy in Ballet Class - (Denise Gruska; Illustrated by Amy Wummer) Tucker lives and breathes ballet but not everyone understands his love of dance.

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A Fire Engine for Ruthie - (Leslea Newman; Illustrated by Cyd Moore) Ruthie's Nana loves to play dolls and dress-up with Ruthie, but what Ruthie really wants to do is play with firetrucks and motorcycles.

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The Sissy Duckling - (Harvey Fierstein; Illustrated by Henry Cole) Elmer the duck is not like the other boy ducks; he likes to bake and put on shows, earning him the nickname "Sissy" by the other ducklings.

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The Princess Knight - (Cornelia Funke; Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer) Princess Violetta is small but determined and teaches herself to wield a sword better than any knight in the kingdom.

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Max the Stubborn Little Wolf - (Marie-Odile Judes; Illustrated by Martine Bourre) Max the wolf hates to hunt. What he really wants to do is be a florist, but this causes him problems with his dad.

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Rosie Revere, Engineer - (Andrea Beaty; Illustrated by David Roberts) Rosie is a talented inventor who learns what it means to fail, and the true meaning of success.

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Time to Get Up, Time to Go - (David Milgrim) This little boy's day is full of cooking, playing with his doll, and cuddling.

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The Basket Ball - (Esme Raji Codell; Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas) Lulu is good at basketball, but is not allowed to join the basketball team with the boys. A party for all the girl ballers ensues.

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Knit Your Bit - (Deborah Hopkinson; Illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia) During World War I, a group of girls challenges a group of boys to a competition in knitting for the troops.

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Grace for President - (Kelly DiPucchio; Illustrated by LeUyen Phan) After asking the question “where are the girls?”while looking at past American Presidents, Grace runs for class president and proves to her classmates that she is the best candidate for the job.

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This is just a sampling of the books that I found...there are many more at your local library and book store. 

Let me know if you have any of your own favorite picture books that fit into this category!

Happy Reading!


VANESSA