father and son playing with dollhouse

11 Children’s Picture Books That Shatter Gender Stereotypes

by Marsha Rakestraw

Just as we like to pretend that we live in a post-racial society, many of us want to avoid talking about sexism, stereotypes, and gender inequities. After all, women are CEOs and scientists and MMA fighters. And men can (sometimes) express their feelings (in certain cases), and can be stay-at-home dads and do the laundry now.

But if we pay attention to news, pop culture, politics, and even preschool playground conversations, it’s clear that the systems and messages embedded in our culture are still strongly aligned with more traditional and stereotypical ideologies.

Since children develop gender preferences and stereotypes early, it’s important that we humane educators cultivate an understanding of healthy gender identity and roles. One vital tool for doing so is to use children’s books.

Previously we created a list of picture books that challenge traditional gender roles. To that list you can add these 11 children’s picture books that shatter gender stereotypes.

1. Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen
2008. Grades PreK-2.
Violet is a mechanical genius. Unlike the other girls in town, Violet loves to build things – like flying machines. The kids at school tease her, so Violet’s only friend is her dog Orville. When she sees the air show is coming to town, Violet decides to build the best plane ever to show the town what she can do. But while flying her machine to the show, she must enact a daring rescue.

2. Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
2002. Grades 1-4.
Although most girls of the time aren’t allowed to learn to read and write, Ruby has a longing for learning. Fortunately, her grandfather is supportive of educating both boys and girls, so she is able to study – but she also has to keep up with learning the household duties of a woman. When Ruby’s teacher shows her grandfather a poem that Ruby has written about the unequal treatment of boys and girls — “Alas, bad luck to be born a girl; worse luck to be/ born into this house where only boys are cared for.” – Ruby is called to speak with him. When she shares with him her passion to go to university, he eventually makes her wish come true.

3. When the Bees Fly Home by Andrea Cheng
2002. Grades PreK-2.
Jonathan knows his father gets irritated with him for not being strong enough to help on the farm, and for spending time shaping the wax from their bees into little animals instead of helping – especially since money is tight. But when Jonathan adds his little wax animals to his mom’s beeswax candles, they quickly sell out at the farmer’s market, and Jonathan’s dad realizes that Jonathan has a different gift.

4. Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey
2003. Grades PreK-3.
Katie Casey wasn’t good at being “…the kind of girl everyone thought she should be.” But she loved baseball. And she was really, really good at it. With most men off to fight in the war, a baseball club owner decides to start a professional baseball league for young women. And Katie joins up to live her dream and show the world “how good girls were for baseball.”

5. Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle
2015. Grades PreK-3.
The drum dream girl dreams of playing the drums. But on the island where she lives, everyone thinks that “only boys should play drums.” Eventually her father decides to find her a music teacher to see if her “drums deserved to be heard.” And the first time she plays in public, everyone who hears her music decides “that girls should always be allowed to play drums.”

6. My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
2008. Grades PreK-2.
Throughout the day, Isabella imagines herself to be a number of “greatest” women, including Sally Ride, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Blackwell, and her own mother. At the end of the day, Isabella returns to being herself, the “sweetest, kindest, smartest, bravest, fastest, toughest, greatest girl that ever was.”

7. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
1991. Grades PreK-2.
Grace has a wonderful imagination and lots of experience acting out exciting adventures and playing roles. So when her teacher announces that the class will put on “Peter Pan” Grace wants to play the lead. Grace doubts herself when classmates tell her she can’t play that role because she’s a girl and because she’s black, but her mother’s and grandmother’s love and support remind her that she can do and be anything.

8. Jacob’s New Dress by Sara and Ian Hoffman
2014. Grades PreK-2.
“There are all sorts of ways to be a boy.” And for Jacob, that means wearing dresses. Although his parents are supportive, some of his classmates at school are mean to him about his unique choice. Then Jacob decides to make his very own dress (with his mom’s help) to wear to school.

9. Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson
2013. Grades K-3.
“Boys don’t knit. Besides, I want to do something big to help.” When Mikey’s dad goes off to fight in WWI, Mikey struggles to find a way to help. Although a lot of people in his community are knitting socks and caps and scarves, Mikey refuses, until the school holds a knitting competition. When he knits a sock for a one-legged soldier, Mikey comes to realize that “if we each do a little, it makes something big.”

10. Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully
1998. Grades 1-5.
Jingyong’s father wants her to have more than most girls are allowed, so she is raised as a boy would be, getting an excellent education and learning kung fu. When she is separated from her family, Wu Mei (“beautiful warrior”), as she is now known, uses her knowledge and skills to help a young girl who wants to escape an arranged marriage to a brutal thug.

11. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood
2015. Grades PreK-2.
Cinderella is very mechanically-inclined. When the prince’s Royal Space Parade arrives, her evil step-mother and –sisters take her tools and abandon her. But Cinderella’s fairy godrobot comes to the rescue, and Cinderella ends up helping the prince (by fixing his ship) and becoming his chief mechanic.

Image via Josh Davis/Flickr.