girl with blocks

12 Children’s Picture Books That Challenge Traditional Gender Roles

by Marsha Rakestraw

Each May and June in the U.S. we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Moms usually receive pretty, smelly, “girly” stuff, and dad’s get yet another manly tie, cologne, or something to BBQ.

Just one of the countless ways we perpetuate the stereotypes and biases about what women and men are supposed to like and be like.

And our media, marketing, language, and culture about these expectations and assumptions filter down to the youngest of us.

Research shows that even young children can quickly fall into these sex-based stereotypes and prejudices.

In honor of celebrating our gender diversity, here are 12 children’s picture books that challenge traditional gender roles.

  1. Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
    2006. Grades PreK-2.
    When Nate discovers dance, he knows he’s found his passion, but his brother’s assertion that “boys don’t dance” causes him to have doubts.
  2. Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell
    2010. Grades PreK-2.
    While actually a coloring book, the diversity of interests by these characters (such as the prince who wants glass slippers) is perfect for celebrating and exploring gender variety.
  3. The Basket Ball by Esme Raji Codell
    2011. Grades PreK-2.
    When the boys won’t let Lulu join their school-yard basketball team, she hosts a “Basket Ball” where girls from all over trade-in ball gowns for b-ball gear & show off their stuff.
  4. Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola
    1979. Grades PreK-3.
    Oliver has to deal with classmates who harass him because he prefers activities like painting, reading, and dancing, instead of playing sports.
  5. 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
    2008. Grades 1-5.
    Every night, Bailey dreams about dresses. But in the daytime, her parents tell her she shouldn’t be thinking about dresses because “You’re a boy!” Then Bailey meets someone who is inspired by her passion.
  6. The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
    2002. Grades K-3.
    Because Elmer has different interests than the other male ducks, they taunt him and call him a sissy. When Elmer saves his Papa, the other ducks come to realize that Elmer’s specialness is something to celebrate.
  7. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
    2001. Grades PreK-3.
    King Wilfred teaches his daughter the same knightly skills he taught his sons. But when she turns 16, the King insists on a joust, the winner of which will win Violetta’s hand in marriage. Violetta has other plans.
  8. Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin
    2004. Grades K-4.
    A young girl in Mexico wants to be like her papa and become a glassblower, but such things are traditionally only for boys.
  9. I Look Like a Girl by Shelia Hamanak
    1999. Grades K-3.
    Each girl imagines herself a wild animal and dreams about what she can be.
  10. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
    2010. Grades PreK-3.
    Dyson loves pink, dresses & his tiara. He also likes to climb trees. He’s a Princess Boy, and his family loves him exactly as he is.
  11. The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch
    1992. Grades PreK-3.
    Princess Elizabeth rescues her prince, who has been nabbed by a dragon, only to discover she’s better off without him.
  12. William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
    1985. Grades PreK-3.
    William doesn’t want the train or basketball his dad gives him. He deeply wants a doll. No one understands – some even call him a sissy – until his grandmother steps in.

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