A while back, at a post listing and asking for more non-sexist children’s book titles, awesome reader Lei offered one I’d never heard of before (though the author is certainly familiar): Kevin Henke’s 1988 picture book Chester’s Way. This one doesn’t seem to make it onto lists of non-gender-stereotyping or feminist children’s books–presumably because it’s not very explicit, doesn’t mention gender or princesses–but it absolutely should!
What a gem. And Noah (who’s really a bit old for most picture books, off in his room reading giant middle-grade fantasy novels most of the time these days) loved it too, giggled and everything. Chester, you see, is a sort of preppy young mouse who is very particular and (as Noah used to describe himself) very safety-first. He has a best friend named Wilson, and the illustration of them using hand signals while riding bikes with training wheels is priceless. These are children, not Boys who must Act Like Boys–real people (or, well, mice). And then we meet loud, boisterous, colorful, costume-wearing Lilly, whose interests run the gamut of gender stereotypes just as much as Chester’s and Wilson’s do. After avoiding Lilly for some time (too different!), Chester and Wilson find themselves surrounded by older bullies “yell[ing] personal remarks” and learn that Lilly and here spray gun and wacky costumes can come in handy after all. All three children are kind, and quirky, and not determined by their gender pronouns.
And then later there’s a priceless illustration of Chester and Wilson popping wheelies (as Lilly has taught them) while Lilly uses hand signals (as they’ve taught her).
Read it if you haven’t :) It’s a good one.