children’s books, light on the gender stereotypes

I’m working on a short list of great children’s books that push back (quietly or explicitly) against gender stereotypes for both boys and girls.

Here’s my current effort. We’ve got books featuring princesses and fairies who break the mold, mysteries and adventures that aren’t ‘no girls allowed,’ boys and girls who interact with each other like real people, adults whose work lives aren’t limited by gender stereotypes, opportunities to explore gender history, and more!

What would you add? All the longer chapter books are girl-centered: anybody know good ones that fit the bill and have boy and girl main characters, or focus mostly on non-stereotypical boys?

picture books
A Penguin Story (Antoinette Portis)
The Great Big Book of Families (Mary Hoffman)
Axel Annie (Robin Pulver)
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and Knuffle Bunny (Mo Willems)
The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf)
And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell)
Library Lion (Michelle Knudsen)
Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney)
She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! (Kathryn Lasky)
The Bobbin Girl (Emily Arnold McCully)
Monster Bones: The Story Of A Dinosaur Fossil (Jacqui Bailey)
the Magic School Bus series (Joanna Cole)
Far from Shore (Sophie Webb)

early reader and shorter chapter book series
Mr. Putter and Tabby series (Cynthia Rylant)
Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton books (Elisabetta Dami)
Sly the Sleuth books (Donna Jo Napoli)
“Young Cam Jansen” and regular old Cam Jansen mysteries (David A. Adler)
Catwings and its sequels (Ursula Le Guin)

longer chapter books
Arabel’s Raven (Joan Aiken)
Nim’s Island (Wendy Orr)
The Ordinary Princess (M.M. Kaye)
The Night Fairy (Laura Amy Schlitz)
The Penderwicks and its sequels (Jeanne Birdsall)
Esperanza Rising (Pam Muñoz Ryan)
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle)

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  1. Posted 30 July 2013 at 8:14 AM | Permalink

    THANK YOU. Always needing another list like that. I am not into the chapter books realm with V yet, but for picture books I like ‘May I Bring A Friend?’ for the art and prose as much as the easy-on-the-stereotyping theme (male main character), ‘Cloudette’, ‘Horton Hears a Who’…

    Thanks again!

  2. Posted 30 July 2013 at 8:20 AM | Permalink

    Hooray for lists like these!

    For picture books:

    Not All Princesses Wear Pink–Jane Yolen
    Princess in Training–Tammi Sauer
    William’s Doll–Charlotte Zolotow
    Pugdog–Andrea U’Ren
    The Paper Bag Princess–Robert Munsch

    Easy Readers/Early Chapters:
    Pinky & Rex series by James Howe

  3. Posted 30 July 2013 at 8:42 AM | Permalink

    Yay book lists!

    Two more picture books: Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes, and Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (but not Prince Cinders–that one was a disappointment, in my opinion)

  4. Posted 30 July 2013 at 10:05 AM | Permalink

    The most radical such book is Louis Gould’s X: A Fabulous Child’s Story. It’s out of print, but Julia Mickenberg and I reprinted it in Tales for Little Rebels, along with some other anti-sexist tales (and left-leaning stories of various political inclinations). You’ll also enjoy Jay Williams’ work: The Practical Princess, Philbert the Fearful. And, of course, Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, and Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow. Some more recent work includes Luke Pearson’s excellent comics/graphic-novels-for-children starring Hilda, such as Hilda and the Midnight Giant. And Suzy Lee’s beautiful, wordless, Shadow. And her Wave. For non-stereotypical male characters, I’d point to Andy Runton’s Owly books, and Crockett Johnson’s Harold books. They’re both thoughtful characters, not aggressive. I think Kevin Henkes’ work has already been mentioned above, but of course Owen is a strong example.

  5. Molly
    Posted 30 July 2013 at 1:47 PM | Permalink

    Thanks, everybody, for these awesome additions!

  6. Becky
    Posted 30 July 2013 at 4:35 PM | Permalink

    I suppose I’m pleasantly surprised to see Cynthia Rylant here. I love her books about Henry and Mudge, but I have found that series and particularly the Annie and Snowball series to be reinforcing of gender stereotypes.

    If you’re looking for longer books with non-stereotypical male protagonists, the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel is really good.

    On the picture book end of the spectrum, If You Give a Moose a Muffin has male protagonists baking and sewing, which is pretty cool.

  7. Lara
    Posted 31 July 2013 at 7:24 AM | Permalink

    Gooney Bird Green (series) — these are a pleasure to read out loud. Sweet portraits of a 2nd grade class, with an unconventional heroine (Pippi-like sensibility).
    Franny K Stein, Mad Scientist (series) — goofy, not fine lit, but how many books feature a girl mad scientist?

  8. Christy
    Posted 1 August 2013 at 4:00 PM | Permalink

    Great list, we love so many of those titles! I recommend Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer Holm. Main character is an awesome girl, and the boys have a babysitting service with a highly sought-after secret diaper rash formula. Happy reading!

  9. Posted 12 August 2013 at 11:38 PM | Permalink

    I’m a bit late on this, but I still wanted to share a few that stood out to me. :)

    Giants Beware by Jorge Aquirre – Graphic novel adventure with anon-girly girl as the main character, a princess type who learns she is more than a princess, and a boy who decides to be a chef.

    Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke – A picture book about a girl who competes for her own hand in marriage.

    What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best by Laura Numeroff – Two stories with exactly the same text. Turns out mommies and daddies do the exact same things. :)

    Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper – In first person narration, Grace talks about “boy stuff” and “girl stuff” and admits that she likes drawing cartoons, which is a boy thing.

    Fire Engine for Ruthie by Leslea Newman – Nana suggests that they play tea party, but Ruthie wants to play trucks.

    Oliver Button is a Sassy by Tomie De Paola – A little boy is teased for his interests in art and drawing.

    Love That Dog by Sharon Creech – A boy thinks poetry is for girls, but he finds that poetry isn’t so girly after all.

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