As parents, we realize that kids are all a little different, but you often wouldn’t know it when traveling through a children’s toy store or clothing store. Most days it feels like are children are shoved into one of two distinct boxes—a pink one or a blue one—and society tells them over and over again that’s where they should stay. Encouraging our children to be who they want to be is hard when our sons are getting bullied for wearing nail polish and our daughters can’t lead without being bossy. So how do we do it? The same way we encourage other skills: We read them books about it. These eleven gender-creative books teach our children that they don't have to fit into neat boxes, and that they're just great the way they are.
11.) The Princess in Black
This series of short chapter books for young girls features Princess Magnolia, a prim and proper princess with an alter ego: The Princess in Black. While Princess Magnolia doesn’t feel like she can get her hands super dirty, when she dresses the Princess in Black, she battles monsters across the realm. So far there are six in this series. I love that it makes fighting monsters look like a cool thing for girls to do, proving that girls can be tough. My only complaint—and the reason it falls at the bottom of this list of 11 great gender-creative books—is that she has to have an alter ego in order to be tough.
If you have older kids who still love having picture books read to them, this is a great gender-creative option. The language in the book uses stereotypical words to describe what beautiful girls are like, such as “Beautiful girls care about makeup,” but the illustrations show a creative, modern-day interpretation of those words that depict girls playing pirates, doing science, getting muddy, and having fun. It’s a great melding of old values and new, and a great way to show young girls how to stand up for their values in a world that sometimes presses them to be something else.
9.) You Don’t Want a Unicorn
Sometimes, the best gender-creative books are the ones that don’t feel like they’re trying to teach a lesson. You Don’t Want a Unicorn is a funny cause-and-effect story about what would happen if a kid wished for a unicorn—everything from the horn scratching up the furniture at home to the unicorn pooping all over the house. The gender-creative nod? The kid just so happens to be a boy who loves unicorns.
8.) She Persisted – 13 American Women Who Changed the World
Want to empower your daughter to take control of her own destiny? This non-fiction book talks about strong females who changed the world, including Harriet Tubman and Hellen Keller. What I love about this book is that it acknowledges the real problem young girls in our society face—the fact that people will try to put the down just for being girls—and encourages to fight for what they believe in anyway. It’s a realistic message, which makes it an important one for our young women to hear.
7.) When the Bees Come Home
When the Bees Come Home is a serious story about what it’s like for a sensitive young boy to have a father who seems to prize physical abilities over creativity. With nuances in the story about financial difficulties on a farm and a father who doesn’t always understand his son, it’s definitely written with a slightly older child in mind, but it’s a really good look at some of the struggles our young boys face to be sensitive and creative in a hyper-masculine world. The illustrations are beautiful, and the moral at the end doesn’t feel contrived, making it a definite win for our young men.
6.) The Paper Bag Princess
What do you do when a dragon burns down your castle and steals your fiancé? You grab a sword, chase that dragon down, defeat him, and save the day! That’s just what the princess does in this story, which shows a dame rather than a damsel in distress for once. Realistically, the prince at the end of the story doesn’t actually appreciate being rescued by a princess—and in the fashion of a strong girl, the princess ditches him as a result. It’s a great story about a girl who uses her brain to overcome adversity, and a fun read for kids of any age.
5.) Ada Twist, Scientist & Rosie Revere, Engineer
These two books are fun reads with bright, vibrant illustrations. They’re about young women who like STEM activities, and families who support them. While this book doesn’t get into the nuances of why many girls don’t pursue STEM activities, what they do is normalize these subjects as fun ones for girls to pursue.
4.) The Story of Ferdinand
Ferdinand is an oldie but a goodie. It’s about a young bull who doesn’t like being violent and does like flowers, and it’s so popular that it was recently made into a movie. This is a great book to read with a little boy who might be just starting school and having a hard time fitting in with other boys his age. It celebrates sensitivity and shows that there are many different ways to be masculine.
3.) Rebel Girls & Rebel Girls 2
Funded by Kickstarters, each book in this series boasts 100 stories of real, powerful women who changed the world. They’re meant to be bedtime stories, and each woman has a one-page story about her life and contributions with a one-page illustration beside it. The stories can be read in about 5 minutes, and while they use simple language that any kid can understand, they don’t gloss over history’s less-than-glorious details. If you want your kids to learn about powerful historical women, this is the book for you.
2.) Tough Boris
Sometimes, our boys are taught that it’s not okay to cry or display their emotions in any way. This leads to men who aren’t in touch with their emotions or don’t know how to handle them in healthy ways. Tough Boris combats this by talking about tough, scary, awesome pirates—and how even they sometimes cry when they’re sad.
This series of graphic novels is written so that it can be enjoyed by people of any age, meaning that you are likely to get as much out of these books as your kids will. It shows off a diverse cast of women—women who have varied personalities and goals. This makes it a fun one to read with your kids, showing them that there’s not one right kind of girl, but that girls come in all shapes, sizes, and types.
There’s no reason that this generation’s kids have to have the same hang-ups about gender that we had growing up. By surrounding our kids with inspiration, from bracelets with empowering quotes on them to books that show off all kinds of characters, we can teach our sons and daughters that they don’t have to try so hard to be accepted: They just have to be strong enough to stand up for who they actually are inside.