Books for raising boys: 20 best books for gender equality in early childhood
We’re going to end women’s history month by promoting books! Which books? Books with girls and gender non conforming main characters of course! Who are we promoting them too? BOYS!!
My family is a book family, we all love to read. Not all families love reading and I encourage more auditory families to seek out the audiobook versions of these books. While my family loves reading I could also write entire articles about the sexism we’ve encountered in children’s books (and I will) but books are also an excellent opportunity to change the power dynamic in early childhood. Children start categorizing their gender around 3 years old which means they also begin to internalize an “other” at 3 years old. This is where the ism’s and phobias begin. The Gender Creative Parent’s responsibility is to mediate those ism’s and phobias from an early age and address the inequalities. Don’t worry if you missed early childhood there is plenty of literature for teens (and adult children). Check out our GCP library to get started.
A huge study, in 2011, covering a century of books demonstrated “males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters”. We will not address the researchers definitions of male and female but you can read more about definitions in our other post. They go on to discuss how it was SURPRISING to find most animal characters were also “male”. Is this surprising? Probably not for anyone paying attention….They do not address non binary in the study, and this erasure is one thing we can prevent at GCP.
We can all agree books focused on girls and gender non conforming characters are important representations for cisgender/transgender girls and non binary/gender non conforming kids. We know the importance of these books for empowerment and representation. This empowerment is a central component at GCP but a simple google search will show girl empowerment articles have been increasing in recent years (yay!). So, I want to take this opportunity to discuss this literature FOR cisgender boys. While gender non conforming kids will seek out this literature it’s unlikely cisgender boys will be given books with girls and/or gender non conforming main characters without parental involvement. One way the gender creative parent can advocate for gender equality is by providing books and stories that allow boys to understand the world as a whole, with many different characters and how the world affects these characters in different ways.
By introducing other genders to a child through books you create the beginning stages of equality and understanding.
If this is a new action for your family be honest with your kids. It may be odd for your 10 year old son to start receiving books with main characters who are girls or gender non conforming. State your intentions and how you are trying to break down destructive norms. Discuss the important representations of these books and bring the child(ren) into the conversation. It’s new territory for both of you. Reflect on why you don’t already have these books and why you didn’t think to buy them in the past.
Reading these types of books to my cisgender white son has been one of the best building blocks to his foundation of equality. As a parent I see the world pressing him into a box and slowly shaping his worldview into toxic gender norms, but at home I hope our education will allow him to be an ally, and as an adult he will tip the scales a bit (or a lot!) and make the world a better place to live. I constantly remind myself he’s unlikely to get this information in the big wide world and it’s our job to make sure he receives it.
How do you feel about this? Are you uncomfortable? Do you fear retribution from your son(s)? Dismayed looks as they receive books with girl/non binary characters? Comments and looks from your family?
Good. Feel uncomfortable. Live here, with me, because this is where change happens.
Without further ado: 20 best books for boys to advocate for gender equality..
Ages 4-8. As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.
Ages 4-8. A powerful, vibrantly illustrated story about the first day of school–and two sisters on one’s first day of hijab–by Olympic medalist and social justice activist Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Ages 5-10. My kids LOVE the princess in black series. The princess in black leads a double life as a princess and monster fighting super hero. Her and her fellow super heroes use their wits and powers to stop monsters coming from monster land. This is an award winning series your kids will love an an excellent beginning for parents just starting gender creative parenting!
5-10. Yes! We love STEM characters. Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie—Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious.
Ages 3-7. Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. While Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.
Ages 6-10. If you’re as old as me you’ll remember the Amelia Bedelia books. I loved them as a kid and they have been re-launched for the 21st century. My kids think Amelia is hilarious. Laugh along with literal-minded Amelia Bedelia as she gets a dog, learns to dance, goes to camp, and so much more! This chapter book box set is an excellent choice to share for children who are ready to read independently. It’s a fun way to keep your child engaged and as a supplement for activity books for children.
Ages 4-8. Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools she continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. From her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera, Brave Ballerina is the story of a remarkable pioneer as told by Michelle Meadows, with fantastic illustrations from Ebony Glenn.
Ages 8-12. Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions.About her changing body.Her first attraction to a boy.And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.
Ages 5-8. Ho’onani feels in-between. She doesn’t see herself as wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). She’s happy to be in the middle. But not everyone sees it that way. When Ho’onani finds out that there will be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant, she wants to be part of it. But can a girl really lead the all-male troupe? Ho’onani has to try . . .
Based on a true story, Ho’onani: Hula Warrior is a celebration of Hawaiian culture and an empowering story of a girl who learns to lead and learns to accept who she really is.
Ages 4-8. Everyone in Mr. Tiffin’s class couldn’t be more excited that the new school library has finally opened. Everyone except Jake. Sometimes he reads the same page more than once, and feels left behind. All that changes when Librarian Beck notices Jake running his fingers across the grooves of a brand-new bookshelf and offers him an old, worn book: Woodworking for Young Hands. When the school year comes to an end, Jake has the perfect gift idea for the librarian who changed his life. While Librarian Beck is never gendered in this book we see Mcnamara simply use the pronoun “they”. It is refreshing to see a nonbinary person just being present in the world as themselves.
Ages 8-12. Don a cape and follow the indomitable space explorer Zita from start to finish! From her unlikely origin as a humble earth girl to her wildest spacefaring adventures―robot doppelgängers, space whales, doomsday cults―it’s all here!
Ages 5-10. You can guarantee anything by Vashti Harrison is for GCP. We have almost all her books. These beautifully illustrated books introduce readers of all ages to 80 women who changed the world. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features 40 trailblazing black women in American history, and Little Leaders: Visionary Women Around the World features 40 women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of history to readers.
Ages 5-10. Follow the adventures of Zoey and her cat Sassafras. This set only has 6 books but there are 2 more books!!
Each story features a new magical animal with a problem that must be solved using science. There isn’t a set formula for each book; Zoey sometimes needs to run experiments, while other times she needs to investigate a mystery, and yet other times she needs to do research.
Meet Ivy and Bean, two friends who never meant to like each other: Ivy and Bean are very different. Bean is loud and wild and goofy. She loves to be involved in games and poke her nose in other people’s business. Ivy is quiet and full of ideas. She spends most of her time learning how to be a witch. Each girl thinks the other one is weird. Each girl thinks she could never be friends with the other. But sometimes opposites can become the best of friends because they’re opposites!
Ages 3 to 5 This gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another comes from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.
While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and a radiant celebration of individuality.
Phoebe is hilarious. Down to earth and sarcastic this book is enjoyable even for parents. It’s a graphic novel which my kids also really enjoy.
After 9-year-old Phoebe skips a rock across a pond and hits the majestic face of Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, she is granted one wish: for the vainglorious unicorn to be her obligational best friend. Hilarious hijinks ensue as Phoebe and Marigold take on everything from school frenemies to goblin queens, and everything in between.
Ages 4-8. I prefer plot centered books but sometimes its good to discuss the topic itself. This is excellent option.
Colorful illustrations and simple language explain the basics of gender identity and cis, trans, and nonbinary genders. An affirming and uncomplicated introduction to gender concepts for all children from an own voices nonbinary author.
10 + Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.
Most mommies are girls. Most daddies are boys. But lots of parents are neither a boy nor a girl. Like my Maddy.
My Maddy has hazel eyes which are not brown or green. And my Maddy likes sporks because they are not quite a spoon or a fork.
Some of the best things in the world are not one thing or the other. They are something in between and entirely their own.