As a soon to be mama of a little boy myself, this is a subject that I keep coming back to. The same way toys are marketed separately to boys and girls, there are some books that are specifically marketed to boys and others to girls. As the person that purchases books for our school library, I am used to carefully monitoring the choice of books we are purchasing to make sure we are not spreading negative gender stereotypes even at this young age. I remember reading the book Wringer by Jerry Spinelli and realizing that often the books we read to young boys are about strength and adventure and leave things like empathy and caring out. In fact, Shannon Hale (author of Princess Academy) talks about how when she reads at schools often only the girls are invited to the event. Since it’s a book written by a female author about princesses, clearly boys wouldn’t want to read it? Or would they?
It’s no wonder that our boys often feel that there is a certain mold that they must fit into even at an early age. There seems to be this belief that if a book has a male protagonist everyone can enjoy it (Harry Potter, The Jungle Book, The Graveyard book), but if it has a female protagonist, it is probably only appealing to girls (Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Ladybug Girl). I argue that this is something we can start to fight back against with the picturebooks we read to our children. As an educator, I want you to know that you can choose books with female protagonists that will appeal to boys and girls equally because a good story is a good story no matter who the protagonist happens to be. Here is a list of some of my favorite picture books with female protagonists and why I think they appeal to both boys and girls:
|Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
This book deals with the idea of excluding someone because they seem different than you. The protagonist learns a lesson in kindness and when she is ready to apologize, the person whose feelings she has been hurting is gone. The idea that sometimes you don’t get to fix your mistakes, but you only get to learn from them is a powerful one.
|Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch
In this Munsch classic, Elizabeth, the beautiful princess, loses her clothes, ends up in a paper bag and has to go rescue Ronald. She uses her intelligence to outsmart a dragon and save the day, the best part about this book is that it is really funny.
|Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch
Jule Ann wants to stay clean but there is a mud puddle following her around getting her dirty. She tries a few different solutions before figuring out a way to outsmart that mud puddle. The illustrations are wonderful and children especially love seeing as Jule Ann’s dog gets muddy with her.
|The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
The protagonist in this story has a wonderful idea, but it is hard to execute. She must try and try again and fail and fail again. Each time she learns something about what works in her invention and what doesn’t. In the end, she builds something pretty wonderful. This book is a lesson on effort, hard work and has an adorable dog sidekick. Children are often really relieved for her at the end.
|Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
This book is based on the childhood of Jane Goodall. It is informative, inspiring and about a real person. A woman that goes and lives among monkeys? You don’t need much more than that to get children excited about this book.
|Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
This book is about a girl named Annabelle and her magical box of yarn, which is full of fun and suspense. It also has amazing illustrations of whole houses covered in yarn. It is a hit with young readers partially because covering a city in yarn sounds preposterous and it kind of is, but it’s also pretty lovely when illustrated by Jon Klassen.
|Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
This popular children’s tale is about a girl and her bunny; her Knuffle Bunny. It’s a tale about loving that special stuffed animal and the things that parents will do to help you make sure you have them.
|Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Rosie Revere invents amazing things until she is laughed at, then she stops. It takes a while for her to figure out that laughing at your mistakes is just part of the process. This girl inventor will have you inspired to build all kinds of amazing things.
|Wave by Suzy Lee
This wordless picture book about a young girl playing with a wave in the ocean has wonderful illustrations and any child that loves the ocean will love this book as well.
|Sheila Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes
Sheila Rae is incredibly brave until one day she is walking and gets a little lost. Fortunately for her, Louise, her little sister, is there to save the day. Younger siblings especially seem to enjoy this book.
Hopefully, these book suggestions help you think about what books we offer to young boys (and girls) and what messages they communicate to them about who they are and who they should be.