20 children’s books that challenge gender stereotypes

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Do you pick up books for your children to read? Falak Randerian says these 20 books that challenge gender stereotypes are perfect!

I recently saw this video Be Bold. Be Anything which started on a very sad note, with boys and girls deciding what kids belonging to a specific gender can/cannot do. By the time the video ended however, I was smiling; unfortunately, the smile didn’t last long.

For the last 5 years, I have been trying to raise a child who is an individual first and then a girl or a boy. I have been able to put across the message ‘You can do/be whatever you want, irrespective of your gender’ very clearly.

She and I believe that we must challenge gender stereotypes and a huge credit should go to the kind of books we read together. Being a picture book enthusiast and a kid’s library owner, I know books play a very crucial role in a child’s life. Here are some gems I have read to her, and I can personally vouch for.


1. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

A classic tale of Ferdinand, who is a bull, a Spanish bull. He should fight and butt his head around. He is strong and big, but he hates to fight. He loves sitting under the shade of a cork tree in his village and smell flowers. What will happen when the bull fighters take him to Barcelona, thinking he is fit enough to fight? Recommended age: 4-7 years.

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2. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

When a dragon destroys her kingdom, the paper bag princess has nothing left. Her prince has been taken away by the dragon, and her dress is all ashes. She wears a dress made of paper bag and heads to face the dragon. She has to get her prince back. The end is the best, and we love the twist in tale. Recommended age: 4+ years.

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3. William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow

William wants a doll more than anything else. He wants to take care of his doll, and make sure she gets the best. He wants to cuddle her, take the doll out with him, kiss her goodnight, wake her up in the morning and get her ready for school. All he gets to hear is ‘sissy’ and ‘you’re such a girl’. Will William get his doll, or will he stop wishing for one? Recommended age: 4-7 years

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4. 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert

Bailey has a special dream every single time. The dreams are full of beautiful dresses, with studs, rainbows, sparkles, crystals, flowers and more. When he gets up, he wants to talk about his dreams; the problem is no one wants to hear him out. And what do Bailey’s parents have to say “Bailey! You are a boy, you shouldn’t be thinking of dresses at all.” He feels sad, until he meets Laurel, a girl who understands his dreams and loves talking about them. Both of them make dresses and Bailey is the happiest in this space. Recommended age: 3-7

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5. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Grace loves stories and loves to be the story after she has read them. She becomes the character once she has read a story. When her class auditions for Peter Pan, Grace wants to be Peter Pan. Her friends ‘advise’ her otherwise, she is dark and Peter Pan was fair, she is a girl and Pan was a boy. She CANNOT be Peter Pan. Can she? Grace’s mom and Nana have always told her, she can be anything she wants. Can’t she? Recommended age: 5-8

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6. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

Dyson, a little boy likes pinks and sparkles. He loves to wear a dress, as much as jeans. He wears his tiara and climbs a tree. He is a Princess Boy who loves to do what he thinks is right. The book also talks about a beautiful family who accepts Dyson as he is. Recommended age: 4-8

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7. Free to be …. You and Me by Marlo Thomas

The title of the book immediately attracts school going kids in our Reading Room. The book celebrates individuality and questions stereotypes. It works wonders on both the adult and the child. The illustrations are beautiful as the words in the book. Recommended Age: 7-10 years

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8. Unboy Boy by Richa Jha

Gagan is called the ‘unboy’ boy by his family and friends, his Granddad calls Gagan ‘Chooha’ (a mouse). They want him to toughen up and ‘be a boy’. The story also features ghosts, witches, monsters and ghouls. Having said that, this isn’t a ghost story, it’s about Gagan, who is a boy, even though he doesn’t fit the mould of a typical boy. Recommended Age: 5-8 years

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9. Brave Irene by William Steig

Usually we talk about Mamma’s boy and Daddy’s girl. This story is about Irene who can do anything for her mom. Irene braves a frosty storm and makes sure she completes her mom’s work, she has been assigned. This book talks of the precious relationship between a mom and her daughter. Our personal favourite, recommended for: 5-8 years

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10. Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

Another in-house favourite. This is a true story Toni Stone also known as Marcenia Lyle. A young girl in the 1930’s who dared to question people around her. All she wanted was to play baseball, and she was really good at the games. So good, that she was selected in a training camp which was meant ‘for boys only’. Marcenia was so spirited; she fought her family, friends and coaches. When Marcenia grew, she became the first woman to play in an all-boys baseball team. Recommended for 5-9 years

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11. Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Nate fell in love with Ballet, the moment he saw a show. He asked his mom if he can join Ballet classes, before his mom could answer, Nate’s elder brother said, “Yuck! Ballet is for girls in silly dresses.” Mom thought otherwise and Nate was adamant, he had to learn the dance form, and he did enrol for the class. What will happen when Nate joins the class? Recommended for 4-9 years

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12. Pinky and Rex and the Bully by James Howe

Pinky (a little boy), loves pink and his favourite friend is a girl, called Rex. Kevin, the big bully, thinks he is a sissy, Pinky knows Kevin is wrong, but he also fears Kevin might be right. Recommended Age: 6-8 years.

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13. Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz

Raffi is an introvert, who hates noisy games and his friends tease him often. For his dad’s birthday, he wants to gift him something handmade. Raffi decides to knit a scarf for his dad. For the school’s pageant, the prince has no costume; will Raffi come up with something? Recommended for 5-9 years

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14. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty

This book talks about passion, and how one should follow one’s passion, irrespective of what the people around you believe. Rosie made gadgets and machines in the confines of her room; she hides everything under her bed once she is done. One day, Rosie’s old relative comes to live with them; she had designed planes earlier and shared her stories with Rosie. After chatting, they get busy into designing something new. If this sounds interesting, you might also like Iggy Peck, Architect by the same author. Recommended Age: 6-9 years

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15. Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey

A small girl is super happy to visit the supermarket on a Saturday as mom works. Sounds like the story of my life and it is also a favourite at our house. The book is super fun, with awesome illustrations. Recommended Age: 5+ years

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Childrens_Book_Boy, Can_He_Dance!

16. Boy, Can He Dance! by Eileen Spinelli

Tony’s dad wants Tony to take the family tradition forward and become a chef, Tony loves to dance. It appears dad and Tony will be at loggerheads, but they celebrate each other’s individual choices, and encourage each other. Recommended age: 7+

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17. Not all Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen

Princesses can do anything they want and wear anything they like. They can play in muddy puddles, climb trees, play sports and become messy. Recommended age: 3-8 years.

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18. Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio

When Grace comes to know America has never had a woman President, Grace decides to change things. Grace starts a political career immediately, and stands in a school election. In a country, where we have had just 1 woman President (who unfortunately doesn’t has a very good reputation), this book will work. Recommended age: 6-9 years

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19. Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton

There was a boy, who was born with pink hair. It was never easy for him, kids laughed at him and adults stared and stared. He still faces all these obstacles with a smile, as he has an awesome friend and a supportive family which stands by his side. Recommended age: 3-6 years.

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20. My Mom is a Fire Fighter by Lois G. Grambling

Every child has a hero, and Billy’s hero is his mom. Billy loves his mom and dad; he loves his other family as much. The other family is Billy’s fire fighter uncles. My daughter was gifted this book when she was 3, and after 2 years she still loves it. Recommended age: 4+ years.

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