20 Children’s Books That Redefine Gender Roles

A collection that defies ‘normal,’ challenges stereotypes, and encourages individuality.

Oct 12, 2015
The Paper Bag Princess is a book that redefines gender roles

The Paper Bag Princess of one children's book of many that teaches a valuable lesson about gender roles

Sometimes the best way to teach a child about individuality, nonconformity, and diversity is with the rhythmic text, imaginative storylines, and captivating illustrations of a good book. Children and parents alike can step into a world where boys wear dresses, princesses play sports, and self-acceptance reigns. Here are 20 books that challenge preconceived notions of what it means to be a boy or girl, a mom or dad, or even a pirate!

1. MADE BY RAFFI

BY: Craig Pomranz
Unlike the other boys at school, Raffi doesn’t enjoy noisy, rough-and-tumble games. Instead, he prefers to knit - though the other children think it’s girly and tease him for it. But when there’s no costume for the prince in the school pageant, it’s Raffi and his knitting skills that save the day.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Follow the beat of your own drum, despite what others may think.

2. WHEN THE BEES FLY HOME

BY: Andrea Cheng
Jonathan is frustrated that he isn’t strong enough to help his father with his beekeeping duties, but he finds other ways to help his family when a drought hits and they struggle to make ends meet. He uses his artistic talents to sculpt beautiful beeswax candles, which are a hit at the market.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Though boys may feel misunderstood if they don’t fit the norm, artistic and sensitive boys hold their own special place.

When the Bees Fly Home is a children's book that redefines gender roles

3. THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS

BY: Robert Munsch
Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Prince Roland when a dragon kidnaps the prince and destroys her castle, burning all of her clothes. With nothing to wear but a paper bag, Elizabeth valiantly saves her prince - who is less than pleased at her un-princess-like appearance. But Elizabeth doesn’t care that she doesn’t fit the perfect picture of a princess.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: True princesses are true to themselves.

4. WILLIAM’S DOLL

BY: Charlotte Zolotow
When William asks for a doll, everyone tries to talk him out of it. His brother calls him a “sissy,” and his father buys him ‘boy toys’ to try to change his mind. The only person who understands him is his granny, who buys him a baby doll to care for.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Playing with dolls teaches kids to become nurturing and caring - just as important for boys as girls!

5. YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER

BY: Shana Corey
This is the story of Amelia Bloomer, a rebellious reformer and early women's rights activist. Amelia thinks ‘proper’ women of the time are silly – they can’t work, vote, and have to wear such restricting clothing. So she invents the bloomers - baggy pantaloons worn with a short skirt over them.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Just because society says it’s right, doesn’t mean it is.

6. BALLERINO NATE

BY: Kimberly B. Bradley
Nate loves everything about ballet – the music, the fluttery costumes, the movements – so he decides he wants to learn ballet, too. But Nate is confused when his big brother tells him boys can’t be ballerinas and he sees he’s the only boy in his ballet class. So his mother takes him to a real ballet to meet a male dancer.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Following your dreams requires persistence, self-acceptance, and ambition.

Ballerino Nate is a children's book that redefines gender roles

7. 10,000 DRESSES

BY: Marcus Ewert
Bailey loves dresses of all kinds, but Bailey’s parents tell him he shouldn’t even be thinking of dresses because he’s a boy. Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is inspired by his imagination and courage. The two becomes friends and begin making dresses together.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Become the person you feel you are inside.

8. ALLIE’S BASKETBALL DREAM

BY: Barbara E. Barber
Allie is very excited when her father gives her a basketball for her birthday. She practices everyday in hopes of becoming a professional basketball player. But all of her friends discourage her, calling basketball a “boy’s game.” Encouraged by her father, Allie doesn’t give up and eventually proves her worth.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: You can be anything you want to be - no matter what other people say.

10. A FIRE ENGINE FOR RUTHI

BY: Lesléa Newman
Though Ruthie’s grandmother has prepared a tea party, dolls and dress-up for her granddaughter’s visit, Ruthie isn’t interested in any of those things. Instead, she’d rather play with trains and fire engines. When Nana notices Ruthie’s preferences, she joins in the fun herself.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Accept and celebrate the things that make you - and others - unique.

11. FREE TO BE…YOU AND ME

BY: Marlo Thomas
A collection of original stories, songs, and poems accompanied by whimsical drawings and stunning illustrations. Each story celebrates individuality, encourages diversity, and challenges stereotypes in a joyful, positive way. One story, for example, retells the Greek legend of Atalanta about babies who use gender stereotypes to try to discover which is a boy and which a girl.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Think outside of gender roles.

12. PRINCESSES CAN BE PIRATES TOO!

BY: Christi Zellerhoff
A princess can do anything a pirate can do – from captaining a ship, to taking charge of the crew, to fending off foes. Just because a girl is wearing a gold crown and a pink fluffy dress, doesn’t mean she can’t be a pirate as well as any boy.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Girls needn’t be confined to being either princesses or pirates. They can be both!

Princesses can be Pirates Too! is a children's book that redefines gender roles

13. SHOPPING WITH DAD

BY: Matt Harvey
Mom is working, so it’s Dad’s turn to take his little girl to the supermarket. But disaster ensues when a giant sneeze sets in motion a calamity and Dad gets the blame.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Mom and Dad can switch up their typical roles.

14. TOUGH BORIS

BY: Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh
When a young boy sneaks onto a pirate ship, his preconceived idea about pirates melts away as he becomes part of the crew. The pirates are not mean, cruel or tough like he once thought - rather they’re sensitive and kind.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: People are not always what they appear.

15. ALL I WANT TO BE IS ME

BY: Phyllis Rothblatt
A celebration of all children being who they are, this books shows children with different preferences of how they identify themselves, what activities they like, and how they dress. This book gives voice to the feelings of children who don't fit into narrow gender stereotypes, and who just want to be themselves.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: There is more than one way to express your gender.

16. LITTLE KUNOICHI, THE NINJA GIRL

BY: Sanae Ishida
Little Kunoichi is a young ninja in training who is having trouble mastering her ninja skills. One day she meets a samurai who shows her that perseverance, hard work and cooperation can unleash her powers.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Being a girl doesn’t stop you from being a ninja!

17. MORRIS MICKLEWHITE AND THE TANGERINE DRESS

BY: Christine Baldacchino
Morris loves to wear the tangerine dress in his classroom’s dress-up bin. But the children in Morris’ class don’t allow astronauts wearing dresses in their make-believe space ship. When Morris paints a scene of fantastic space adventure and brings it to school, his classmates are entranced.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Nonconformity and individuality are what makes you special.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is a children's book that redefines gender roles

18. ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER

BY: Andrea Beaty
Rosie wants nothing more than to become an engineer, even if her uncle laughs at the idea. So when her great-great-aunt, Rose, tells her she’s always wanted to fly, Rosie gets to work to make her aunt’s dream come true. Though her contraption crashes, her aunt explains why Rosie’s invention is not actually a failure.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: You can be anything you want to be.

19. NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK

BY: Jane Yolen
You don’t need to take off your tiara to jump in mud puddles, climb trees, play sports and make messes. From farming and ball-playing, to fighting evil sorcerers and skipping in the mud, these girls all have something in common - they wear a sparkly crown.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: It’s not the tiaras or pink gowns that make a princess - princesses come in all shapes and sizes.

20. MAX, THE STUBBORN LITTLE WOLF

BY: Marie-Odile Judes
Everyone knows that wolves are hunters, but Max thinks hunting is mean and horrible and prefers to be a florist. But this is something Papa Wolf cannot accept and so he tries to make his son a hunter - with little success.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Fulfill your ambitions – even in the face of parental pressure.

Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.

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