15 Storybooks for Children that Challenge Gender Stereotypes

A list of books that tell children that it’s okay to be different.

Pink and Blue by Ritu Vaishnav (Available in the CPB Reading Room)

Publisher: Puffin

Pink is for girls, Blue is for boys
Girls play house, Boys play cricket
Cry like a girl, Kick like a boy

Sometimes grown-ups can say silly things that just aren’t true — not for all kids, anyway!

This book is an attempt by a mum to start a conversation with her little one about gender stereotypes. It encourages kids to question these notions before they begin to shape their thinking and offers adults an opportunity to initiate this very necessary discussion.

Guthli has Wings by Kanak Shashi (Available in the CPB Reading Room)

Publisher: Tulika

Guthli is everyone’s favourite – a happy child who likes to draw fairies, swing and cycle. But then one day she is told not to wear her sister’s frilly frock that she loves, but her ‘own’ boy’s clothes. And things erupt. “Why do you keep saying I’m a boy when I’m a girl?” she asks her mother. In that simple question lies all the bewilderment that children like Guthli feel, who don’t seem to others what they know they are. The gentle, bold story tells it like it is, reality echoed in the flatness of the vibrant cut-out illustrations – Guthli’s sparkle and sadness, her family’s confusion, the big question mark that hangs over them all. How will Guthli get wings to be herself, to fly?

The Unboy Boy by Richa Jha

Publisher: Pickle Yolk Books

This is the story of Gagan. His family and friends think of him as an un-boy boy. They want to make him more boy-like. Do they succeed? If you look closely, you may spot ghouls and monsters, witches and the dead. And chopped limbs. And cat soup. But this is not a ghost story. It is the story of Gagan, a boy. No more. No less. Writer Richa Jha and illustrator Gautam Benegal know that there are no un-boy boys or un-girl girls in this world. And they can tell you how cool it is to be just the girl or boy you are. Richa Jha is a Lagos based picture book enthusiast. Writer, artist and animation film maker Gautam Benegal is based out of Bombay.

The Mayil Series by Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran (Available in the CPB Reading Room)

Publisher: Tulika

Meet Mayil Ganeshan, 12 going on spirited 13, who finally has her chance to say all she wants. But the diary for her is also an important step towards becoming ‘Mayilwriter’, to make up for all the stories she hasn’t completed and the novel that didn’t know where it was going. So she begins. What she gives is a spontaneous, sensitive, honest, intimate and often hilarious peek into the life and mind of an insightful young girl. the Mayil that emerges is as lovable and recognisable as the delightful sketches she presents of her Amma, Appa, brother, grandfather and friends.
Mayil has all the confusion and confidence of adolescence as she faces the everyday dilemma of young people, as well as questions of gender stereotyping all around from Ramayana stories to Rajnikanth movies. with enough to keep head, heart and funny bone tickled and happy, this is a must-read coming of age book by two highly talented young writers that will strike a chord with all who read it pre-teen, teen and older.

The Weightlifting Princess by Sowmya Rajendran

Publisher: Pratham

Princess Nila is eager to win the Surya Championship, the famous weightlifting contest in her kingdom. But there are so many obstacles to overcome. Not least, a handsome prince and her parents’ expectations.

The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Lee Britney Winn

Publisher: Beaming Books

Meet a boy with feelings so big that they glow from his cheeks, spill out of his eyes, and jump up and down on his chest. When a loud truck drives by, he cries. When he hears a joke, he bursts with joy. When his loved ones are having a hard day, he feels their emotions as if they were his own. The boy tries to cope by stuffing down his feelings, but with a little help and artistic inspiration, the boy realizes his feelings are something to be celebrated. Written by debut picture book author Britney Winn Lee and boldly illustrated by Jacob Souva, The Boy with Big, Big Feelings is relatable for any child, but especially for children experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions, or who have been diagnosed with autism or as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports.

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Magically gifted Miu Lan is able to transform into anything. The problem is Miu Lan isn’t sure what to be (a boy or a girl?). While Miu Lan is uncertain about her identity, her classmates are wary of her. Through all her questions Miu Lan is certain of one thing, her mother’s telling words… that she can be anything from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea.

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow

Publisher: Harper & Row

More than anything, William wants a doll. “Don’t be a creep,” says his brother. “Sissy, sissy,” chants the boy next door. Then one day someone really understands William’s wish, and make it easy for others to understand, too. William gets a doll, so he can learn to be a loving parent someday.

Written by beloved author Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Newbery Medal-winning author and Caldecott Honor Book illustrator William Pène du Bois, William’s Doll was published in 1972 and was one of the first picture books to deal with gender stereotypes. William’s Doll has been welcomed by teachers, librarians, and other caregivers as a springboard for discussion about gender roles and intolerance, whether shared one on one or with groups in a classroom or library setting.

Big Bob, Little Bob byJames Howe

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Despite the fact that they share a name, Big Bob and Little Bob are different. Big Bob likes trucks and throwing balls and being loud. Little Bob likes dolls and jingling bracelets and being quiet. No matter what they do, they do not do it the same. Could they possibly be friends despite these differences? With humor and tenderness, James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson beautifully depict the struggles and rewards that come when friendships are forged between different kinds of people.

I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Meet a little girl who’s spontaneous, fast, and strong and loves winning. Sometimes she’s mistaken for a boy, but she definitely isn’t one! When she meets a boy who likes wearing princess dresses and playing dolls, they quickly discover shared interests and a wonderful friendship.
I’m a Girl! is celebration of being who we are and not being restricted by stereotypes. Most of all it is joyful and full of energy. Be yourself – there’s no one better!

Tough Guys Have Feelings Too by Keith Negley

Publisher: Flying Eye Books

A boldly illustrated picture book read-aloud about how everyone gets sad—ninjas, wrestlers, knights, superheroes, everyone . . . even daddies have emotions!

Did you know wrestlers have feelings? And knights. Even superheroes and ninjas feel sad sometimes. In fact, everyone has feelings—especially dads who love their children!

Children will love recognizing their feelings in Keith Negley’s bold illustrations which accompany a fun-to-read-aloud narrative.

Parents can joyfully engage with children in a lighthearted discussion about emotions and how they affect us all!

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by children who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (Also an animated feature film!)

Publisher: Viking Hardcover

Having captivated readers for more than seventy-five years, The Story of Ferdinand is now available in board book for the first time. With unabridged text and sturdy pages, this edition is the perfect introduction to peace-loving, flower-sniffing, gentle giant Ferdinand the bull.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Publisher: HarperCollins

Red is a crayon, but he’s not a red crayon, even if his label says so. Everyone around him tries their best to help him be red, but no matter what they do, Red just can’t seem to get it right. This makes Red miserable, that is, until a brand-new friend helps him reveal his true color and learn to accept his inner self: blue!

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Publisher: Candlewick Press

In this adorable tale of self-expression, Julian decides he wants to be a mermaid after he sees three spectacularly dressed women on his subway ride home from the pool. Luckily, Abuela is there to help.

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