Helping Boys Break Out of Gender Stereotypes

Sensitive Boys Book List

Brave Girls and Strong Women Book List
(boys can read these too)

Books for Adults
 to help boys break through gender stereotypes

Links to organizations for non-traditional men

Boys suffer from gender stereotypes too. While girls might stifle their opinions to be more socially acceptable, boys tend to stifle or ignore their emotions. This can lead to serious problems, such as learning difficulties, violent behavior, depression, and suicide.

There are many books showing girls breaking out of gender stereotypes. What about books which show boys and men in non-traditional roles? These are harder to come by, but are equally important. We want to allow both girls and boys to be true to themselves, instead of trying to conform to rigid stereotypes. It can be difficult to help boys break out of, or even see, the stereotypes that are guiding their lives. See Books for Adults for a list of books for parents and adult caregivers of boys.

Also, see Links for organizations which help boys and men to stretch their gender boundaries.

All the books on the Brave Girls and Strong Women Book List are suitable to read aloud to boys, or for older boys to read to themselves. Specifically, Boy v. Girl? How Gender Shapes Who We Are, What We Want, and How We Get Along is a good book to introduce older boys to the issue of gender stereotyping. The Moon Over Crete is a novel which shows boys and men in some non-traditional roles. Sing Through the Day: Eighty Songs for Children is a songbook which encourages gentleness and caring.

In addition, you can investigate biographies of famous men leaders who took on peaceful, nurturing roles, such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Johnny Appleseed, Cesar Chavez, John Muir, Woody Guthrie, and George Washington Carver. For more ideas, see Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776-1990, a Documentary History.

Also try biographies of men who pursued non-traditional careers: artists, dancers, and so forth. Laurence Anholt has written a number of beautiful picture books about men artists, including: Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent Van Gogh. Other books written by him feature Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Leonardo da Vinci, and Claude Monet.

For younger boys, try the Raggedy Andy stories. Values such as sharing and helping are emphasized. Also try a neat picture book called Wild Dads by Ginjer Clarke, which shows how animal dads take care of their young.

For older boys, try some of Judy Blume's books, such as Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing (and all the other "Fudge" books), and Then Again, Maybe I Won't.

For a list of picture books featuring stay-at-home dads and/or working mothers, see the At-Home Dads/Working Moms booklist put together by the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, IN.

Below are a few other books, all from small publishers, which show boys and men in non-traditional roles.

Sensitive Boys Book List
Books from small publishers

Playing War, by Kathy Beckwith
Fiction, ages 7 and up. A group of five children (four boys and a girl) decide, one summer day, to play "war" with pine cones for bombs, and sticks for guns. One boy, Sameer, reveals that in his home country a bomb destroyed his house and killed his parents and brother. The friends are shocked at Sameer's story of the tragedy of war, and decide to play basketball instead. This picture book can be used to get elementary-school kids talking about issues of war and peace. (Tilbury House)
Pelle's New Suit, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. Elsa Beskow wrote and illustrated a number of beautiful children's books which emphasize nature and helpfulness. In this book, Pelle shears a sheep and performs chores for his family and neighbors in order to get a new set of clothes. (Gryphon House)
Peter in Blueberry Land, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. Peter sets out to find blueberries for his mother's birthday, and is taken on a lovely fantasy adventure by the King of the Blueberries. There are no dragons to slay in this adventure. (Gryphon House)
Peter's Old House, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. A group of children help an old man to fix up his house. (Gryphon House)
Christopher's Harvest Time, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. A charming book about a boy who sees the flowers and plants come alive in his garden.
Lucky Beans, by Becky Birtha
Picture book, ages 6 and up. Marshall is sick of the beans his African-American family often eats during the Great Depression. But beans turn out to be lucky. With help from his mother and his schoolteacher, Marshall figures out how many beans are in a huge jar in the furniture store window, and the family wins a sewing machine. This book depicts a boy who learns from the women in his life. Kids will enjoy learning about history and math from this gentle, funny book.(Albert Whitman and Company)
The Lunch Thief, by Anne Bromley
Picture book, ages 8 and up. Rafael, a sixth grader, discovers that a new boy, Kevin, has been stealing his lunch. Instead of trying to fight Kevin, Rafael decides to take his mother's advice: "Use your mouth before your fists." Rafael asks Kevin about his life and finds out he is from Jacinto Valley, which was devastated by fires. Although Kevin doesn't want to talk about his situation, Rafael discovers that Kevin and his family are living in a motel room. Rafael then arranges to pack a second lunch for Kevin. This is a great book to introduce upper-elementary kids to concepts of empathy and caring. (Tilbury House Publishers)
Riparia's River, by Michael Caduto
Fiction, ages 5-9. Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. A mysterious woman who calls herself "Riparia" shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides and fertilizers from a nearby farm. With Riparia's guidance, the children work with the farmer to solve the problem. This book combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. Highly recommended!(Tilbury House)
When the Bees Fly Home, by Andrea Cheng
Picture book, ages 5 and up. Jonathan, an elementary-school boy, is not strong enough to help his father, a beekeeper, with his work, and his father is annoyed. One day, Jonathan helps his mother make beeswax candles by decorating them with tiny beeswax sculptures. His father is impressed, and starts to appreciate Jonathan's skill. This unusual picture book contains bee facts on each page. Another thing I liked is that the parents are a mixed-race couple. (Tilbury House Publishers)
From North to South, by Rene Colato Lainez
Picture book, ages 6 and up. Jose's mother has been deported to Mexico. Although the situation is sad, this book still manages to strike a positive note. The story opens with Jose excited about driving with his father from San Diego to visit his mother in Tijuana, where she is staying at El Centro Madre Assunta, a shelter for recently deported women. Jose helps his mother in the garden, and promises to take care of the garden at home until she is able to return. The text is in English and Spanish.(Children's Book Press)
Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs, by Sarah Conover and Freda Crane
Folk tales, ages 8 and up. The 39 stories in this book are retellings of Islamic tales collected from all over the world. Several stories feature the folk character Joha, whose predicaments and funny responses teach the reader through humor. Other stories feature important women in the Islamic tradition. The stories stress generosity, honesty, cooperation, simplicity, fairness, hard work, equanimity, humility, and the importance of education.(Skinner House Books)
Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha, by Jonathan Landaw and Janet Brooke
Folk-tale, ages 8 and up. This 143-page chapter book, with over 50 vivid illustrations, tells the story of Buddha's life in language that is easy for children to understand. Both boys and girls will enjoy learning about the prince who gave up the chance to be a king in order to teach the world about peace and love. (Wisdom Publications)
Little Zizi, by Thierry Lenain
Picture book, ages 5 and up. This funny book is about a subject that many little boys think about, but that is rarely written about in children's books. One day, while Martin is changing his clothes after swimming, another boy, Adrian, makes fun of Martin, saying that his "zizi" is too small, and that he will never be able to make babies with a little zizi. In the end, the reader learns that "love isn't a question of a zizi -- large or small." The author says he wrote the book because he believes that "much of the world's misfortune comes from men thinking they have to assert their manliness," according to the jacket copy. The illustrations are very tasteful (the story takes place in an old-fashioned city), and the book makes its point without preaching.(Cinco Puntos Press)
Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Red Shoes, by Maj Lindman
Fiction, ages 4 and up. Three little Swedish boys perform chores for their neighbors in order to earn money to buy Mother a birthday present. Other Snipp, Snapp, Snurr books include: (Albert Whitman and Company)
The Birbal Tales, collected and retold by James Moseley
Folk-tales, ages 5 and up. Birbal was a wise judge in the court of Akbar, an Indian emperor. Here are tales showcasing his wisdom and compassion. This is a wonderful book to read aloud. (Summerwind Marketing)
The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers
Fiction, ages 4 and up. The root children are boys and girls who bring the seasons. Beautiful illustrations. (Gryphon House)
Benjamin and the Word, by Daniel A. Olivas
Fiction, ages 6 and up. Benjamin, a mixed-race child, is called a mean name by a friend. His father responds with empathy to help Benjamin understand the situation and decide how to respond. In the end, the friendship is restored. Text printed in English and Spanish. (Arte Publico Press)
Bullying and Me: Schoolyard Stories, by Ouisie Shapiro and Steven Vote
Nonfiction, ages 9 and up. This 30-page book features photos and stories from kids who have been bullied and how they overcame this challenge. There are even stories from a few young people who talk about their experiences as bullies. While some tips from an educational psychologist are presented, the book is really devoted to the voices of the kids themselves. This could be an important book for kids who are trying to break out of gender stereotypes, because bullies tend to pick on kids who are "different." A good discussion starter.(Albert Whitman Publishing)
Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, by Steve Sheinkin
Graphic Novel, ages 10 and up. Wisdom and compassion win over cheating and violence in this hilarious book. Rabbi Harvey of Elk Spring, Colorado is challenged by the new (and, as it turns out, evil) Rabbi Ruben (also known as "the wisdom kid.") With the help of his own learning and some quick action on the part of his friend Abigail (former gold miner and current schoolteacher), Rabbi Harvey shows up Rabbi Ruben for the cheater he is, and runs him out of town. Each episode features authentic Jewish folktales. Other books in this series include: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again.(Jewish Lights Publishing)
Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change, by Garth Sundem
Nonfiction, ages 8-14. Profiles 30 young people from around the world who are making the world a better place. The profiles are grouped into five categories: Kids Saving the Environment; Kids Standing Up for Themselves; Kids Helping Others; Kids Overcoming Challenges; and Kids Using Talents and Creativity. (Free Spirit Publishing)
Gray Wolf's Search, by Bruce Swanson
Folk tale, ages 5 and up. Gray Wolf, a native boy of the Pacific Northwest, is asked by his shaman uncle to find a very important person. After asking several animals if they know of such a person, Gray Wolf realizes that all of his friends and family are equally important. The message is one of community, and the full-color illustrations are gorgeous. (Book Publishing Company)
Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, by Janet Wilson
Nonfiction, ages 8 to 14. Features full-color, two-page spreads about 10 young people from around the world, as well as shorter profiles of 20 more. At the back of the book are suggestions for how readers can get involved and make a difference. (Second Story Press)
Save My Rainforest, by Monica Zak
Nonfiction, ages 5 and up. The true story of Omar Castillo, who at the age of 8 walked 870 miles with his father in an attempt to save the Lacandon Rainforest in Mexico. An inspiring story! (Volcano Press)

Books for Adults

Here are some books which can help you teach boys to question and challenge gender stereotypes, and to recognize and express their emotions in a healthy way.

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More than IQ, by Daniel Goleman
Men's Lives, by Michael Kimmel
Boy Talk: How You can Help Your Son Express His Emotions, by Mary Polce-Lynch
Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, by William Pollack
Real Boys' Voices, by William Pollack
Actual interviews and writings by boys on a variety of emotional issues.
Real Boys Workbook, by William Pollack
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg. This book helps adults and children to learn empathy as a way to end violence in the world.

Links to Help Boys and Men Break Out of Gender Boundaries

Games to help kids identify feelings:


This list was compiled by Jyotsna Sreenivasan -- jyotsna64 [at], to whom you can send questions, comments, suggestions, etc.

Back to main Gender Equality Bookstore page.