Part of my motivation behind creating this blog was to find, and help other find, quality books for kids to read. While reading some of the other outstanding blogs out there with similar goals, I found this very interesting post about looking for books that include strong female characters. The twist is that the post was looking for books where girls were not the only characters and where the books were not working as “strong propaganda-pieces for female empowerment.” I also took it to mean that it would be nice if the books didn’t alienate boys. Wow. What a fascinating point!
Many of the points that were made is that there isn’t a balance of male/female characters in books for kids. Often you get books featuring animals that are either all boys or all girls. Honestly, I have never looked for a variety of female characters in my kids’ books, I just have been trying to move away from all of the fairies and princesses. So this was quite an interesting challenge for me.
I could quickly think of a few chapter books, like the Magic Treehouse, A-Z Mysteries and Cam Jansen, but picture books took a lot more thought. Of course, I am always up for a challenge and I thoroughly enjoy an opportunity to curate a collection, so here is my first go at books that feature varied female characters. These are based on books that I could easily get my hands on, so there might be an additional list after I comb the local library. I have also created a shelf at goodreads to help keep them organized.
Books for Toddlers
Biscuit Books – Both of my girls have enjoyed this Biscuit books. Biscuit is a dog, that I’ve always assumed was male, owned by a lovely little girl. Biscuit often experiences some kind of “first” in these books – first time at the beach, the petting zoo, first day his owner goes to school, etc. Very sweet and sort of in the vein of this challenge.
Fischer Price Little People Books – We have a bunch of these lift-the-flap books. My 2 1/2 year old absolutely loves them. Each book is either a specific location (farm, zoo, school) or theme (spring, transportation, let’s get moving). I haven’t gone through and analyzed them, but it feels like the roles are evenly spread out. Boys and girls play a variety of sports, have a variety of jobs, and do things together, which is really a bigger key to the whole thing.
If I Could Keep You Little – This is a really lovely book about how much a parent would love their children to stay young, but how they also really love watching their children grow and experience things for the first time. The illustrator manages to use both boys and girls throughout the pages.
Library Mouse A World to Explore – We LOVE Library Mouse. I’m actually formulating a separate post on books about the library, so stay tuned! This is the first book we read in the series and it is where Sam, the library mouse, meets Sarah, another mouse who lives in the library. Sam loves books, research and writing and he reads his way through the library. One night he meets Sarah as she parachutes from the top of the bookshelves where a display of children’s art about landmarks around the world is set up. Sarah is an adventurous mouse who loves to explore and isn’t afraid of anything. She helps Sam overcome his fears and he teaches her that you can get great information from books. Together they learn that there is a whole world out there to explore.
A Gold Star for Zog – Zog is an eager student at Madam Dragon’s school, but he is also accident prone. Each year the dragons work on mastering a new skill and each year a mysterious girl comes to his aid when he manages to get hurt – crashing into a tree when learning to fly, losing his voice when learning to roar, and burning his own tail when learning to breathe fire. When it comes time to learn to kidnap a princess, he just can’t seem to do it. He runs into the girl again and explains that he will never win a gold star. She responds by saying, “Perhaps you’d like to capture me? I’m Princess Pearl.” Pearl loves living amongst the dragons and acting as their own personal physician. Then a knight comes to save her from the dragons and before Zog and the Knight can fight it out, she tells them to stop. She doesn’t want to be a princess, she wants to be a doctor and travel around to help people. The knight thinks that it sounds like a great idea and Zog wants to be their ambulance. A great book with cheerful pictures that we fully enjoyed.
Charlie and Lola – This is a great series of books about a little girl named Lola and her older brother, Charlie. The stories are typically told from Charlie’s perspective and he is trying to help his sister learn some sort of lesson. Charlie is a very patient older brother and Lola is a very energetic and imaginative little girl. In “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato,” Charlie comes up with some creative ways to convince Lola to try new foods. In “I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go To Bed,” Charlie must find inventive ways to get Lola to get ready for bed. These are great books that can appeal to boys and girls.
Magic Tree House – We have been huge fans of this series since J was 4. They will get their own post at some point in the future, but the basic premise is that Jack and his little sister Annie are just two regular kids from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Then they discover a mysterious tree house packed with all sorts of books…and their lives are never the same! Soon they are traveling through time and space in the magic tree house and having amazing adventures. Jack is the studious one and Annie flies by the seat of her pants. The Merlin Mysteries group of these books are for slightly more advanced readers, so the books even grow with you.
Magic School Bus – Another awesome series that J has loved for quite some time. There are picture books aimed at older kids as well as chapter books. You have a variety of boys and girls in the classroom, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It is wonderful to have a series that really shows science as being fun and for everyone.
So that’s my starting point. Each parent’s perspective on a variety of roles for boys and girls will be different. Many great books simply don’t touch on gender roles and I’m perfectly okay with that.