• Kim Bogren Owen- Words Reflected

You be You, I'll be Me: Books Showing Men and Women in Non-Traditional Roles


Several weeks ago while talking with my son, he told me that he liked gymnastic when he took it as a preschooler. However, he felt he couldn't stay in it because unless males are going to be Olympic gymnasts, it is too "girly." We talked about gender roles, and he told me that girls can do "boy" things, but that boys still can't do "girl" things. As a mother, it broke my heart to know my son had received those messages despite my best efforts for him to not see his gender as determining or limiting his potential roles in society.

But we send our kids out to school, to friends, or let them watch TV where they pick up all sorts of messages. And those messages are strong. We have to work to counteract them throughout our children's lives, and we have to educate others about the importance of not letting gender determine or limit someone's future. I wish as a parent I had spoken up more at his school as he received these messages. We talked when he said something or saw something, such as the school play where only girls were allowed to be ladybugs and boys army ants. Or the time he told me much after the fact that he had gotten in trouble for using the word sexist after a boy told a girl she couldn't do things because she was a girl.

While I encourage you to speak up, I do understand that it takes energy to advocate for gender equality. But we can all read books that break the stereotypes to do our best to raise children who do not see gender as determinate of who they are or can be. We can raise children to be who they are. Here are several books (I had a hard time narrowing this topic down) that you can read to your children at home or in the classroom.

If you work in an Early Childhood program (home or center) that is participating in a Quality Rating Improvement System, these books should all count for non-stereotypical gender for the Environment Rating Scales. I recommend every Early Childhood program have a few of these in their library. You are welcome to use the image above as a poster in your classroom.

A boy's mother leaves for the service in the Navy and he tells of what he does when she is gone and who keeps care of him in Sometimes We Were Brave by Pat Brisson and France Brassard. The book acknowledges the challenges having a parent away create for a child, as well as the good times he has even with her away. In the end, he realizes that he has been brave the entire time she was gone by doing what he was supposed to do.

Dyson likes to wear dresses in My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. His family, including his sports-loving older brother, accepts him, but his school friends do not always. The book closes with a question for readers asking if they would make fun of a boy who wears a dress or is different. This book is a great conversation starter about gender and respecting those who are different.

Thunder Rose is born in the middle of a thunderstorm but is the one who is going to take the world by storm in Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolan and Kadir Nelson. Her parents sing her a sweet lullaby on the day she is born which she says gives her "fortunate feelings . . . And see what I can do with it one day!" As she grows, she performs all sorts of great feats, and one day that song combines with her strengths to save the day. Isn't what we all want for our children- to give them a song they can use to solve problems and to give them strength to handle challenges?

After seeing the ballet on a school field trip, Nate wants to be a ballerina. His parents register him to start lessons in the fall, and he is very excited until his brother tells him he will have to wear pink shoes and a skirt in Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and R.W. Alley. Once he starts classes, he is still unsure until he goes to see another ballet and talks to a male dancer who tells him male ballerinas are called ballerinos.

In Madam President by Lane Smith, a little girl imagines what it would be like if she were president. She imagines how she would do all our daily tasks (and does them in real life). An excellent book to share with children.

Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman, Ian Hoffman, and Chris Case tells the story of Jacob and his love for dresses. His parents are a little unsure if they should let him wear dresses in public, but ultimately, they decide to sew one with him and allow him to wear it to school. While there, a child asks why he likes to wear dresses, and the teacher responds by saying he wears what is most comfortable and it used to be that women couldn't wear pants (probably one of my favorite lines in a picture book). This is another book that would be perfect for starting a discussion about individual differences and gender.

Once upon a time a princess was born to a king whose queen had died giving birth to the princess. Unsure of how to raise a girl, he decides to raise her just as he did the princes. She works hard until she fights as well as any prince. However, when she turns 16, her father tells her there will be a jousting contest and the winner will marry her. Her plan for herself does not include an arranged marriage, so she outsmarts her father in The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer.

In the early 1900s women were expected to stay home or work in a field reserved for women, such as a teacher. Black women had even fewer options. However, with determination, a few defied those expectations. Nobody Owns the Sky by Reeve Lindbergh and Pamela Paparone tells the true story of one such black women, Bessie Coleman, who was among the first women to receive a pilot's license and the first African-American to do so.

I am probably one of the only people that knitting gave panic attacks too, but in Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlain, Raffi finds it relaxing. He feels different from the other boys and lonely, but after he encounters knitting, he discovers something about which he feels passionately. The other children still tease him until he saves the day with something he knits. Beautiful, bright illustrations accompany this book which gives it a very joyful tone.

During World War II, women took on different roles due to the lack of men. Mama Played Baseball by David A. Adler and Chris O'Leary tells of how one woman found a different kind of job as a player in the first women's professional baseball league. A beautiful example of what women can do.

Man's Work by Annie Kubler is one of my favorite books and one I usually give as a new baby gift! Every mother needs the modeling in this book which shows a father cleaning the house with his young son. Wordless and illustrated with simple watercolors, Man's Work throws traditional gender roles about housekeeping up in the air.

A little girl shares her pride in her mother's work as a miner in Mama Is A Miner by George Ella Lyon and Peter Catalanotto. Drawing pictures she describes what her mother does. The book includes details of how mining is done.

In Going Home by Margaret Wild and Wayne Harris, a little boy confined to bed in the hospital images adventures with different animals. His caregiver in the hospital is a male nurse which is why this book is included here. This gentle and sweet story not only features non-traditional roles but also promotes resiliency.

JoJo is about to take her yellow belt test for Tae Kwon Do but is worried she won't be able to succeed in JoJo' s Flying Side Kick by Brian Pinkney. Her family tries to help with ideas for overcoming her fears. Ultimately, she realizes she needs to be the one to overcome them and succeeds. A perfect book about overcoming fears that just happens to have a girl in a non-traditional role.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this blog and look forward to your recommendations of books that feature non-traditional roles.

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