You may consider yourself a woke parent but unfortunately most children’s books aren’t with you on that one, particularly when it comes to gender bias. One study of a century's worth of children's tales found that they were almost twice as likely to feature a male central character than a female one. Even so-called gender-neutral animal characters are three times more likely to be male than female. (Looking at you, Winnie the Pooh.) The message this sends to kids is clear: women and girls are less important and less interesting than men or boys.
Which is why it is so key to provide girls (and boys) with stories that put female characters front and center from a young age. Not only does it benefit a girl’s self image and notions about what she can achieve, it can also prevent boys from developing a bloated sense of entitlement and inability to empathize with people who are different from them. As a mom of a girl and a boy, I am totally down with both of those things.
Publishers and children’s book authors seem to be getting the point, as more and more girl-centric titles are popping up on the shelves. Here are a few standouts that should be mainstays of reading time.
Little Feminist Book Set
Women leaders, activists, artists and pioneers are celebrated in this set of colorful board books for tiny readers. It’s never too early to reinforce the concept that girls grow up to do amazing things.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
By Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
This compendium of bedtime stories honoring the lives of 100 extraordinary women has become a sensation. As my daughter says every time we get to the end, “Read it again.”
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Rosie may seem like a typical kid by day, but by night she’s a passionate inventor with dreams of becoming an engineer. With a little encouragement from her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter), Rosie sets out on a quest to make a flying machine. This wonderfully detailed picture book puts the emphasis squarely on perseverance and smarts, and kids adore it. And don't miss Ada Twist, Scientist.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
An inspirational gem that every kid needs on their bookshelf, Little Leaders chronicles the lives of 40 black women who blazed trails in academia, art, economics, entertainment, science and social justice.
Grace for President
Disappointed to learn that there has never been a female president, Grace decides to be the first and launches a campaign in her school’s mock presidential election. Not only does Grace’s story provide a helpful introduction to how U.S. elections work, it teaches kids about determination, setting goals, and working towards them.
Taking inspiration from Senator Elizabeth Warren's refusal to be silenced on the Senate floor, Chelsea Clinton spotlights courageous women throughout American history who had to fight to be heard. Gorgeously illustrated, the book includes chapters on Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Maria Tallchief, Ruby Bridges, Sally Ride, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, and more.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
Offering some counterprogramming to princess culture, this rhyming picture book reminds readers that girlness need not encompass gender stereotypes: “Not all princesses dress in pink. Some play in bright red socks that stink, blue team jerseys that don’t quite fit, accessorized with a baseball mitt, and a sparkly crown!”
Girls Think of Everything
Girls Think of Everything, this we know. But just in case you need a refresher, this book — a bestseller on Amazon — illustrates many popular inventions throughout history created by women.
Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
This book is dedicated to badass women athletes who not only achieved great things but changed the world in the process, including Billie Jean King, Jackie Joyner, Simone Biles, and more.
Strong Is the New Pretty
Ready to get fired up about all the things girls are capable of? This powerful book is filled with stunning images of girls of every stripe accompanied by quotes about what makes them strong. It’s as inspiring as it is accessible and resonates deeply with kids.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
A Young Readers Edition of the bestselling memoir, I Am Malala tells the story of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai’s struggle to be educated in a Taliban-controlled region on Pakistan, how she was nearly killed in pursuit of her goal, and how she fought back. Her story is a stirring example of what can be accomplished against the gravest odds.
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were the “human computers” behind some of NASA’s most successful missions. Their story is also the story of the civil rights and women’s movements and the Space Race, and it provides a powerful history lesson for young minds. A Young Readers Edition.
Women Who Launched the Computer Age
It might be news to some, but girls have been coding since way back. This Ready-to-Read book teaches kids about an important chapter in computer science history and the women who programmed the first all-electronic computer and built a code language still in use. Other greats in this awesome “You Should Meet” reading series include astronaut Mae Jemison and dancer Misty Copeland.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
The life story of Notorious RBG is told through her numerous outspoken dissents or disagreements — with inequality, unfair treatment, and discrimination.
Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure
Author Caroline Paul was an admitted scaredy cat. But then she learned to conquer her fears and has led a life of adventure. This book chronicles her life and the lives of women who’ve accomplished amazing feats. It also encourages girls to live a life of exhilaration, with tips for building confidence and learning to take risks. Each section includes diary pages for “journaling” adventures.
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