11 lesser-known children’s books that reinforce gender equality

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Education for young children has evolved greatly to reflect the current societal climate. Apart from learning your ABCs, a holistic way of teaching now comes with small doses of real-life concepts like feminism and gender equality. One of the most effective ways to relay and instil socially conscious messages that challenge gender stereotypes and norms is of course through a fun combination of illustrations and words.

Books and stories have long been used as tools to teach toddlers and young children the simple dos and don’ts of life. However, with hackneyed tropes around strong princes and delicate princesses, these narratives would often work to ingrain gender stereotypes in the kids’ minds. Thankfully, a new wave of modern parenting and momentum in the field of gender equality has created a market for children’s books with progressive beliefs. Think stories that educate kids without reinforcing toxic gender roles, and tales of strong women that can inspire boys and girls, both.

If you’re looking to enlighten your little ones on the values of feminism and gender equality, our edit of progressive children's books would be a good place to start. Bonus: A storytelling session with your child is also an excellent way to celebrate the upcoming International Women’s Day 2021. 

Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (2019)

Enter a heartwarming tale of a young girl named Mary who has the striking idea of wearing whatever she pleases. She makes the bold decision to wear pants instead of dresses—in a world where boys are supposed to wear pants and girls only wear dresses. Breaking the norm, Mary challenges the established gender stereotypes and introduces the ability to make one’s own decisions. The book is inspired by the true story of Mary Edward Walker who, apart from being a pioneer surgeon in the 1800s, also chose to wear “bloomer” pants instead of corsets and skirts.

Amma’s Toolkit by Nandini Nayar (2018)

Nandini Nayar creates an empowering narrative for young girls with this children’s book. It highlights Amma, the mother of Mini and Tara, saving the day as a broken pipe causes a flood in their home. Amma deftly uses her toolkit to fix the pipe while teaching her kids the process, effectively challenging the pre-existing gender roles.

Shiny And Her Wardrobe Of Virtues by Sukanya Rangaraj Shah (2021)

This five-part book series follows the tale of Shiny, who finds five magical objects in her closet that help her learn virtues like gratitude, patience, kindness, confidence, and love. With each object, she is better able to navigate her everyday life. The series allows young girls to learn the importance of self-love and self-reliance—all through the use of these traits.

Pattu’s Dosa by Judy Skidmore and Sheju Adiyatiparambil-John (2019)

Pattu’s Dosa is a beautifully illustrated book showcasing a mixed-race family with a South Asian (Tamil) father and a white mother. With a bonus of lessons about ethnic diversity, the book highlights the dad cooking dosas for his happy family, creating a subtle narrative that emphasises non-traditional gender roles.

Girl Power! by Neha Hiranandani (2019)

Recounting stories of strong Indian women who broke barriers and became trailblazers, Girl Power! is a book packed with inspiration for young children. From spy princesses to warrior queens, the title carries stories of extraordinary women from all walks of life—an excellent example for kids, especially young girls, to dream big and follow their desired paths.

Nila and Najam by Ashwini Ashok Kumar (2017)

The tale of 7-year-old twins from Coimbatore, Nila and Najam, uncovers the siblings’ dreams and aspirations through dialogue. While Nila aims to become a scientist, building robots and tackling complicated math problems, Nijam hopes to become a teacher. The story sets up an intriguing plot that advocates for empowerment of young girls while promoting non-normative gender roles and professions.

Annie and Arjun by Varsha Varghese (2017)

Annie and Arjun follows the adventures of the eponymous siblings that lead them to question their distinct chores, allotted to them by their parents. Observing the difference between the tasks given to a boy and girl at home, which also starts to reduce their playtime together, the duo comes up with a plan to share their work. The narrative brings established gender norms to the fore, questioning them through the innocent musings of the eight-year old siblings, who cleverly find a solution to shed this baggage. 

From the Stars In the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Tom (2017)

This children’s book creates a magical narrative through its young protagonist, Mui Lane, born with the ability to change into any shape they choose. When they have trouble deciding who they want to be—a boy or a girl, a bird or a fish—their mother comforts them by telling them “whatever you dream of/I believe you can be/ From the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea”. Penned by a transgender woman, this story highlights the importance of accepting differences within people.

Franny’s Father is a Feminist by Rhonda Leet (2018)

The narrative focuses on Franny and her father who raises her to believe she can do anything—from fixing her bicycle to skilfully braiding her own hair, and supporting her mother’s career— essentially dispelling traditional gender roles. With a simple plotline centred around the father's feminism, this read emphasises the ways in which men can help push the boundaries of gender equality. 

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont (2004)

Girls are often instilled with insecurities from a young age, especially as unhealthy standards of beauty and perfectionism continue to plague our society. I Like Myself! is a beautifully written, poetic book that celebrates individuality and encourages children to wholeheartedly accept and like themselves as they are.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed (2018)

Inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space, this book follows the story of young Mae who dreams about dancing with the stars. Affirmation from her parents, hard work, and determination lead to her success as an astronaut at NASA—a great lesson for all kids, especially young girls, to achieve their dreams through a strong will, honest efforts, and curiosity.

Also read:

At nearly 60, this grandmother followed her passion to get more children to read

14 brilliant children’s books that promise to entertain and educate

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