Seeking gender-neutral kids books


Call Me Tree -- a kid's book with no gender specific pronouns.
Call Me Tree — a kid's book with no gender specific pronouns.
Hey Homies,

Despite knowing the importance of diversity in our kids' lives, we live in a mostly white, hetero-normative neighbourhood. So we have to use books to introduce them to a wide variety of people of all shapes, sizes, colours, and lifestyles.

However, the kiddos seem to be drawn to gender binaries. While I know it's just their way of categorizing the world, I want to make sure they understand the fluidity of gender and gender roles. I've looked through books about boys who wear dresses and girls who wear hiking boots, but they still seem to emphasize that dresses are "girly" and hiking boots aren't something girls would normally wear.

Are there any kids' books with a diverse set of characters that do fun things while just happening to be gender-neutral or gender-bending? -Emily

There's this list on Amazon (although I have a feeling that's not exactly what you're looking for). This list on Good Reads is probably heading in a better direction. But the best bet is to ask our Homies for their favorite gender-neutral and gender-bending kids books.

Whatchu got, Homies?

  1. (psst, the Amazon link seems to be broken).

    Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler might be a good book for you? Most of the characters are gendered (Sister, Brother, Mom, Dad, etc) but Baby is just Baby, with no gender clues that I remember. It's also a wonderfully sweet story of a family of African descent singing their baby to sleep. The text simply begs you to sing-read it.

    • Seconding the broken amazon link.

      My Princess Boy, the Paper Bag Princess, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress are a few.

  2. My son loves No Matter What by Debi Gliori. It's a board book meant for small children (ages 2-6, it says). The characters are a parent and child called Large and Small. They look like a cross between a fox and a kangaroo. No gender is assigned to either character and the message is that Large will love Small no matter what, as Small proposes that he might turn into various "undesirable" things like a bear, bug, or crocodile. It sounds right up the alley of what you're looking for. http://smile.amazon.com/No-Matter-What-Debi-Gliori/dp/0152063439?ie=UTF8&keywords=no%20matter%20what&qid=1459253854&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

  3. Polkadot! http://booksforkidsingayfamilies.blogspot.com/2015/01/meet-polkadot.html Polkadot is a gender nonconforming child with positive, healthy relationships. Polkadot teaches their friends about gender identity with the support of their family. The art is awesome, too!

    On a slightly different note, there's Red: A Crayons Story. It's about a blue crayon in a red wrapper — everyone thinks there's something wrong with Red because everything he colors (strawberries, for example) comes out wrong… But when a new friend asks him to draw an ocean, he realizes he's been a BLUE crayon stuck in a red wrapper. Everyone embraces him and his new Blue identity. It's a very fun book and a great way to introduce the idea of being trans to kids who developmentally are still black-and-white thinkers.

  4. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin is nice because it's exactly as you describe – sometimes boys are doing traditionally "girl" things and vice versa, and it's not even commented on as a "thing."

    Second, talk to your local librarian! They'd love to help track stuff like this down for you!

    • And Emily Winfield Martin is an AMAZING artist. I've ordered several of her prints, check out her Etsy shop 🙂

  5. Not all princesses were pink. It doesn't discuss gender neutral. It discusses how some princesses wear frilly clothes and some dig in dirt and others fix engines but they all wear sparkly tiaras and that they are all princesses and how they all have a party together and that they are all different is ok and normal.

  6. I don't have any recs, but one of the cutest things when I was working at the museum was a little girl with a teddy, who she announced was a princess. Her father said, "But teddy's a boy, so he's a prince." "No," she said, in the most scathing child voice imaginable. "He's a boy princess." Which basically goes to show that even when the adults around a child are heavily gendering things, kids can still imagine alternatives and act them out.

  7. One of my current favorite books is "What Do You Do With an Idea" by Kobi Yamada. The story is first person and the character design is not distinctly gendered. I also like the fact that it talks about ideas as something that need to be nurtured and grown to reach their full potential.

  8. I don't have any book suggestions, but how old are your kiddos? I read an article recently that said adhering to rigid gender binaries is part of a normal developmental process for kids. (gender neutral books are still awesome! But don't feel bad if your messages don't seem to be sticking at the moment)
    "It turns out that for young children, initial concepts about gender are quite flexible. In my own research, I’ve found that children don’t begin to notice and adopt gender-stereotyped behaviors (e.g., preferring colors like pink or blue) until the age of 2 or 3. A few years later, their concept of gender becomes quite rigid, and although it becomes more relaxed by middle childhood, even adults have trouble going back to thinking about gender as something that’s flexible."

    (Source: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/03/30/when_do_children_develop_their_gender_identity.html)

    • It's not about erasing gender, but allowing kids to know that doing a certain thing isn't necessarily marked for a gender and you just so happen to be allowed to do it. "It's okay for boys to likely girl things" is a different message from "Dresses are for everyone."

      • I've seen this play out watching parenting in my queer community and also working at a local Montessori school. The original commenter here is right that categorizing the world (including based on gender) is a really important developmental phase and one that kids shouldn't be shamed for. However, the person responding (and the OP) are right that introducing kids to many incarnations of gender is important. Also, while wanting to put things in rigid boxes (including gender) HOW kids categorize and gender items and people is based on what they see around them. I know this phase can be REALLY hard for a lot of gender-bending parents….kids can go through phases where they say things that feel very problematic to folks post-binary. Also – the whole "x is better than y" or "only a's wear b's" phase just gets under some folks skin more than others on principle.

        Here's my tips for getting through this phase:
        1. DO expose your kids to a lot of different types of people, ideally as friends and community members but through books/media if the former isn't possible for whatever reason.
        2. DO talk with your kids about what you see and what you think of it "I think it's cool how the boy in this book wears dresses even though other people aren't used to boys wearing dresses. That's really brave."
        3. DON'T correct your kids or tell them they're wrong when they express opinions different from yours or developmentally normal binaries. Instead use it as an opportunity for a conversation – which means asking questions – and listen (a lot) more than you talk. No one likes to be lectured and the way kids develop cool values is by being around people who demonstrate cool values – not by being monologued at. Remember, your kid doesn't need to walk away from any given conversation with the "right" way of viewing things and kids' views of the world change constantly. The kid who argues you to the death that short hair is for boys only (despite you identifying as female and having short hair) one day will be the same kid you witness correcting their friend that anyone can have short hair who wants to the next day.

  9. Not what you are looking for in terms of gender-neutral or gender-bending, but it is a female lead doing a non-typical job/hobby considering the current workforce.

    Rosie Revere, Engineer – The book focuses on a girl with inventions and getting teased by some older family members for them being silly and then finally coming up with something and encouraging her classmates to design things. There is no mention of Rosie can's design because she is a girl, which I like. I think it is a great book for all children, because it is rare to find a STEM book featuring a girl. The author also has a few other books – Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist, but I have not read those yet.

  10. I've had a hard time with this too, and a large portion of our books are animal books… I'm going to gorge on the above links.

    I was recently pleasantly surprised by Angela's Airplane (Robert Munch), and might look for more by him.

    Flamingo Rampant does books that feature diverse characters without relying on their minority status as a plot point.

    Mighty Girls also has a good book list.

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