Surprising no one who has ever met me, I love children’s books. More than that, I love children’s books that strive to do something different, whether that means interactivity, subverting traditional stories or switching up gender norms. That last one is becoming increasingly popular as most modern parents strive to give their kids the ability to define their own experience, labels aside.
But despite the best intentions, kids don’t always follow the schedule. Some of the funniest interactions we see between parents and their offspring involve subverting gender expectations. Mothers and grandmas buy truck books for a little girl that just really, really wants a book about Frozen. Dads try to perform a read-aloud of the children’s classic, William’s Doll, while their son keeps repeating, “Fire Truck. Fire Truck!”
This is pretty well worn territory in terms of recommendations, but I thought I’d pick a few of our personal favorites for keeping your little knight or princess happy while keeping your children’s lit progressive and ambitious!
Let’s start with the more glittery of the two: Great books for girls!
One quick note: These books, obviously, work well for boys and girls! They’re great reads with impressive goals that keeps gender stereotypes on their toes. I don’t think I have to tell you that glitter is for both boys and girls (and if this mentality is good enough for target, it’s definitely good enough for us!).
Not all Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen is on this list twice because I am an enormous, megalithic-sized Jane Yolen fan. But that aside, she has done a great job at consistently producing books that turn what a girl should do into girls can do WHATEVER THEY WANT! And that is certainly the message of this sweet book showing an assortment of girls playing soccer, using tools, playing dress-up, using their imaginations, and just having a blast. All while wearing crowns, of course.
Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen
Here’s my second Jane Yolen entry. This is the book to buy if you’ve got a princess-obsessed child and can’t veer too far off the well-trodden path. It’s a fairy tale, sure, but the moral of the story is that Sleeping Ugly is pretty mean. But as for Jane, the cheerful young woman who lives in a cabin and always smells like fresh bread? Well, you have to read it to find out. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, even if that beholder is a prince who still sleeps with his teddy bear.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
It’s amazing to me when new parents haven’t heard about the Paper Bag Princess. Not only does she face a dangerous dragon, but she has the wherewithal to tell Prince Roland that he’s a jerk. One of my favorite princesses out there!
Interstellar Cinderella by Deb Underwood
What if Cinderella wasn’t a princess at all? Instead, she’s just a super awesome, hardcore, pink-haired, space-age Mechanic? This story is great, the rhyming works, and the ending is killer. All around, a great alternative to the classic story.
Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson
Speaking of Cinderella, this picture book takes a different approach to the fairy tale. Cinderella is the same, but now she has a sister. And Edna doesn’t just sit around whining and pouting about her lot in life. Instead, She learns the best way to clean the stove. She can make 16 types of tuna casserole. And she takes the bus to the ball! Plus, she’s really passionate about recycling! Edna is the princess of my adult daydreams, loafers and all.
A great, early entry into the powerful girl books canon. These are all the female superheroes we worked so hard to get just being their awesome, hardcore selves. I wish that there could be a few examples of superheroes of color, but baby steps.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
A classic South African fable introduced with the luscious illustrations of John Steptoe. There’s not a lot of new material covered here: one daughter is kind and humble, while the other is conceited and sour. Still, the African Kingdom keeps things fresh and a well-placed snake keeps the danger high. This isn’t your cheesy Disney fairy tale!
Angelina Ballerina by Katherine Holabird
This remains one of my favorite books and I’m not above picking it back up if I’m going through a tough time. Angelina is a sparkly ballerina, but she has the guts, work-ethic, and passion to make her dream a reality. The final page still gives me chills! I love this book because Angelina knows what she wants, and goes for it. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we want for all our kids, gender-aside?
These are just a few and I’m always on the lookout for new additions. So if you’ve got any recommendations, please let me know! For more great book picks, check out A Mighty Girl.
And STAY TUNED when I tackle great books for boys next!