Children’s books which challenge harmful male stereotypes.

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

Guest blog by Shelley John, Founder of Ivy's Library.

We live in a society which tells boys that they need to be strong, that they need to be leaders, play sports and show no fear. However, these behaviours don’t come naturally to most, so what does it mean for the majority when they don’t think they measure up and then aren’t able to share how they feel?

‘Toxic masculinity’ is a very real phenomenon and boys need to learn from a young age that they can show their emotions and be whoever they want to be.

There’s been a big wave of children’s books over the last few years aimed at smashing stereotypes for girls, but it’s much more difficult to find books which do the same for boys. I’d like to shine a light on a few of our favourites so that you can add them to your family bookshelves.

A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy & Kayla Harran.

This beautifully illustrated book celebrates the uniqueness of every individual and encourages you to stop thinking about strength as something purely physical.

The pages follow a young boy as he learns about himself and his own strengths. He is encouraged to try a wide variety of activities and to always be curious about the world around him. We see him baking cakes, planting vegetables, reading books and playing instruments. When he’s not feeling brave, he asks for help and when he feels like crying, he just lets his emotions out. He dreams of all the things he might achieve in the future but learns that to get there he needs to work hard. The narrator inspires him to listen, to be kind, to help make the world a better place but ultimately, just to be himself.

The book teaches you that strength comes from knowing who you are and being comfortable with that, not from flexing your muscles or keeping your feelings locked up inside.

Recommended age range: 3 to 6 years.

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley.

Big Boys Cry is about a little boy who is nervous about starting school, unaware that his father is much more worried than he is. It’s a moving look at how our words can affect our children, and why we need to choose them carefully.

When little Levi leaves home for his first day of school he starts to cry. His dad doesn’t know what to say or do so he just buttons up his coat and sends him out the door with the words “Big boys don’t cry”. Levi wipes away his tears and tries to be brave but, on the way to school he sees something which amazes him. He spots a fisherman crying whilst saying goodbye to his family and he sees a harpist and a poet, both awash with emotion as they perform to onlookers. The more he walks the more he opens his eyes to the world and sees that all around him there are boys and men from all walks of life showing their feelings as they go about their day. He allows himself to cry as he approaches the school gates and when he returns home, he tells his father what he has learned.

I love the message in this book, and it’s made even more powerful by the fact we see tears and a sincere apology from the father at the end of the story.

Recommended age range: 3 to 6 years.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall.

This sweet story about a jump from a diving board highlights the importance of building inner strength. It also features a fantastic father figure who helps his child through a difficult moment.

Jabari has just learned to swim, and he is desperate to try jumping from the high diving board. However, when he gets there he isn’t quite so sure. He doesn’t want to look weak, so he lets the other children go in front of him and spends a little time stretching and thinking about what kind of jump he might do. Jabari’s fear is stopping him from doing the thing he wants to do the most. All this time, his father is alongside him. He helps his son explore how he is feeling and quietly encourages without pushing. He shares times when he has felt scared too so that his son understands that he is not alone in his fears. And eventually, in his own time, Jabari takes a deep breath and jumps.

This book does a fantastic job of showing children that we all have fears and that if we open up and talk about them then a whole new world can open up to us.

Recommended age range: 3 to 5 years.

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