Bron Bates hopes to raise kids who are fair-minded and compassionate. She thinks that reading picture books that challenge gender stereotypes and sexism with fun stories and colourful pictures is an entertaining way to start.
Here are seven books I love to read with my kids. Some of them are about questioning traditional ideas about how girls and boys ‘should’ behave, some of them simply feature a confident girl as the main character.
These books aren’t just for girls. With one good book, boys as well as girls can understand that all kids, regardless of gender, need to be the lead characters in their own lives.
1. Princess Smartypants written and illustrated by Babette Cole
“Princess Smartpants did not want to get married. She enjoyed being a Ms.” If (like me) stereotypical princess stories about beautiful, helpless girls being saved by brave boys leave you cold and cranky, Princess Smartypants will brighten your day. Forced by her parents to pick a prince to wed, Smartypants systematically goes about putting off all her suitors with some help from her large collection of fantastical pets.
2. Prince Cinders written and illustrated by Babette Cole
What if a prince is not big and handsome but small and scrawny? Prince Cinders is mocked and belittled by his tough, hairy brothers who leave him at home to clean up after them while they go out to the Royal disco. One evening, a bumbling fairy falls into his life and he discovers that being ultra-masculine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
3. Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
Rosie is a little person with big ideas. When she creates a stupendous invention and her beloved uncle laughs at her, she wants to pack it all in. Her kindly great aunt has other ideas and Rosie learns that, ‘The only true failure can come if you quit.’
4. Olivia written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
Olivia is a renaissance piglet who likes to be prepared. Olivia follows a day in the life of this spirited girl – from her morning routine (moves the cat, brushes her ears) through to her outfit selection (must try everything on), beach prep (must wear everything), setting boundaries with her baby brother, an inspired painting session (on the wall at home), until night when she wearily falls into bed and dreams of being an Opera singer. Naturally.
5. Matilda by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quintin Blake
Matilda is a jewel in a family of thorns, a reader in a family of TV watchers, a girl in a family that favours boys. She’s precocious to the point of possessing super powers, and with these, and the help of her sympathetic kindergarten teacher, Miss Honey, she takes her revenge on those that have wronged her.
6. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Speaking up is hard to do when you can’t yet talk, but baby Trixie tries her darndest in Knuffle Bunny, the first in a series of three books about Trixie. The stories are delightfully illustrated and the plots follow typical mishaps that befall children. What makes this a great feminist picture book? Trixie stands up for herself and her most defining attributes aren’t particularly feminine or masculine, they’re just those of a confident child.
7. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Nancy is a little girl who always wants to be dressed up in something fabulous and fancy. She helps her mum, dad and little sister have posh makeovers, decorating them with accessories fashioned from Christmas decorations and the like. When her luxe outing to the local pizza place goes awry, she has a humbling experience that reminds her that there are some things more important than being fancy.
It’s been said that the Nancy illo on the cover is a little too sexy, but for me this one pose doesn’t detract from the rest of the book. Check it out and see what you think.
Do you have any picture books you’d recommend for mini feminists? I’d love to hear.
P.S 4 brilliant books by female authors for adults.
Words + Photograph: Bron Bates