Tag Archives: children’s books

Non-Sexist Children’s Books – recommendations

It has been a very long time since my last post, for which I apologise, but I thought it was time I recommended some children’s books I’ve discovered that are not sexist in the way I was complaining about. I’ve not found as many as I would have hoped, but here are a few you should definitely check out:

The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock

I love Simon Puttock. There are a couple by him on this list, and I imagine there could be more, but I haven’t come across any others yet. And he’s a man, writing well about female characters, which fills me with hope. The Baby That Roared is a lovely tale along the lines of a childless couple, wishing for a baby and then getting more than they bargained for when their wish comes true. What is great about this is that it is both Mr and Mrs Deer who take an interest in childcare and the characters they go to for advice are both male and female. Apart from all that, it’s a very enjoyable read, both charming and funny.

Stella to Earth by Simon Puttock

Another favourite in our house. In this story a girl takes an interest in space travel and explores new galaxies and planets, and it is her father who is looking after her at home. Brilliant.

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens

Basically a modern take on The Tiger Who Came to Tea (which gets a mention in this story). The central character, Iris, isn’t scared of lions. Also, both her mum and dad are seen looking after the baby, and both her mum and dad read the newspaper. Now, that’s more like the world I know. Oh, and the illustrations are fabulous.

Usborne Farmyard Tales (series) by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright

The publisher, Usborne, has put out loads of these in various formats and some are much better than others, but – and I can’t quite describe how excited I was when I first read this – Mrs Boot is the farmer! The stories are all about the Boot family, and Mr Boot appears from time to time, too, and the son and daughter are always around, but Mrs Boot is clearly described as one who is the farmer. Okay, she’s also ‘Mrs Boot’ and is therefore only identified by her married status and her husband’s name, but it’s a start.

And that’s the lot for now. I will update as and when I find more, and please do let me know if you have anything that could be added to this list. In the meantime, my search goes on…

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Sexist Children’s Books

Pre-motherhood, my experience of children’s books (since being read them or reading them myself as a child) was limited. I worked as a temp for a couple of weeks at Macmillan Children’s Books – my first ever job in publishing – and then much later I worked on Disney books at Parragon for almost a year, so you could say I’ve covered the two ends of the market. Since going freelance, I’ve worked on teen fiction, but nothing for younger kids, and it’s come as something of a shock. Don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely, lovely picture books out there, but it is boldly apparent that a massive proportion of them perpetuate sexist stereotypes and favour male characters over female.

Let’s take The Gruffalo as our first example. All of the characters are male. Why? There is no necessity in the story for the characters to be male. The drawings wouldn’t even need to change – we have a fox, an owl, a snake, a mouse and a fictional creature. All the first three of these characters are doing is behaving like predators, and female owls hunt as much as male owls, as far as I’m aware.

Don’t get me wrong, The Gruffalo is a brilliant book. It’s clever and witty and has a very satisfying conclusion. But I find myself changing the sex of half the characters when I read it to my daughter, because I don’t want her to feel excluded. Because the reason all of these characters are male is because the default in our society is male. Still. The female only tends to exist in relation to the male. If there is no absolute necessity for a character to be female, then generally it isn’t.

What is particularly infuriating is when all logic would suggest the character should be female. This is the case when dealing with farm animals. Look at Duck in the Truck. The characters here are a duck, a sheep, a goat and a frog. Now, ask any farmer (and, if you read children’s books, you’ll know that farmers are always male), and he’ll tell you that ducks are kept, in the most part, for their eggs. You’d have trouble getting eggs out of a drake. And, as a friend of mine pointed out, the book is not titled Drake in the Truck, anyway. ‘This is the drake driving home in his…’ Hmm… Stumbled at the first hurdle, there. And why, Mr Farmer, do you keep goats? For their milk, you say…? Well, isn’t that funny…? You see my point.

I was at Windmill Hill City Farm with my daughter yesterday morning, and we were looking at the pigs. There was a woman and her toddler standing next to us, and she was talking to her son about what the pigs were doing: ‘How many pigs can you see? Look at him! What colour is the patch over his eye? He’s having his breakfast, isn’t he? Can you see him eating that straw?’ etc etc. The pig in question had two very prominent rows of nipples on her underbelly. So to talk about animals as male all the time is not only perpetuating the default as male norm, but it is actually misleading. It’s just wrong.

And so, Dear Zoo gets the sex-change treatment, as does The Three Little Pigs, as do many Dr Seuss books; Hansel and Gretal find their roles being reversed and don’t get me started on dinosaurs… If you were to read children’s books about dinosaurs, you’d be forgiven for believing that they didn’t come with female versions. If you can think of examples to prove me wrong, please let me know – I want to buy them for my daughter. And if you can think of examples where female animals are not shown to be such by either a) wearing a skirt or dress or having a bow of some kind in their hair or b) having prominent eyelashes that the male version doesn’t have then I promise I will send you a prize of some sort.

In the meantime, I’m going to set about writing a story about a female farmer. And then I’m going to write about the female dinosaurs and where they have all been hiding for so long.

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