Grace loves stories. She likes listening to them, making them up and pretending to be exciting characters in the stories.
Her class decides to perform Peter Pan, and Grace wants to be Peter. Her friends point out that she is a dark girl who looks nothing like Peter.
But Grace's grandma tells her that she can truly be whatever she sets her heart to. And true enough, Grace auditions for the part and plays Peter Pan with flair.
While the story in itself has immense depth in its exploration of self-belief and identity, the watercolor illustrations bring to life Grace's beautiful character and personality.
Next: Ballerino Nate
Three more fabulous titles to add to this category: My Princess Boy, 10,000 Dresses, and The Boy with Pink Hair
Nate loves the ballet, the fluttery costumes and the way the dancers' "movements look like music." So Nate decides he wants to learn ballet, too. While his parents are supportive, his big brother tells him boys cannot be ballerinas, and this confuses Nate. He gets more apprehensive when he discovers he is the only boy enrolled in the ballet class. So Nate's mother takes him to a real ballet, where he sees many male dancers and gets to meet one in person. The dancer clarifies that a boy cannot be a ballerina, because that means "woman dancer" and shares his dream of becoming the best ballerino. At last Nate feels comfortable and confident in his passion for ballet.
Next: Little Red
Based off Little Red Riding Hood’, this wonderful twist on the tale has a boy as the protagonist and is set in Colonial America.
Little Red is taking a basket of ginger ale to his grandmother when he stops to gather apples in the forest. As suspected, the wily wolf grabs Red's cape and runs to grandma's house, devours her and waits for Little Red to be next!
Follow Little Red as he negotiates with the wolf and successfully gets grandma back.
And it's an added bonus that the book has a lot of spook minus the grimness in the original.
Next: The Paper Bag Princess
Just when Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Prince Ronald, a dragon destroys her castle and burns down all her clothes with his fiery breath and kidnaps the prince. Left with nothing but a paper bag to wear, the princess sets out to outsmart the dragon and save her love. But the prince is not at all impressed and comments on how un-princessy she looks and tells her to "come back when you are dressed like a real princess."
Of course, our sassy princess heads off to lead her life the way she wants it, without trying to fit into the prince's perfect picture of a princess.
Next: Allie's Basketball Dream
Allie is very excited when her father gifts her a basketball for her birthday.
She practices everyday as she wants to be a professional basketball player.
But all her friends — girls and boys — discourage her, saying that it's a "boy's game." One boy even trades a volleyball with her, because it is lighter.
Finding encouragement in her father's words, Allie doesn't give up and eventually proves her worth and wins the respect of all who scoffed at her.
Next: William's Doll
William wants a doll because he envies the neighbor girl who has one. But his brother and his friend mock him and call him a 'sissy,' and his father buys him 'boy toys' to try and change his mind.
Finally, the only person who understands William, his granny, buys him a baby doll and eases the fears of his father.
Next: Pinky and Rex and the Bully
James Howe's Pinky and Rex series defies gender stereotypes.
Pinky is a boy who loves to collect stuffed animals. His favorite color is pink. Rex is a sports-crazy girl and is passionate about dinosaurs. Pinky and Rex are neighbors and best friends.
In this installment, a bully calls Pinky a 'sissy' and teases him for his fondness of the color pink and for having Rex as a friend. An elderly lady comes to his rescue and brings with her an important lesson.
"It's hard to be different," advises the old lady, "but it's worse not to be yourself."
Next: Tough Boris
There are two stories going on in this book, one with the words and one with the pictures, both merging in the end.
A young boy sneaks onto a pirate ship to get his violin back and for a short period, he becomes part of the crew.
He steps onto the boat with a preconceived notion about the pirates — that they'll be mean and cruel and tough. But by the end of the story, he discovers something else.
This is a cool (what can be cooler than pirates?) book that also emphasizes that it is OK to cry and that even the toughest and scariest of us all do.
Next: I Look Like a Girl
This is a strong and powerful book about being a girl and embracing oneself.
The theme centers around girls being strong, independent and free-spirited beings.
Each child in the story imagines herself to be a strong wild animal — a tiger, a mustang, a wolf.
The book includes girls across many races and ethnicities, encouraging them to be true to what they feel they are inside. "Throw out those glass slippers. Send the fairies to sleep. No prince is waiting for me. For if you look twice, past the sugar and spice, the eyes of a tiger you'll see.”
Check your local library if they have copies of the book, because there are limited copies in circulation. It is worth tracking down.
Next: White Dynamite and Curly Kidd
The book is a visual treat, with cowboys and rodeo clowns, bull twisting and bucking.
The story is presented in the form of a conversation between father and child. The child is concerned that dad is about to board Dynamite, the meanest bull in USA. And the father shares a secret.
The surprise ending of the book is sure to delight you and incite curiosity in young readers.
Next: Other kids' books on breaking gender stereotypes
I began exploring these books when my daughter's definition of a girl only consisted of the words princess and pink. Reading these books has aroused a lot of curiosity in her, and am pretty sure there are plenty of amazing books out there that handle the subject of gender roles beautifully. These books have a real boy and a real girl that kids can relate to. Other books of interest in the topic are: Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campell Ernst, My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis (read about the book here), 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke.
Do you have a favorite? Share yours in the comments section below.