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Gender Roles in Children's Literature

How children see themselves in relationship to others is extremely important. Many times children are pressured into meeting gender expectations. These books deal with those issues.

Many years ago, when my oldest son was five, we were on a church outing. My son had misbehaved and I corrected his behavior. My son started to cry. An older gentleman came up to him and stated, "Boys don't cry." I informed him that, "Boys do cry, when it's appropriate."

The right book, for the right patron, at the right time, is the mantra of good librianship. These books may be just the right read.

Oliver Button Is a Sissy, by Tomie De Paola
Oliver Button loves to tap dance. His hobby is not accepted by his the other kids at school. They harass him by writing "Oliver Button is a Sissy" on the wall of the school. Fortunately, Oliver respects himself and his gifts. Oliver enters a local talent show. Even though Oliver doesn't win first prize, he receives a special recognition from his school mates.

Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
Elizabeth is a princess about to be married. Her prince, Ronald, is captured and carried off by a fierce dragon. Princess Elizabeth puts on a paper bag as armor and goes to get her prince back. When she meets the dragon she cunningly gets him to perform various feats. These tire the dragon out to the point where he collapses from exhaustion. When she frees Prince Ronald he comments on her un-princess-like appearance. "You're a mess!" He demands that she go and return when she looks more like a princess. Princess Elizabeth realizes that Ronald is not the prince for her. It is what we do and who we are that makes us princes and princesses.

Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter, by Diane Stanley
The students at my school love this story. Each there is a long list of boys and girls waiting to check it out. Stanley turns the classic fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin around. The story begins much the same, the miller's daughter imprisoned and commanded to spin straw into gold. Rumpelstiltskin comes to the daughter's aide. They eventually run away and marry, leaving the king behind. The happy couple in turn have a daughter (Hope). As a young adult, Hope takes the gold coins to town for her father. The king discovers these coins and puts her in a cell to spin gold. Hope turns the tables on the king, becomes prime minister of the kingdom and helps the people who she has seen suffering from the King's greed.

William's Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow
William wants a doll. Not a GI Joe, but a doll he can play with, hug, and tuck into bed. His family and friends are not accepting of this idea. His brother thinks the idea is creepy. William's father buys him "boy toys," such as basketballs, trains, and tools. William's grandmother buys him his doll. She explains that it is only logical. If girls play with dolls to learn to be good mothers, boys can play with dolls to learn to be good fathers.


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Content copyright © 2013 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
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