A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.
This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!)
I love the portrayal of men as caring, gentle and patient in the Curious George stories. A favourite with boys and girls for 70 years, these are stories that provide children with positive adult male role models and encourage young children to think about the world from lots of different angles. Ages 4yrs+ A Treasury of Curious George (Curious George 8×8)
This book does exactly what it says in the title. Tucker is a boy who loves ballet. And, predictably, he is teased by his classmates for loving ballet. But ballet makes Tucker feel alive, feel right, feel like himself and the story charts how he confronts the bullying and ends up showing his friends his true self. There are rather a lot of Americanisms to contend with, but the story is bound to prompt discussions about gender and the fact that boys (and girls) don’t always have to stick to the gender rules. Age 5yrs+ The Only Boy in Ballet Class
One of Dr Seuss’ lesser known books, this is a real treasure for talking to young children about their emotions. There is lots of evidence that parents talk less to boys about feelings than we do to girls, so this might be a handy book in helping younger boys learn to recognise and name emotions (an essential stepping stone in raising empathetic boys). A colourful and vibrant book with lots to appeal to toddlers and upwards. Age 3yrs+ My Many Coloured Days
This is a book about a girl who struggles to get herself heard. But Willow’s Dad listens to her and tries to understand her and helps her to find her voice. It’s a simple, gentle story with a clear message about being true to ourselves and a fabulous male role model who shines out through listening and caring. Age 3yrs+ Willow’s Whispers
Lots of great challenges to gender stereotypes in here. It’s Mum who knows how to put the tent up and build the camp fire and dad who sings soppy love songs. Henry (our boy hero) has an emotional bond with his pet dog who, although a big mastiff, is actually very gentle and affectionate. Positive stories with non-typical family role models that early readers can read for themselves. Age 5yrs+ Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night (Henry & Mudge Books (Simon & Schuster))
If you have a top tip for a book that might help parents in raising empathetic boys, please do share it by commenting below. You might also like this selection of Books for boys who dare to be different or, for older boys, check out Books to make boys love reading. Or try these recommendations for books for talking to small children about big feelings.
This is not a sponsored post, I wrote it in response to the questions I am frequently asked during my parenting seminars. However, it does contain affiliate links – for more info, see my Disclosure Notice.
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