Our culture defaults to masculine. We use “men” or “him,” or him as a generic stand-in for male and female. Not only is masculine the default, it’s something both boys and girls can relate and aspire to. This is especially apparent in media, where entertainment featuring girls is decidedly pink and “for” girls only, while boy’s entertainment is multi-colored and for everyone. My own 7-year-old son sometimes buys into this idea that books and movies featuring girls are for girls alone, while my daughter learned early on to celebrate the girl sidekick and ignore gender barriers to media. I believe my son is missing out and, more importantly, internalizing a harmful message that the feminine is lesser and that appreciating entertainment by, for, and featuring women undermines his masculinity. I asked a group of awesome women to help me build a list of books to share with my kids and the result is 20 Books for Boys Featuring Girls.
Imagine if Harry Potter starred Hermione instead of Harry. What if she had just one boy sidekick, a female nemesis at school, primarily female teachers, and scenes took place in the girls’ dormitory? Add a female author to the mix and these beloved books might have been pinkwashed. This is not to say that books have less value if only girls read them, but boys need to know that they can and should relate to books featuring girls.
Consider the trick or treaters who ring your doorbell this year. Our town celebrated Halloween Friday night and hundreds of kids rang my doorbell. Many girls challenged gender roles, even wearing muscled superhero costumes, but two lone brothers proudly wore princess costumes alongside their sister.
Think about the last time you went to watch a movie. Who are “chick flicks” for? Would your boys rent a Barbie video if they didn’t have a sister? What does the ratio 0f male to female look like in your favorite blockbuster? Would the movie be a hit if the genders were reversed?
This isn’t about erasing gender or somehow diminishing our sons. If my sons grow up with a masculine default, however, I’m hurting them and perpetuating a culture that continues to oppress women, people of color, and LGQBTIA individuals. Challenging harmful norms that place masculine as best and feminine as a lesser subset is essential if we want a better world for girls and boys. Boys who can embrace female as truly equal, who have female heroes, who relate to girl characters as aspirational, who are not ashamed of their femininity, will grow up to be empathetic, compassionate, confident men.
20 Books for Boys Featuring Girls (In no particular order)
- Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. Olivia says, “It changed my life at eight years old and still one of my all-time favorite books. It taught me courage, independence, curiosity, loyalty, and that I am not responsible for the emotions of the men around me. It’s Astrid Lindgren’s masterpiece. And it’s about to become a tv series from Studio Ghibli, too!”
- The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. This is the first book of a series that will make your sons want to grow up to be like Tiffany!
- The Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery. My husband grew up loving this series and he first introduced it to our daughter. Anne’s story will make your sons laugh, cry, and keep reading.
- The Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce. This is just one series by Pierce, recommended because it primarily features women as all lead characters. Pierce has several series that come highly recommended.
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly
- Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
- The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Like many of the authors mentioned here, McKinley’s work is consistently loved for featuring awesome female protagonists.
- Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
- The Girl Who Circumvented Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
- Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I read this powerful story as a girl and it changed how I saw girls and myself.
- Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. Also check out Sisters and Smile.
- El Deafo by Harry N. Abrams. Don’t let the name throw you off. My kids could not put down this witty graphic novel written by a woman who lost most of her hearing as a child.
- A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede.
- The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond
- Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen. The foreward to this book says it’s not just for girls, but for boys who need to know strong girls too.
- A Wrinkle in Time Series by Madeline L’Engle
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
- The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
This is just a start of an amazing list, but I have to get to my graduate studies. My oldest son saw this list and wants to head to the library after school today to pick up a few. I will create more lists in the future!
What would you add to this list of books for boys featuring girls?
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