Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tips for Children's Librarian's Fighting Gender Stereotypes

Illustration by Elizabeth B. Martin

I wrote this blog to share on my Feminist Librarian Facebook page. It is a page I run with 3 other librarians and we share news, information, and thoughts on feminist issues relating to children's media, literature, and libraries. If you haven't like my page yet, please do so now! :)
  • As children's librarians, we should refrain from making assumptions of children's reading tastes based on their gender. If boys want to read Rainbow Magic books, do not judge them and certainly don’t deny them the opportunity to do so. Same goes for girls; if girls want to read a series often read by boys, encourage them to do so. Children should always have the freedom to explore books freely without judgement. As children’s librarians, we must conduct reference interviews by asking children about their unique tastes and interests rather than making grand assumptions based solely on their gender.
  • Introduce children to story characters — and real people — who take part in all kinds of activities. Recommend books, TV shows, videos and software programs that feature a variety of cultures or present men and women in nontraditional roles. Also seek out stories that show a wide range of body types, personal traits and talents. (Source: PBS)


    Here are links to booklists that challenge gender stereotypes: 


    8 Books Breaking Gender Stereotypes
    This was a website I made for a project on gender stereotypes within picture books. This link provides 8 books that specifically portray families, females, and males, in nontraditional gender roles. 


    14 Books that Challenge Gender Stereotypes
    From the website "What Do We Do All Day", these titles celebrate the fact that not every child fits into society’s preconceived notion of what it means to be a boy or a girl.


    Anti-Defamation League's List
    Brought to you by the Anti-Defamation League's Miller Early Childhood Initiative Question Corner, this is an excellent list of children's books that break gender stereotypes.  


    10 Children's Books that Break Gender Stereotypes
    Brought to you by, this list is filled with books showing diverse characters breaking gender stereotypes.

  • If a parent becomes uncomfortable seeing a child read a specific series, the most we can do is clarify messages so parents feel heard. Be empathetic and try not to act judgmental towards the parent for feeling uncomfortable. Permit verbal venting and remain calm. Once you have heard them express their concerns, gently remind parents that it may be helpful for children to read a wide variety of literature that includes positive and uplifting portrayals of both genders. If they are receptive, you may say that sometimes children also read books marketed towards the other gender because they are curious about the opposite sex. Lastly, it's better to support a child’s natural curiosity and interest in a specific children's book because children need to develop their own personal reading tastes and preferences.
  • Avoid gendered bibliographies and reference materials within the library such as “chik-lit” book lists. Refrain from having gendered book displays. For example, do NOT have a sign that reads “books for boys!” or “books for girls!” This should be obvious but sadly, some librarians haven’t gotten this memo. Check out this one display a woman tweeted about:

This is a good example of what NOT to do. (Source: Campcreek on Twitter)

  • If your library has a play area or early literacy center, fill it with gender neutral toys and toys of all kinds as much as possible. Do not be rigid on what you include in the center. For example, don't exclude dolls because you think that boys won't play with them. Encourage children to play with a variety of toys and not just ones that fit within the confines of gender stereotypes.

  • Lastly, be a role model and set an example. There is no replacement for modeling the type of person you want children to look up to. Use gender neutral language.The words we use around children are crucial to how they will characterize gender.  Be careful of making words applicable to only one gender.  Instead of saying fireman say firefighter.  Replace policeman and postman with police officer and postal carrier.  These simple changes make a huge difference in combatting gender stereotypes. (Source:
Have any other tips? Please add yours in the comments!


  1. When telling a story, talking about illustrations, or singing a song, consciously make some of the characters that are not identified by gender female. I.e., not every animal is a "he," and there's no reason why Thumbkin has to be "sir" instead of "ma'am."

    1. That's a great tip Sara! Thanks for the comment. :)