Text by Shubham Ladha
Parenting today, is more nuanced than it’s ever been. Along with care for the physical and emotional needs many parents are striving to raise children without having to box them within societal expectations which dictate set behaviours and ideas depending on the child’s gender.
From not dressing girls in pink, to not snatching dolls away from boys, it’s becoming increasingly important to families to let children develop their own identity and grow up without expected gender roles and a set idea of normal. Children’s books and bedtime stories, form one of the earliest ways in which children learn about the world and hence play a vital role in shaping the child’s outlook.
With diversity at their centrefold, we give you a list of books to help your child grow while seamlessly integrating ideas about feminism, defying norms and the various gender expressions people across world inhabit and celebrate:
Feminist Baby, Written and illustrated by Loryn Brantz, Toddler – 2 years
Authored by two-time Emmy-winner, Feminist Baby was adapted from her viral comic. The baby, right from when she’s learning to talk realises that she will in no way be boxed into gender stereotypes. She loves all kinds of colours and cars, and regardless of being a baby, is well aware of how happy she is with her body; a great way to introduce young learners to the concept. Apart from the content, the rhyming and singsong rhythm of the text makes the ideas easier to grasp.
Words to leave you with:“Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!
Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care!”
Cost: The book sells for ₹753.00 for the board book, and you can buy it here.
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer, Written by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Daniel Roode, 3-5 years
Once you’ve introduced your young ones to the ideas of feminism, they can read further about those female figures who’ve set examples for the rest of the world. From Florence Nightingale To Rosa Parks and to Ada Lovelace and Maria Tallchief; they’re all inspiringly depicted through their stories condensed into a couplet for each. At the end, the children have the opportunity to realise how they will change the world, igniting in them the foresight for a better future through their work.
Words to leave you with: On Coco Chanel, “This Little Trailblazer
Became a millionaire
By designing simpler clothes
For women to wear.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹1,010.00 for the board book, and you can buy it here.
A Is For Activist, Written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara, 3 – 7 years
Not your average ABC book, Nagara’s alphabet book is perfect for the next generation of progressive folks. What stands out in this book is the easy-going but firm way in which it introduces children to concepts such as activism, civil rights, environmental justice et al…pretty much all those social, political and economic topics that signify our world. The alliteration and rhyming rhythm of the text help kids to retain it better, while the illustrations help them identify with it stronger. And as a feminist, these ideologies matter just as much.
Words to leave you with:“F is for feminist.
For fairness in our pay.
For freedom to flourish
And choose our own way.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹555.00 and ₹1,301.25 for the board book and hardcover respectively, and you can buy it here.
Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship, Written by Jessica Walton, Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson, 3 – 6 years
Before understanding gender in its entirety, what’s important is to understand that regardless of it, one can be a nice and compassionate friend. In the book, Errol and his teddy, Thomas are thick as thieves, who do everything together. But Errol learns that Thomas his sad, because Thomas is afraid to let Errol know that, “In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.” What follows is a heart-warming reconciliation between the two and a reassurance of love. What’s more is that the book is able to explain Tilly’s gender in a nuanced way.
Words to leave you with:“I don’t care if you’re a girl teddy or a boy teddy! What matters is that you are my friend.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹199.00 and ₹1,071.00 for the paperback and hardcover respectively, and you can buy it here.
The Gender Wheel, Written and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, 7 – 10 years
An ideal book to introduce children to gender which goes beyond the usages of “he” or “she”. It lets children learn about bodies, its many types, the history of the largely-used system of gender binaries, reflect through nature about gender and how and why it’s important to embrace newer identities.
Words to leave you with:“This is our world. Like many things in nature it’s round and holds everyone at the same time. This is the Gender Wheel. Like our world it’s round and holds everyone at the same time too…”
Cost: The book sells for ₹719.00 and ₹1,269.00 for the hardcover and paperback respectively, and you can buy it here.
Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings and You, Written by Cory Silverberg, Illustrated by Fiona Smyth, 8 – 10 years
An award-winning comic book, Sex is a Funny Word gives exposure to children about what are our bodies, gender and sexuality through introducing them to identities, individuals and families of all types rather than just your usual “bees and birds” talk. Important topics about boundaries, safety and joy are covered while informatively telling kids about what is sex and beyond.
Words to leave you with:“All of us have questions about sex. And all of us have answers too.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹1,657.00 for the hardcover, and you can buy it here.
The story of Ferdinand, Written by Munro Leaf, Illustrated Robert Lawson, 3 – 5 years
The inspiration behind the famed animated film Ferdinand (2017), Munro Leaf wrote this classic in about an hour, about a bull who was meant for fighting, but his interests lie in admiring fragrant flowers. While Leaf said that the protagonist chose peace and beauty over violence just because of his “good taste and strength of character”, we can’t help project the fact that it broke — and still does — many stereotypical ideals of masculinity in pop culture. The illustrations let the child’s imagination soar with the freedom to interpretation.
Words to leave you with:“And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favourite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹768.00, ₹1,037.00 and ₹1,143.00 for the paperback, school and library binding and hardcover respectively, and you can buy it here.
Pirate Girl, Written by Cornelia Funke, Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer, 3 – 5 years
On her way to visit her grandmother by boat, Molly, our pirate girl, is captured by the ferocious captain Firebeard and his “Horrible Haddock” crew. But Molly’s no damsel in distress, the feisty young one refuses to divulge details about her parents, all while secretly sending messages — in the bottles, yes — to them. Firebeard meets his match as a chaotic battles ensues between his crew and Molly’s mother, the pirate of an all-female crew. It’s a tale, which while it starts out along the usual tropes has an interesting twist, reminding young ones that professions aren’t defined by gender.
Words to leave you with:“That’s my mom!” Molly grinned. “It’s Barbarous Bertha herself!” wailed the crew of the Horrible Haddock. Firebeard turned as white as a sheet and his pirates rolled their eyes in fear. This time it was their knees that were shaking.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹5,208.00 and ₹12,061.00 for the hardcover and paperback respectively, and you can buy it here.
The Paper Bag Princess, Written by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko, 4 – 7 years
In the 70s’, Munsch had been telling a lot of stories about dragons, where it was quite typical of the prince to save the princess. When his wife asked “How come you always have the prince save the princess? Why can’t the princess save the prince?”, and that’s how this unconventional tale was born. As Elizabeth, our princess is all set to marry Ronald, the prince, a dragon burns down his castle and takes him hostage. With nothing but a paper bag as her armour, Elizabeth fights the dragon by outwitting him. As she rescues Ronald, instead of being grateful, he’s put off by Elizabeth’s paper bag, and asks her to return as a “real princess”. Elizabeth, however, pays no heed, calls him a “bum”, throws off her crown and dances away into the sunset. Of all things, this will teach little girls to unapologetically themselves, and perhaps what is it that they must really look out for in any “prince”.
Words to leave you with:“Elizabeth said, Ronald, your hair is all nice. Your clothes are all pretty. You look like a nice guy, but guess what? You are a bum.
They didn’t get married after all.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹132.00, ₹293.00 and ₹979.00 for paperback, board book and school and library binding respectively, and you can buy it here.
The Boy & The Bindi, Written by Vivek Shraya, Illustrated by Rajni Perera, 4 – 8 years
I suppose we were all curious when we were first acquainted by the Indian Bindi. It’s with the same inquisitiveness that Shraya introduces us to this 5-year old South Asian boy who’s taken by his mother’s bindi. Considered to be the third eye in Hindu mythology, the bindi holds a similar significance in this book where the boy’s mother tells him that it’s a self-expressive way to be true to oneself. She gives him one happily when he asks to wear one, and while the kids around him ask what’s so special about it, the mother’s inhibitions are passed on to the boy as he says, “All his fears fade out of sight”. The power of culture when passed down without prejudice can be revelatory in finding oneself, this books proves.
Words to leave you with:“But if a Bindi can be more than a spot
And bring beauty where there was not
Maybe I can too…”
Cost: The book sells for ₹1,087.00 for the hardcover, and you can buy it here.
Lachmi’s War, Written By Geeta Dharmarajan, illustrated by Shashi Setty, 6-10 years
As the evil demon Tobakachi plans to rule thr world, he plots to brainwash the village folk into depriving their girls of education and instead, domesticate them. Lachmi, a girl from the village gathers the help of the panchayat and the Bai Sena, and speaks bravely to the villagers about not giving into Tobakachi’s words, and fighting him. She finds strength in the ideas of women’s liberation and education, and is joined by the other girls of the village who want to study. They all finally get the men to agree, study and make the village flourish. The story very directly establishes the fact that equity between both, or for that matter any of the sexes is very important, and through equal opportunity is the only way humanity can get there.
Words to leave you with: “When a girl is more than eighteen years old there are lesser chances of her baby dying during childbirth. The evil asura Tobakachi is tricking you, beware! Send your girls to school!”
Cost: The book sells for ₹120.00 for the paperback, and you can buy it here.
The Pants Project, Written and illustrated by Cat Clarke, 10 – 13 years
In what becomes a life-changing quest, Olivia, who prefers going by the name ‘Liv’ doesn’t quite feel like a girl. He’s always known that he wants to be a boy but at the new school Liv’s joined, the policy is that all girls must wear a skirt. Liv learns that he must take it upon himself as he challenges the rules, and along the way, he finds support in the most unexpected of places, even though he’s bullied for having two moms.
Words to leave you with: “I didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “I’m a boy!” It sort of crept up on me and tapped me on the shoulder a few times before I started to pay attention I began to think that the word “girl” didn’t quite fit me. It was like a shoe that was too small — it pinched me.”
Cost: The book sells for ₹1,084.00 for the hardcover, and you can buy it here.
Gender Talk — Big Hero. Size Zero., Written By Anusha Hariharan and Sowmya Rajendran, illustrated by Niveditha Subramaniam, 13+ years
Taking inspiration from Indian media and popular culture, this book addresses gender biases that’ve been promoted on television for so long that over the years, kids have subliminally ingrained the concept. But as open and progressive conversations are being opened by gender issues around us today, it’s important to let kids know where they stem from, what they’re about and how they affect identity, social circles and ones ideas of attraction and morality. They might sound like heavy concepts for kids, but they’ve been explained simply and effectively.
Words to leave you with: “As you grow older, gender roles get more defined and rigid. People may laugh off a three-year old wanting to wear his sister’s bangles or a five-year old girl wanting to climb a tree. But as children become adolescents, these rules get stricter — breaking them isn’t taken lightly and may even mean serious trouble. On the other hand, teenagers too sometimes can’t fully rid themselves of social conditioning, even if they want to.”
Cost: The set sells for ₹225.00 for the paperback, and you can buy it here.
The Irrelevant Project Box Set, Written by various authors, illustrated by various illustrators, 15+ years
A set of five books written by the team at The Irrelevant Project, these books introduce prime concepts such as feminism, consent, questioning the status quo and more to children. While the plots themselves are defying prejudice and gender stereotyping, they’ve been constructed on the foundations of building multiple identities for the kids to look past the aspect of gender and interaction between two different groups to cultivate empathy. Stories such as Annie & Arjun, Nila and Najam and The Big Book Of Why go on to explain important concepts of work dynamics between both the sexes, defying occupation gender stereotyping and why it’s important to ask and have the answers to certain questions such as, “Why does daddy cook only on Sunday and amma cooks daily?”.
Words to leave you with: “Annie and Arjun have a really BIG problem. Mummy and papa have unknowingly stopped these siblings from doing their favourite activities. Annies favourite thing is to play with cars and Arjun loves solving crossword puzzles! And an even BIGGER problem is that they don’t get enough time to play with each other! What will they do?”
Cost: The set sells for ₹865.00 for the paperback, and you can buy it here.