Over the past few years, more and more books have started to come out about strong girls and women. And it’s awesome! There are so many excellent books about both amazing women in history and smart, fierce fictional girls. It’s an encouraging trend in an industry that hasn’t done a great job with diversity.
You may also enjoy these Children’s Books About Gender Identity.
A genre that has been slower to grow is books about gentle boys and men. For whatever reason, our society is resistant to the idea that men can embrace things like gentleness, compassion, nurturing, and emotional expression. Meanwhile, toxic masculinity is wreaking havoc on our society, hurting both men and women with its unrealistic expectations. As a society, we have to do better, for children of all gender identities and expressions.
One way we can do this is with books. The books about gentle boys and men below highlight kind and gentle males, who use goodness, intelligence, and wisdom to solve problems. They also show men who embrace being kind, nurturing, and helpful. Filling our children’s libraries with books like these will help them learn from a young age that boys can show emotion, nurture others, and embrace everything they love, even if society considers it “for girls.”
“By far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them with very fragile egos.”— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author
12 Books About Gentle Boys and Men
Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler
When you think of cowboys, you might think of lawless roughriders who are rowdy and brash. However, being a real cowboy requires a different set of skills. Real cowboys have to be respectful, caring, attentive, and helpful in order to do their job well. This gorgeous picture book illustrates the qualities that a real cowboy needs to care for his animals and his land, and shows that some of the toughest guys out there are the ones who embrace these attributes.
I highly recommend sharing this book with children ages 4 and up.
Tough Guys Have Feelings, Too by Keith Negley
The conventional image of a tough guy is a man who shows no emotion; no matter the situation, he’s able to handle it without shedding a tear or cracking a smile. This book breaks down that idea, showing superheroes, wrestlers, ninjas, and knights feeling sadness, frustration, and disappointment. The story normalizes these emotions, and shows that even the toughest guys around have bad days.
This bright and bold picture book is an excellent choice for children ages 4 and up.
Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee
A man that’s covered in tattoos is mean and scary, right? Wrong! In this sweet story, a young boy asks his father about all of his father’s different tattoos. There’s one that reminds Dad of his own mother, one that has the best advice Dad ever got, and even a very special tattoo that shows what matters to Dad the most.
I fell in love with this modern story of love between a father and a child, and I recommend reading with with kids ages 3 and up.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons by Ben Brooks
Similar in style to Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, this book explores the lives of real men who have made a difference in the world using intelligence and kindness, instead of aggression and force. It features men like Barak Obama, Ai Weiwei, Frederick Douglass, and Frank Ocean. As a mom of boys, I consider this book a must-have!
This book is a great choice for kids ages 6 and up.
Feminism is for Boys by Elizabeth Rhodes
Occasionally, I get emails from folks who want to know why my website excludes boys and men. This book expresses what many of us already know to be true; feminism is for EVERYONE!
This book shows the things feminist boys can enjoy, and the ideals that feminist boys uphold. It shows that boys can like playing with sports and playing with dolls, and that no matter what they like, they can support people of all genders. If you’re raising boys to stand up for equality and inclusion, this is a book you need to own. I recommend sharing it with children ages 2 and up.
Clive and His Babies by Jessica Spanyol
Clive is an adorable little boy who loves playing with his baby dolls. He and his diverse group of friends play with their babies together, and have a great time taking care of them. I love this book because it presents the idea of a little boy playing with dolls as totally normal — which is exactly as it should be.
This book is excellent for reading with toddlers and preschoolers.
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
Don’t you hate the notion that “pink is a girl color?” Me too. That’s why this book is so awesome. It goes beyond colors to talk about how things like baseball, unicorns, dress up, or cars are for anyone and everyone who enjoys them. This book is important for both boys and girls, because it teaches that the things we love aren’t determined by our gender identity.
This bright and positive book is perfect for kids ages 5 and up.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
This classic story is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1936. Ferdinand the bull didn’t like to roughhouse with the other bulls; he’d much rather sit and smell the flowers. When Ferdinand is picked for the bullfights in Madrid, he must choose between being what people expect him to be, or staying true to himself.
This classic is an excellent choice for sharing with children ages 3 and up.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
When William sees a neighbor playing with her doll, he wants a doll of his own more than anything. He wants to gently care for a doll in the same way he saw his friend care for her doll.
However, William’s desire is not welcomed by others. His brother calls him names, and his father buys him “boy toys” instead. Finally, William’s grandmother buys him the doll he longer for so much, and explained to William’s father that by playing with his doll, William was learning how to be a loving parent.
First published in 1972, this book has the look and feel of its time. But the message was revolutionary for its day, and the story is still a lovely one. I recommend sharing it with kids ages 6 and up.
Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe
Big Bob and Little Bob share a name, but have completely different interests. Big Bob likes to be loud and play with trucks. Little Bob prefers being quiet and playing school with his dolls. The two neighbors have a hard time understanding each other, but when a new girl in the neighborhood makes fun of Little Bob for what he likes, Big Bob rushes to his defense. The two boys learn that they don’t have to like all of the same things to be friends and to accept each other.
This is a very sweet story that makes a great read for kids ages 4 and up.
The Storybook Knight by Helen Docherty
Leo is a knight, but his personality is different than the other knights. Most knights enjoy fighting and jousting, but Leo prefers enjoying a good book. Leo’s parents send him off to fight a dragon, thinking that’s what knights should do. Leo packs his sword, his shield, and his favorite books for the journey. When he encounters the dragon, he finds a creative way to tame him that doesn’t involve fighting.
This sweet picture book is perfect for kids ages 4 and up.
Mightier Than the Sword by Jane Yolen
This collection of folktales from all over the world features boys and men who use intelligence, wisdom, and kindness to solve their problems and overcome their foes. There are stories from countries like Burma, China, and Angola, and they are all captivating and powerful.
Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors, and this book is an absolute gem. I recommend it for kids ages 7 and up.
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