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The Most Thoughtful, Engaging Feminist Picture Books for Kids

That are actually fun to read.

Kids are sponges. They soak up their idea of the world by observing what’s around them. And they look at the people in their lives for cues about how gender functions and what roles people play in society. This is a fancy way of saying that if kids don’t see girls and women as leaders, they simply won’t truly grasp that yes, girls can grow up to be Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, film directors, neurosurgeons, or, now, vice-presidents. For that reason, boys and girls should be exposed to diverse feminist books — everything from stories about women leaders to picture books with girl protagonists —as they develop their understanding of gender

“For this reason, it is crucial that girls read, or are read, books featuring strong, empowered female characters,” says Laura K. Zimmermann, a developmental psychologist and professor at Shenandoah University who studies children’s media, chronotype, and STEAM learning in young children. “Research has shown that media messages can shift children’s views in a non-stereotypical direction as easily as a stereotypical one. Books are one way to get those messages out there.”

Now, when it comes to books, you can load up on painfully earnest but miserably tedious books that bludgeon kids over the head with messages encouraging them to become activists or crusaders. Too many of these tomes mean well, but wind up being heavy-handed and just plain boring. The best feminist books are the ones that everyone loves to read, so pick buoyant, lively stories featuring cool gals doing cool stuff.  

“Girls need to see strong female characters in books that they relate to in different activities, careers, and social interactions. They also need to be introduced to the diverse experiences and perspectives of other girls and genders,” says Zimmermann. “The most important thing as you choose books is to be aware of what you are choosing. When you look at your child’s bookcase and books borrowed, do you see empowered characters from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences reflected? Because children are influenced by what they read and are read, even if they don’t realize it.”

These books, featuring diverse characters, fit the bill. 

The rhymes are crisp. The story is inspiring and spirited. Ada is a born scientist, an inquisitive kid whose experiments drive her parents slightly nuts. That is, until she applies her scientific method to discovering the cause of a very bad smell.

 

Zuri has crazy hair. But she learns to love it when her dad steps in and helps her style it, without changing who she is or what she looks like.

 

A young girl learns that ambitious is not a dirty word. Language matters, so choose your words wisely.

 

Some of Marilyn's friends have their own monster, but hers hasn't shown up yet. So she goes looking for him, and finds him on her own terms. A lovely ode to never giving up on your dreams.

 

This fun, whimsical book features a young girl who explores history by stepping into the shoes worn by some famous women, including Frida Kahlo, Cleopatra, Lady Gaga, and Serena Williams.

 

Faizah wears a hijab on the first day of school, and gets some flack from her classmates. She has to find her inner strength to be true to herself.

 

Some kids don't get enough to eat. Sofia and Maddi are best friends, but while Sofia's fridge is full, Maddi's is empty. What does Sofia do: Tell her parents, or keep her promise to Maddi to not say a word?

 

Stella has two dads, but her class is celebrating Mother's Day. What's a kid to do? The young girl uses her brain to find a solution and understand the true meaning of this day.

 

Three pigs try to fight the big bad wolf by learning battle skills. Only, they don't quite succeed. Thankfully, their clever sister has learned major karate moves that save the day.

 

Imagine being named for a flower. It's tough, and this girl gets teased for her name. How oh how will she deal with the bullying and find her inner strength?

 

Not only is she the new kid. But no one can pronounce her name! So Unhei decides to choose her own name, and realizes being unique is its own reward.

 

The matriarch of this pachyderm family keeps her brood safe in the wilds of Africa. She's fearless. She's smart. She's a leader.

 

Annie is blind, but don't feel sorry for her. She's got the magical gift of being able to sense what you're feeling, and she brings those feelings to life by cooking incredible dishes.

 

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