Inside: The best books for boys are stories that combat gender norms and harmful stereotypes, showing kids that strong men are also curious, compassionate and kind. We’ve got just the list for you, so come in and check it out!
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The Best Books for Boys
Boys will be boys, the lady said to me in Starbucks.
She said it with a shrug before walking away with her coffee, shaking her head in apparent exasperation as she approached the door.
I watched her walk out of the store, then glanced at my boys who were goofing around at a table as I waited for our order.
My kids were not doing anything wrong. They were just boisterous, excited at the prospect of getting an end-of-the-week cake pop as a special treat, and maybe their voices were a tad bit louder than I would have liked.
But really? Boys will be boys?
What does that even mean? And how stereotypical is it to think that boys always act poorly, some archaic code of conduct that defines masculinity as having unpleasant or rambunctious behavior?
It’s long overdue to turn gender stereotypes upside down!
As the mom of two boys, I despise these rigid notions of what it means to be a boy.
I refuse to allow my sons to grow up defined by dated — not to mention harmful —gender norms telling them who or what they should be. Not all boys behave badly. And for someone to imply that this type of behavior is expected from a male child is simply absurd.
Do I want my kids to be strong? Sure – but not because they have the biggest muscles. Do I want them to be tough? Absolutely, if your idea of tough means raising kids that are confident, kids who stand up for what they believe in and won’t back down from their values when faced with a moral dilemma. Do I want them to play sports? Yes, but not because I want them to win and bring home the biggest trophy, but because playing sports helps foster teamwork, turn-taking, cooperation, and sportsmanship.
The Best Books for Boys Combat Gender Norms and Harmful Stereotypes
There’s no debating the fact that there has been a plethora of books showcasing valiant, strong women who have gone on to change the world in their own small (or huge!) ways over the last few years. These stories of courage, honor, athleticism, intelligence and compassion have inspired children worldwide — both girls and boys — and have helped create a new ideal for young girls to attain.
But for those of us who have young boys in our homes, we’ve been left with some important questions.
Where are the books for our boys showcasing that strength in men is not just akin to physicality and whether your bicep is as big as a baseball?
Where are the books showing that strong men have feelings, that compassion is cool, that there is nothing wrong with playing dolls or wearing pink or being kind to the new kid in class?
I’ve been waiting so patiently, because all I’ve wanted is to put together a shelf of books for my own two boys, books that challenge gender stereotypes and will help change the narrative of how a boy “should” and “should not” behave.
Now, let me clarify something.
There is no such thing as a “book for girls” or a “book for boys.”
I am a firm and steadfast believer that there is no such thing as “girl” books and “boy” books.
Children’s literature is for children, plain and simple. Books with male protagonists should (and are) read and loved by girls, and the opposite holds true as well.
But just as books depicting strong, intelligent and brave women are tremendously important for young girls to read so they can identify with young ladies and dream big dreams, our boys need books like this too. Our boys need books with male characters and role models who exemplify sensitivity, compassion and generosity in addition to the typical display of brawn.
We finally have a list of the best books for boys!
I am so excited to share this list with you all, and I hope you read, love and cherish these books as much as we do. These books celebrate boys — their spirit, their gentle nature, their courage and their unique selves — and we couldn’t love them more. If you want to read stories with your children that will broaden their definition of what it means to be a boy growing up in today’s world, these are the books for you. Enjoy!
Best Books for Boys: Empowering & Inspiring Books We Simply LOVE
A Boy Like You, by Frank Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren: This fabulous book walks kids through all of the things that make a boy unique, and it doesn’t shy away from conveying to children that there is more to being a boy than sports, putting on a hard exterior, and being tough or daring. Instead, this book beautifully describes all of the ways a boy can be brave and courageous, which includes letting tears flow, raising his hand, and asking for help when he needs it. This book elegantly and perfectly combats gender stereotypes, allowing all readers to see that being a boy has many different and awesome meanings other than the ones that first come to mind. For our full review of A Boy Like You, click here!
Dear Boy, by Paris Rosenthal and Jason Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam: This is the perfect love letter to your sons and other special boys in your life. Boys, too, need reminders that they can be cool even if they aren’t tough, that they can be special even if they show their feelings, and that being good at sports also means having — wait for it! — good sportsmanship. Each spread in DEAR BOY, offers words of wisdom and advice for the young reader. It reminds boys to make friends with people that are both like and unlike them, that being truthful will never lead them astray, and that it’s perfectly ok to cry on days you’re feeling cloudy. Just what I needed for my kids and students! For our full review of Dear Boy, click here!
The Heart of a Boy: Celebrating the Strength and Spirit of Boyhood, by Kate T. Parker: Oh, I can’t even express my love for this book! Strong is the New Pretty is one of my very favorite gifts for girls, and I was waiting with bated breath, hoping Kate Parker would come out with a boy version— and she did. My kids absolutely love the photographs of real boys in this book, doing everything from playing guitar to crying on Dad’s shoulder to climbing trees to doing ballet. It showcases boys in everyday situations, unique situations, and illuminates all the ways in which boys can truly be boys. An absolute treasure, and visually stunning.
Best Books for Boys: Picture Books that Combat Gender Stereotypes
Pink is for Boys, by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban: Pink is for … boys? Heck yes, it is! We adore this one for the way it perfectly challenges and subverts old fashioned gender norms. It conveys such a simple but significant message – colors are for everyone! As they should be, right? Even writing that sounds silly. This awesome book puts a great twist on the old pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and it encourages kids to express themselves however they so choose.
Except When they Don’t, by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Joshua Heinsz: Boys play football, run around scaring girls and should never, ever be dancers. Right? Wrong!! Who made up these crazy rules anyway? We love the way this book challenges all of those things boys and girls should do by encouraging them to do what they want to do instead. It’s liberating, empowering, and beautifully conveys the message that we can do and play whatever we want, whenever we want.
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), by Keith Negley: This is one I can’t keep in my library, because my younger students simply love it. Everyone gets sad — even boys, even dads, even ninjas and superheroes and wrestlers! This is the perfect book to challenge the ridiculous notion that a boy should always be tough and strong. Boys do cry, and this book beautifully conveys to children that expressing their feelings is a-ok!!
Real Cowboys, by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Jonathan Bean: This book rocks! Cowboys and cowgirls have a reputation as being rough, wild and rowdy. But this poetic story challenges all of those stereotypes, depicting cowboys as careful, compassionate and gentle. Cowboys, just like boys and girls, are multifaceted and multidimensional, and this book gets it right on every level.
Best Books for Boys: Fabulous Anthologies About Great Role Models
Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World Without Killing Dragons, by Ben Brooks and illustrated by Quinton Wintor: I had to wait until summer to read this book. Why? Because I could NOT keep it in my school library. My boys gravitated to this one, with its fun illustrations and amazing stories about heroic, intelligent and world changing males. The men featured in this story range from famous pioneers to lesser known role models, all of whom have created greatness in their own ways. This one is an absolute gem, and my students will be so excited to know that it has a sequel now, too! Buy these two together for a special boy in your life, and these books will be treasured for years.
50 Real Heroes for Boys: True Stories of Courage, Integrity, Kindness, Empathy, Compassion and More!, by Christy Monson: Oh man, is this anthology awesome! While its beautiful and thought provoking, there are two things I find just remarkable. First, it includes not just male role models, but also amazing females that have changed the world in some way and are fabulous heroes for girls and boys to look up to. And second? The book describes various character traits as being superpowers, because characteristics such as integrity, kindness, empathy, courage, and respect for women — when coupled with gifts such as art, athletics, creativity, dance, music, curiosity, and more — can create positive change and make the world a better place. In love!
Boy oh Boy: From boys to men, be inspired by 30 coming-of-age stories of sportsmen, artists, politicians, educators and scientists, by Cliff Leek and illustrated by Bene Rohlmann: This is another new beauty, featuring the likes of Prince, Lebron James, Mahatma Gandhi and other iconic men who have gone against the grain to do things their way and not the way others have thought men should behave. I absolutely love the unique stories in this book. To say the chapters were fascinating and I learned about so many remarkable men is an understatement. All the love for this beauty!
Ground Breaking Guys: 40 Men Who Became Great by Doing Good, by Stephanie True Peters and illustrated by Shamel Washington: Men can be both masculine and compassionate — and, in fact, the best ones are. This anthology showcases forty men such as Barack Obama, Mr. Rodgers, Maurice Sendak and Freddie Mercury, men who not only were great and important leaders, but who also gave back to their communities, treated others with respect, and inspired legions of children and adults alike not just to be good, but to do good, too. This book is a treasure in every way, and its focus on spreading goodness and lifting others up is an important message for every child, every where, to read and take to heart.
Books for Boys: Tender Books Featuring Male Main Characters
Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall: Young Jabari and his family hit the city pool, and today is the day Jabari tells dad he will jump off the high diving board. In fact, he tells his dad he is not even scared at all. Yet, when it is time to climb the ladder, Jabari lets some of the other kids go ahead of him…. and then takes time deciding what kind of jump he wants to do…. and then gets just a little bit tired. Oh, the excuses! Will Jabari overcome his fear of the board and find his way to take the plunge? Jabari’s dad is tender and patient, encouraging Jabari where necessary but also recognizing when to allow his child to step back from a fear-inducing event and take some time to breathe. The two are a perfect pair. For our full review of Jabari Jumps, click here!
Night Job, by Karen Hesse and illustrated by G. Brian Karas: A young boy packs his dad’s lunch, and as the sun sets, the two jump on dad’s bike and head to the middle school where Dad cleans the facilities during the night. The two pal around as dad cleans. In the gym, the boy shoots baskets. In the theater, they listen to the big game. And in the library, the boy lays down on the couch and reads aloud to his father until he falls sound asleep. When they eventually return home, the sun comes up and dad snuggles into a big arm chair — and then the boy snuggles up to dad until sleep overtakes them both. I simply adore the tender, sensitive relationship in this story! For our full review of Night Job, click here!
Big Boys Cry, by Jonty Howley: Levi is heading to school, and he is awfully scared. Levi’s dad tries to comfort him by telling him that big boys don’t cry — but as soon as the words are out of his mouth, it’s clear dad regrets them. As Levi wanders to school, he sees many grown men expressing their emotions, and once he gets to school, Levi sheds a tear and feels a lot better. When he runs home at the end of the day he finds his father waiting for him, with tears in his eyes, because dad, too, was scared about Levi’s first day. Such a gentle story about the power of letting yourself be vulnerable!
The Digger and the Flower, by Joseph Kuefler: Sometimes tenderness shows up in the most unexpected places, and this is just one of the many reasons we love this sweet book about a digger that does all it can to protect a lone flower. Though this story has important environmental themes, it also brilliantly conveys that a seemingly destructive piece of equipment can act with compassion to protect something smaller and more fragile than itself. Even the toughest among us have hearts of gold — and have no shame in displaying their tenderness!
Sparkle Boy, by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Maria Mola: Casey loves “boy” things — but he also loves things that sparkle. When his sister has glittery nails, Casey wants them too. When she has a shimmery skirt, he wants one too. When Abuelita has an armful of sparkly bracelets, Casey wears one too. Though some of the adults around Casey embrace his expression and allow him to be true to himself, Casey’s big sister isn’t so sure. Will it take a bully to help big sis embrace her brother’s interests? We love this story of acceptance!
How to Heal a Broken Wing, by Bob Graham: In a busy, bustling world, only one little boy notices a small, injured bird lying on the ground. The boy does what no one else stopped to do — he wraps up the hurt animal and brings it back home to tend to its broken wing. With simple text and evocative pictures, this is the most gentle story showcasing one boy’s mission to save an animal that no one else thought to help. His kindness shines through on every page, and as the boy nurses the bird back to health, readers fall in love with the child’s dedication and compassionate nature. A beauty!
Angus All Aglow, by Heather Smith and illustrated by Alice Carter: Angus loves all things sparkly, and when he wears his grandmother’s bracelet to school, he is startled by the negativity and teasing he receives from his classmates. He can’t wear bracelets, they say – he is a boy, after all! Angus loses his sparkle as a result of his classmates taunts, but when one little girl sees Angus for who he is and what he loves, her acceptance causes Angus to glow once again.