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Gender Identity in 3 Picture Books

A conversation often comes up regarding picture books for exploring gender roles, and similar topics. As always, please take from this what is useful for you, and leave the rest behind.


The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. A fiery dragon ravishes the castle and burns up all the princess’s clothes. The prince is taken and soon to be eaten so the princess sets off to rescue him. Using mental acuity rather than physical weapons, she defeats the dragon and rescues the prince. But in the end she rethinks her “prize”. There are many different ways to be the hero. 





William’s Doll  by Charlotte Zolotow is a sensitively told story about a boy who wants a doll more than a truck. He is teased by other boys, and even misunderstood by his own father. Only his grandmother perceives what William really needs. This book teaches the value in boys having a soft, tender side and that parents should respect that.




Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Julian goes to the public pool with his Nana. Julian loves mermaids. And when he sees fabulously dressed women outside of the pool, he falls dreamingly enchanted. On the walk home he tells grandma; “I am also a mermaid.”

The story is all subtext. Children may listen and think “hmmm”. Others say “that’s weird”, or “that’s fun”, or “I don’t understand”, or “I know just what they are talking about”.  This picture book creates a context for children to envision a certain exploration of identity, and a tolerance for those who express it differently.



While we may debate the definition of “masculine” and “feminine”, and shifting gender roles, we can always teach children to explore their identity, try new things, enjoy, feel free, believe in themselves and that they are good, are loved, and have great value.

In context, these are also interesting discussion books for teens and adults.

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