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Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool and Steady Mom
Jonathan (age 9 at the time) and I sat side-by-side at the dining table, filling out his new compass–discussing what he’d like to learn about in the next six months.
We reached the section that asks, “What books have I read that have most impacted or inspired me?”
“Well, definitely Little Women,” he said without hesitation.
He had read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys via audio book that year, and had thoroughly filled me in on all the plot details as he went along.
“How has that book impacted your life?” I asked, secretly pleased since it’s one of my all time favorites.
“Well, even though the sisters have disagreements, they still make up and love each other,” he answered.
We’ve read them all, gathered around our table, these so-called classic “girl” books: the Little House series, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking.
And my two energetic, boisterous sons have loved them as much (or in some cases more!) than my daughter.
So I’ve been surprised to come across the idea, on social media or in casual conversation with other parents, that there are “boy or girl” books.
I’ve found that my kids don’t naturally pigeonhole or stereotype books by gender unless I (or someone else) do it for them.
I shared the books mentioned above with my kids for one simple reason: I love these characters and the lessons they have to teach, and wanted my children to as well.
Who could claim that the Little House series is for girls when they watch Pa fight the bear in the road, Almanzo put his life on the line to get wheat for the residents of De Smet, or when tensions rise between settlers and Native Americans?
That type of adventure and drama appeals to any kid.
And why would only girls identify with Anne with an “e” as she is dared to walk the ridgepole of a roof, smashes her slate over a classmate’s head, or plummets into the depths of despair at finding out the Cuthberts wanted a boy and not her?
In all these years of reading aloud, not once have my boys mentioned that perhaps these books weren’t suited to them.
So instead of asking is this a girl book or a boy book, maybe we should just ask is this a good book?
Is it worthy of my family’s time? Does it have characters and lessons that inspire us to grow, to be kind, to become our best selves?
Is it fun and does it connect with us as a family?
If so, then maybe it doesn’t matter what the gender of the main character happens to be.
Of course there may be times when we search for a certain gender-specific character to match a need in one of our daughters or sons. As our children grow, they need role models and mentors outside of the family…and books can be one excellent place to find them.
It’s also true that every child, boy or girl, is radically different and will be drawn to their own unique book choices. We should respect those, too.
But let’s be careful not to assume that certain titles won’t connect with our kids based on gender alone.
Let’s not accidentally miss out on books that could enhance our family and home culture, dismissing them because the genders of the characters don’t match those in our homes.
A few titles to consider for your upcoming year…
Female protagonists that appeal to girls and boys:
- Pippi Longstocking series
- All of a Kind Family series
- Anne of Green Gables series
- Little Women
- Little House on the Prairie series
- May B.
- Ronia the Robber’s Daughter
- Ramona series
- Understood Betsy
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
- Caddie Woodlawn
Male protagonists that appeal to both boys and girls:
- Little Britches
- Where the Red Fern Grows
- The Chronicles of Prydain
- The Black Stallion
- The Indian in the Cupboard
- Johnny Tremain
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
- Farmer Boy
- The Call of the Wild
- The Phantom Tollbooth
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Here’s to books: the cheapest vacation you can buy.”
~ Charlaine Harris
Is there a traditional boy’s or girl’s book that has made a big impact on a child in your home?
I have had the same experience with my children. They love all the books you have listed.I really must do Little Women and All of a Kind Family with them. There are so many lovely books to read.
All of a Kind Family has been such a hit around here recently!! Thanks for your comment, Dawn.
My son and I have read many of these books. He especially likes Ramona! He loves the mischief she gets into. I am looking forward to introducing him to Anne of Green Gables. She is a favorite of mine.
Yes, Ramona just seems to relate to kids on so many levels, doesn’t she?!
Henry Huggins! My 5 year old daughter LOVES him.
So does my 12-year-old daughter!! 😉
We listened to the Cherry Jones’ Little House series last fall and my 6 year old daughter’s favorite was Farmer Boy. 🙂 Great post!
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I know, what’s not to love about that book!! Such a classic, and I’ve heard so many rave reviews of that audio version.
Definitely Pippi Longstocking. That is loved by both my son and daughter. Can anyone not love that book? 🙂 And The Mouse and Motorcycle. Both my kids loved that, although I checked out the audiobook with my son primarily in mind. If it’s a good story, it’s going to appeal to everyone!
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Oh my goodness, Pippi, yes!! She is something else!
I read that book well over 40 years ago and I went out in the yard to turn 43 somersaults! I always got dizzy a little quicker after that….
Caroline Starr Rose
Thank you on so many levels. It is such a disservice when we implicitly and explicitly tell kids certain books are for them and others aren’t. Author Shannon Hale was recently invited to a school and learned she’d only be talking to girls because the principal decided she wrote girl books. What a missed opportunity…and what a narrow message for young readers.
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!! That must have been so sad for her. And thank you for creating such lovely heroines that our boys AND girls want to follow along with! xo
I’m with Caroline—thank you for saying this out loud! It drives me crazy when we pigeonhole books as girls books or boys books. Sure, my girls might go through a Royal Diaries phase where they want to read princess books, but they’re just as likely to go through an Alvin Ho or Mysterious Benedict Society phase. Books are just books…not boys books or girls books!
Exactly: “Books are just books!”
Girl of the Limberlost.
I’m going to need to check into that one, Jennifer! Thanks for mentioning.
I loved this book! It was written by a great-great-great aunt of mine. Probably why my great grandma gave me this book.
As with your kids, the Little House series has made a huge impact on my kids’ lives. (And mine as well!) They’ve taught all of us to strive to live more simply and to learn to do things on our own rather than waiting for someone else to come and do it for us. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to my kids last year, and my 14-yr.-old son would come over and sit in to listen. He liked it so much that he was impatient for me to start Little House on the Prairie, so he- my 14-yr.-old SON- read it himself.
I love that so much, Shelly! They are simply timeless, aren’t they?
My children, one boy and one girl, both adored Bud, Not Buddy this year!
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Trishna liked Elijah of Buxton by the same author!
I just made the boy book mistake. My son(6) had loved Beverly Cleary last year, and when I was loading audiobooks onto a new device, I prioritized Henry Huggins over Ramona because I thought those would be the ones he would want to listen to again. I was wrong–he wanted Ramona 🙂
Love it, Steph!
Thank you, we will definitely check out those on your list that we haven’t read yet. My 2 boys really enjoyed “the Penderwicks” and “Alice in Wonderland” & “Through the Looking Glass” — all with female protagonists. Also, I remember as a child, my female friends & I loved “The Great Brain” series. Our family gravitates towards classics, which — as you rightly point out– seem to appeal to both genders.
I have the Penderwicks on my mental list of titles to check out soon, too – keep hearing so much about them!
After I read The Mother-Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick earlier this year, my 12 year old son wanted to read them. He has now read through the series twice – he loved them! He also just finished reading through the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace – my favorite childhood books. I’m thrilled that he enjoyed them – makes my mama heart glad! Great books are great books – no matter if the main character is a hero or heroine!
What great examples, Kimberly–thanks for sharing.
We have read or listened to Farmer Boy a dozen times in the last year – both my son and daughter LOVE it (4 and 6). And they are both crazy to have farm animals now. The whole Little House series has captured both of them. We are expecting baby #3 soon and my 6 year old son recently told me he wanted to learn to read before the baby came because the baby might want him to read a page of “Laura” to him. =)
So adorable, Alana! What a joy – I’m jealous that you have the whole Little House series to discover with them. It’s a precious season of life!
Well said. I notice that a lot on Pinterest-Best books for your 9 year old boy, etc. My kids all LOVE the American Girl Books-yep, boys included. Books are books. You can relate to the character no matter what gender you are. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.
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Yes, my boys have devoured American Girl!! So glad you mentioned those.
Yep, my boy discovered the American Girl books and loves them as well! I encourage his love for them, they are great living history books!!
Most of the books you mentioned are on constant repeat for both of my boys–all are such good books. I can’t wait to try Carry on Mr. Bowditch. Not to be missed: The Melendy series (four books–The Saturdays is the first) and the two Goneaway Lake books; all are by Elizabeth Enright. The audiobooks are fantastic as well!
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I have the same edition of Heidi! Love it. 🙂
I love this post! So true. We have been devouring audible books this last year, and my girl is 7, my boys 5 and 6 and they all love books that are just good regardless of the girl/boy status. A little off subject because this series has both Herod and heroines, but I heard about the Swallows and Amazons series this Spring and bought the first book on audible, and I can’t stop talking about it now. It was so good I bought the next two in the series full price because I couldn’t wait to get started and my kids love them just as much. The audible version is delightful. (Even my husband has been pulled into the stories) highly recommend!
Heroes and Heroines not Herod… 🙂
Yes to good books. There is only good stories not boy or girl stories. 🙂
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LOVE these suggestions! My son is listening to the Little House books on CD right now and enjoying them. He also loved the Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. It is hard to find good books for boys so let’s not rule out a whole world of books based on the protagonist’s gender.
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So true, Leslie!
Sara Plain and Tall, the cobble street cousins, anything by Cynthia rylant, the penderwicks.
Yes anything by Cynthia Rylant. I could read long night moon every day
city of ember, my side of the mountain, sign of the beaver, island of the blue dolphins, a little princess, kingdom tales, holes – we read aloud to the kids a lot, and even if they might think “oh that’s a girl book” or a “boy book”, they both get to hear it and they end up living them.
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I read My Side of Mountain until I practically fell apart when I was a kid.
It fell apart, not me!
Clementine is also a huge favorite. My son adores her.
Another vote for the Penderwicks. My 10 year old son just devoured all 4 of them and is starting the first one overy again. He just had me place an Amazon order for him so he could order all 4 in hardback for his own collection using his own money. He said he misses them now that he finished the series (just today) and wants to have them on his bookshelf for whenever he gets lonely for them.
Island of the blue Dolphins (interested fact it was author Kate D Camillo’s favorite as a child…ok mine too), the penderwicks, cobble street cousins, surviving the apple whites (it’s not gender specific but is about a homeschooling family), beastologists.
I was thinking about this very topic today when my kids and I enjoyed. The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas. Great book Nd my boys love it
Birch bark house series. We could read it over and over
Love your picks, and there are books on both lists that are new for me. One of our all-time favorite, not just for boys book, is Charlotte Yonge’s The Little Duke. A biographical novel about the childhood of Richard of Normandy, aka Richard the Fearless. Exciting, ennobling, beautiful.
Scout by Piet Prins a series of I think 7 books about a boy and his German Shepherd. They can be a bit intense, but my boys really liked them. When I was growing up I read far more Hardy Boy books than Nancy Drew.