Monday, April 25, 2011

Breaking Gender Roles - sharing books that defy stereotypes (ages 9 - 14)

I've been fascinated by some of the reading and workshops I've done around gender roles and how we can help students see past gender stereotypes that still perpetuate in society. I've always wanted to develop a unit with a teacher where students explore these stereotypes and then think about ways that people have found their own way, creating their own sense of identity. As children finish elementary school and start middle school, they are more and more influence by their peers and society. But they're also struggling to create their own sense of identity. It's a perfect time to see how characters in books deal with these tensions. Here are some of my favorites.
Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness)Alanna: The First Adventure
The Song of the Lioness series
by Tamora Pierce
NY: Atheneum, 1983
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon or at your local library
preview available on Google Books
Eleven-year-old Alanna dreams of becoming a knight, but all her father insists that she must go to the convent to become a lady. So Alanna hatches a plan to trade places with her twin brother, who has no desire to become a knight and dreams himself of studying to become a great sorcerer. So they disguise themselves as each other, and Alanna becomes Alan of Trebold, knight in training. As Alanna tries to keep up with her studies and learns to fight with weapons, she has to continually hide her true identity.

Alanna is a great character: stubborn, cheeky, doubtful of herself. As Abby the Librarian wrote on her blog, "Alanna's just the kind of character that you love to root for. She's got a good heart and she's feisty and she shakes things up.  Plus, she's an awesome fighter and a powerful female." She highly recommends the audiobook. While this may seem like a straightforward girl-in-boy's-clothing story, it is an exciting, fun read and one that will prompt a lot of discussion. It's popular with both boys and girls who enjoy fantasy.
The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers)The Dreamer
by Pam Munoz Ryan
NY: Scholastic, 2010
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
preview available on Google Books
winner of 2011 Pura Belpre Author Award
This fictional account of real life poet Pablo Neruda's childhood is part historical fiction, part poetry, and part lyrical magical realism. Eight year old Neftali Reyes was a shy, stuttering, skinny youngster with a domineering, authoritarian father. Neftali loves to read and dream, observing the world around him, and collecting small items wherever he goes. But his father insists that he needs to exercise, learn to swim, excel at math and become a doctor or a dentist. The struggle between Neftali and his father forms one core of this story, but the other heart of the story is Neftali's discovering his own inner voice, his love for nature and his ability to notice small details in the world around him. This is a quiet book, interspersed with evocative illustrations by Peter Sis - it will appeal to students who like characters that march to a different drummer. It would be a wonderful launching pad into the abusive nature of the father and constricting expectations placed by society.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to DreamAlmost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
MA: Candlewick, 2009
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
preview available on Google Books
2010 Sibert Medal for distinguished nonfiction for children
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction nominee
2010 Amelia Bloomer list
Tanya Lee Stone tells the riveting, true story of the "Mercury 13," a group of women who took and passed the same physical and psychological tests that men took to qualify for NASA's astronaut training program. Even though these women aviators proved to be as fit, determined, and courageous as any man, they were barred from becoming astronauts because of their gender. Stone does a remarkable job of setting the scene, explaining to today's young women the gender roles of women in the late 1950s. This is narrative nonfiction at its best - absolutely riveting, fascinating, compelling. It would make an excellent addition to a unit examining gender roles, as well as just plain old gripping reading for any family. I've heard that the audiobook is also very well done, although I have never listened to nonfiction audiobooks like this. I would love to get into a discussion with today's students about the factors that led to this injustice, and whether they see any of the same factors at work today.

Some other books that would fit within this general theme are:
I would love to hear of other books you think would fit this project. I'm especially interested in books that show boys acting in more sensitive, creative ways.

The review copies came from our home and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

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