Gender Profiling when buying children’s books

When you choose a book for a child do you buy “boy” books for boys and “girl” books for girls?  If so, you are guilty of gender profiling.

I write picture books. I am writing to assure you that when you choose a picture book for your preschooler or primary-aged child, he/she will like or dislike the book based on the story and the pictures.  If the story and illustrations are entertaining, children will like it regardless of the gender of the main character.

It is very disconcerting to have parents and grandparents tell me their son or grandson won’t like The Great Bellybutton Cover-up because the main character is female. (She’s a sheep for goodness sake.) The story is laugh-out-loud funny. The pictures are colourful and delightful. Both boys and girls love it equally. (I know this because I’ve read the book to literally thousands of children.) (

If you base your picture book purchases  (or children’s chapter book purchases for that matter) on your preconceived notions of what a “boy” or “girl” will like, you are doing the child a grave disservice. Your child will be missing out on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wonderful stories. I cannot emphasize this enough: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “BOY” STORY OR A “GIRL” STORY. A good book, is a good book.

What Do You Do With A Kangaroo by Mercer Mayer is hysterical. The story and pictures are wonderful. The main charater is a girl; so what. (

The chapter book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a fabulous story. The main character is a girl; again, so what. Boys and girls will love the mystery and magic of this book. (

Is Harry Potter meant to be read exclusively by boys? Of course not.

So when you pick up a book for a child, buy it based on whether the book is well-written and well-illustrated and whether it makes you smile or laugh or cry or think or learn. Don’t let gender profiling limit your selection. Don’t even think about the gender of the main character. It’s irrelevant.

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2 Responses to Gender Profiling when buying children’s books

  1. From the perspective of being a girls’ mum I can say that the gender of characters can be an issue if all those you can find have girls being stereotypically girls. We love books with boys in, but I do find myself looking for books with strong girls in, that question some of the assumptions about girls. Partly because I am not a girly girl – not interested in pretty princesses etc.
    My daughters do love some very girly books, but they also love lots of books with male characters, and again they are drawn to those with strong females characters.
    My eldest loved Harry Potter, now deeply into Percy Jackson and Kane Chroniocles – male heroes, with strong female sidekicks. She also likes White Giraffe by Lauren St John, Lily Quench. Maybe the girliest looking book she loves is the Barefoot books ‘Seven Wise Princesses’, where the main character is a man, but there are lots of beautiful princesses – all telling amazing stories with very different men and women in them.
    I do wonder though if it is generally more acceptable for girls to be interested in everything, rather than boys who may feel more pressure to like boy things.

    • susanhermanross says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Katherine. I think it is mainly a problem with people buying books for boys. They limit themselves to stereotypical “boy” books, thereby depriving their sons, etc. of wonderful stories with girls as the main character. People buying books for girls seem more willing to buy books with a greater variety of themes and with males as the main character.

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