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Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes in 10 Great Books for Kids in French

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Books can be great tools to help kids deconstruct gender stereotypes.  Learning to feel comfortable with themselves as girls or boys doesn't mean dressing in a pink dress for some and playing football for others. These ten books explore stories with characters in them who don't necessarily fit into the stereotypical vision of what a girl or a boy is.
The first books in the selection are for very young readers, from age three and onwards. Towards the end of the list there are recommendations for older children. 

Boucle d'ours

The Bear family is preparing for carnival. Papa Bear plans to dress up as a Big Bad Wolf, Mama Bear as Sleeping Beauty, and what about Little Bear? He wants to go as Goldi-bear, in a skirt and blond pigtails. Whaaat?! His father stammers. Papa Bear encourages him to opt for another costume, such as a knight in armor with a big sword, or a fierce ogre, in boots with a big knife. But Little Bear is adamant. Papa Bear is upset and tells him that it's not possible. Little Bear asks him: "Why can’t I?” Mama Bear echoes, "Yes, why can’t he?” Papa Bear mumbles that skirts and pigtails are for girls. A deep voice asks him, "Do you have something against skirts and pigtails?" It’s the Big Bad Wolf, disguised as Little Red Riding Hood. Classic tales are used here with humor to denounce stereotypes. Ages 3+.

La Dictature des petites couettes

All it takes for Olga and her friends to play happily is an old chest full of costumes. Since each one wants to be the most beautiful, a beauty contest is organized. Gabriel wants to participate but the girls exclude him with the excuse that a boy can't be beautiful. The cat wants to try its luck as well but the girls say he is too furry. Gabriel and the cat plead with the girls, who finally accept, provided they give them "beauty tips".  This charming book is a snub to the diktat of the norms of beauty. Ages 4+.

Vive la danse !

It's as if Hector had springs on his feet. To channel his energy his parents enrol him in a ballet class. It's love at first sight. He is enchanted by everything, from the piano to the swirling arabesques., But his new classmates, all girls, stare at him with wide eyes. At home, all his chores are done while dancing, from cleaning his room to brushing his teeth, to walking the dog. This worries his father, who says he needs to change activities. During his last ballet class Hector leaps up into a chandelier and won't come down. This book echoes Billy Elliot's story but is for a younger readership, from ages 4+.

Je suis une fille !

Our heroine takes offense at being called a boy every time she doesn't behave the way a little girl is supposed to behave. She dresses in shorts and beats all records for speed on her scooter. She loves documentaries about boats, sports and drumming. So what? " I'm a girl!" she proclaims. This story shows how gender stereotypes creep into the most innocuous scenes of everyday life and invites adults to question themselves. Ages 4+.

À quoi tu joues ?

This book is inspired by the games that are practiced daily, and clichés that can be heard on this subject. For example, "boys don't have tea parties" or "girls don't play with cars". Here you'll see men making cakes or women as race car drivers. This is a clever concept to get young children thinking outside of the box about familiar situations. Ages 4+

Attention aux princesses !

In many traditional fairy tales, the princess is a naturally gracious and beautiful young woman, whose sole preoccupation is to wait for Prince Charming. This book debunks clichés with thirty-six portraits of princesses exchanging their shoes for sneakers, their white horses for a driver's license,  and their futures as housewives to become a mountain climbers or garage mechanics. They are not physically perfect, and have personality. They are independent and they intend to remain so. When Prince Charming knocks on the door, a princess greets him with a karate move. Ages 5+.

Olivia, reine des princesses

In this picture book starring the world’s most imaginative pig, Olivia embarks upon a quest for identity with very lofty goals—and being a princess is not one of them. Olivia is having an identity crisis! There are too many ruffly, sparkly princesses around these days, and Olivia has had quite enough. She needs to stand out She has to be special. She wants to do more than just fit in. So what will she be? You won’t find this pig pleased to be in pink!

Filles et garçons, la parité à très petits pas

This book explains in simple words and amusing illustrations the history of women and their evolution through history, society and religion. It starts with basic notions: what is male domination? Feminism? The right to vote ? It then explains the concept of equality that came to light in the early 1990s in order to stem the under-representation of women in politics and its extension to social spheres (school, work, home, etc.) Finally, it evokes the condition of women today, throughout the world, the victories and the battles that remain to be led. Ages 6+.

Le Zizi des mots

The square format of this book illustrates the masculine and feminine versions of words in French such as "un chauffeur/une chauffeuse" which means a driver, versus an armchair, or "un jardinier/une jardinière", a gardner, versus a planter for flowers.  The result is obvious: words in the masculine version most often refer to people, while their female counterparts evoke objects. The concept of the book allows children to realize that sexism also sneaks into language. Ages 8+.

En avant les filles !

"We talk to a woman, we tell her sentences knowing that she does not understand, just the way we talk to a dog or a cat" (Edmond and Jules de Goncourt): this is one of the distressing quotations that introduce a series of portraits of women throughout history, divided into themes: heroines, writers (from Colette to JK Rowling), scientists, sportswomen (from Nadia Comaneci to the Williams sisters), stars, and businesswomen (Coco Chanel or Oprah Winfrey), adventurers, artists, feminists (Emmeline Pankhurst, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Veil), heads of state,  (Louise Michel, Aung San Suu Kyi). This is an edifying and fascinating book aimed more at teenagers from ages 12+.

The original article appeared in French by Perrine Parageau. You can read it here


Isabelle translates and edits articles into English from other languages on the Bookwitty site. She always adds a hyperlink to the original article in her post.

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