As a society, we’ve grown all too accustomed to toxic masculinity. We see “manliness” portrayed as domination, aggression, and homophobia on a regular basis. The notion that boys must exhibit these behaviors to grow into “men” has infiltrated our schools, administrations, and personal lives. It’s not only men who are affected by these harmful beliefs and practices. Everyone suffers when toxic masculinity enters our systems and relationships.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. When we teach positive masculinity through showing how to be emotionally expressive, how to respect others (even those who don’t share the same beliefs), and how to practice healthy coping skills, everyone benefits. As great as this all sounds, like all good things, it’s no simple task. But we believe that teaching healthy masculinity is possible, and a great way to begin is the same way we teach children lots of other things: through books.
There are numerous children’s books that encourage young minds to understand and embody healthy masculinity and that can act as great teaching tools to implement these beliefs early. We’ve rounded up 19 of our favorite children’s books to help teach your little ones positive masculinity.
19 Children’s Books to Teach Positive Masculinity
For the aspiring cowboy in your life, use this book to inspire a healthy sense of masculinity. While much of what we see about the Wild West is doused in violence, Real Cowboys explains a day in the life of the cattle caretakers. It explains that "real cowboys" cry when something is sad, take care of their animals with sensitivity, and openly communicate with one another—things we can all stand to do more of in our everyday lives.
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)
Healthy masculinity involves being able to experience, share, and cope with your emotions. This lighthearted book will help little ones understand the wide spectrum of emotions people experience and learn that it's okay to feel them.
Eyes That Speak to the Stars
All children should be taught to embrace who they are, and that's exactly what this book aims to teach. The main character learns that he and the men in his family have powerful, visionary eyes that can be used for good.
A Boy Like You
A Boy Like You challenges the stereotypes typically used to define what makes a boy a "boy." It aims to help little boys embrace their unique differences to be who they really are, not who someone else says they should be.
The Boy With Big, Big Feelings
Each day, we all face a range of emotions—and some of them can be very challenging. This book helps kiddos recognize their intense feelings and learn how to cope with them from day to day. The main character feels emotions so greatly that he doesn't know how to deal with them and copes by suppressing them. Read along as he learns that feelings are important and deserve to be celebrated.
One of the most important things we can teach our little ones is to have the courage to do difficult things. Jabari has finished swimming lessons and is excited to finally jump off the diving board. It looks easy enough from the safety of the poolside, but once he reaches the top he realizes it's a lot scarier than he thought. Read along as Jabari conquers his fears.
Clovis Keeps His Cool
Clovis has always struggled with controlling his temper. He begins to learn to control it when he takes over his grandma's shop, but his composure is challenged when one of his rivals comes to the shop to heckle him. He must learn to be the bigger man.
Julián Is a Mermaid
In our society the ideas of self-love and self-care are often marketed toward women, but boys and men deserve to care for themselves and do things that make them happy as well. This idea is portrayed in Julián Is a Mermaid as a young boy explores playing dress-up in a vibrant homemade mermaid costume.
Perfectly Norman plays on the idea that every child is special. While Norman has always appeared to be perfectly normal, one day he grows a pair of wings. Because he's fearful of what others will think, he hides them from the world. He must find the courage to be himself and stand out like every child is born to do.
I Am Okay to Feel
In this empowering tale by Queer Eye star Karamo Brown and his son Jason "Rachel" Brown, a father and son talk about their feelings—from happiness to fear—as they encounter a storm during a walk in the park.
Pink Is for Boys
Books that break gender stereotypes are incredibly important for teaching health masculinity. In Pink Is for Boys, readers learn that all children are allowed to express themselves through whichever colors they choose.
It's in every child's nature to have emotions so big they lead to tantrums every now and them. For Ravi, who was feeling furious about a struggle at the playground, his emotions turned him into a ferocious tiger. Ravi's Roar offers great insight on how to help children process big emotions like anger and teaches emotional regulation.
Big Boys Cry
This is the perfect book for little ones and parents alike. When Levi is scared and sad about his first day at a new school, his father tells him, "Big boys don't cry." Though his father recognizes this misstep, he doesn't know how to console his son any other way. Luckily, on Levi's walk to school, he sees grown men openly expressing their fears and sadness. After school, he and his dad are able to discuss what they learned about expressing emotions that day.
Made with older kiddos in mind, Enemy Pie teaches the importance of showing respect and kindness toward everyone, even our worst enemies. A little boy is ready to have the best summer ever, but then Jeremy Ross, the titular "enemy," moves in down the road. Our protagonist's dad knows that the best way to deal with the enemy is to spend a whole day with them, and the boy learns that sometimes enemies can actually make great friends.
It's Tough to Be Gentle
Dex is a sweet but reckless dragon who desperately wants to play with a family of baby birds. He's told "no" until he learns to play gently with those who are different from him. This is the perfect book to begin teaching little ones to be gentle with others, with toys, and with themselves. It's also designed to show parents how to empathize with their little one during uncertain or scary times.
Written in 1972, William's Doll was one of the first books to directly address gender stereotypes. This book tells the story of a young boy who desperately wants to play with a doll and learn to be a loving parent someday. Though his brother and fellow neighborhood kids think it's weird for a boy to play with dolls (a reaction many of today's kids might be surprised by), he chooses to be himself.
Another book with a similar message to William's Doll, Sparkle Boy also challenges societally-engrained gender stereotypes and emphasizes that boys can express themselves through sparkles, glitter, and playing dress-up just as much as girls can.
How to Heal a Broken Wing
Embracing healthy masculinity can mean tapping into a more nurturing side. In How to Heal a Broken Wing, a young boy is the only one in the hustle and bustle of the big city who notices a bird with a broken wing. With the help of his mom, he's able to nurse it back to health and learn the importance of taking care of others along the way.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
This book is great for kids who are starting to read chapter books. A young Lakota boy named Jimmy is told the story of Crazy Horse by his grandfather, a tale that teaches him valuable lessons about bravery and standing up for what is right even when it's difficult.