Recently, I had occasion to give serious thought to gender representation in picture books, which I discuss in detail in my article Him, Her, Hen? Gender Equality in Picture Books. I found myself not too surprised by an academic study of picture books published from 1900 to 2000 that showed a huge imbalance in the representation of males versus female as protagonists of the story. However, I was VERY surprised when a customer asked me to help her find "boy" picture books for her grandson and I could only find a few (Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, Dinotrux and Shark vs. Train) that fit the bill. The proliferation of pink-princess-type books on the shelves was overwhelming. I talk more about this in my article and share my thoughts on ideal ways to achieve balance and diversity in gender representation in picture books. I am very happy to be able to share two "boy" books that I recently discovered. These books take some stereotypical premises and handle them in different, but meaningful and playful ways.
If Waffles Were Like Boys . . . breakfast would be a battlefield. This is how Charise Mericle Harper begins her newest book. Harper is the author of several picture books, including the excellent Cupcake, the graphic novel series Fashion Kitty, and series about eight-year-old Just Grace. If Waffles Were Like Boys is illustrated by one of my favorites, Scott Magoon, who also illustrated the wonderful Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer and Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. These two make a great team. Harper's inventive story is perfectly matched with Magoon's colorful, detailed, cartoon-ish artwork. The brilliance of Harper's book is, instead of telling us what boys are, she tells us what everything else would be like if it was a boy.
If socks were like boys . . . laundry baskets would be pirate ships!
Magoon's illustrations are hilarious and tell their own story.
Harper goes on to imagine seven other scenarios, including my favorites - well, really, they are all my favorites so I'll try to narrow the list down to two to share - "If peas were like boys . . . dinner plates would be play grounds," and, "If pillows were like boys . . . bedrooms would be hideouts." You really have to see the illustrations to fully appreciate the comparisons, but, even without the great artwork it's easy to tell that Harper has written a standout book that tackles an old cliché and comes out on top, on top of Mt Everest!
What Little Boys Are Made of by Robert Neubecker is a magnificently illustrated new take on the old nursery rhyme and celebrates the rich imaginative, action filled inner life of little boys. Neubecker's rhymes are simple and vivid and his crisp, colorful artwork is fantastic. The book begins, "What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of? Moons and stars and rockets to Mars, Blast and boom and uppity zoom! That's what little boys are made of."
Neubecker continues with playful moments that turn into jungle scenes, pirate battles, soccer games (with girls on the team!) and a fierce battle between knights and a fire-breathing dragon.
Neubecker ends the book with these lines, "What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice? Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails? A kiss and a hug, a snuggle and LOVE." These lines take place over a six page spread in which the little boy and his mom share a snack and cuddle in a chair to read a book about dinosaurs. I love how Neubecker brings his story home at the end and acknowledges the bonds between mothers and sons. While mothers are often more frequently represented in picture books than fathers, I think Neubecker strikes a nice tone by balancing the creative but sometimes wild playfulness of boys with the deep love they often share with their mothers.