Even with all the apps for new parents and high-tech gadgets for your kid’s room, tech hasn’t quite found a way to replace the benefits of reading with your child. Numerous studies have shown that reading more can boost their academic performance and improve their communication skills. And, of course, books often introduce our little ones to important life lessons.
Children’s book author Caroline Paul argues that sons could benefit from encountering more strong female characters. While writing her book The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, she found that the girls in many boy books were one-dimensional and stuck close to the “damsel in distress” stereotype — if they were represented at all. Despite the battle cry of girl bosses everywhere, ladies still aren’t getting the cred they deserve in kids’ books. “Books have somehow gone under the radar, and I think it’s because they’ve been around for so long,” Caroline says. Here are her four reasons for giving kiddos some new reading material.
4 Important Lessons Boys Can Learn from “Girl” Books
1. They can relate to others’ experiences. When boys read about characters that don’t look like them, they get a broader sense of the world. When Caroline wrote her article for the TED Ideas blog, not a single book on The New York Times children’s bestseller list featured a female protagonist. Generally, both women and people of color are underrepresented in children’s books. “Having a wide variety of characters is important,” she says. Even in books with a boy lead, she recommends opting for stories where girls exhibit a lot of different personalities and get into different situations.
2. They develop a stronger sense of identity. Boys often feel pressured to fit into the stereotypes that the media creates, but that model doesn’t work for everyone. “When they’re at an age where they’re trying to figure out their identity, stereotypes are constricting, not freeing,” Caroline says. “When you read about people who are outside these stereotypes, you can start to decide for yourself who you are.” Reading helps kids explore different parts of their identity and learn what is unique about them. Female protagonists like Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy add a different lens for boys to explore.
3. Any of their negative opinions about girls can be reversed. Exposing boys to strong female characters lays seeds for associating girls with admirable qualities, like courage and bravery. “We have a belief that women are more fragile,” Caroline says. “When men see women who are fearful as adults, it’s a feedback loop. We’re encouraged to be fearful as a feminine trait.” In her op-ed for The New York Times, she explains society expects little girls to act afraid. If children instead expect boldness and adventure, boys might be more willing to include girls in challenging activities.
4. They can learn to be more open. “I think parents don’t buy it for their boys if it says girl on the cover, and I think that’s a mistake,” Caroline says. Many little boys loathe anything girly, yet books like Hunger Games and Divergent prove female books don’t skimp on the adventure and action. “Parents should be picking the books that have really great stories; that should be the bottom line,” she says.
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(Photos via Bloomsbury and Getty)