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Best books for raising empathetic boys

A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.

This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!)

A Treasury of Curious George

I love the portrayal of men as caring, gentle and patient in the Curious George stories. A favourite with boys and girls for 70 years, these are stories that provide children with positive adult male role models and encourage young children to think about the world from lots of different angles. Ages 4yrs+ A Treasury of Curious George

The Only Boy in Ballet Class

This book does exactly what it says in the title. Tucker is a boy who loves ballet. And, predictably, he is teased by his classmates for loving ballet. But ballet makes Tucker feel alive, feel right, feel like himself and the story charts how he confronts the bullying and ends up showing his friends his true self. There are rather a lot of Americanisms to contend with, but the story is bound to prompt discussions about gender and the fact that boys (and girls) don’t always have to stick to the gender rules. Age 5yrs+ The Only Boy in Ballet Class

My Many Coloured Days

One of Dr Seuss’ lesser known books, this is a real treasure for talking to young children about their emotions. There is lots of evidence that parents talk less to boys about feelings than we do to girls, so this might be a handy book in helping younger boys learn to recognise and name emotions (an essential stepping stone in raising empathetic boys). A colourful and vibrant book with lots to appeal to toddlers and upwards. Age 3yrs+ My Many Coloured Days

Willow’s Whispers

This is a book about a girl who struggles to get herself heard. But Willow’s Dad listens to her and tries to understand her and helps her to find her voice. It’s a simple, gentle story with a clear message about being true to ourselves and a fabulous male role model who shines out through listening and caring. Age 3yrs+  Willow’s Whispers

Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night

Lots of great challenges to gender stereotypes in here. It’s Mum who knows how to put the tent up and build the camp fire and dad who sings soppy love songs. Henry (our boy hero) has an emotional bond with his pet dog who, although a big mastiff, is actually very gentle and affectionate. Positive stories with non-typical family role models that early readers can read for themselves. Age 5yrs+ Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night (Henry & Mudge Books (Simon & Schuster))

If you have a top tip for a book that might help parents in raising empathetic boys, please do share it by commenting below. You might also like this selection of Books for boys who dare to be different or, for older boys, check out Books to make boys love reading.

This is not a sponsored post, I wrote it in response to the questions I am frequently asked during my parenting seminars. However, it does contain affiliate links – for more info, see my Disclosure Notice.

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The Work/Parent Switch.

By Anita Cleare

Not sure where to start?

Practical tips on how to be the parent your child needs and create happy family dynamics (but still do your job!)

18 responses to “Best books for raising empathetic boys”

  1. A brilliant selection there, love Curious George and Dr Seuss! Thanks for sharing with #ReadWithMe

  2. Brilliant post! We love the parents in The Princess and the Giant by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton. Dad does the cooking while Mum chops the wood 🙂

    #readwithme

  3. These are great recommendations! My boys are too old now, sadly, but good to remember for my nephew. I particularly liked the sound of the ballet class book, until you mentioned the Americanisms 🙁
    Jacqueline Wilson books often feature dads as the main carer, which is great, although boys won’t ever read Jacqueline Wilson books! It’s good for girls to see the gender stereotypes challenged too, though.

  4. a good selection here and you’re right to highlight the stereotypes that can so often exist without us even really realising!
    #readwithme

  5. Acorn Books says:

    What a great list! How well timed with my post about Lenny Has Lunch too!
    #readwithme

  6. I’d never really considered the stereotyping aspect, but you’re right, it is prevalent throughout books. We’ve got lots of Dr Seuss books but not that one and I’m surprised that I’ve never heard of Curious George, when it has been around so long #readwithme

    • AnitaCleare says:

      I wouldn’t say that Dr Seuss in general is particularly good at breaking down gender stereotypes (try and spot the female lead characters?!) but this one is a bit different in the way it focuses on emotions.

  7. Sarah Ella (Mumx3x) says:

    All these books sound lovely. We loved Curious George when my children were a little younger. Willows Whispers sounds like a great book – They all do but that one caught my eye 🙂 #ReadWithMe

  8. suz says:

    Some great books here. I’ve been looking for books that change stereotypes and will definitely be looking into these.

  9. BookBairn says:

    I found this post fascinating to read as I’ve been feeling similarly about ‘girls books’ and have been compiling a list of reads for ‘mighty girls’! #readwithme

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