What Are Little Girls Made Of: Nursery Rhymes To Empower Young Feminists

I have to admit something to you all today. As a first time mom figuring this whole parenting thing out during a pandemic, I allow my son to watch far too much Little Baby Bum. So much that I wouldn’t be surprised if YouTube was the next word he learned. I know, I know, we should be limiting screentime, but during a pandemic, all bets are off.

And while I don’t necessarily think nursery rhymes are the most harmful content a kid can consume, I was so happy to find a book that challenges some of the outdated messages hidden in these songs. What Are Little Girls Made Of by Jeanne Willis does just that!

After listening to nursery rhymes nonstop for an entire year, I am familiar with the stereotypes in them. Whether it’s the five little monkeys, Humpty Dumpty, or Miss Molly’s dolly, the doctor helping them is ALWAYS a man. Girls are often portrayed as scared, helpless objects and the women always seem to be baking, washing, or having their noses pecked off. So I was thrilled to find What Are Little Girls Made Of to offer my son a little perspective.

From Little Bo Peep rescuing her sheep from mud puddles to Little Miss Muffet petting a spider, this book redefines the roles we often see assigned to girls and women in nursery rhymes. In this book, there are no damsels in distress, Georgie Porgie learns a thing or two about consent, and I’m happy to report that there are TWO female doctors.

The re-imagined nursery rhymes are paired with the cutest illustrations by Isabelle Follath, depicting a diverse cast of characters. The colors are absolute perfection and sure to grab the attention of young readers.

While I won’t be turning Little Baby Bum off anytime soon, What Are Little Girls Made Of gives me a great way to share updated versions of these nursery rhymes and actively challenge the stereotypes presented in the originals. I would highly recommend it for any parent looking to talk about the trouble with stereotypes, regardless of their child’s gender. We all benefit when gender stereotypes are challenged and dismissed for the weird social expectations they are.

What Are Little Girls Made Of is available now, wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you. Your support is always appreciated!)

Jeanne Willis is an author based in London who has written over three hundred books. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at jeannewillis.com.

Isabelle Follath is an incredibly talented freelance illustrator who lives in Switzerland. If you would like to learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at www.isabellefollath.ch.

I would like to thank Candlewick Press for generously providing me with a review copy of this lovely book. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and I can’t wait to share it with my son.

You Might Also Like:

International Men’s Day – 12 Books for Better Health for Men and Boys

So we’ve all heard of International Women’s Day, but did you know there is also an International Men’s Day? While I don’t agree with all of the ideas of its supporters (some of them give me some strong misogynist vibes), I absolutely agree with this year’s theme: “Better Health For Men and Boys”.

In my last review, I talked about the ridiculous gender stereotypes pushed on all of us from an early age. Today I want to talk about children’s books that focus on some of these societal pressures and the health issues they create for children who feel the pressure of male gender stereotypes.

(Please note: This post does contain affiliate links, from which I receive a small commission. This commission is used to maintain this website and bring you more content.)

Boys Will Be Boys

Society begins teaching children that there are “girl” and “boy” options very early in life. As adults, we all know that colors, baby dolls, soccer balls, and clothes have no gender. But children who are pressured by male gender stereotypes are often bullied for liking things that don’t fall into the “boy” category. We must encourage our children to be themselves, regardless of what “being a boy” means. It’s important not only to support our children in their interests and self expression, but to teach them to support other children who don’t fit into these societal ideas. These three books offer great examples of children who don’t fit into the gender stereotype box. They all open the door to conversations about gender stereotypes and how it’s okay to just be yourself.

Sparkle Boy by Leslie Newman is an absolutely precious book about a boy name Casey who loves all the shimmery, glittery, sparkly things his sister Jessie has. His family lets him wear the sparkly skirt, and Jessie doesn’t feel great about it until she sees someone treat Casey differently for the things he likes.
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman is all about how colors don’t have genders. While I love the message, I will say this one feels a bit binary, as boys and girls are mentioned as opposites. This makes for a great opportunity to discuss the spectrum of gender, and how it isn’t always so black and white (or pink and blue).
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis is another great example of a book about a boy who doesn’t fit gender norms. This one is told from the perspective of the mother, which is a great way to help children understand the consequences of teasing others. It helps children see that bullying impacts not only the child being bullied, but the people in that child’s life, too.

Boys Don’t Cry

Because emotions are seen as “feminine”, and “feminine” traits are considered “weak”, boys are more likely to suppress their emotions, and to feel shame when they can’t. Suppressing emotions can lead to some serious mental health obstacles, but it also stunts emotional development. I don’t know about you, but I certainly hope my son grows up to be a man who is capable of expressing his emotions (both positive and negative) in a healthy, respectful way. These three books are perfect for helping our children understand that just like our toys, books, and hobbies, emotions have no gender.

The Boy With Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee is a great book to introduce emotions, and help children understand that everyone has them. I really love how the illustrations by Jacob Souva capture each emotion the boy feels!
All About Feelings by Felicity Brooks is a more in-depth discussion of feelings, and has questions on each page to ask your child about their feelings. This one is great to get your child to engage in a conversation and build confidence in expressing their emotions.
Tough Guys Have Feelings Too by Keith Negly is the perfect book to remind children than men do in fact cry, and it doesn’t make them weak. The illustrations show stereotypically “tough guys”, like superheroes and bikers, crying.

The Strong Silent Type

When children are pressured to avoid weakness, we send the message that they should be strong…at all costs. This stereotype can have serious impacts. This concept can encourage boys and men to avoid doctor’s visits, because they believe they should “tough it out”. This same stereotype can prevent boys from coming forward when they are victims of assault, because society pressures them to “man up”. If we want to raise boys to advocate for themselves when it comes to their bodies, we have to encourage them to speak up. These three books discuss bodies, health, and consent, and they are a great to way to build a child’s confidence in speaking about their health.

Hello World, My Body by Jill McDonald is a great introduction to bodies for children! This board book discuss our bodies and what they do for us in a way that is straightforward and easy for toddlers to understand. Obviously, because this book is for babies and toddlers, it is not an all-encompassing message, but a great foundation to begin open discussions about bodies in your home.
My Body What I Say Goes by Jaynee Sanders is the logical next step in the discussion of bodily autonomy. This book discusses personal body safety, feelings, safe and unsafe touch, private parts, secrets and surprises, consent, and respectful relationships. While this seems like a lot for one book, Sanders manages to explain each of these topics in an age appropriate manner without it feeling overwhelming.
The Fantastic Body by Dr. Howard Bennett is over 200 pages of great information about our body and our health. You won’t be reading this one all at once, but it’s a great resource for children to have to familiarize themselves with anatomy. This one is for an older audience (8-12), and it does discuss the reproductive system and puberty.

Daddy Daycare

Nurturing and raising children is often considered a “woman’s job”. This idea is so pervasive that it is sometimes called “babysitting” when a man actually looks after his own children. This societal pressure can hamper relationships between children and their fathers, often making the father feel like he has to be distant, and leaving the child to wonder why. We need to encourage dads to be nurturers, and teach our children that dads are just as capable of parenting as moms. These three books feature kind, patient, nurturing, and emotional father examples for children to learn these lessons from.

You Made Me a Dad by Laurenne Sala is an amazing book written from a dad’s perspective all about how much his life changed when his child was born. I’m not even going to lie, this book made me cry the first time I read it. Perfect to illustrate to children that dads are just as emotionally invested as moms.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero is a sweet story following Daisy, whose dad always takes her for a ride after he comes home from work. We follow them on their adventure and learn about their community and their love for each other along the way. This one is a great example of a father daughter relationship.

Jabari Jumps by Gail Cornwall is a story about a boy who might be a bit scared to jump off the diving board. His dad is with Jabari and his sister at the pool, and is patient, understanding, and supportive while Jabari finds his courage.

This is obviously not an all-encompassing list of the societal pressures our children face, but I think it’s a decent starting point. While this list is dedicated to masculine gender norms, I think it’s important we read them to all children. Any child can try to enforce these norms on themselves or others if they are not taught to question them.

I hope you enjoyed the list! Did I miss any good ones? What books are you reading to your little ones to encourage them to question societal expectations?

You Might Also Like: