Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Stereotypes

This is no stereotypical book list. It includes themes of preconceived notions of race, culture, gender and beauty, aimed mainly at Kindergarten to Grade 3.

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


Book Cover This is Your Brain on Stereotypes

Every teacher should read This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Drew Shannon. This nonfiction text is a deep dive into discrimination, covering a wide range of topics—racism, girls raised as “princesses," Hitler, gender expectations, implicit bias in the medical system, ageism, and why Gandhi dressed the way he did. Concepts are illustrated with case studies. Did you know that even asking a person’s race at the top of a test paper can affect their score? Or that negative stereotypes against activists can affect our willingness to help the environment? That babies choose faces of particular skin colour in photos? They’re not racist; they just pick faces they’re used to seeing. There’s a whole chapter on solutions (including what teachers can do) and understanding unconscious factors that shape our brain. (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover French Toast

French Toast, by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, shows Phoebe being a neighbourhood guide to the blind, elderly Nan-ma. Some kids yell at Phoebe, “French Toast!” and laugh, which prompts Nan-ma to ask why. “Maybe because of my…skin,” Phoebe says. This launches a discussion about skin colours in a way that the sightless lady can understand. Phoebe is the "colour of tea, after you’ve added the milk.” Nan-ma says, “Warm and good.” The girl describes her father’s skin as “warm banana bread.” “Reminds me of home,” Nan-ma says. The slur at the start of their walk is transformed into something positive.


Book Cover Abuelita and Me

In Abuelita and Me, by Leonarda Carranza, illustrated by Rafael Mayani, whilst on neighbourhood outings, a young girl notices sometimes people treat her grandma as though she’s invisible. The two shop for ingredients for Abuelita’s special soup, but the grocer doesn’t know what yuca is and "swats her away like she’s a mosquito.” While Abuelita searches in her purse for the fare, the bus driver yells at her. The granddaughter avoids the bus but her grandma says they are not the ones who did something wrong; they have to “get back on the bus." The young girl follows her grandmother's lead and learns to take up space as she deserves to.


Book Cover From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Wai-Yant Li and Kai Run Ching, is about labelling. Miu Lan is born a free spirit, neither boy nor girl, with the personal pronoun "they." One day they grow wings to fly with the birds and the next, scales to swim with the fish. The title comes from the poem Miu Lan’s mother always recites, in which she says: “Whatever you dream of/I believe you can be.” But when Miu Lan is old enough to go to school, the other kids make fun of them. Eventually they give up their creative wardrobe—beautiful peacock feathers, a protective turtle shell—yet the other kids still try to put them in a box. “What are you supposed to be?” the kids insist. But Miu Lan knows the answer, thanks to their mother's care: they are loved.


Book Cover Free to Be You and Me

Peter H. Reynolds is the designer and co-illustrator of this version of the beloved 1974 classic, Free to be You and Me, by Marlo Thomas and Friends. This anthology of poetry, story, song and cartoons oozes with positivity. Poems entitled: “Parents are People” and “It’s All Right to Cry” (Carol Hall) and lines such as: “Don’t dress your cat in an apron./Just ‘cause he’s learning to bake,” (Dan Greenburg) bring home the message to fight against gender roles, expectations and stereotypes. Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Judith Viorst and Charlotte Zoltov are some of the contributors. The second half of the book contains musical scores of the texts in the first half.


Book Cover Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days, by Shelly Becker, illustrated by Eda Kaban, pokes holes at the impervious image of superheroes. When they’re in a bad mood, “They could rotate the planet and mess up world time,/or sit back and relax while the world fills with crime,” but they don’t. The moral of this story: “It’s okay if they frown./ It’s okay if they sigh./It’s even okay if they slump down and cry./ But then they get up and get on with their day…” There are two more books in the series: Even Superheroes Make Mistakes, and Even Superheroes Get Scared.


Book Cover Angus All Aglow

Angus All Aglow, by Heather Smith, illustrated by Alice Carter, is packed with onomatopoeia and similes. Angus is a synesthete who hears sounds when he looks at his favourite thing—sparkly things. This is about gender expectations and boys who love things associated with girls.


Book Cover The Girl Who Loved Giraffes

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes and Became the World’s First Giraffologist, by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, is the true story of Canadian Anne Innis Dagg who fell in love with giraffes as a girl. In her 20s she wrote letters to African governments and universities in an attempt to live and work near giraffes but they all rejected her—this was not what girls did in the 1950s. So she signed her next letter A.I. Dagg and got accepted for a year-long study which changed her life. She learned many things, such as that the giraffe’s tongue is as long as your arm, or that their intestines are almost as long as a football field. Upon her return, despite her PhD, Dagg couldn’t get hired at universities because of gender bias. In her lifetime, Dagg has found ways to work with students, writing seminal books about giraffes and fighting gender inequity. In her 70s, she finally became recognized worldwide as a leading giraffologist.


Book Cover The Paper Bag Princess

And let’s not forget the role-reversal theme in The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko, with the ultimate non-victim Princess Elizabeth slaying the dragon. When the supposed "rescuer" Prince Ronald scolds her for not looking pretty, she skewers the beauty myth with the perfect line: “You are a bum.”


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

Comments here

comments powered by Disqus

More from the Blog