Holly defends children’s books against accusations of sexism

You may or may not have read Ruth Whippman’s opinion piece in the Huffington Post last week, entitled:

“Want Your Kids to Grow Up Thinking Men Are More Important Than Women? Read Them Children’s Books.”

Ms Whippman didn’t say anything particularly new or startling or important. It was basically a rant against children’s books for only showing men doing important things, and women looking like domestic drudges, having housework forced upon them. This, she argued, was not a good message for young girls.

Since I have a such a young girl here, I thought I would ask Holly what she thought of these accusations, particularly against books that we had both read, such as those written by Richard Scarry. This is what she had to say.

“Today my mum told me that she had read something on a blog about children’s books. A woman posted up that children’s books were about women not doing anything and the men doing so. She said that Richard Scarry did this which I totally don’t think he did. I do not agree with this lady because books are just about having fun. I have read tonnes of Richard Scarry books and none of them have said that men were better than women. The only thing about children’s books are to read them and enjoy them.”

Do you agree with this lady’s opinion or mine? Write in the comment box underneath!

Warning: some PC-correct individuals might find the following image offensive.


An apparently unhappy family trapped in their gender roles?


An illustration from The Tiger Who Came to Tea, courtesy of thoseweleftbehind.co.uk



  1. Holly hits the nail on the head when she says : “read them and enjoy them.” If people don’t like them, don’t read them. Or, read them and talk about them. Older books do show a very different world to the one we live in today, and could be viewed as out-dated, therefore irrelevant or even offensive, by some (we love Scarry, but parts of some older books are harder to stomach, e.g. Noddy…). And we do like newer books that reflect the modern reality (working moms, stay-home dads, mixed families, etc.). But a well-told story, whether old or new, is the most important thing to us.


    • You’ve made some excellent points. I think that we have to accept, when we read older books, that they do reflect a different time to our own. If we find this difficult and uncomfortable, then we’re under no obligation to read the books. But what does matter is that we enjoy the story and it hooks us in. And I think you’re right – stories can both shape and reflect our society, and ourselves.


    • I agree. What I find fascinating is reading a book with Holly and us both reacting differently to it. We’ve been trying to read one book – The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket – and while I find it intriguing and dark as an adult, Holly just can’t stomach it. It gave her nightmares and we stopped (and that’s just after two chapters!).


      • Interesting, we’ve had the same experience. What suits one child, doesn’t suit another. Mine can’t watch many Disney movies as she is frightened by the presence of the evil characters — so I’m not sure what is worse: evil/dark characters that scare children or happy (but outdated) images of a loving home and domesticity? I think when we talk about sexism in literature, we have to be clear what we’re talking about. And, it seems to me that the fun world of Richard Scarry is in no way a problem (in my mind, and as Holly rightly points out) compared to some of the sexualized imagery we see of girls in popular culture today. I imagine you’ll be studying some of this in your new classes, and would love to hear more on the subject!


      • Definitely! In fact, I will be adding a post soon about Fairy Tales and the fact that some educators have reservations about when children should be exposed to them… interesting observation, thanks!


      • Wow! That almost makes me want to pick it up and see what it was about!

        That must be really interesting though, to get a view of her perspective as well – it goes to show that even when adults think they can predict kids, they can still be pretty off base. Our brains just work and perceive things quite differently at times! I bet you all have some pretty interesting discussions 🙂


  2. I read that article on the Huffington Post and just thought it was a bit lazy to be honest. I am very consicous about gender stereotyping but I simply do what many people here are saying and just avoid the books I don’t think we’ll like. I also agree that a lot of the examples in the article were related to old books from a different generation so you can’t judge those by today’s standards – we love The Tiger Who Came to Tea!


    • I agree with you. I think in any book there is potential to find something to disagree with and if you don’t like the content then you don’t have to read it. I am having a similar moment with a young adult book I am reading – really dislike it so will probably not finish it. That doesn’t mean though that it is bad – it’s just bad for me!


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