I am the mother of an 18-month-old boy. He loves books, and will happily sit and read one after another after another. We have most of the classics for his age - and some that are a bit older and I want to start getting some for him to grow into - but what I really want is some books that show alternatives to the "mummy and daddy and baby" set up (eg daddy and daddy/mummy and mummy, or just mummy or just daddy, or grandparents), and alternatives to the all-male characters (The Hungry Caterpillar, Elmer, Spot etc, all animal books seem to be "he"!), and different ways of being a boy / being a girl, etc. I have found the Letterbox Library website, but I've no idea if the books are any good or not (messages might be good, but are they books he'd want to read?) and also, I don't want there to be just one book that offers an alternative, I want them to be natural and integrated, not "now we're going to read a book about some 'different' people".
Please can you help with some book recommendations, to look out for now and in the next couple of years?
Good stories and good images of differently structured human families are still hard to find in picture books, not least because any attempts to break down stereotypical representations tend to be met with derision by the media. As you have discovered, the best source of information is almost certainly Letterbox Library. It has long specialised in this field and it consistently highlights the titles that are most inclusive and most reflective of diversity. There are also publishers such as Barefoot Books and Frances Lincoln which, in stories and pictures, present alternative images of gender expectations.
However, I think you could reconsider some of the books that you think are too narrow in their depictions of families. Children's books, and picture books especially, have always used animal characters for the very reason that they are able to carry a loosely defined character without race, gender or class and they often exist in a non-specific family. Rabbit families are especially unpredictable! Solo animals rarely have a nuclear family and many are female; Pat Hutchins's Rosie in the classic Rosie's Walk, for example.
These kinds of stories, featuring animals or fantasy characters, can successfully show different combinations of adults and children or humans and animals living together in units that are "family" without necessarily being the typical set-up.
Although superficially not exactly "normal" in their representation of girls, there are also many princess-with-a difference stories which are specifically designed to show that girls can and do challenge the stereotypes expected of them. Tony Ross's Little Princess series is a good example – although I do admit that with a king and a queen for parents, she has a traditional parental set-up! And feisty girls are plentiful; Emily Brown who sees off the Queen in Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton's That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown is a good example. These books, and many like them, may provide more subtle ways to offer a variety of messages about gender roles and family groupings.
See also the reader suggestions of non-stereotypical books
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