Not So Blue Boys

Ages 4 to 6

Why I Created This Kit:

I was a not so pink girl. I grew up telling my mother I could not wear pink because it hurt. I wore green overalls like Mr. Green Jeans on Captain Kangaroo, I dug in the garden for worms, and I collected matchbox cars. I still have the greatest treasure I ever found while digging around in the dirt, an old matchbox Ford with most of the paint worn away. I also played with dolls, played house, and enjoyed dress up. I enjoyed the freedom to play and learn the way I wanted to play. In many ways, my parents nurtured my natural interests and didn’t allow anyone to tell me I couldn’t play with something because it was a “boy’s toy.”

Blogger Janelle Hanchett shares a moving piece, “Dear Son, I Hope You Stay Soft,” about nurturing her son’s compassion, his dyslexia, and the lessons he teaches her. This piece made me re-evaluate some of the goals I have for my students. I find I value their growing compassion for others over their growing ability to analyze battles and kings. I find I want to say to them, “There are over 7 billion people outside of these doors and you and I can make a difference. So, how are we going to do it this year?”

What would you say to your son or daughter in a similar piece? If you’re a writer, you might find that writing out your own thoughts helps you formulate what you hope for your child. Maybe you want to grab a camera and record your thoughts. Either way, it will be a product your child will treasure in the future.

Janelle says she’s tough but her son is soft. Like Janelle Hanchett, if you and your child have different approaches to handling emotions and facing the world, you can find encouragement from Eric Janda Rawlings’ exploration of boys and emotional intelligience and Dr. Michael Thompson’s advice for balancing “heroic play” with developing empathy.

When you get down to the basics of play, children are children, games are games, toys are toys, and children learn through play. Whether your daughter wants to play with trains one day and a doll the next or your son wants to cook in the morning and play baseball in the afternoon, they are learning while they play. Children will learn a great deal more by playing games, playing with toys, and reading books they are interested in than they will by being forced to play with certain toys or being prohibited from playing with a toy based on gender or on someone else’s interests. Children also learn about what they want to do and be through play. I dreamed of being an archaeologist, so I dug wherever I was allowed to dig, maybe that’s why my mother took us down to the beach so often.

What To Do With This Kit:

Boys and girls can both enjoy this kit with their families, meeting characters who have interests in a wide variety of areas, just like boys and girls in real life. Parents can use this kit to share stories with their child that support his or her interests by choosing books in that area of interest or strength. Before reading, think about all of the different interests your child has and help him or her see that many people have interests in both creative and active pursuits and that our interests help us grow into very interesting people. Consider initiating a conversation with a friend or family member of another generation to learn about the many different interests that helped shape them making them a great conversationalist and teacher of many life lessons.

Recommended Books, Apps, and Related Activities

Boys Love....Art

Ish by Peter Reynolds (Ages 3-6)

When Ramon doesn’t think his picture of a vase looks like the real thing, his sister says that it looks "vase-ISH." So Ramon paints "tree-ish," "afternoon-ish," and "silly-ish" paintings. His "ish art" inspires him to look at all creative endeavors differently. (Zoobean / School Library Journal, Starred Review)

Listen and watch as Ish is read.



After reading Ish, open Mini Monet: Creative Studio and Art Club for Kids (Ages 4-8) to explore colors, tools, and style or to participate in art challenges.

Why We Love This App: Finally is an app that allows my child to be totally creative, without coloring pages. It's like taking along her own art studio wherever we go. My pre-schooler loves to create and save her artwork - later, we discuss the story she is telling through her drawing. A great tool to build a foundation of creativity! - Tara P., Zoobean Curator

Related Activity: Potato Painting

What you will need:

  • Potatoes
  • Kitchen knives (use with supervision only)
  • A cutting board
  • Drawn or printed patterns or cookie cutters
  • A pencil
  • Heavy Paper cut to the size you want for your wall hanging, fridge art, or for framing
  • Scissors
  • Paint or ink
  • A shallow paint dish

What to do:

  • Draw or print your pattern
  • Ask an adult to cut the potato in half
  • Cut out your pattern and fit it on the cut end of the potato
  • Ask for help cutting the outline of your pattern into the potato and removing potato until the pattern is raised on the cut end of the potato about ¼”
  • Ink or paint the potato and paint away - the ink or paint can be rinsed off between colors
  • If you use washable fabric paints, you can design your own t-shirt or pillow case.
  • What other everyday items can you paint with? Bell peppers, marbles, toes?

Boys Are....Caring

Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Ages 3-6)

I absolutely love Big, Mean Mike, the biggest, meanest, bunny-loving tough guy around. Mike and the bunnies are friends, and Mike is tough enough to not care who knows it. When the other dogs laugh, Mike teaches us that our friendships are more important than anything anybody says or thinks.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham (Ages 3-7)

Will finds a pigeon with a broken wing. No one else seems to have noticed the bird. Will’s compassion and care for the hurt bird he found helps the reader feel more compassionate about the creatures in our world. Graham uses artwork to set the mood of the story and highlight Will’s compassion in the busy, bustling city.

  • Before reading, ask your child, “Have you ever seen a hurt animal?” If so, “How does that make you feel?” and “How do you think the animal feels when it is hurt?” If not, “What would you want to do if you found a hurt animal outside?” and “Whatcan we do to help when we find a hurt animal?” Do keep in mind that some wildlife and their injuries are best helped by a local wildlife organization.
  • During reading, ask your child to predict what will happen next, “What do you think Will and his parents will do to take care of the bird?” and “Do you think the pigeon will get better?”
  • After reading, ask your child, “What did we learn about compassion and helping from Will and his family?”

I also love Bluebird by Bob Staake. When you talk about caring for others and the world around us, use Jerry Brubaker’s “Bluebird,” performed by the Manassas Symphony Orchestra to talk about how Bluebird and the main character care for each other.

  • After viewing and listening, ask, “What makes Bluebird and this child care about each other?” and “What did we learn about caring for each other from this story?”

Boys Like...Gardening

The Empty Pot by Demi (Ages 4-6)

The Emperor of China gives a seed to each child in his kingdom, declaring that the child who can show him their best will inherit his throne. Ping, a lover of flowers, plants his seed, and cares for his seed, and gets no results. After a year, Ping chooses to take his empty pot to the Emperor, to show his best.

  • Before reading, talk about problems and solutions. Ask your child to remember a problem that you have solved together then ask, “How did we decide to solve the problem?” “Did we have to choose between being honest or hiding the truth?”
  • During reading, stop, set the book down to show you are sharing instead of reading then ask your child, “What is Ping’s problem?” “What could he do to fix his problem?” “What would you tell Ping to do, be honest or hide the truth?” and “What do you think Ping will do?”  Pick the book up and keep reading to find out what Ping will do.
  • After reading, ask, “What was the best solution for Ping’s problem?” and “What can we learn from Ping & the Emperor?”

Raymond’s Perfect Present by Therese On Louie, illustrated by Suling Wang (Ages 5-7)

Raymond begins growing flowers for his mother, who is in the hospital. His problem is that the plants grow and wilt before his mother returns home. The result is a perfect present for Raymond’s mother.  

App: gardening app, such as Miffy’s Garden, provides gardening practice as your 3-5 year old rakes, plants seeds, and waters the garden. Additional activities on Miffy’s Garden include counting and matching games.

Video: Arthur’s friend, Buster Baxter, is a budding gardener. Play Buster’s Groovy Garden to learn more about gardening and eco-friendly living. For every question you answer correctly, you can plant and water a seed to fill your own virtual garden.

Boys Like...Cooking

Roger the Jolly Pirate by Brett Helquist (Ages 4-8)

Roger is too jolly to be a pirate. He does not scowl, growl, or strike fear into sailors' hearts like his pirate friends. So poor Roger is sent away whenever there is any real pirating to be done. Then one day, in the middle of a great battle, Jolly Roger cooks up a wonderful idea . . . and pirate ships will never be the same again! (Amazon)

Videos: Chef Donald, Did you know Donald Duck was a chef, too? Too bad he wasn’t watching which ingredients he put in the bowl as he made his waffle batter. Of course, I also love this episode from Arthur, What’s Cooking

  • Chef Ming Tsai, an advocate for food allergy awareness, makes a special guest appearance on Arthur. Arthur and his friends participate in a school cooking contest judged by Chef Tsai. Will the student with the best costume, best produce, or best secret ingredient win the contest?

Parenting Resource: Stephen Jones, The Reluctant Gourmet, has a post about working together with your child to make waffles. Cooking is about far more than food and eating, it’s about math, reading, prediction, and science. Make a date soon to learn with your child and enjoy some waffles.

App: Toca Kitchen ($2.99, and on Android)

  • Virtual food play at its finest. Players choose their own ingredients and cooking methods to feed hungry characters. Use this app to practice pretend cooking methods and pair interesting foods to make unique meals for the diners.

You can preview Toca Kitchen on youtube.

Boys Like...Dolls

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by William Pene du Bois (Ages 4-8)

William wants a doll. His brother thinks he’s creepy. The neighbor thinks he’s a sissy. His father thinks he needs manly toys. His grandmother gives him a doll. William loves and takes care of the doll. Grandmother says William needs the doll so he learns how to be a father. (Zoobean)

Toby’s Doll’s House by Regnhild Scamell, illustrated by Adrian Reynolds

Toby wants a dollhouse for his birthday, but the grownups around him have their own ideas. Toby says polite thank-yous for the gifts of a fort, farmyard, and car-park, then converts the gift boxes into a two-story house for the paper dolls he's been making. …The book's tweaking of gender stereotypes helps give it an edge. (Zoobean / Publisher’s Weekly)

Video: Froggy Stuff has a video showing you how to make a doll’s house out of one box.

What you will need:

  • A box or recycled cardboard
  • A pencil
  • Glue
  • Paint or paper
  • Scrap tile or carpet for flooring
  • Scissors

What to do:

  • Draw and cut out your house, paint or paper, then assemble with glue and add flooring.
  • Decorate the house as you choose and use it for any average size dolls or action figures.

Boys Like...Dance

The Only Boy in Ballet Class by Denise Gruska, illustrated by Amy Wummer (Ages 4-8)

Tucker loves ballet-even though some people don't understand his passion for dancing. Taunted by the boys on the football field, tortured by dorky twin sisters, and teased by his Uncle Frank, Tucker doesn't know how to help people see how ballet makes him feel . . . until one day, when an unexpected invitation to join the football game comes, and Tucker Dohr gets the chance to prove just what ballet dancing can do! (Amazon)

Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, illustrated by R.W. Alley (Ages 4-6)

Ballerino Nate will mean something different to each reader. It's a ballet book, a cartoon animals book and it introduces the idea that a boy can dance too. Beyond the message of gender stereotypes, we enjoyed the kinetic illustration, and the sibling back-and-forth felt familiar in spirit if not in the particulars. Good for not only ballet enthusiasts but odd-balls of all stripes. (Andrea M., Zoobean Curator)

Alvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Ages 4-8)

This picture-book biography recounts Ailey's boyhood in Texas and moves with him and his mother to Los Angeles where he begins to dance, and then on to New York where he hones his talents and forms his own troupe. Brian Pinkney's detailed scratchboard drawings are tinted with pastels to show the sweep and flow of dancers caught in the act of leaping, twirling, and soaring through the air. (Zoobean / School Library Journal)


You can find amazing videos of young ballarinos and choreography. Here, young men compete on France’s Got Talent and perform at the Academie de Danse Princesses Grace. Is there a local troupe with a recital you can attend? You’ll probably see plenty of boys and girls are involved in dance.

Boys Like...Sewing

The Cloud Spinner  by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay (Ages 4-6)

This is a beautiful, heartfelt tale with so many important lessons. "One small boy has a special gift--he can weave cloth from the clouds...When the king sees the boy's magnificent cloth, he demands cloaks and gowns galore. "It would not be wise," the boy protests. "Your majesty does not need them!" But spin he must...€”and soon the world around him begins to change. The Cloud Spinner is a magical tale about the beauty and fragility of our natural world, and the wisdom and courage needed to protect it." (Publisher)

If you'd like to extend this book to a digital experience, The Cloud Spinner app from iTunes is the book formatted for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst (Ages 4-8)

Sam sews & he loves it; but, the women of the quilting club refuse to let Sam join the club. So Sam, being the sewing enthusiast he is, starts a men’s quilting club. Not intended to be historically accurate, Sam’s love for sewing highlights our ability to do anything we set our mind to, even if the people around us think it’s outside of our gender role. (Zoobean)

  • After reading, pull out some cloth, thread, buttons, blunt nosed scissors, and a blunt nosed needle and help your child learn how to sew basic stitches such as the blanket stitch. Then let him or her go, cutting and piecing a crazy quilt.

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie de Paola (Ages 4-8)

A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports. [School Library Journal

Read Aloud Chapter Books

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

A great read aloud for children of all ages, the beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has entertained us for decades. Willy Wonka is giving away five tickets to tour his chocolate making kingdom. Charlie, from a very poor family, buys a chocolate bar and finds a ticket. Charlie is really a normal, everyday child. He does normal things and is not impressed with the selfish behavior of the other children who win a tour of the chocolate factory.

The Penderwicks

What happens when rabbits, girls, and a boy on his way to a military school meet in the summer? Exciting chaos!

The Penderwick sisters live with their father, a plant and flower lover, who rents Mrs. Tifton’s cottage for the summer. Warned to avoid The Tifton’s gardens, the Penderwick sisters meet Jeffry Tifton and set out to save him from military school so he can pursue his passion for music. The Penderwicks is a read aloud adventure for the entire family.

  • Talk About It: Ask everyone what their dreams are, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you like to do and why?” and “What can we do today or this year to help you explore that dream?”
  • Plant a one pot garden. You will need:
    • A pot
    • Potting Soil
    • Seeds (The Tiftons had pink jasmine, nasturtium, lily, and delphinium)
    • Water
    • A Tool for digging

Simply follow the instructions on the seed packet for planting, watering, and sun exposure. Record the steps you took and the results in your nature journal.

Additional Activities

Change That Book!

I love to change books! The first time I read Little Women by Alcott, I changed a major portion of the ending, including sending Josephine to a university, and I never want to go back. If I could chat with Louisa, I’m sure we’d argue over the end of her book. Michelle Nijhuis wrote about making Bilbo Baggins a girl for her daughter and how it opened a whole new world of heroines for them. What books have you changed? What book would you change if you could?

Grab some books off or your shelf and change them.

  • Read Blueberries for Sal. Is Sal a girl or a boy? Does anything change for you when you read Sal as a boy and a girl? Ask your child, “Could you be Sal?” and “If you were Sal, what would you do in this scene? Why?”
  • Read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, the story of a young boy who is on a quest to find ninety-six year old Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper’s memory for her. In addition to being a Not-So-Blue Boy book, exploring empathy, and discussing problems and solutions, you can switch up the characters. Make Mrs. Jordan, the organist, a male musician, and Mr. Hosking a female storyteller. Ask your child, “Do you like this character better as a male or a female? Why?” “What would you like Miss Mitchell and Miss Cooper to know?” and “Which character would you like to visit? Would that character be a male or a female? Why?”
  • Read Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too, and Knuffle Bunny Free. Before you read Trixie as a boy, ask your child, “Why aren’t there any boys in the Knuffle Bunny books?” and “How can we make the Knuffle Bunny books seem more like our family?”

Other books to read with altered characters include:

  • Mo Willems’ Piggy and Gerald books and the Pigeon series
  • Munro Leaf’s beloved The Story of Ferdinand
  • Allen Say’s Emma’s Rug
    • In each case, talk about how changing the characters helps you and your child relate to the characters, what he or she would do differently in the story, and how the book changes for you when read from another perspective.

Movie Night

  • In conjunction with my recommended read aloud book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” makes for a fun family movie night. Younger children might feel more comfortable watching the older Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. As always, preview movies and videos before you share with your children, to be sure the content is at the level you and your children are most comfortable with.
  • Wilbur, the pig protagonist in “Charlotte’s Web,” has to be one of the most lovable Not-So-Blue boy characters. Before watching, or reading, set the scene for your child. Tell him or her that farm animals work or are raised for food and the main character, Wilbur, finds out that they are going to use him for food. Then ask “What can Wilbur do to rescue himself?” Accept all answers, even the great escape plans, then ask, “Can you predict what Wilbur will do?” After viewing the scene where Wilbur throws himself into the mud and cries over his fate, stop the movie and ask your child, “Were our predictions correct?” and “What surprised you in this scene?”
    • By the end of the movie, Wilbur begins to care for others. Use the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte’s children to talk about compassion. You could begin by asking, “How would you describe Wilbur at the beginning of the movie?” “How would you describe Wilbur at the end of the movie?” “How did Wilbur change during the movie?” “How did Charlote help Wilbur to change?” and “What do we learn about kindness and compassion from Charlotte and Wilbur?”

About Rebekah K.

An insomniac since 1979, Rebekah has filled her nights with books & history. Rebekah's earliest memories are of watching documentaries, reading books, and playing Candy Land late at night with her dad. Is it any wonder that she doesn't consider being a librarian and teacher a job? During her fifteen years, in college and K-12 libraries and 10 years in English, ESL, and History classrooms, she has spent her days talking about books and history, sometimes at the same time. Rebekah says, "I love pairing readers with books that are a perfect fit. I feel like I have won a war when a reluctant reader returns to tell me they hated reading; but, after reading a book I recommended, they stay up with a flashlight to read until the page is blurry."