On (Some) Girl Stereotypes in Picture Books

Stereotypes and Art

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director

I’m currently in the midst of organizing a presentation about “keeping your eyes open” when creating illustrations for kids’ books. That’s a couple months away yet, but making notes on what to discuss has me now revisiting various projects, noting times when we have specifically directed art to avoid certain stereotypical representations.

This has been quite fun, as it takes me back to that time (more than a year ago!) when I received the first character sketches for a lead girl character named Abby in our upcoming picture book The Universe Ate My Homework, and was absolutely delighted to see this: Abby

Why so excited? Because—having grown up with curly hair myself (and still always trying to deal with that in the humidity of summer, hooray) I was so relieved to see a girl with wild curly unruly hair as a main character. Not all kids have that perfectly straight, well tamed hair you see so often, and have much more important things to do (like figuring out how to banish your homework into an alternate universe) than keeping their hair tidy. I’m forever asking for artists to be sure to include curly-haired kids in art.

Along with that, our delightful Illustrator Ayesha L. Rubio also stayed away from two more of my least favorite girl stereotypes:

  • Abby is not wearing a ruffly outfit or a dress
  • There is no pink in sight in her clothing


Those three things make Abby a real kid to me, and more relatable to our readers. We could use more of these relatable characters in picture books—not just by recognizing stereotypes of girls, but stereotypes of anyone. Boys don’t always have to wear blue or green either. And girls don’t have to be afraid of insects. And not all kids are white. Some kids wear glasses. Some kids wear headcovers. Moms don’t always have to be baking. Cats aren’t always cutely sleeping. Houses aren’t always clean, and not all kids live in big houses. Not all kids live with both parents at home. The list goes on…

What are some of your least favorite stereotypes in art? I’m happy to hear them! (But please be respectful if you do comment.)

More posts by Danielle are here.

4 thoughts on “On (Some) Girl Stereotypes in Picture Books

  1. Jennifer Lane Wilson

    One of my least favorite stereotypes is the assumption that a main character or his/her friends don’t have a disability. With a nephew in a wheelchair, I’d like to see more kids like him in illustrations, without the disability necessarily being the main point of the story.

  2. Juliana Lauletta

    I especially love these notes about houses. My least favorite stereotype in illustrations is: all smart and/or nerdy characters must wear glasses. Describe a kid as “smart” in the art specs and 9 out of 10 illustrators will put her in glasses. Let’s have more smart kids who wear cool rock T-shirts and more cool kids who wear snazzy glasses!

    1. dcarnito

      Oh yes- more snazzy glasses and rock t-shirts, noted! We worked with an illustrator once who did just give a number of people glasses without being requested to—then, we found out that she had been an optometrist before changing her career to illustration.

Leave a Reply