Authors steer boys from toxic masculinity with gentler heroes

Inspirational male role models feature in books designed to influence young minds

Children’s writer Ben Brooks is on a mission to redefine masculinity for young boys. “I want to help boys become better, happier men and open up a debate about what we think of as masculinity. I want to question the idea that it’s weak to be emotionally open, to demonstrate that it’s fine for men to be vulnerable and kind, and to recognise the courage it takes to be different.”

Young adult fiction author Brendan Kiely is on a similar quest. “A definition of masculinity that emerges from a culture which silences, shames and gaslights women is dangerous – it harms women and robs boys of the potential to be better human beings. Seeing Trump in all his ugliness has acted like a wake-up call to male authors. We need to teach boys that they do not ...

Lemn Sissay: ‘A childhood in care almost broke me – I needed to shine a light on it’

The writer has finally won redress from Wigan council for his mistreatment as a child. Now he hopes his story will inspire others

Lemn Sissay has spent the past two years seeking redress from Wigan council for his childhood in care. “I’ve heard some people have committed suicide going through the legal process and I can understand how it could happen. I didn’t know it would be so violently intrusive into who I am. You’re sailing so close to the storm. You’re playing with a breakdown.”

Earlier this month, two years after the award-winning poet, playwright and broadcaster made his compensation claim, and in a last-minute attempt to avoid an expensive court case, the council and its insurer finally agreed to award Sissay a six-figure sum, along with a formal apology. “You ask for redress because of your own sense of self worth. It wasn’t good enough for me ...

Tracy Beaker is back … as a single mum fighting to make ends meet

Jacqueline Wilson shot to fame 27 years ago with the story of a girl in a care home. She talks about her new book on the now grown-up heroine

It has been 27 years since Jacqueline Wilson, then a little-known children’s author, got together with Nick Sharratt, a young illustrator, and conceived one of the most outrageous characters in children’s literature: Tracy Beaker, the feistiest, funniest 10-year-old ever raised in the dumping ground of a care home.

Now Tracy is back, in a new illustrated book set on a rough housing estate in modern-day London – and this time Tracy is a mother with a challenging nine-year-old daughter of her own.

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Must monsters always be male? Huge gender bias revealed in children’s books

A thieving duck in Peppa Pig is one of the few female villains in the 100 most popular picture books. An Observer study shows that, from hares to bears, females are mostly sidekicks

Male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books and are given far more speaking parts than females, according to Observer research that shines a spotlight on the casual sexism apparently inherent in young children’s reading material.

In-depth analysis of the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017, carried out by this paper with market research company Nielsen, reveals the majority are dominated by male characters, often in stereotypically masculine roles, while female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked.

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