News and events

Children's Book Audit Results 2021

You Can Be Campaign - inequality revealed in children’s books.

Zero Tolerance project finds that only a third of books in nurseries are free of harmful stereotypes.

Twenty-one nurseries across Scotland audited over 3000 books in their nursery libraries as a part of You Can Be Campaign. The project aims to improve gender equality and diversity in children’s environments.

Overall, only 14% (3 out of 21) book collections* passed the gender and/or diversity audit. To pass the audit, the book collection had to have more books that don’t promote gender stereotyping and/or other forms of inequality than books which do. 1

The audit also found that:

- Only 5% of the books portrayed male and/or female characters in non-stereotypical roles
- 20% of the books contained female characters that didn’t speak; were presented in stereotypical roles; or were in supportive roles to male characters
- Only 8 % of the books featured characters from diverse backgrounds (culture, race, religion, belief)
- Only 1% of the books featured a disabled main/significant character

* We would like to emphasise that it is not the nurseries who took part in this project that failed in passing the audit, it is their book collections. Practitioners were using these outdated resources in many creative ways to tackle gender stereotyping and inequality and those who took part are championing this work in Scotland.

Many books portray a world that hasn’t changed since the 1950s, where only men work outside the home, and women are mothers and housewives or if they do have jobs, are restricted to caring and/or junior roles, such as teachers, nurses and secretaries. Disabled, LGBT and minority ethnic characters are relegated to supporting roles, if they are present at all.

This lack of representation in children’s books reinforces gender stereotypes which harm all children and have long lasting effects on their futures.

Gender stereotypes affect girls' self-esteem and body image and hold them back from advancing their careers. Boys who believe in rigid gender norms are more likely to become perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

We know from the feedback received from parents that there is an unspoken belief that boys won’t be interested in books about girls, and even when the characters in stories are not gendered, people often default to masculine pronouns (saying ‘he’ and ‘him’). This leads to children internalising the idea that to be male is the rule and to be female is the exception.

Does it really matter if book characters are representative of the society we live in? And do kids even notice?

Children learn by example, and look for characters that resemble themselves. When they hear story after story in which male characters are always leading adventurous lives and female characters are in ‘princesses that are needing to be saved’ or supportive, caring roles, this sends out the message that these gender roles are predetermined. This limits their ideas of what they can be and achieve. The lack of diversity (e.g. few minority ethnic characters) contributes to discrimination. The stories we tell our children are so influential in shaping children’s understanding of the world and their future in it.


Heather Underwood and Jennifer King, Thornton Primary and Nursery School, said:

The audit was a turning point for our team as we discover how many more books, we had that featured male character is a lead role.(…) We were pleasantly surprised that some of our books featured kind and caring male characters, especially dads or other male family members. (…) Our new purchases in the future will try to balance what we have.

Ruth Wyllie from Binnie Street Children’s Centre, said:

There was a startling bias towards male character roles in our book collection. These roles depicting males as the main bread winner with females presented in a care given role. Little reference to disabilities or non-heteronormative families.

Early Years Manager, admitted:

We expected the numbers to be poor, but it was actually awful! ...this has certainly been an eye-opening experience. We will definitely try to rectify this and be very mindful in future of the books we purchase. Thank you so much for all of the work you do. We will focus on this at both nurseries next session.

This project helped us understand the state of nursery libraries and confirmed that a lot of nurseries’ resources are contributing to harmful stereotypes. Practitioners also identified a need for further training and support to be able to tackle gender stereotyping in their practice. All nurseries that took part committed to using the audit sheet in future book purchasing choices.

We are now inviting nurseries across Scotland to get involved in the You Can Be campaign to help end gender stereotyping in the early years.

The Book Audit project is a part of our wider You Can Be Campaign tackling gender stereotyping in the early years. The campaign raises awareness of harmful gender stereotypes and offers tips and ideas on how to tackle them. This campaign supports parents, carers and childcare professionals to start conversations about gender that will help all children to develop their full potential.

This project was delivered in partnership with Fife Violence Against Women Partnership with support from STV Children’s Appeal funding.

Recommended book lists and resources

Scottish Book Trust Resources

To find out how to create a book corner in your early years setting check this article by the Scottish Book Trust.

In this article by Scottish Book Trust you will find a list of picture books that challenge gender stereotypes.

Global Equality Collective Best Books

We teamed up with Global Equality Collective Best Books which offers an amazing selection of best books to tackle gender stereotyping. Click HERE to find out more.

Thank you to Fife Violence Against Women Partnership and all nurseries who participated in this project for contributing their results and insightful feedback:

Aberdour Primary School, Aberdour, Aileymil Nursery, Greenock ,Arnhall Day Nursery, Dunblane, Binnie Street Children's Centre, Gourock, Inverclyde, Camdean Nursery, Rosyth, Carmichael Nursery, Glasgow, Duloch Nursery, Dunfermline, Earthtime’s Forest School Nursery, Moray, Johnston Nursery, Kirkcudbright, McLean Nursery, Dunfermline, Newburgh Nursery, Newburgh, Pittencrieff Primary School, Dunfermline, Pitreavie Primary School, Dunfermline, Pitreavie Playgroup, Dunfermline, Poppies Pre-School, Laurencekirk, St Ninians RC Primary School and Nursery, Cardenden, Thornton Primary School, Thornton, Treasure Island Nursery, Castle Douglas, Trinity Tots Nursery, Edinburgh, Wormit Nursery, Wormit, Newport on Tay

References :

1. To tackle gender stereotyping and other forms of inequality a book would have at least one of the following characteristics: no male characters; female and male characters presented in non-stereotypical roles; characters from diverse backgrounds, including non-traditional families; and/or characters with disabilities who play a significant role

ZT logo