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Why do boys love dinosaurs?

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Today’s guest post is by Kim Werker, a Vancouver-based writer and editor.

I remember learning about dinosaurs and fossils when I was in kindergarten. I had such a romantic fascination with them. How disappointing to learn only a few years ago that the beloved brontosaurus really should go by another name.

Maybe it’s our never having encountered an actual dinosaur that makes them so fascinating. Or maybe it’s their storied size. Or maybe it’s literature, which so vividly imagines and personifies them for us from the time our eyes can focus on the page.

My nostalgia for my childhood love of dinosaurs took on new depth when I walked into my local library with my two-and-a-half-year-old son Owen a few months ago, and listened as he belched out his first capital-I important question to the poor woman behind the desk who seemed as stuck for an age-appropriate answer as I was. “Why dinosaurs are essinct?” he asked. She blanched.

Though I took his question seriously and embarked on a fairly fruitless search for books that tackle such a question satisfactorily for a reader who has understanding neither of time nor death, I quickly learned that fictional dinosaurs satisfy his curiosity just as well. I’ll leave him to decide when he’s a little older whether to have nightmares about balls of fire crashing into Earth.

My childhood interest in dinosaurs was different than Owen’s. At just three, he can name a dozen species on sight (I never went beyond the most common handful). He is a cataloguer of his interests in a way my friends lead me to believe is typical of their sons, too. Before they’re potty trained, these boys school us on the differences between backhoe loaders, skid steer loaders and excavators. It leads me to wonder why. Why is there such a stereotype about boys and vehicles and dinosaurs and sport balls? Why does my son embody the stereotype so fully when I tried so hard from the beginning to expose him to things like unicorns and rainbows? Why does he correct my mislabels of bulldozers while he shows no interest in princes or princesses?

It seems a young child’s interests are all or nothing. Owen loves dinosaurs, every sort of vehicle, Busytown, land animals and sea creatures. About other things he may show interest for a few minutes at a time, but when it comes to these very stereotypically boyish things he is known to spend an entire hour moving from zooming toy cars to flipping through a book about trains to flying a helicopter through the air to putting out pretend fires to squealing for me to protect him from a hungry T. Rex.

I try to talk to him about princes and princesses, and he changes the subject. I offered once to make him a tutu after he commented on a little girl wearing one in the grocery store. He put his hand on my arm, looked at me without a hint of humour, and said in a quiet voice, “No tutus.”

One evening, when my brother phoned for help buying Owen a book for his birthday, our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Go find a display of picture books and tell me about one that jumps out at you.”

Him: “Mmm. There’s one here with cupcakes on the cover. It looks cool. Exciting.”

Me: … “What else do you see?”

Him: Shuffles around, muttering under his breath. “Well, there’s one here with a dinosaur driving a fire truck, and–“

Me: “Stop right there. He’ll love it. Doesn’t matter what’s inside.”

Helping an uncle buy a good gift is different from a parental desire to expose one’s child to great stories, delightful art and skillful writing. I admit I had low expectations for the quality of this book my brother found, such is my experience of books banking on gendered stereotypes, but I also know that a book involving both dinosaurs and rescue vehicles would be a sure hit, which is what a gift from an uncle to his nephew should be.

Imagine our collective delight when we discovered that the book, Dinosaur Rescue, by Penny Dale, is actually gorgeously illustrated and skillfully written. There isn’t a hint of lazy pandering in it. And imagine our further delight when we discovered she’s writing a series of books that involve dinosaurs and vehicles. We’ve since added Dinosaur Zoom! into frequent rotation.

Going to the library with Owen, I’ve become humbled by the importance of book covers for children’s books. He cannot read, but he navigates the low shelves of picture books with the discerning eye of a kid who knows exactly what he wants. Pulling books half off the shelf as he goes, he only stops when he sees one of his stereotypical interests – a train, a race car, a dinosaur, a spaceship. Only once in his life has he pulled out a pink title (and even that one was more of a muted purple).

Determined to raise a son who doesn’t shun things that are “girly”, I’m frequently at a loss in the face of his dogged determination to ignore all the other stereotypes I try to nudge in his direction. At a loss, but no less fascinated by it. I look forward to seeing how his interests evolve as he grows up.

Evolution. There’s a topic we’ll no doubt have fun exploring together in books.

Thank you for sharing this, Kim! Kim’s next book, Make It Mighty Ugly, is due out in September. She occasionally writes a blog called A Short Read about her adventures reading with her three-year-old, and you can find more of her work at www.kimwerker.com. Dinosaur Rescue, the third book in Penny Dale’s dinosaur series, is out now – you can take a look inside below.


Order the book online.

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No Responses to “Why do boys love dinosaurs?”

  • My son isn’t as old as Owen, so maybe he just hasn’t fully discovered dinosaurs and spaceships, but so far he’s pretty stuck on trains. Only trains, all the time. And yeah, I wonder how best to (hopefully) expand his tastes, even beyond what’s stereotypically male.

  • I’m afraid that kids don’t really know what they like. Of course they tell you that they like something, but that something is an idea put into their small heads by social teaching.

    You may argue that you tried to direct his interest towards girly stuff but failed, so it’s obviously that boys do have different hobbies from girls’. But think about this, you are just a very small part of his life, even if you are with him all the time when he was small, he had tv, he had radio, he had all kinds of conversations, discourses going on around him. Kids are very smart. They’ll know what they are expected from this society, so ideologically, they are developing themselves towards such expectations. It is very hard to alter the social conventions, but we are trying, and it takes time. I do hope the society will change a bit in a few decades and won’t reinforce that much on gender stereotypes.

  • Word Lily – Owen started with buses, and expanded over time. Maybe yours will, too. :)

    Holly – They sure do. I’ve loved hearing about your daughter’s passionate interests. Dragons! Awesome.

    Yan – To an extent, I agree with you. But I also know that Owen expressed intense interest in vehicles long before he watched any television, and before he spent any significant amount of time with other kids. His first television experiences were of him begging us to search YouTube for videos of monster trucks and garbage trucks, no matter what else we dug up. I’m glad Owen has influences that go far beyond our control, and I’m interested to see how they grow and change over time.

  • I tried to be very gender neutral with my daughter when she was tiny. She had no dolls for her first three years, and no stereotypical girl toys. What did she do? With the gorgeous set of blocks her woodworking dad made her, she had no interest in building towers (although she did like knocking them down if we insisted on building things with them). Instead, she would make believe with them and have them talk to each other and act out stories she created. She did the same thing with her crayons, colored pencils and markers (although those items she also enjoyed using for their intended purposes).

    She was 3.5 when she got her first doll. I didn’t buy it for her, but we were at a playdate at a little boy’s house and for the second time we were there, she zoomed in on this babydoll of his and picked it up and carried it around the entire time we were there. When it was time to go, his mom offered it to E, and told me that she didn’t like the way her son would pick it up and use it as a hammer. :)

    I do believe that some preferences and tendencies are ingrained in the personality from birth. And I think that’s ok, as long as we allow kids to follow their preferences and not force them down gender paths. I was horrified when a mom I met recently told me that she forced her kindergartner to play football last fall because he was “too feminine.” He hated it, but she thought it was “good” for him. I feel bad for the kid, and his little brother too. :-(

  • Ooh, forced football. That sounds awful.

    I agree with you. I think as parents, we owe it to our kids to respect their interests and foster their engagement with toys and ideas that fascinate them. I think we also have the important responsibility to at least expose them to lots of other stuff. Not to force it on them, but to at least let them know what the world has to offer. Now that Owen’s attention span is a little more robust, we’ll be taking him to see shows and concerts, and I’m curious to see how he responds to them.

    And it’s not like vehicles and dinosaurs are his only interests. He’s developed a fascination with a sea turtle at the aquarium. We talk about her daily and he frequently asks me to tell him the story of her rescue. And we recently borrowed a library book about sea turtles, and we’ve been reading it every day.

    Anyway. Yes.

  • I have twin daughters. They both love balls and blocks and trucks. One will do puppet shows with the fisher price people, and the other just likes collecting them in buckets. I used to babysit for a boy toddler who was obsessed with the little mermaid (mostly because he couldn’t get his mind around why Ursula was so mean and he always wanted to redeem her with a timeout after which she and Ariel would be friends) People are different. It’s not about gender it is about personal preference. Lots of kids catalog regardless of gender my sister at 3 was an expert on Egyptology.

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