Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 160–174 | Cite as

Sissy Boy Mothering: Male Child Mother Figures in Middle-Grade Fantasy Literature

  • Danielle Bienvenue BrayEmail author
Original Paper


As Amanda Diekman and Sarah Murnen (2004) note, studies of “nonsexist” children’s books tend to focus on girls performing stereotypically masculine behaviors without consideration of how boy characters perform gender (p. 381); however, this narrow focus on girl figures in the identification of nonsexist works has two side-effects: appearing to devalue traits traditionally considered feminine and losing sight of male characters’ subversive gender performances. The field of performance studies, focusing on codified performative acts rather than on physical traits such as biological sex, presents a new avenue for understanding how works challenge a sexist hegemony. For example, by examining characters’ performance of food-sharing, traditionally encoded as feminine/motherly, it is possible to identify nuanced performances that enrich our understanding of how gender operates in children’s literature. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, such an examination draws attention to two boy characters, Will Parry and Jeremy Thatcher, who perform a similar combination of feminine/motherly and more traditionally masculine behaviors. Further explorations of this type present the possibility of identifying new sites of gender subversion that further expand our definitions of masculinity and femininity, and of what it means to be nonsexist.


Middle-grade literature Fantasy literature Performance studies Gender studies Food studies Mothering 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English, Franklin College of Arts and SciencesThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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