When Stephanie Tabashneck was running a support group for young homeless girls she wanted to bring them coloring books. But the only ones she could find depicted girls as thin, white, often blonde-haired, and primarily princesses.

“I felt so frustrated,” she said, “It felt so wrong that they were coloring pages of happy girls who looked nothing like them – it was sending a message that happiness and success were for thin, white girls.”

Beyond the race issue, Tabashneck struggled to find many materials showing strong women in general. In contrast, coloring books for boys showed them as super heroes and in other powerful roles. Girls were mostly pretty princesses.

So Tabashneck, a 29-year-old psychologist in Boston, decided she should author her own coloring book. She found an illustrator and in August “Dream Big! More than a Princess” was published. She’s started distributing them in low-income schools. With a copyright waiver, schools can buy one book and make as many copies as they want for students. (Get the book and the waiver here.)

The pages (see images below) depict girls of color in various high-level jobs. She’s a Fortune 500 CEO, a surgeon, a professor and an engineer. She’s even the President of the United States.

Tabashneck said a six-year-old girl wrote to her that she now wants to be a biologist when she grows up after coloring the African-American girl holding a microscope.

A teacher using the book with her students recently sent Tabashneck an e-mail sharing that a little boy in her class exclaimed, “Girls can be anything they want to be, they can even karate chop a pizza.”

“It’s equally important that boys use it, too,” Tabashneck said. “It’s so important that boys see women in leadership positions.”

The issue of female empowerment among little girls is particularly acute over Halloween when costumes are still traditionally gender stereotyped. A 2000 study of Halloween costumes found less than 10 percent were gender-neutral. Boy costumes depicted physical strength while girls’ costumes stressed appearance and beauty.

A woman sent an open letter to Party City that she then posted on Facebook in September concerned that there weren’t enough costumes for girls in strong jobs. Even the ones that were, like the police officer costume, was a girl in a skirt. She pointed out that female officers wear the same uniforms as their male counterparts.

An article this week on the Web site Parent Toolkit examined how Halloween costumes can promote gender bias, and negatively alter little girls’ self worth:

Parent Toolkit expert and psychologist Dr. Michele Borba said that by dictating what children should be, we may be stifling what they could be.
“There are so many other qualities than gender,” Borba said. “The bottom line is we want to raise happy, healthy, strong kids. If we stereotype in gender, race, age, we really start to pigeon-hole them and it begins to set up bias that there are certain things they can’t be.”
Borba says a great way for parents to support their children in instances when gender stereotypes seem prevalent is to practice “check that.”
“For example, young girls may say they can only grow up to be a nurse,” Borba says. “As a parent, check that. Check the bias. Ask your child to think about women they know. ‘What about aunt Sally? She works for NASA.’ Counter it so the child expands their view.”

And now you can also hand them a few pages to color: