Pants (or lack thereof…)

Yep, pants. That’s what I’m dealing with this week and probably for at least a few weeks after that. We’ve reached the glorious stage of potty training with H (we started yesterday) and I’m therefore up to my ears in pants, potties and packets of loo roll. With the foolhardy confidence of being only one day in I’d like to say that he isn’t doing too badly, though if he’s anything like C it’ll get worse before it gets better.

Anyway, I usually look to books to help me through any tricky situations and potty training is no different. We bought two books to share with C for this purpose and they worked pretty well, but they’re proving even more of a hit with H. Obviously they’ve been hanging around at home for nearly two years now since C knocked nappies on the head and both boys have periodically picked them up at storytime (because clearly, nothing says ‘snuggly family bonding moment’ like pictures of knickers and a good old poo rhyme) for us to read with them.

However, once H started showing in interest in all issues toilet-related (in case it’s in any way helpful, I used this article from Babycentre as a rough guide to readiness) we ensured the books became a regular part of our reading activity and he has absolutely fallen in love with them. From about Christmas onwards he’s been keen to read them at least every other night and it was pretty amazing watching him today as he clicked that what he’d been reading about for all this time was now actually happening to him. The experience has been a pretty persuasive argument (not that I needed one) in favour of the power of books and reading.

So, without further ado, here are the books we’re using.

Boys’ potty time‘, by Dawn Sirett (published by Dorling Kindersley)

IMG_5001N.B. The equivalent girls’ book can be found here.

Pirate Pete’s Potty‘, by Andrea Pinnington, illustrated by Melanie Williamson (published by Ladybird)


N.B. The equivalent girls’ book can be found here.

Both books have novelty features that have captured the attention of both C and H. ‘Boys’ potty time’ has a front cover that looks like an actual 3D loo seat and ‘Pirate Pete’s Potty’ has a button you can press that cheers (you can use this at the appropriate point in the book as well for every success your child with the actual potty training process).

I have posted before about my feelings towards books that have a lot of bells and whistles, but in both these cases they do actually work brilliantly. The books also work well in tandem – ‘Pirate Pete’s Potty’ is written in prose and features cute, colourful illustrations, whereas ‘Boys’ potty time’ is written in rhyme and is accompanied by photographs (although obviously not of anything inappropriate).

‘Pirate Pete’s Potty’ encourages more interaction in that the reader is asked to ‘help’ Pirate Pete choose his potty, pants, etc. but ‘Boys’ Potty Time’ is more easily linked to the scenes the children themselves will actually be facing. Having said that, there is one spread in Pirate Pete where Pete himself is encountering a potty and wondering what it’s used for (a hat, a boat? Who knows!) which up until today H has found hilarious. However, after a day of using the potty himself (or at least attempting to), at last night’s reading he very seriously shook his head at Pete’s suggestions and mimed / told me how it should really be used. If nothing else, the little man has a future playing ‘Charades’.

One thing that did occur to me when reading these books was the gender specific packaging of them. Now, despite the fact that in all other forums I would argue against the need for gender stereotyping and marketing things differently to children of opposite sexes, in this case I can see why a decision was made to have separate books for girls and boys. However, obviously the gender division was built up yet further with the colours and images used and I don’t think that was necessary. I haven’t seen either of the equivalent girls’ books (having two sons) but from searching tonight to find the links I can see that they’re both very pink and that Pirate Pete’s partner in crime is ‘Princess’ Polly. Hmmmm.

I can’t personally criticise the images chosen for boys as both C and H love the range of vehicles printed on the loo seat of ‘Boys’ potty time’, in particular. I also understand that the purpose of these books is to be a useful tool for parents and children alike; something that’s easily located amongst other books in times of emergency (C liked to hear Pirate Pete cheering him EVERY time he used the potty) and that simply and non-frighteningly explains this huge milestone that the child is reaching. They’re not aspiring to be great works of children’s literature (though both will be forever remembered in our house) and I can understand why the concepts were chosen. I suppose it would just be nice to think that one day boys would be associated with more than just blue things and heavy duty vehicles and similarly that girls could be linked with more than just pink things, flowers and princesses.

All that said, I don’t think this sort of book would necessarily be the place for publishers to start pushing boundaries and I think both these books do an amazing job – I would recommend them to anyone. We haven’t used any other potty training advice books (aimed at either adults or children) If you’ve read the girls’ versions and would like to share your thoughts on those, I’d love to hear from you.

TTFN (and apologies if the next few posts are heavily perfumed – I’m going a little OTT on the cologne in an attempt to protect my nose from a daily battering 😉 )


  1. Interesting post. I can probably still recite the rhyme that was in the potty book we used for both girls. As it was I was INFURIATED with the gender stereotyping in these books – at 2 I certainly did not want to be giving them a book which was pink all over and told them basically that that’s how girls are. I felt so strongly about this that the potty book we used was one theoretically aimed at boys (ie had photos of boys rather than girls, was blue rather than pink, and there was a matching girls version that was pink and full of cuddly toys). I don’t think choosing the equally gender stereotyped blue one was a particularly great choice, but it certainly didn’t confuse my girls (as you point out, images are so dsicreet, – ours certainly didn’t show a penis at any point – do either of yours?). I would have loved, say a green version with both boys and girls. I can’t believe I’m alone in this!

    1. You’re right, there are no images of genitalia in either of these books. I completely agree with about how each gender’s book is presented, as I mentioned above. Both boys did love the ‘boyish’ aspects of our books but then I think perhaps they’d have been equally happy with other ‘gender neutral’ images as well.
      (Not that I’m saying cars and lorries are only for boys, but merely that that’s how they are perceived.)
      I’m not sure I necessarily agree that in this particular instance, there is such a problem with there being separate books for girls and boys. Throughout their lives, they will not be sharing toilets with the opposite sex and there are some practical differences between how girls and boys use a toilet. Admittedly it’s not as though these are explicitly detailed in the books, but I don’t think it’s harmful in this particular instance for children to be under the impression that there are differences between girls and boys.
      What I do think is harmful is the fact that this is merely part of a wider gender separation issue within children’s books, toys, etc. and that the way in which the genders are then stereotyped is not positive for either sex.
      It often seems to me that a lot of the focus is on girls and the all-pervasive messages they are sent about pinkness, princesses, cupcakes and all things sparkly. However, in some ways I feel (and I am clearly biased as I have two boys, though I guess being female myself perhaps adds some balance) that things are actually harder on boys. Looking past the fact that it’s ridiculous to have these deeply entrenched stereotypes in the first place, I think it’s actually easier for girls who choose not to conform to them than boys.
      It’s brilliant that people view it positively if a girl shows strength or scientific aptitude, for example, but people make quicker judgements about a boy who likes make-up or is into baking.
      Having previously read many discussions about why publishers do ‘signpost’ their books as being for either girls or boys, what I was saying in this review is that I can understand in this instance why they’ve made that decision and that I don’t think it’s damaging for children to have separate books for this particular purpose. There are other cases where boys and girls are treated separately but equally (in the teaching of sex education, for example, which I had to undertake when I was working with Year 5) and although you’re much younger when you learn to use the toilet, I still think that it’s not a bad thing for boys to learn using pictures of boys and girls with pictures of girls.
      It always comes back to the packaging thing for me and the boys = blue, girls = pink thing. I guess in summary I’m saying that that’s a war I’d definitely like to win, but that I’d pick a different battle to fight.
      Perhaps in this digital age, the answer might be a potty training story or rhyme in an otherwise blank book, which the parents and children could then fill with their own photos (of family members using the toilet) and illustrations? These books could still have the novelty features which work well (loo seat covers and cheering noises for us!). Something to ponder, anyway.
      Thanks so much again for your comments, it’s always interesting to discuss these things!

  2. Yes, always good to discuss. In the potty book we had it was only about potties and not about toilets so the differences didn’t come into play. But then why not have a book with mums and dads doing wees as well – the kids see that all the time (well, you know what I mean) and would relate to that (and perhaps feel “grown up” to be standing up like daddy or sitting down like mummy. Really hope you don’t feel I was being negative about your comments – it just struck a chord for me as I spent quite some time looking for a less pink potty book for my girls as it really mattered to me.

    1. I completely agree with you and I’m absolutely sure you’re not the only one who has bemoaned the current lack of gender neutral alternatives. I’m really sorry that you weren’t able to find a book that you liked – potty training is stressful enough without having to factor in book frustrations as well 😉
      I definitely think that photos of parents would be useful and would help children feel more mature about the huge step they’re taking. I think photos of children are also useful so they have ‘peer’ models as well. I suppose that photos are always going to be a tricky area for a topic like this though…
      I think we’re all on the same page here in that we all want to see an end to the pink/blue thing and to what that represents in a wider context. In terms of my review, I simply wanted to point out that these two books have worked really well for C and H and I would recommend them to anyone who was looking for a potty training book (for a boy or a girl, actually!). However, I haven’t read any others (or indeed ever seen any others, apart from when I searched for links for the girls’ equivalent of the above books) so it’s not as though I have an extensive frame of reference. The ‘gender’ thing did rankle with me a bit (otherwise I wouldn’t even have mentioned it in my post) but there are other books and other areas where it rankles me more, hence my comment about picking my battles. But that’s why it’s good when we all support each other but focus on slightly different things – much more chance of winning the war that way 🙂

  3. Gawd, I had no idea that such thing as gendered potty books even existed! The only potty book we’ve ever had was ‘On Your Potty!’ by Virginia Miller (now sadly out of print, I think), which certainly isn’t gendered. Although interestingly the one child I used a potty book with refused point blank to use a potty ever, while the other three children used one (reasonably) happily. It makes you wonder how much difference these books actually make…

    1. Thanks for commenting, Elli. I wasn’t able to find anything other than gendered books and clearly Zoe experienced the same thing, so someone somewhere has taken a recent decision to change things it seems.
      I have to say that the books have made / are making quite a difference to us, but I realise that this is likely to differ greatly from family to family and from child to child. The main thing is that we all find something that works for us (and by ‘us’ I mean both parents and children) and given Zoe’s experience, it would appear that these choices aren’t widely available at the moment. There might be a gap in the market here – let’s just hope someone wants to come and fill it!

      1. Interestingly I was told by one author that publishers absolutely don’t want more potty training books, so if that’s correct I doubt we’ll get any non-gendered ones (other than Pip and Posy) soon.

      2. That is interesting. I wonder why? Clearly there’s still work to be done, so there must be some commercial reason why they aren’t looking to change anything at the moment…

  4. A brilliant gender-free potty training book we’ve used is Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle (Axel Scheffler). The are brill pix of Pip (a boy) playing with Posy (a girl) with gender-neutral toys, and Pip even ends up wearing one of Posy’s dresses when he has an accident. So maybe this is the place for publishers to start pushing boundaries!

    The illustrations are typically detailed, and my sons adored sitting on the loo and reading it / looking at it for long enough to get results! I keep lending it to friends, highly recommend.

    1. Thanks Isabel, that’s really good to know. Does the book also feature poo? One of the reasons we went for Pirate Pete was that it also talked about poo (and had an illustration) because C – and H as well, it would appear – found poo much harder to get the hang of than wee. Pirate Pete was the only book we could find that specifically mentioned poo and treated it differently from wee.
      I do love the idea of Pip wearing Posy’s dress though and am delighted to hear that I might be wrong and that publishers are pushing boundaries here. Hopefully this will now lead on to them revising their opinions about colour schemes / designs that needlessly perpetuate gender stereotypes.

      1. No it is very puddle focused. My approach to poos involved taking lots of books into the loo and sitting with them until I get results, then giving ice cream rewards! I agree about the annoying colour schemes. Was not a problem with picture books, but really noticing it now we’ve gone up a level to books for 4/5/6 year olds. I try to buy a balance of books with ‘boy’ covers and ‘girl’ covers (I have just boys). Some publishers are making an effort to be more gender neutral. I wrote some transport books for that age group last year that the publisher has given gorgeous gender-neutral covers to, was so pleased when I saw them. (NB not a plug, I don’t earn royalties!)

  5. Ha – I do exactly the same thing with book covers (having only boys as well), although it is less of an issue at the moment while they’re still predominantly enjoying picture books. It’s not completely non-existent though and I consciously try and choose a wide range of books with strong female main characters (we are LOVING the Emily Brown books at the moment) as well as more girly covers (‘The Princess and the Peas’, for example).
    I’d be really keen to learn more about your transport books – do you have a link to them?

    1. Thank you for the recommendation, I’ll look up Emily Brown. This (very pink, all female characters) Nick Sharratt book has been a huge hit with the boys.

      These are the transport books. They look sort of traditional and comforting, like old Ladybird books, and importantly not all blue!|REQUEST_SORT_DIRECTION_DESC&resultsPerPage=10

  6. If I remember right, this one is neutral, if only because I can’t work out if this is a little boy or a little girl! Might be worth doublechecking though!

    1. Thank you – I’ll definitely have a look!

  7. I finally got around to reading this interesting post and comments. Although I’m massively against gendered marketing, and the concept of ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’, I can see why some families might find gender-specific books useful in this instance, after all, the biological parts that we use for going to the toilet, are gender-specific (although, if they’re not shown or mentioned in the book, I don’t see what the difference is). It would be nice though, if the gender-specific books didn’t pander to gender stereotypes – so the only difference between them was the gender of the child featured, rather than the colour, content of the illustrations (pink/blue, pirate/princess, trucks/cupcakes). Or perhaps, as Zoe suggests a book could feature children of both genders – does it matter that a girl learns that boys have difference parts and use the toilet differently (or vice verse), as is quite rightly mentioned, the children will have seen their parents using the toilet so (if they have two parents of different genders) will have learnt that people use the toilet differently.

  8. […] can find out more about Stella’s new project here – and after my recent post on potty training books (which provoked a lot of discussion both here and on Twitter) I am personally very keen to see the […]

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