Books are one of the first places children are exposed to the world of work, whether professional or domestic. Traditionally, many picture books portrayed (primarily white) stay-at-home mothers who took care of the home and family. Even when situated in a professional workplace, many children’s books showed women solely in jobs viewed as “feminine;” librarians, dancers, nurses, stewardesses, piano teachers, beauticians, and authors are the careers profiled in the 1959 nonfiction book Women at Work.
In 1973 a college student wrote to author Carla Greene, who had written informational books for children on various careers, frustrated that Greene’s works slotted men and women into stereotypical positions. Greene, angered at the letter and invoking her own years as a career woman competing with men, argued that her books portrayed the world as it is, as there was still a strong gender divide in most professions. Other authors, however, took a more aspirational approach to their work. Eve Merriam’s picture book Mommies at Work, was published around the same time as Greene’s books and Women at Work, but, in addition to more accepted women’s professions, it portrayed women as architects, television directors, doctors, astronomers, factory workers, and nuclear scientists, among others.