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Free to be you and me: Why this beloved Canadian children's author is giving her work away

'Boys Can Be' is Elise Gravel's latest free poster for kids (and their grown-ups), and she's hoping it'll help smash gender stereotypes.

'Boys Can Be' is Elise Gravel's latest free poster for kids (and their grown-ups)

Sure as they can be strong and smart, little boys can be sensitive, caring and quiet, too. Children's author Elise Gravel started giving away free posters that teach kids (and grownups) it's OK to be yourself. (

If you're a kid with a library card, you know Elise Gravel's name. A beloved children's author and illustrator, the Montreal-based artist has published some 50 books in French and English since 2003, and there's another 10 arriving in bookshops by the end of 2018.

As for the last thing she finished? She's giving that one away for free.

Gravel tweeted this poster last month, offering it as a printable download — and conversation starter — for parents and teachers.

Boys can be sensitive. Boys can be pretty. Boys can be scared. Boys can be so many things, sure as they can be strong and smart, too.

In nine sweet and funny examples, Gravel reminds kids — and grown-ups — that it's OK to be yourself. The poster's a companion to a previous stereotype-smashing illustration about girls.

"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time: how to teach kids that they can be themselves. It's something that I always try to do in whatever I do," says Gravel.

"I'm always talking about equality and positive difference and things like that to children in my books," she says.

It's something I've been thinking about for a long time: how to teach kids that they can be themselves.- Elise Gravel, author and illustrator

So why make posters, too?

Says Gravel: "Everything I do for children is to make information easily accessible, understandable and funny — and cute!"

A poster, she explains, is the only thing more joyfully digestible than a picture book. And once it's up on a classroom or bedroom or library wall, the message is always right out there.

To that end, Gravel's building an entire library of printable posters on her website.

Meant for parents and classrooms (don't go publishing them in your next book without paying, please and thanks), she says that they're designed to be conversation starters. What else can girls and boys be? Gravel says some teachers are already putting that question to their students, and asking them to draw their responses.

Beyond the Boys Can/Girls Can project, there are posters about science. Olga, the inquisitive heroine of one of her book series, appears in one — teaching the scientific method in nine simple steps. Another printable, made in response to the #MeToo movement, makes sense of consent.  

"It's something I want kids to learn and I want to live in a society where kids grow up with these values," says Gravel, talking about how she chooses a topic.

"There's a lot of things that I would like to fix, and I hope I'm not alone in doing this." says Gravel. "I'm hoping other people will do stuff like this too."

"I'm pushing my fellow illustrators: come on! Do this. It's good for everybody. It's good for you. It makes your work circulate and also — it feels good."

Check out the posters.

By Elise Gravel. Find the original download on her website, (Courtesy of the artist)
Elise Gravel's first free printable poster. Intended for teachers and parents, the original version is also available at (Courtesy of the artist)

Find these and other posters by Elise Gravel at


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.