Sunday, December 30, 2012

Boy Books, Girl Books, or JUST PLAIN GREAT BOOKS?

The hottest non-book item in the bookstore this holiday season was probably Spikeletz. They are awesome and weird bracelets made of this spiky-looking (but actually ultra-soft) plastic, in all kinds of wild color combos. Kinda like having a neon caterpillar around your wrist.

Most people like the Spikeletz. Some adults are sort of weirded out by them, because their texture is so unexpected compared to how they look. Girls and boys seem to appreciate them fairly equally. But one parent was overheard to say to a son, "Bracelets are for girls."

I wish I had been there. Because I would have said ok first of all WHAT and second of all NO and also CALL THEM WRISTBANDS THEN and by the way YOUR KID LIKES SOMETHING WHY ARE YOU GONNA RUIN IT and also SPIKELETZ ARE FOR AWESOME PEOPLE! Actually I probably would have said none of that, but I might have slipped the kid a wink and a sticker or something at least. Ugh.

So then today I was reading my twitter feed (as one does) and I came across this innocuous tweet from @HarperChildrens (a publisher I greatly admire), about the darling new book FOXY:
I have to admit, I was irritated by that tweet. I mean - why say it is a GIRL book? Because the human child in is a girl? But Foxy himself is a boy fox. And MAGICAL FOXES seem to be totally rad regardless of gender. If I was a boy, I'd sure as hell like a book about a cool MAGICAL FOX. Why not?

The thing is, in the kids section, so many picture books scream BOY BOOK or GIRL BOOK from a hundred yards. FANCY NANCY is a "Girl Book" - it's covered in glitter and is bright pink. I STINK is a "Boy Book" - it's got a giant trash truck on it. It is very simple for adults to choose "the one that fits" without even having to read the text. It makes life easy in some ways. But it's also so, soooo irritating.

I mean, OK. If a boy loves trucks, am I gonna say "No, you can only read about Princess Barbies"? Heck no. I'll give him a truck book, and we have plenty of them. But if a boy wants to read about Barbie, I am never going to say he's wrong. And the same goes vice-versa. I'm in the business of getting kids to read and love reading, I'd not want any kid to feel shamed for what they enjoy.

Goodness knows, pink glittery books don't need my help to sell! Nor would I want them to. I know that the masses of money a publisher makes from something like PINKALICIOUS may well go to buy some less obvious texts... maybe even one of mine. And heck, I loved pink and purple and glitter* when I was little, and I know I would have adored stuff like Lego Friends: Treasure Hunt in Heartlake City even though I may find it gagworthy now. (For the record, I loved firetrucks too!)

I can't stop publishers from producing and marketing books the way they do. Hey, they are companies, they are doing what makes the most money for them, and I get it.

But what I CAN do on a day-to-day level is, make even more of a point to seek out less-discovered gems, books that reflect all kinds of experiences, and try to push THOSE as much as possible. And I can stop using language like "Boy Book" and "Girl Book", and try to get others to stop using it too. It's shorthand, and it's lazy, and if it makes any kid feel bad or NOT want to read something, then it's a terrible shame.



  1. Amen - A good book is a good book, period, that can be enjoyed by readers of both genders. A good story in any form - song, book, play, film, TV show, poem, anything - can be shared with and enjoyed by people of both genders. I've written about this time and time again at my blog (exhibit A: Just Say No to Gender Bias post) and I encourage readers to just look for the good in things, not to assume things on characters in books or people in real life simply based on gender. Look for the good. Share the good.

  2. I wonder if the exodus of boys from older children's literature has a lot to do with the stereotypical "boy subjects" found in "boy books." To me it's like a pair of skinny jeans labelled one-size-fits-all. I know a lot of teenaged boys and their interests are a heck of a lot more diverse than trucks, trains and football.

  3. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Yes, exactly! Thank you for this post. I am always annoyed when I hear someone refer to a "boy book" or "girl book"...or when I walk in to the children's section at Chapters to find an entire display of such complete with signs reading "Books for Girls" and "Books for Boys". Ugh.

    Books are books are books and they are for everyone :)

  4. I 100% agree. We need to stop labeling and just be excited that kids are reading. Books are to be enjoyed by all and who are some people to say no to that?

  5. Yes, yes, yes! Things were tough on my daughter when she was a kid because she didn't like dolls or dresses or pink or flowers or princesses or fairies. It was hard to find clothes for her, and she got teased for not being girlie enough.

    It's ridiculous that now that women are graduating from law school and med school at the same rate as men, and more men than ever are staying home with the kids and cooking and cleaning, we act like girls and boys are from different planets.

  6. Amen. Thank you for this.

  7. hear hear. this is why i toss the scholastic catalogue in the bin when my son brings it home - the gendering of everything is crazy. blecch. but, in my own burst of sexism, i totally support him reading the disney fairy chapter books, even though i know that if i had a daughter i would totally steer her away from them.

  8. Don't get me started on this. And lord knows, it's not limited to picture books. Or kids' books. Or YA. Almost everything I write tries to tackle gender preconceptions in a big way, and my publisher re-covered all my books with pretty girlies. Sometimes you just want to shoot yourself. Or them.

  9. As a former teacher and mom to two boys, I feel the same way. I have to confess I do slip and call certain stories "boy books" -- those I know would strongly appeal to boys. Still, it's unfair to kids in general to define things this way.

    During school visits, I am especially impressed with the fifth or sixth-grade boy who tells me (in front of his classmates) how much he liked my book. Like it or not, boys do get the message around third or fourth grade that they can only read about male protagonists. Boys that buck this are especially comfortable in their own skin.

  10. I don't have anything to add. Mostly I can't stop looking at those pretty Spikeletz. Shiny. Colors. Want. I hope they're not just 'for kids.'

  11. It's the 21st century and blue/pink stereotypes are still going strong in the good ol' USA. Why anyone would advertise their products in a way that dismisses half their potential market is beyond my comprehension. (Besides these publishing examples, see Hasbro's "Easy Bake Oven.")

  12. well said... i work as a school librarian in a co-ed school and the issue of 'girl books' and 'boy books' crops up quite regularly... i find though that it's more acceptable for a girl to read anthony horowitz than it is for a boy to read jacqueline wilson - it's ok for a girl to be 'tough' but not for a boy to be 'sentimental'... unfortunately such a blinkered outlook is more often than not engendered by some parents and educators who should know better...

  13. I love this post!
    We have a pink dollhouse in the attic and I found the video of my son on the Christmas morning he opened it! Priceless! The roof of the house is a lovely gender neutral pink and many of the X-men and ninja turtles were happy to call it home.
    I wish toy stores weren't divided by boy-girl and I don't like books to be divided that way either and I am thankful there are smart and clever book sellers taking the side of the kids! Thank you!

  14. On Christmas, my two year old girl received a stroller and a baby doll from my parents while her boy cousins received a pirate ship and a remote control car. She pushed the buggy around for about a minute then stole the remote for the car and played with it for an hour. I just laughed and let her.

    Whatever turns their crank, you know?

  15. Anonymous9:34 PM

    Preach on, sister!

    It's unfortunate, but many consumers are bovine-like when it comes to selecting books for children. Moo... Especially around the holidays.

    I propose pink, glittery dump trucks and Ninja love stories. Also, Lego Friends are an awesome fusion of construction and imaginative doll play. Love them!

  16. Thank you for this. As the father of three girls who'll just as soon read "Wolves of the Beyond" as "Ramona's World", and as the husband of a woman who writes articles like "Reconstructing orthogonal polyhedra from putative vertex sets", I share your exasperation with color-coded girly and boyish books. And toys. And clothes. And movies. Would that publishers thought as you do.

    -Jason Schattman,
    Waterloo, Ontario

  17. Anonymous3:00 PM

    YES to all of this! I am sort of the go-to person in my family for finding great new books for all of our teen boy family members. Is it because I have some odd link to the teenage boy mind? (No, thank goodness!) It's because I read a lot of MG and YA and will put Seraphina or Croak into a boy's hand just as quickly as I Hunt Killers or Ender's Game. I will admit to being more picky about finding female-lead books for my daughter, simply because there are so few books with strong female protagonists, and I don't want her to feel like strong, smart, awesome girls are only able to be in the sidelines. That doesn't mead she isn't going to be reading "boy books" too, though.

  18. Anonymous7:07 AM

    I get really annoyed when people call my books "boy books" - even if they are otherwise really complimentary (both Uncle Flynn and George goes to Mars have had great reviews). George goes to Mars in particular features some really strong female characters, and loads of girls have told me they really loved Uncle Flynn. Just because both are adventure stories doesn't mean girls won't enjoy them! Grrrr....

  19. Word. This is something I'm so much more aware of now that I have a little girl of my own. The severe gender pressure -- the most recent example is that Gerber training pants ONLY come in the pink/flower/buterfly/kitty "girl" packets OR the blue/baseball/dinosaur "boy" packets. My daughter happens to LOVE dinosaurs, AND kitties, AND baseball, AND butterflies. And though I bought her both packets, I can't help but think that she is being told over and over, in big ways and small, that baseball and dinosaurs are not for her, and her male counterparts are being told that kitties and flowers are beneath them.

  20. I totally agree. I know this is an older post, but I just had to put my 2 cents in--I make a point of throwing all sorts of books at my kids (two boys and a girl), and I took all three to the Fight Like a Girl, Boston Glow event, because I think that boys and girls both should read books containing strong girl characters.

    #MyBoysReadGirlBooks and #MyGirlReadsBoyBooks #ThereAreNoBoyOrGirlBooks

    In fact, after I took my oldest son to a book reading by *cough* one of your clients, her book (with a girl and some leaves on the cover) became his go-to birthday present for his 11-year-old guy friends. I didn't say a word. Now that he is a teen, he is still open to reading books with any gender main character.

    #AGoodBookIsAGoodBook period.

  21. Anonymous9:13 AM

    Totally with you & other commenters. A good book is a good book. End of. v happy my daughter is into Mr Gum at the moment. Equally she adores rainbow fairies and is attracted to other similar girlie covers (but not indiscriminately, which I find interesting). I find it interesting that so many bloggers seem to feel the same way about books by gender, and yet we must still be in the minority given most books available are styled so gender-specifically?


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