When I opened a box of new children’s books last week, the first one I picked up was From Burglar to Football Star by Ian Whybrow, but what I noticed first was the big sign in the top right hand corner saying Books for Boys. I was a bit shocked because it seemed so out-dated and simply wrong to label a book like this (I know its a series title, but I still don’t like it). Lately there’s been a lot in the media about how shops such as Boots, Marks and Spencer, Toys R Us and Debenhams have removed the boys and girls labels from their toys, thanks largely to the Mumsnet campaign, but it seems there’s still a bit of a problem with books.
In our library we’re careful not to have separate sections for boys and girls books but I have seen several public libraries that still divide their fiction like this. Most schools and libraries are aware of the problems this creates and see that it’s important for children to have the full range of books open to them so that they can develop into confident and enthusiastic readers. But many publishers are still happy to churn out the stereotyped book covers because they’re most interested in sales and they know that these covers sell books. It’s less of a problem for girls because it’s more socially acceptable for them to read books aimed at boys but few boys are going to be confident enough to read “girly” ones.
David Lomax, a teacher, writes
We’re still having trouble getting boys to read. I can turn an open-minded boy onto reading with Cormac McCarthy, Cory Doctorow or Christopher Barzak – but if that boy goes into a bookstore and sees what he thinks of as all girls books on the displays, he may not stick around…Librarians are often my solution. The good school librarians and public librarians are always ready to listen to what someone last enjoyed and figure out what they’d like next.
These habits can stick and lead to men reading only male authors and women reading only female ones. On University Challenge a few weeks ago Jeremy Paxman asked the brilliant (all male) Southampton team three questions about the Orange Prize for Fiction. They admitted they had no idea and seemed never to have heard of Barbara Kingsolver, Rose Tremain or Carol Shields. Paxman looked shocked and said, “There really is a divide in reading, isn’t there?”
- Girl book/boy book (davidlomax.wordpress.com)
- Books for Boys and Books for Girls: Problems with Gendered Reading (bookriot.com)
- Gender Equality and Picture Books (thinkbannedthoughts.wordpress.com)
- Why don’t men read books written by women? (wnblog.co.uk)