The Daring Book For Everyone

by Tracy R. Walsh

Hector Tobar reports that “a campaign in the United Kingdom that seeks to pressure publishers to stop titling and labeling children’s books as being ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’ is quickly gaining momentum”:

“We’re asking children’s publishers to take the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books and 9265589249_9ff49ca3ec_b allow children to choose freely what kinds of stories and activity books interest them,” says the statement by the Let Books Be Books campaign. Such labels, the organizers of the campaign say, “send out very limiting messages to children about what kinds of things are appropriate for girls or for boys.”

On Sunday, the campaign got an important boost when the newspaper the Independent announced it would no longer review such books, or even blog about them. … The Guardian reports that one of Britain’s biggest bookstore chains, Waterstones, as well as U.K. “Children’s Laureate” Malorie Blackman, and U.K. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy have also announced their support.

Independent literary editor Katy Guest explains why she supports the campaign:

Splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing. Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf. … What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.

Happily, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, there is something that I can do about this. So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys.

But some remain skeptical:

Catherine Pearlman, a social worker who works as an assistant professor at the College of New Rochelle and writes the periodic “Family Coach” column for Speakeasy, said via email that there is a “gender divide” across many children’s items like books, toys and clothes. But, Pearlman said, “I don’t think simply deciding not to review any book with a gender line solves the problem.”

“Maybe it would be more powerful to review a book and point out how much more interesting it could have been if marketed to both boys and girls,” Pearlman said. “Also just shunning ‘princess for girls’ books doesn’t eliminate the fact that so many girls love those stories. If they connect to reading through those stories what a shame to try to take that away.”

(Photo by Flickr user Book Life)