I grew up in the eighties, which was a great time to be a kid. I wore bright colors and ran around in the woods, loved dressing up my barbies (both new and hand-me-downs from my mom), dressing up myself, playing in my tree-fort and riding bikes around the block (well, cul-de-sac…I had no sense of direction and got lost the one time I tried to do round the block for real).
I can’t remember once thinking that there was anything I couldn’t do because I was a girl or that there were things that were meant for boys and not for me.
Is this because the eighties was a better time? Or because my parents made sure I had non-gendered toys? Or because I had that special kind of dense self-confidence that meant it simply never occurred to me that I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be and anyone who said different was so much white noise? I don’t know.
Now it’s 2016. I have a son, and I’m worried because I keep seeing lists of ‘books for boys’ and they seem to be saying that if a book is about a girl, it isn’t for him. Like the girls have a secret club and he’s not allowed!
If someone had told me I couldn’t read books about boys when I was a kid, I would have looked at them like they had two heads. I mean The Hobbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, Where the Wild Things Are, The Book of Three, I loved ALL of those books. Will my son have to miss out on Matilda or Harriet the Spy or Ruby Redfort?
I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, because he’s only five and currently loves reading anything he can get his hands on. And I hope he’ll continue to read widely as he grows up. But I do worry that the people who market books are putting up walls between boys and girls without really thinking about it and the harm it can do.
Reading about people different from ourselves is a huge part of building compassion, empathy and understanding. I remember reading Melvin Burgess’s Doing It when I was in my early 20s and just going ‘ah ha’ so that’s what the boys were going through in high school! It was a revelation, and I wish I’d read it as a teen. AND I hope that my son is that age he’ll read books about what girls are going through so he can understand them.
So this is me, as a writer, reader and a parent adding my little voice to the crowd asking publishers and marketers and everyone building lists of books for boys to Let Books Be Books. Let kids find the stories that interest them without narrowing their choices by adding labels that really don’t need to be there.
If you are interested in reading more about this subject, here are a few links:
Unsuitable for Boys by Tamsyn Murray
Boys Could Enjoy Stories About Girls and Vice Versa If We’d Only Let Them by Robin Stevens
How Do We Get More Boys Reading (Clue: Boy Books Aren’t the Answer) by Tricia
Boys vs Girls by Shannon Marie Jones