The literary editor of The Independent on Sunday has taken a stance against books that are aimed explicitly at girls or boys. In her view, and many others’, it’s vital that kids are educated to know that it’s okay for girls to like lego or boys to like more than cars and action-men. Books that are packaged for girls in pink fluff with added glitter just aren’t helpful, in her opinion.
Though a little girl might jump for joy at the sight of such a book – I know I certainly did when I was a nipper; it had to have some element of sparkle to pique my interest – these days, there’s a conscious move away from gender-specific marketing to young kids, as, many believe, it serves only to reinforce gender stereotyping in their minds.
If something is marketed to exclude either of the sexes, Katy Guest of the Independent says that it demeans our kids. The purpose of books aimed at children, she explains, should be to broaden their horizons during their developmental years, not limit them.
Guest’s decision to side-step books of this nature comes after a petition that encourages publishers to ditch gender-specific books aimed exclusively at girls or boys. While Guest and others such as Usborne and Parragon have pledged not to publish books that divide girls from boys, Buster Books owner Michael O’Mara has said he will continue to publish books that he feels will appeal to little girls and little boys. pledged to continue segregating young readers according to their gender. Speaking to The Independent, O’Mara explained that their Boys’ Book covers “things like how to make a bow and arrow and how to play certain sports and you’d get things about style and how to look cool in the girls’ book.” He then continued, “We would never publish a book that demeaned one sex or the other”.
Whether you decide that books aimed at boys demean girls or vice versa is entirely your prerogative; maybe marketing exclusively to boys is damaging our kids’ perceptions of gender, but on the other hand, maybe some little girls just do enjoy the things that have typically been marketed at them in the past. Sure, some girls won’t like Barbie, but there are plenty who will. Surely, it’s up to parents to encourage their kids to read whatever it is that they enjoy? Do books that lean towards either gender have to mean that their male/female counterpart is automatically demeaned?
We’d love to hear your take on it: would you discourage your kids from reading gender-specific books? Or would you set them loose in a book store to see what books they decide they’d like to tuck into themselves? If your little girl decides she wants the book about princesses, will you worry that gender stereotyping will negatively affect her? Or will you go out of your way to point your kids in the direction of books that are inclusive to both boys and girls, such as The Hunger Games?
Here’s what Katy Guest has decided:
Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.