The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.
She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).
Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it? Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.
For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.
But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.
Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?
No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.
But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.
Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?
Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.
I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:
the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,
the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.
We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.
Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.
I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.
I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.
My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’
But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…
My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?
Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.
I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.
The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.
Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.
The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.
I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!