Topic of the day: “Boy” books vs. “girl” books
By Jessica on December 14th, 2011
It is an accidental perk of my job that people ask me all day long about books; particularly books for their children. Like many other librarians whose jobs it is to talk about books all day long, when people ask me for recommendations I always start with what book they like already, but then I ask the inevitable question: “Boy or girl?” It is such an automatic part of the conversation for me that I don’t even think about it.
There is a lot of discussion floating around about what children should be reading or how often they should be reading. There is talk about what constitutes a book as well as the discussion over content. But as I asked the question of “boy or girl” yesterday to a mom of 2 year old twins, I thought about this question. Are there boy books and girl books? Do (or should) kids follow the “rules” reading to a specific type of book? Does it really matter what they are reading as long as they are reading?
Ok, so I mentioned the “rules.” They aren’t rules at all; more like assumptions and generalities about how kids read. They go like this: Boys won’t read books with a girl as the sole protagonist. Boys won’t read books written by a woman. Girls won’t read action adventure books without romance. Girls won’t read comic books.
So are they true? As you can imagine there was a lot of debate on the topic over email about this very subject. In fact, Morgan described it as “a loaded question,” and she is not wrong.
Michael was first to chime in: “Why can’t a boy take away the simple lesson that friends working together can solve a problem from the Rainbow Fairies series? Why can’t a girl learn that bravery and loyalty are heroic traits from the Beast Quest series?” Alex agreed. “You know what they say – never judge a book by its cover. I think books are a universal item for both boys and girls no matter the color or the theme; books often have the power to pleasantly surprise a reluctant reader and take the reader into another world that they never would have imagined visiting.”
Tyler brought up a very good point. “It is important that kids feel the freedom to choose the books that they want to read. That being said, most people agree that certain kinds of books are more likely to appeal to boys vs. girls. And I think it’s great to recognize that boys, for example, very often love non-fiction. If we want more boys to get interested in reading, teachers, parents and librarians need to be able to make smart decisions about what books to recommend to kids.” As a librarian, it is a real effort to keep up with the multitude of books available to children on a variety of subjects…and I have the advantage being surrounded by books all day long. Is it okay to just mentally eliminate the books that traditionally someone may not read when giving recommendations?
While Morgan agrees that “Emerging readers and young readers often look for books that reflect their own identities and struggles,” she is passionate in her beliefs that “we do a disservice when we categorize books as being designed for a specific type of person.” She looks back at her own school assignments to prove her point: “In school in particular, girls often read books featuring males, because most of the literary canon we teach is still male-centric. For example, the first books I was assigned in school were things like Where the Red Fern Grows, The Old Man and the Sea, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby. Barely a lady among them! There’s a sentiment among many that girls will read anything, but boys will only read about boys; not only do I think that’s untrue, I also think it’s damaging, to both boys and girls. I worry that thinking of books as being ‘boy books’ or ‘girl books’ encourages that kind of separation (and we still see it in adult literature, too, with chick lit versus crime books versus literary fiction). That said, I am a realist, and I know that certain titles are considered ‘boy books’ because they attract large numbers of boys in ways that other books don’t, and the same is true for girls.”
I have to agree with Morgan especially when it comes to “chick lit” vs. “guy lit” in adult literature. Just for the record, I do love both types but when I buy the new Nick Hornby book, I am often asked if I am buying it for my brother. Has something similar happened to you?
Michael brings up an excellent point: “There is a long-held belief that boys tend to like adventure and comedy and girls like romance. But does the reality match those beliefs? If so, why are series like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games appealing to both boys and girls on a massive scale? If books are meant to let us explore the experiences of others, we are limiting kids by assigning them labels.”
I don’t know that we have come to a consensus on what is best. I have to confess, I am guilty of girl book vs. a boy book recommendations. A few books are transcendent, as Michael pointed out. Many people, adults and children have read books that seem to break the “rules.”
I think though of all the responses and arguments, Anne’s is the one that had the most takeaway for me: “You tend to look at your own experiences, right? I grew up with an older brother and sister that both read. My brother definitely skewed towards comics and nonfiction whereas my sister was more chapter books so you can say that there are gender differences there but I think there is a better point to be taken away. I personally didn’t really skew one way or the other because I had both of them to look up to and I think that stresses the importance of reading role models. I hadn’t even thought about this but my Bookprint includes both comics and novels, just like my family reading.”
Now you know what we think. But now, I want your input. Parents…teachers….librarians…readers, answer me this: Are there boy books and girl books? Do or should kids follow the “rules” reading to a specific type of book? Does it really matter what they are reading as long as they are reading? Let us know in the comments!