Children’s Book Blog: : A good book is a good book – whether you’re a girl or a boy
Given the energetic response to Katy Guest’s recent announcement that neither the Indy on Sunday nor this blog will be reviewing gender-specific children’s books in future, I thought it was high time I weighed in on the debate. Katy’s article on Sunday has largely been greeted with praise. However, there has been the odd predictable cry of “feminazi!” in reply, as well as calls to “let boys be boys”.
We have also been sent messages by concerned authors asking whether their pink-covered children’s books will now be disqualified from a review slot. I’d just like to lay that fear to rest. I always judge the books I’m sent on a case by case basis and, besides, great stories are great stories, whatever cover they are presented in. So if you send me a well-written book with a strong protagonist, a cracking plot and universally-appealing themes, then of course I will consider it for review – even if your publisher has chosen to stick it in a ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’-looking jacket.
As Katy already pointed out in her article, the fact that Roald Dahl’s Matilda is now published with a pink cover does not make it any less of a classic – but it does unfortunately mean that boys (and their parents) are less likely to pick it up from the bookshelf. To cite a more recent example, I certainly wouldn’t turn away something like Holly Smale’s Geek Girl, even though it has the word ‘girl’ in the title and a girl on the front cover. And it’s about modelling. But it’s also a fascinating insider critique of the fashion industry with a witty teenage protagonist who learns to accept herself for what she is in spite of controlling adults, familial strife and school bullies – themes which I’m sure many readers would be able to relate to, boy or girl.
As for the “let boys be boys” comments, scientists seem to be unable to agree on this one. While a study published last year suggested that men are better suited to perception and co-ordinated action and women are better at multi-tasking, neuroscientist Gina Rippon declared in a recent speech that this is due to the “drip, drip, drip of the gendered environment” rather than any innate differences between the sexes.
Clearly more research is needed before scientific consensus is reached on the subject. In the meantime, I only have my own experiences to go on. These include being obsessed with stories about ghosts and monsters as a child, while the boy next-door was too terrified to even look at the pictures. Incidentally, we also used to do regular toy swaps during which he would play with my My Little Ponies for the day and I would play with his He-Man action figures. And it was about 50/50 as to which toy would win in a fight (actually, the ponies often had the edge because they were bigger and some of them could fly).
I have also never noticed any big difference in the types of story enjoyed by the girls and boys who attend the ‘storymaking’ workshops I volunteer at at the Ministry of Stories. In fact, all girls and boys under the age of 11 (and some much older) seem to be united by their love of toilet humour, stinky socks, snot and other unpleasant, bodily function-related subjects.
Neuroscientists may one day come up with a definitive answer to the great gender difference debate. But whether they do or not, I will continue to do exactly as I have always aimed to do with this blog – promote brilliant children’s books which inspire young readers irrespective of gender.
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and author and is currently working on a young adult novel set in Hackney. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here and follow her on Twitter as @TheStoryMonster
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