A few nights ago I read an article where the author ended with a recommendation list for “girl-friendly” science fiction books. I understand seeking out books that may get boys/girls more interested in reading particularly reluctant readers. There is research that suggests that boys lag behind girls in reading comprehension. And I do realize that the covers selected by publishers and authors that aren’t particularly appealing to boys or girls. Most of us (me) do judge a book by its cover. And middle school and high school peers aren’t kind to boys would display excitement or even interest in reading. It’s not seen as a “masculine activity”. It’s uncool and nerdy. At least what I witnessed and friends’ experienced in K-12 schooling.
But I do have a problem when a librarian presents book talks. There are no “girl” books or “boy”books. I’ve seen this happen recently in a school library. The librarian stated “Girls, you’ll like these books” when showing off romantic and emotional novels during a classroom visit. Books appeal to readers of all gender identities. When you give book talks about gender specific books, you alienate entire groups of readers who may otherwise be engaged. Further pushing young readers away from new and powerful reading experiences that may have a lifelong impact.
Culturally accepted gender norms (especially where I live and where I grew up) play a huge role in defined “gendered” books. The way in which book publishers, bookstores, and publications market children and YA literature also has an impact. My question in this post is how do we change the mentality of librarians regarding girl and boy books? I don’t know the answer, but I have a few baby steps in that direction.
- Discuss gender labeling literature in the LIS children and youth services courses and school librarian programs. Delve into issues regarding collection development, literacy, reading promotion, and gender.
- Read children and YA lit critically. Recognize what could attract readers of any general identity to a book.
- Be mindful of your young patrons read, ask what they liked about a book, what they didn’t. Share these recommendations.
- Stop with the boy/girl classification. Why is it important to label a book?
Nothing earth shattering, but it’s a start. If the goal is to get youth reading, which increases empathetic capacity, writing ability, community engagement, and cultural understanding, then promoting reading as boundary-less and label-free can only serve to reach that goal in our libraries and communities.
Clark, C., & Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for pleasure: A research overview. National LiteracyTrust. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED496343.
Loveless, T. (2015, March 26). The gender gap in reading. The Brookings Institute. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-gender-gap-in-reading/
I noticed in fantasy novels, I particularly identified with half-race characters like half-elves or half-Vulcans. I also preferred non-human characters which experienced racism. The issues they experienced were much like my own, so I could more easily identify with and therefore like them for dealing with them.
That said Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Hunger Games, and other female-centric books were blah an uninteresting to me. I have come to realize that might be because I do not identify with their central characters. (My wife loves the Harry Potter series for Hermione and Luna not as much the titular character.)
I am glad I read books where I do not identify with the main character(s). They may help me understand the perspectives of others.
YES!!!! I cannot agree more. From cover art to reading not being seen as masculine or “nerdy”. It is so difficult to fight these issues in the classroom. I have found it works best to just read a page or two from different books as an icebreaker to get boys and girls interesting in reading.