“Girl” Books and “Boy” Books: Reading Without Labeling

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Read children and YA lit critically. Recognize what could attract readers of any general identity to a book.
  3. Be mindful of your young patrons read, ask what they liked about a book, what they didn’t. Share these recommendations.
  4. 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/

The National Library Auckland. (n.d.). Reading for pleasure: A door to success. Retrieved from https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/reading-engagement/understanding-readingengagement/reading-for-pleasure-a-door-to-success




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