You are viewing cassiphone

Apparently Girls Have Enough to Read!

« previous entry | next entry »
Jul. 19th, 2009 | 08:16 am

Found via a retweet from Justine Larbalestier: Are We Letting Boys Be Book Bigots?

This is a really interesting take on the 'boys won't read books with female protogonists' myth which has been circulating for at least forty years. In the 1970's, authors like Diana Wynne Jones wrote books with boy protagonists to serve this myth, and its cheerful cousin 'girls will read books starring boys or girls, but boys will ONLY read books starring boys.'

You will notice that Ms Jones now writes a mix of girl and boy protagonists far more than she did in the 1970's.

The article takes the stand that our history is full of boy-led literature, and that catering to this whim of wanting to avoid girly books is comparable to ensuring YA books are kept white, generic and culture-free.

I'm not sure that I agree entirely with the premise - boys do need to read too, but I do think that the 'omg there's nothing for boys to read' hysteria utterly devalues young women as readers and consumers. It's also fair enough to state, as the article does, that boys DO in fact read, they just statistically tend to prefer non fiction, etc. Which means that boys aren't reading what librarians want them to, but they are reading. Given that publishers are actively looking for authors who can write for teen boys, I don't think it's really something to panic about.

On the other hand, look at a YA (and particularly a children's section) bookshelf in a bookshop, and do you know what I see? A whole lot of books that young men would probably really enjoy if it wasn't for the PINK COVER. Or the headless girl splashed all over the cover of a book which is about female and male characters.

It's not the authors who are letting down male readers, it's marketing departments. Who, of course, are far more interested in selling books to the girls who buy books than the mythical boys who don't read.

There is certainly a gap in the market for boy readers - but my fairly amateur surveillance of shelves suggests this is WAY bigger in the tween market than the teenagers. Most of the 'almost grown up' YA authors are writing great books should have cross gender appeal (Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Maureen Johnson, Sarah Rees Brennan, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Ally Carter, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch, not to mention those like John Green who already write brilliant books that are for boys like Steve Kruger or John Green) as long as the covers don't misrepresent the books as only being for girls.

On the other hand, the 10-12 section is pretty hideously pink and sparkly, and it's damned hard to find a book that isn't about princesses, fairies, mermaids or princess fairy mermaids with unicorns. A few of those shiny shiny series that are about more boy-friendly or, hell, girls-and-their-parents-who-have-pathological-fear-of-pink-sparkles covers are definitely needed!

Okay, librarians, have at me, tell me why I'm wrong!

Meanwhile, I've managed entirely to avoid dealing with the racial angle of the article, mostly because I dislike having one minority used to illustrate another minority's issues, and I'm a little uncomfortable with the implication that boys should read what's good for them, not what they fancy, but there are some very meaningful issues raised here which are quite relevant to the 'why are so many YAs about not just white people but GENERIC CULTURE FREE white people' discussion that has been happening a bit lately. Also Grace Lin is an awesome interview subject and had some interesting things to say about the importance of writing the characters she needed to, culturally, without bowing to the publisher's idea of what is more commercial.

And of course it's always good when people point out that discrimination against female characters/protagonists is in fact a form of sexism and worthy of being called out rather than catered to. Gee, you mean people's TASTE can be affected by prejudice? Really?

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {26}

jo1967

(no subject)

from: jo1967
date: Jul. 18th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Link

I am so with you here... Trying to find chapter books for my nearly 8 year old son that don't have fairies, mermaids, etc, etc, and those blasted pink sparkly covers *grrrr*. Having said that, he quite LIKES reading the books about fairies, mermaids, etc, etc, but I would like him to get a bit of variety.

Here's a question for your readers...can you recommend some authors for this age group? He seems to prefer more your fantasy type story (can't imagine where he gets that from) to the "farts are funny" fare. He loves to read "information" books, particularly about weather. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Reply | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
Link

I *know* I have some librarians reading, get recommending, guys!

Has he tried the Ranger's Apprentice books? I know Kate Forsyth has a fantasy series that's been very successful. I want to say Garth Nix's Mister Monday series but that might be a bit advanced for an 8 year old - depends on the 8 year old, I guess!

It's awesome that he likes fairies and mermaids, my friend godiyeva has long been complaining that there aren't fairy books FOR BOYS ie with a mix of gendered characters and I think she's spot on there.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Melina

(no subject)

from: melwil
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 01:24 am (UTC)
Link

My 9-10 year old students love the Ranger's Apprentice series. Also Goosebumps and Animorphs books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (though that might be the 11 year olds), Artemis Fowl, anything about bums/school teachers being blown up . . .

Reply | Parent | Thread

candle, burnt at both ends

(no subject)

from: peacockharpy
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
Link

We're in the same camp, because although my daughter likes the pink sparkly etc. (as it has been marketed to her since her babyhood... *eyeroll*), she also likes to read a lot of nonfiction and she's really into science.

Has your son tried Magic Tree House? My daughter is obsessively reading those and they seem to have a touch of mythology to go along with the history.

Bruce Coville has a series about a boy who apprentices himself to a clumsy magician -- ah, found it. Moongobble and Me. We got the first of these at the library and enjoyed it.

(I find the chapter book section at the bookstore quite dismaying; the library is much better, as it has older books and series that predate before the sparkle-fart division in children's literature.)

Reply | Parent | Thread

crankynick

(no subject)

from: crankynick
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
Link

Not 100% sure about the age grouping, but the Artemis Fowl books are a pretty cracking read, and should fit the bill nicely.

Reply | Parent | Thread

godiyeva

(no subject)

from: godiyeva
date: Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
Link

Tashi! Tashi Tashi and Tashi! More episodic than chapter, but get the omnibuses. If you ave them, I apologise. There seem to be a few Captain Underpants and Piratey type things out there too, which I find off-putting but might suit...

Reply | Parent | Thread

Melina

(no subject)

from: melwil
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)
Link

My problem last year was that I had year 7 boys not into fantasy or sports books. They weren't quite ready for some of the older books, and just wanted good, relevant realistic fiction. We all read the CHERUB series to death and I had a win with the NZ book, Juggling with Mandarins, but it was a bit of a struggle to find non-fantasy and non-sport books aimed at that level.

Reply | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
Link

Yes to be honest I think that's a problem with girls too - there ARE of course lots of 'realist' books for teen girls but so many of them are just about romance - nothing wrong with a bit of romance but it's like the fairy or princess thing, too much of it makes TEETH ACHE and passes on some really unfortunate messages.

(having said that the new Allen and Unwin Girlfriend line is awesome - and despite what I said above it's a REAL shame no one is doing a male equivalent, a line of fun boy-oriented Australian stories with a variety of themes)

One of the best teen boy books I have read in the last year is 'Boofheads' by Mo Johnson which is just plain brilliant, not only because it looks at a lot of the issues facing teen boys (fights, being mates, figuring out the girl thing, masculinity, a bit of sport though it doesn't overwhelm the narrative) it sneaks in a lot of bits and pieces about feminism and dealing with OMG SOMEONE I KNOW IS GAY - and oh yeah it's entertaining from beginning to end, not a message book at all.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Melina

(no subject)

from: melwil
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
Link

I really enjoyed Will and the Ishmael books, which dealt with realistic things, and were interesting, but I read them after 'losing' my year 7s. One of my year 6s is reading the Ishmael books at the moment, but he'll honestly read anything put in front of him, including an English-German dictionary I have in the classroom.

I just bought the first 5 'The Floods' books by Colin Thompson today (Target had a box set for $25) so I'll see how the kids go with those - they look interesting.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 06:07 am (UTC)
Link

I read the first of the FLoods books a few years back and found it very entertaining - in an Addams Family kind of way.

Reply | Parent | Thread

godiyeva

(no subject)

from: godiyeva
date: Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Link

Is anyone writing relationships-based books for boys? I refuse to believe teenage boys aren't secretly interested in reading about how boys of their age could/should/do interact with girls - though perhaps the books would have to cover this topic in a covert kind of way so other boys didn't laugh at them for reading them....

Reply | Parent | Thread

girlie jones

(no subject)

from: girliejones
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)
Link

I'm not sure I agree with you that Johnson and Larbalestier write books that boys would want to read. J and I are (he just finished) reading Suite Scalett and he read it because he liked the writing and because she's very readable but mentioned all the way along that its a girl book. And really when i think about it, and say How To Ditch Your Fairy and Devilish, those aren't books boys will be interested in - young girls navigating the first crush, what to wear in public etc etc

Reply | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)
Link

Maybe some books more than others. The Magic or Madness series has a male protagonist along with two girls, and some of Johnson's books are girlier than others. I'd probably be more hesitant to recommend MJ to a young male reader before any of the others, but it would depend a) on the book and b) on the boy.

The other author recs definitely still stand...

Reply | Parent | Thread

(no subject)

from: justinelavaworm
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Link

Both Maureen and me get fan mail from boys. Not all boys are worried about bookly assaults on their masculinity. As it happens, I've had more boys write me about HTDYF than any of my other books.

I think part of the problem is that we constantly talk about books this way: "boy" books and "girl" books. If we quit doing that it would make a huge difference. The boys aren't picking up the anti-girls message out of thin air.

From my experience doing school visits etc I think Tansy's right, the boys who read novels are more worried about what's outside the book than what's inside it. I.e. the covers. I've had boys who loved HTDYF tell me they read it with the cover off because it embarrassed them.

So I totally agree with Tansy that making books less visually affronting to boys' masculinity would go a very long way to getting more of them to read the books.

But like Tansy I'm a bit sick of boys who read avidly being dismissed as non-readers cause they happen not to be into novels.

P.S. It's "Larbalestier" not "Larblestier". (Though I shouldn't complain. I'm a dreadful speller.)

Reply | Parent | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
Link

Sorry about the Larble - I spelled it right at least once in that post! Fixed now.

Reply | Parent | Thread

girlie jones

(no subject)

from: girliejones
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
Link

Been paranoid all morning but I definitely spelled your surname right! :P

I'm glad to hear that boys read and enjoy HTDYF. I think thats awesome.

Reply | Parent | Thread

crankynick

(no subject)

from: crankynick
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 08:24 am (UTC)
Link

I think some of it is the traditional "OMG, if we don't give them exactly the same things that we had, the next generation will grow up different to us!"

Which Im pretty much OK with, but others clearly aren't.

Having said that, there is close to a hundred years of "books for boys" out there, a lot of which are still in print, so I really don't know what people have to bitch about.

Reply | Thread

godiyeva

(no subject)

from: godiyeva
date: Jul. 22nd, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
Link

I agree that there have been "boy" and "girl" books for a hundred years, but just look at the society that produced them - my hero Winston Churchill (and please no comments about his politics and what he did during the war, because that's not what I like about him) was a boy's own hero 100% - probably brought up on those Victorian boys' stories (and listen, I like Kipling myself, and Rider Haggard, so I'm not anti, all right??) - and sadly, he was furiously against the vote for women, and was very rude to Nancy Astor for daring to get elected to the House of Commons.

So maybe these things worked for that society, but I'm hoping we've moved on a bit now. In fact, a lot of those books should probably have warnings on the front that in fact, women and expactations about women have changed a fair bit since then....

Reply | Parent | Thread

crankynick

(no subject)

from: crankynick
date: Jul. 22nd, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
Link

Absolutely, the vast majority of those older books have pretty problematic social attitudes.

Though, having said that, I don't think that those attitudes have much of an impact on the development of children, if what they read in them isn't also mirrored by what's learned in the home or in school.

Mind you, it's also possible that belief is an attempt to rationalise my age-old love of Biggles books - which are shocking on racial issues (Actual quote: "The natives around here are unusually well organised - there must be a white man in charge"), and avoid similar criticism on a sexual equality front by the simple expedient of never having any women in them. (Except one, from memory - one of the WW1 stories that has a woman that Biggles falls in love with, and then has shot as a spy. Or maybe he bombs the house she lives in, or something. Anyway, she's a Bad Sort and dies an accordingly unpleasant death.).

Still, I guess my point is partly that they're still out there - and the kinds of people who are bitching about the 'lack of books for boys' are also, I wouldn't have thought, not likely to be the kind of people who are going to be worried by those social attitudes.

I get the impression that a certain amount of it (though not all, granted), is the age old reaction against any advances for women/girls - "Why aren't people paying attention to US, the way they always did..." - as if advances in one area necessarily come at the cost of others.

Reply | Parent | Thread

jo1967

(no subject)

from: jo1967
date: Jul. 19th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
Link

Thank you guys for all the suggestions, looks as though I'm going to have to pay my fines at the library so they let me back in the door.

The phrase "sparkle/fart division" is going to stay with me for a long time, I think *grin*.

Reply | Thread

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)
Link

Yay, so glad you bought Little Bird AND that you blogged about it!

I think it's a cover thing too. My Undine books were published as chick lit here, but had much more gender neutral, fantasy-reader pitched covers in the US. I've had quite a few fan letters from boys and Dads, and now that I think about it, mostly from the US.

Reply | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 10:44 am (UTC)
Link

Hee, well it's exciting! I've been enjoying the Girlfriend line a lot, and The Indigo Girls was the first one of those I read. I've been co-writing a YA book (set in Aus) with a Swedish writer, jumbled_words and I like Indigo Girls so much I sent it in a parcel to her of books with an Australian 'voice' to help her feel a bit less at sea.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Ben Peek

(no subject)

from: benpeek
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 10:44 am (UTC)
Link

the boys i teach like things with zombies and mutants that eat your face. think resident evil.

so, y'know, franchise hack books are doing their thing.

Reply | Thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts

(no subject)

from: cassiphone
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)
Link

Hee, do they hide those in a different book section to the one I'm looking at? Or did the sparkle-fart brigade EAT THE ZOMBIE BOOKS?

Reply | Parent | Thread

Ben Peek

(no subject)

from: benpeek
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 10:50 am (UTC)
Link

they're usually tossed at the back of sci-fi fantasy sections, where the author names don't matter, but the shared world does. the writing quality is about par to the sparkle unicorn stuff, i'd say.

Reply | Parent | Thread

godiyeva

Yes, and another thing

from: godiyeva
date: Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
Link

I would just like to say I am doing my bit to bring up boys who will read anything they can find on a shelf - lots of fairytales and Enid Blyton and will be leaving around lots of girl bookd from my own youth I think they would enjoy.

I think there are a lot of kids books out there these days that have both female and male characters in strong roles (within the same book, I mean) and would appeal both to boys and girls, which is to say, not pink and sparkly. I am thinking particularly of Phillip Reeve and his moral-but-weak-but-in-a-bad-way Tom, and his girlfriend/wife, the hideously-scarred-morally-conflicted-kinda-evil Hester. I loved the way those characters complemented one another, making up for one another's weakneses, finding each other difficult to live with, but ultimately needing one another. Awesome! And with awesome covers.

I think the whole issue that you have raised is yet another all too sad example of the continuing genderisation of children - unncessary genderisation, because in fact, both men and women are in fact people, and both girls and boys should read about both kinds. Otherwise society ends up warped and twisted. Note the great literature and myths that have survived to the modern day are not gendered. Presumably everybody listened to all the stories!

Can I also broaden this to note that my brother-in-lae as about a 10-12 y.o. complained that he didn't like kids' books, because the protagonists were all children. I found that quite a fascinating comment, because he clearly felt he was being talked down to, whereas publishers seem to feel that children need to identify directly with protagonists. It's true there are few children's books with adult protagonists. Anyone think of any? How do others feel about it?

Reply | Thread