Stacey Loscalzo

Mar 09

There Are Boy Books & Girl Books (and it’s going to be ok)

by Stacey

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I think about the idea of ‘boy books’ and ‘girl books’ a lot so when I saw the article, “When Boys Can’t Like ‘Girl Books'” I sat down to read right away. In the article, multiple authors report times when librarians or school administrators invite only girls or only boys to their author talks depending on the type of book the author writes.  This is clearly disturbing on a number of levels including the fact as Kate Messner says, it teaches boys to de-value the voice of a woman author. I couldn’t agree more and think that everyone should come to hear all authors speak and learn from their experiences.

All that said, I have come to realize something. There are, in fact, for better or worse, girl books and boy books. When friends and blog readers approach me for children’s book recommendations, I am able to give them a list a mile long if their child is a girl. If their child is a boy, I break in to a cold sweat. I know that I will have a hard time coming up with a great list.  As a female reader and the mother of two girls, the honest truth is that we read primarily girl books in our house. We read books with female protagonists and we read mostly realistic fiction. Over time, I have learned that I have a very hard time recommending books to boys.

Of course I believe that it’s important to expose kids to all types of books and let them make their own decision. It’s why we have Jake Drake sitting next to Clementine and Roscoe Riley along side Violet Mackerel. In our house though, the truth is that the girls choose girl books. Katherine does so by looking at the picture on the cover and Caroline reads the jacket flap to see which characters will be getting the most air time. And nearly 100% of the time, they choose the realistic fiction title with the female protagonist.

Fortunately there are books that seem to cross lines for boys and girls alike. We have loved and know many ‘boy’ families who have adored the Humprhey series and obviously everyone loves Ramona, right? So of course, there are books that break the rules. But I do think sometimes it’s ok to acknowledge that there are books that are inherently more pleasing to girls and others that are just more fun reads for boys.

My goal is always to grow a reader; to make reading what a family chooses to do on what feels like the seventeenth snow day (see above). If that means talking about girl books and boy books as things that do exist, then I think maybe that’s ok. If I forced Katherine to branch out a bit from books with pink covers, she might stop reading all together and it would then be much harder to bring her back. If I insisted that Caroline explore fantasy or non-fiction, she would chose almost any activity other than reading that book.

So when I put books in to the hands of children, I am going to stick with recommending girl books to girls and boy books to boys. When they are ready, they will branch out. Maybe. And if they don’t they will be readers and hopefully they will read books full of characters who appreciate everyone for being just who they are.

 

17 Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    This post in particular is making me SO wish we lived closer to chat about this over a cup (or two!) of coffee. I am FASCINATED by this topic and am so glad you wrote about it here. For me, part of it stems from some of the stale “girl” topics I see in some chapter book series in particular (hello, the junior version of the Nancy Drew books that is out? I have a few issues with it to say the least!), and also from the apparent lack of chapter books that intentionally bridge the gap between boy/girl themes. We are 4 books in to the Ramona series right now, and I can see its appeal for both genders. But honestly? I’d love to see more books where boys and girls are friends/narrators/work together, etc. in stories and it’s done deliberately. Where are they? I think if they existed or there were more of them, there would be more of a chance that my daughter would take a stab with “boy” books too. But for now she seems turned off (other than Captain Underpants). Sorry to ramble! I seem to have much to say about this.

    • Andrea says:

      Some good books with boys and girls working together as friends (or siblings) include the Harry Potter books, The Secret Series books, The Dark is Rising series, The Series of Unfortunate Events books, The and The Red Pyramid.

    • Stacey says:

      Wouldn’t coffee be great!? And you are so right- I think my real problem is that there aren’t enough books that bridge the gap… And when I read Andrea’s comment it got me thinking that there are more in the fantasy genre than in realistic fiction where my family tends to linger!

  2. Lindsey says:

    I think about this all the time. As you know, I have a son, and watching what he gravitates towards vs. what his sister chose has been fascinating. Sometimes different, sometimes not. He loved The Giver so I gave him the 2nd book in the series, Gathering Blue, without comment. I was interested to see if he was as interested as he’d been in The Giver (you know the quartet, I know, but #2 has the only female protagonist and is in my view the most “feminine” of the books). He loved it and made zero mention of it being less interesting. He’s now reading Messenger, #3. An interesting test case!

    • Stacey says:

      You are totally right! The Giver series seems to defy all categories. So not something that Caroline would usually like but they are among her favorite books! You do have a great test case right there in your own house!

  3. I love this, Stacey. My boys all read boy books, ones I’m not particularly excited to read, but I do for some. We have this conversation often at my house. I love what you’ve written, Stacey, and all of your efforts for literacy. Thank you!

    • Stacey says:

      It is an interesting conversation for sure! I think often that I would have a tough time reading books myself if they weren’t in the same genre that I love!

  4. Dana says:

    Thanks for this post Stacey, it’s so honest and rings so true to me. I tell my kids the same thing, there are no just for boys or girls things, books included, yet my daughter often if not always gravitates toward books about girls, and that makes sense since that’s who she is and who she relates to. I’d love her to try out the boy narrators, and I hope one day she will, but I don’t want to push her out of her love for reading.

    And speaking of which, we just bought the brand new Clementine, yay! Now if only a new Violet Mackerel would come out… 

  5. Moira says:

    This is something I’m struggling with a lot with my oldest. He’s an advanced reader, and I find that there are more “girl” books that balance the right reading level with the right level of maturity so that a 7 year old can still relate. He will try some of the series aimed at girls (though I’m guessing that will change in the next year as he hits 2nd grade), though we had to have a long talk about this subject when a librarian asked if the Judy Moody book he had picked out was for his big sister! 

    • Stacey says:

      Oh no!! Now that is a problem! Judy Moody is one that I can see appealing to everyone! And that is an interesting observation- I think you are totally right and the level of maturity issue is also so important- through that in to the mix and it all gets that much more confusing!

  6. Andrea says:

    As a mom of three boys, and a grown-up reader who loved books with male protagonists when I was young (e.g., Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Outsiders, The Count of Monte Cristo, Robinson Crusoe, etc.) but also realized at some point that every single book I was assigned to read in high school was by men (and usually about men), I have bent over backwards to read books to my boys by women about girls–Junie B. Jones, Julie of the Wolves, Little House on the Prairie, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making, A Secret Garden, etc. The boys start out whining in protest and end up begging for “just one more chapter.” Considering the huge gender disparity that still exists in publishing, book reviews, and book awards, I think it’s important that I play a role in ensuring that my kids understand that it’s okay for men to read books by and about women. That being said, when it comes to what they read to themselves, I don’t MAKE them read anything (though I strongly encourage, with little success, them to read something other than Big Nate and Calvin and Hobbes).

    • Stacey says:

      I totally hear you! I have definitely exposed the girls to all types of books but they certainly do gravitate toward certain kinds of titles. I’m realizing that another issue we have personally is that my girls don’t like fantasy. There seem to be many more books where girls and boys work together in the fantasy world than in the realistic fiction world. I do think there is a lack of great titles that would accomplish this!

  7. I have four boys, and I totally get what you’re saying, Stacey! Although I try to make an effort to have books with a diverse array of protagonists in our house, the truth is, my boys gravitate towards “boy” books, and I am okay with that. I think it’s important for their identity. That said, they have LOVED some “girl” books that we’ve read (Ramona, as you mentioned, Betsy-Tacy, Nancy and Plum), so I’m grateful that they’re not adamantly opposed to books about girls.

    Recently, a reader on my blog asked me how I expose my boys to both girl books and boy books (and she referred to the same article you mentioned above), and I told her basically the same thing I’ve said here: I make both types of books available, but I never force them to read the girl books. They ARE boys, and I think it’s therefore natural for them to identify more with boy protagonists. It’s not something to get worked up over.

    • Stacey says:

      I totally agree Amy! Four boys- wow! And I love that they loved Betsy and Tacy. My girls loved the first book in the series but after that the series seemed to feel dated for them although I loved it!

  8. Nina says:

    Stacey! This was a a brave post and I was nodding the whole time. I say brave because I feel like to even acknowledge that there are some differences in what the average boy likes and the average girl likes you have to courageously step out of the political correct box, and really, so few people will do that. Thank you!

    • Stacey says:

      Thank you Nina. I agree- I was nervous to press publish on this one. I think it also speaks to the fact that you really have to know the readers in your house. I would love it if my girls read more books with male narrators but they just don’t so for now I will celebrate them as the readers they are and hope they branch out later… Thank you for your kind words!

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