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.