I was caught off guard by a recent Twitter conversation started by Shannon Hale, author of the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy and many others.
The powers that be at this school decided that regardless of her qualifications as a presenter, Hale was for girls – and boys wouldn’t be interested. Her audience was cut in half for a talk on craft, creativity, and love of reading and writing. Not exactly gendered topics. And the boys, unfairly, missed out. Take a minute to read Hale’s full, incisive blog post about this experience.
There are a number of factors at work here: Hale is female. Many of her books feature female protagonists. The title of her most famous work has the word “Princess” in it.
Okay. So what?
Kids don’t care about the gender of a protagonist – or much else, as long as it’s a good story. That is, they don’t until adults – either consciously or subliminally – teach them they should.
The canon is uneven, and it starts early. Girls still read and love books about boy wizards, boys touring chocolate factories, boys suffering the trials of being wimpy. But boys are expected to read… not books about princesses. No matter how witty and ferocious they may be.
The thing that really got to me was the line “It happened again.” And then Linda Urban, CLiF author (and current DCF award nominee for The Center of Everything) chimed in saying the same thing has happened to her on tour. And to many others.
I don’t mean to pinpoint the fact that this happened at a school. It can – and does – happen everywhere. It’s discouraging that sexism is so unconscious and insidious – and that so many kids can be steered away from what they *really* want to read by biased adults, and that so many boys are deprived the pleasure of learning from books written by women.
But it’s encouraging that there are teachers, librarians, booksellers, authors, and parents actively working to correct this. Follow the #boysreadgirls hashtag for examples of kids constantly, innocently busting stereotypes.
CLiF does offer booklists that distinguish strong male characters and strong female characters. There are differences worth celebrating between boyhood and girlhood. But I want to be clear that these are not “books for boys” or “books for girls” – there’s no such thing. If a boy you care about has been subjected to the idea that some books are just for girls, go ahead and search our strong female protagonist booklists for great examples of books that rock – and that both girls and boys love.
P.S. If anyone ever tells you a book with “Princess” in the title must be for girls, here’s your trump card. Most girl-keyword title of all time, and universally beloved by boys.
Image from Tony Alter via Creative Commons.