Gatekeepers’ Disservice When Defining Books as “Boy” or “Girl”

8 Aug

This is not a new topic in the kid lit world and honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to bring and new or surprising ideas to the topic, but I definitely think it’s something that really does prevent kids from experiencing some amazing literature!

Let’s start at the beginning – the gatekeeper – those people who help choose what books kids have access to. This usually means a librarian, teacher, parent, etc. How do we, as professionals (and I’m looking at school and public librarians here, talk about books to kids?) And I’m going to focus on talking to boys about books because as most people know – girls are “allowed” to read “boy books,” but it can be harder to convince boys to do the same. Do we say, “I know there’s a girl on the cover, but just give this book a chance?” or “Are you looking for a book about action, adventure, sports or a graphic novel?” (when talking with a boy) By, falling into the gender stereotypes we are automatically assuming that boys don’t want to read about anything that is not typically considered “a boy book.”

It’s our job as educators and gatekeepers to booktalk good books – books that will appeal to individual kids, because that’s what we excel at, don’t apologize for a book, don’t offer a “but”, and don’t assume that all boys want to read about is action, adventure or sports. Talk excitedly about a book with a child because you know that it’s the perfect book for that child. Tomorrow, I’m going to share more ways we can encourage picking up good books, not gender-specific titles.

My next point, a disservice to kids. By assuming we know what kids want, we’re preventing them from knowing about a host of books that they might be interested in. I’ve said it before on this blog, I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels, but there some graphic novels that I’ve loved and really enjoyed reading. I’m also not a big fan of high fantasy and science fiction, but again, I’ve still found titles in these genres that I adore. Without seeing titles on social media or getting suggestions from other booklovers, I would have crossed these off my list just because of the format or genre.

Do we really want kids to do the same? Automatically assume because there’s a character of a different gender, the book isn’t for them? How will kids learn about people who are different from them, if not for an introduction in the books they read? What about a kid like me who grew up in a small town where almost everyone looked just like me? How would I learn about the world around me? This, I believe, stretches beyond gender and can be applied to race, culture, religion, sexual orientation and all the other aspects of diversity. Shannon Hale talks about this very topic in the Kickoff Essay for Kidlit Women – describing how it’s not either/or, but AND. And when you think about it… that’s as easy as it is.

“It’s not either/or. It’s AND. We can celebrate boys AND girls. We can read about boys AND girls. We can listen to women AND men. We can honor and respect women AND men. And And And.”

During our summer book discussion, I’d often pick out a title about a character with a disability. Most of the kids don’t have experience with kids with disabilities other than seeing them in school sometimes and these books always created the best discussions. Kids are constantly being told as young children, “Don’t stare!” But few kids are given a safe space to ask questions and to really understand a person’s disability. By offering a book discussion, kids could safely ask their questions without feeling like they were being rude or misunderstood. Curiosity is important, teaching kids how and when it’s appropriate to ask questions of people who are different from themselves is a learning opportunity that these books provide.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some ways gatekeepers can begin to suggest good titles and steer clear of language that separates boys and girls into two categories. And on Friday, I’ll have a great list of titles for kids – strong, diverse characters, amazing settings, and un-put-downable plot lines, books that will be perfect for kids and not just “boy” or just “girls”  but for all kids – boys, girls and non-binary.

If you want to hear others’ opinions on the disservice of gendering books, check out Pernille Ripp’s blog post or Shannon Hale’s essay and subsequent follow-up discussion with Grace Lin on the Kidlit Women podcast.


2 Responses to “Gatekeepers’ Disservice When Defining Books as “Boy” or “Girl””


  1. Tips & Tricks for Booktalking | literacious - August 9, 2018

    […] I posted about the disservice of labeling books “boy” or “girl.” Today, I’m […]

  2. 25 Star Reviewed Middle Grade Titles | literacious - August 10, 2018

    […] been a busy week here on the blog – Wednesday I posted about the detriments of assigning books as “boy” or “girl” books […]

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