Reading her blog made me think about one of the trials of children’s librarians: Getting boys to read a Girl Book.
Is there such a thing as a Boy Book or a Girl Book?
What makes a Girl Book? To start, is a Girl Book simply a book written by a woman?
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton would argue against that. Though maybe that’s not the best example – since Hinton was hiding behind those initials, and the book has male protagonists. Is a Girl Book a book written by a woman with a female protagonist? Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games disproves that view, since boys are eager to read this dystopian thriller.
|Island of the Blue Dolphins|
What about the Nancy Drew books? Or The Cupcake Diaries? Ah, we’re getting closer. In my experience, once a boy reaches third or fourth grade he does not want to be seen with a book with a pink cover.
But that doesn’t explain older boys who moan about school assignments like Island of the Blue Dolphins and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, two exciting reads without a trace of pink on the cover. Some boys simply refuse to read a book about a girl. Girls, on the other hand, take Johnny Tremain or Bud, Not Buddy without fuss.
Now, if you are a psychologist who is going to write me
about the formation of the male psyche, please don’t bother. I don’t
see that reading one whole whopping book about a girl is going to do any boy
harm, because I’ve seen some girls’ psyches form just fine on a diet of Big Nate and The Stinky Cheese Man.
|Stinky Cheese Man|
For the past decade I've worked in a public library. As the years have passed, boys and their parents have become increasingly vocal in refusing to read books about girls. "He won't read girl books," one exasperated mother said as I pressed The Diary of a Young Girl into her teen son’s ungrateful hands. Sorry, bud, but the story of a human being your own age who maintains her humanity in the face of unspeakable evil is worth reading.
Does anyone else see the shining path from this kid not wanting to read about a girl to Jennifer Weiner’s campaign to have more books by women authors reviewed in The New York Times?
Reading is a way to inhabit the world of another person, to truly walk in their shoes. Studies show that reading creates empathy, a quality that is ever harder to find in our day of internet tribes.
My wise children’s literature professor, Dr. Pat Feehan would say, “Children need mirrors and children need windows.” Books are those mirrors and windows. Yes, children need to see themselves and their world in books, so they feel part of the wider world. Children not only visit other worlds through the window of books, they can be another person in a story by empathizing with the characters.
Sure there are books that revel in their girly-ness - the Disney princess books, any book with pink, glitter, and ponies with hair bows. And anyone who spends time with kids knows that there are always a few kids who are reading outside of their pink or blue boxes, girls who howl over Captain Underpants and boys who read every volume of Nancy Drew.
But what explains this growing itchiness about Girl Books?
I think it's marketing. Our every move is parsed to its most granular level by marketers who want to figure out how to make us buy their stuff. Which is why girl books are getting girlier and boy books are getting....a female sidekick. Wise authors and publishers put girls and boys together – usually in a stale but acceptable-to-boys older brother/spunky younger sister configuration – to sell books. It works.
There’s gold in those Boy Books. At every conference, agents beg for the middle grade boy book that will blow up the bestseller lists like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Lightning Thief. Books for boys sell a lot, because both boys and girls will read them.
But some boys simply won't read a book about a girl, boys who in my opinion, are not only being immature and inflexible, but also missing out. Because guys? Guys? Pay attention. The answer to the eternal question “What do women want?” is answered in so many of those Girl Books you won't read. You would better understand the other half of the world if you would just walk a mile in her pink sneakers.