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August 13, 2012



You know what kids should read? Good books. I'm either going to help make your point or completely irritate you, depending on how you interpret what I say. I'm a male 6th grade lit teacher, and I struggle to put Princess Academy (which is one of my all time favorite MG books for any gender) into the hands of boys. I try and try and try. The word Princess has conditioned them to say no, but once I get one or two to read and they realize it's a character driven, action packed adventure story about someone kicking butt regardless of gender, they love it. Honestly though, it's so hard to get them to try it, and it's gotten worse since it was reissued with the new cover. The old cover stood a chance, but the new one screams out "girl" book. Now, good literature is good literature, but when you're talking about 12 year old boys, they're going to be concerned with image. If you'd have named the book "Miri's Butt Whooping Academy" and kept the original cover, I could get 70 boys a year to read it. As it is now, it's more like 4, and that's sad, because they're missing a great read.

Sherry Berrett

I have three boys. With the oldest now in school, I'm suddenly hearing him declare things for girls. Both my husband and I are quick to stop him any time he says it. But I looks at other adults using the same classifications around their kids all the time. My husband particularly has a hard time with it.
What are these men telling their daughters? How are these girls supposed to have ambition when their own parents imply there is something less about them just because of their gender.


When I was probably about 10, we were making a routine trip to the library. My older brother, who must have been 13 at the time, told me I absolutely HAD to read Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. He further gave me a brief intro of the first book, Dealing with Dragons. I was surprised at the time, because I was already aware of the gender bias and that boys "didn't" read "girl" books. Reading these posts, first on your Tumblr account and now on your blog, make me remember that incident. It also reminds me of when my mom and I were watching a version of Pride and Prejudice and my brother commented how he liked that movie. I think he was 17 or 18 at the time, so I was 14 or 15. Again, I was surprised, and I've wondered why he never developed that gender bias. Maybe it's because he and I are separated from my two older brothers and one sister by a five-year gap, which, when you're 4 and your brother's 7 and all the other kids are 12 or older, is a pretty sizable gap. Maybe because we always played together when we were younger, neither of us adopted the attitude of gender bias. Also, I had never heard of the concept until grade school, so my parents are probably responsible for creating a basis for the concept of equality of the genders, even though the genders are very different. Because they were very firm in the home with never segregating "boy" things or activities and "girl" things or activities and let us just be ourselves and enjoy what we liked, whether or not the gender stereotype encouraged it, I think that let us grow up in a way where girls were seen as different, not less, and either gender could enjoy whatever they wanted to, whether intended for boys or girls.
For example, I just thought of a story of one of my brother who's 8 years older than me. He and my sister, 10 years older than me, would play barbies together when they were little. Also, I have a niece who absolutely LOVES trucks, tractors, and trains, and doesn't care much for princesses. She still loves pink and glittery things, but her parents happily allowed, and even encouraged, her love of things "boyish". I think a lot of it has to do with the stereotypes that are enforced or not present in our homes as we are growing up, because when all is said and done, that is where we get the foundation for the ideas we will foster when we are older. School can definitely be a negative influence for encouraging stereotypes, but I think if you work to discourage these biases in the home, it will help those kids to root out any stereotypes they picked up at school.
At least, that's how I understand how my siblings and I don't believe in gender incompatibility. Sure, we can look at things and say if something is "meant" for boys or girls, but that doesn't stop us from allowing a child of the opposite gender to love that thing, or story, or even color. And this is a super long comment... probably too long. I just wanted to organize my thoughts someplace, and hope that I can show others what worked for my family (as I understand it). :)

Ariell Larson

Something that I think affects the the whole Girl vs. Boy books is the covers. Don't get me wrong, I love a good cover. But back in the day a book was a solid color, usually, with the title and author name, (admittedly half of the female authors had to use male aliases in order to be published) but the cover did not scream "girly" or "macho" or anything else. The cover just represented a book and you had to open it and discover the story within. Obviously this is only one small thing that people do, unfortunately judge a book by. And yet I am one of those who takes into consideration the cover when I choose a book. However, I do not use the cover to determine it's gender appeal.


I find this conversation very interesting, especially when considering the publishers's targeting 'girl books' for a girl audience, by the covers. After reading your post today, and also MCLiterature's, I couldn't help but reflect on your question, "any solutions?"

I am a high school student in New Jersey's public schools, and last year the state implemented a new Harassment Intimidation and Bullying Law ("H.I.B." has now become a verb in our hallways). I've heard that this was initiated in response to a college student suicide, after a video was released of him in bed with another man. In New Jersey's public school's, when this law was first explained to us, I don't think anyone had a hard time understanding why calling someone or something "so gay," even casually, can be a form of harassment under this law. However, I remember in class when a school official was explaining the ins and outs of this new law, they explained that it may also be considered a H.I.B. to call someone "such a girl" - whatever gender they are. At this, a lot of my fellow students laughed it off, thinking what a silly idea, that's not a real insult - at first. But when the teachers explained this concept further, it brought up some conversations somewhat like the one we are exploring here on your blog, and I think it's moments like these that, as you said, bring us all a bit more awareness.

I don't have the answer to how we can help our young men feel more welcome to reading "girl books," but here's one suggestion springing to mind: In response to MCLiterature's story, why not suggest to your publisher, Shannon, that they look into making a school edition of Princess academy with a more gender-neutrally appealing cover. And if you could get away with putting "Miri's Butt Whooping Academy" in big letters somewhere on the cover, more power to you! I think Princess Academy could be a great book to read as a class at that age.


I think it has a lot to do with other kids. You have those parents that are teaching their sons that they have to be super macho and not do anything that might be even slightly seen as 'girly' and those kids are making fun of those boys that are reading 'girl' books. Even girls make fun of them for reasons I don't get. If I saw a boy reading say one of your books I would talk to them about it like I would if I saw a girl reading it.
But on the other hand my brother got a new video game the other day and asked me why I would possibly want to play it because it has dragons in it. It really hurt and I think I finally understood how those boys that are looked down on for reading 'girl' books feel. I wish there were a way to say that this book is for everyone, even if it does have a girl narrator. I know you have no say in your covers, but maybe publishers should keep that in mind when designing book covers.


My husband and I have been talking about this a lot, being the parents of four boys and one girl. He explains not wanting to "see the world through the eyes of a girl" like this: "When I read, I want to fantasize about -- see the world through -- the eyes of a swashbuckling hero (or something similar). I figure a girl protagonist won't kill very many people with a sword, or kiss very many girls, so I am not that excited about girl protagonists. And, as you've said, sword-fighting girls don't ring true." (Yeah, girls who can wield giant heavy swords and kick men's butts just don't fly with me. I'm a pretty strong female and there is no way I would win a war of muscle against the average man.)

I love reading out loud to my kids at bedtime and we read a huge mix of books -- boy and girl and animal protagonists. I personally don't care if my boys grow up to like "girl" books or not, I just want them to enjoy reading throughout their lifetimes. I think it is the best and most efficient way to learn. I always cringe when other adults say to me, "I'm not a reader".


I have a 13 yo son and 11 and 8 yo girls. My son's favorite books are the more male-oriented books - Percy Jackson, Ranger's Apprentice, etc. He has however truly enjoyed the Penderwick books, Anne of Green Gables, The Sisters Grimm, Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and several other books that would probably be classified as "girl" books. We listen to all kinds of audio books in the car, and I try to aim for a broad cross-section of books - classics that I loved as a child, new popular series, mysteries, adventures, fantasy, realistic fiction. Because the readers are usually top-notch, all the kids get sucked in even if the book isn't one that they'd normally pick to read on their own. I've found this to be one of my best tricks for getting my kids to love books and reading and to have a broad sense for what might be a good book!


A few commenters have pointed to this but I think the covers play a large role in branding books towards a specific gender. There seems to be a new trend to use photographs, rather than illustrations. I think this trend is especially true with "girl books" - your new covers, the Reached series, among others. Whereas male lead books more often have illustrated covers - Harry potter, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson.

I think you are going to have an easier time pushing an illustrated cover into the hands of the "unintended" gender. My niece saw the Fablehaven cover and thought it was disgusting but her mother was able to convince her past the cover and she loved the series. I think the older illustrated covers of your novels would be easier to place in the hands of a boy.

The Hunger Games is an interesting example of this - it is a series with a strong female lead, and a love story, but is clearly a book for both genders to enjoy. I think the publishers made a marketing choice towards the dual gender audience with their cover selection.

On a completely different note I think parents reading aloud books helps to overcome this problem. I spoke with a friend who read aloud The Goose Girl to her 8 year old girl and 10 year old boy - and they both loved it.


The worst thing about this is that, as others have said, one of the biggest things we can learn from reading and watching and experiencing the story of another character is how to empathize with others, how to understand people who are different from us. How do we teach boys to respect all people and treat women equally if we discourage them from stepping into their shoes and learning to empathize with them? Inequality between genders will continue to exist in the real world if we can't learn to think of each other as real people with equally important lives and opinions. This doesn't mean all people need to like all books-but they do need to be exposed to them, have a chance to appreciate them, and not disparage them as "for others only" solely because they feature a character with a different gender than them.


Shannon, there were some interesting comments about this at Goodreads, where they republish your blog posts. I found this one (by "Nova") especially insightful:

"This reminds me about a study I read a while back about boys not developing the ability to see the world through a female perspective because of the lack of literature they read through a female protagonist's eyes.

Essentially, girls who are forced to read stories dominated by male characters their whole life (from Tom Sawyer to Nick Carraway) can easily imagine what it's like to be a boy. However, the boys cannot (or actively will not) imagine what it's like to be a girl, especially because they normally never have to (because Tom Sawyer and Nick Carraway are boys).

They tested this by having boys and girls write essays about what their life would be like if they were the opposite gender. Most of the girls wrote these long, thought out responses that showed they had thought about this a lot before. The boys on the other hand either could not come up with nearly anything or just absolutely refused to do the assignment at all."


This is such an interesting topic. Speaking as somebody with a lot of brothers, I've never seen them have a huge problem with reading boy books versus girl books, and I wonder why that is. They've read everything from Jane Austen to the Hunger Games to Howl's Moving Castle to The Goose Girl to Rapunzel's Revenge, and it doesn't seem to bother them. (Maybe they shied away from Jane Austen initially, but once my younger brother started reading Pride and Prejudice, he probably finished it in a week). My very littlest brothers love books with girl characters (Olivia, Lilly and the Purple Plastic Purse, and Madeline come to mind), and one of my little brothers has always loved Dora the Explorer (speaking of entertainment other than books). I don't think my parents have ever consciously given them talks about "It's okay to like girl books if you are a boy," but neither have they made fun of them or acted like it was weird if they were reading books or watching movies with a girl as the main character.


I just think exposure to good stories with well rounded characters is key. I have 6 kids ages 9 years - 10 months and this summer we enjoyed listening to Laura Ingalls Wilder and Ramona (girl books) and The Prydain chronicles (boy books). I agree with the comment that we should read GOOD books.

melissa @ 1lbr

I wish I had anything useful to add to the discussion, but I don't. What I do have is a story I remembered from one of your signings I attended. I was in line behind a teenage boy, who had a huge stack of your stuff. He turned around and we chatted about which of the books we liked most and which we hadn't read yet. I didn't think anything was odd about it until later when I was thinking that he was probably the only guy in the line. Yeah for him! How sad that boys will miss out on so many great stories because of peer pressure or expectations or whatever other reasons they won't read a "girl" book.


I think that it's also the fact that from my experience with my brothers, that boys arent as intrested in fiction as non fiction. Not to say they don't want story, but from what I've seen, alot of boys want more fact . Show me how this works. So maybe some of it is that it's easier to relate to. And whos to say it only applies to boys? I have a hard time reading about boys even though probably 60% of the people I talk to on a regular basis are boys. So if your go say it's only effecting boys then all those girls get ignored. True equality will come when no one cares about gender

Katie B.

I've noticed some of the people commenting are saying it depends on the person. I agree; boys who are taught that boys and girls are different and have different interests a lot of the time will avoid "girl" books. But boys who are left to decide for themselves (seems like mostly homeschoolers) will read whatever they think sounds good. I've often thought it's not fair that girls are usually aloud to like boyish things, but boys are laughed at if they do anything that is usually placed in the "girls" category. I mean, come on! It's not like the characters are "girly". Look at Enna, for example.


Thanks for quoting me, Shannon! I think this is such an important conversation to have, because often we don't realize how frequently we reinforce the strict "boys read boy books" and "girls read girl books" dichotomy. Certainly we just want kids to read and will go out of our way to find what appeals to them (and if this literature is quality, then that is a bonus). But regardless of what kids DO end up reading, we need to work toward eradicating that sense of shame associated with acting against typical gender. After all, a boy might enjoy "Princess Academy" in the privacy of his own room, but if that shame still exists, he may still feel embarrassed to play "girl sports" or study "girl subjects" in public arenas. It isn't fair to limit them in this way. Books may be a small tree in a larger forest, but they're an interesting and important place to start.


For LaChelle, I have one friend who's a teenager now, but when I was in grade school, a lot of the boys tried to be all tough with their super heros or whatever, and he read "girl books".
When we got a little older, they started making fun of him. I was expecting him to stop or hide it, but he told them--in front of the whole class-- that he really didn't care what they think and as long as he liked it( I nearly clapped). Later, I found ou that his whole family was like that.
I think it's because his parents told him that they shouldn't care what other people think, like really really told hem that, and to be honest in your opinion(their mom even told us this when she substituted us)
I don't know, I'm only fourteen, but I noticed this when I was young and the topic of boys not reading "girls" worries me too.


And thank you, Ms. Shannon, for putting my comment in your post. I was kind of surprised actually--okay, really surprised =D


I am guilty of the boy book girl book problem. My best guy read a book I told him was good, but it was really considered a "girl book". When he told me that he read it I was surprised but he read it because a girl encouraged him to do so. Maybe as readers we can encourage men and woman alike to broaden there horizons and read more books that are considered gender specific.


Well, it's not JUST having a girl on the cover that "brands" a book for girls. Evidence:


I'm not sure what about that cover makes it seems less "girly." It may be the fact that it's a *severe* picture, lots of browns and grays, while your covers seem... more delicate, maybe? Prettier? And, having read Partials, I'd say it's not a particularly feminine book even though the main character is a girl. I'd say the same about the Hunger Games.

I think by "feminine" I mean more lyrical language, more focus on relationships of all kinds, more talking, somewhat less action-adventure. John Green's books--Looking for Alaska, etc.--seem feminine to me even though the main characters tend to be perfectly manly young men. Maybe that's why none of them have a picture of the main character on the cover, and at least two of them have pictures of girls even though they're not the main character. For example:

(Though this is still less feminine than Shannon's covers, featuring primary colors instead of pastels and bold geometric lettering instead of swirly lettering)

Now, of course, what feels "feminine" or "masculine" to me could well just be a result of the stereotypes of the culture I was raised in, and those same stereotypes are what stigmatize boys for reading feminine books, which is a shame. I enjoyed masculine-ish books like the Hunger Games, though they certainly aren't the most masculine books out there. I'm pretty sure I couldn't get through the first few pages of any books with a cover like this:


I'm not sure I can think of a YA or children's book that's nearly as masculine-ly branded as any given Tom Clancy book or Bourne book, and I don't think many women read those ultra-masculine action titles. Gender-flavored branding, like all branding, at least helps readers find the books they'll like most. However, everyone should be free to find the books they'll like most THEMSELVES, without social shaming.


This sort of thing isn't, sadly, limited to books.

Many video games have male protagonists. Speaking as a woman, I've never had a problem playing through that story "as a boy." It hasn't lessened my interest in the story or made it impossible to empathize with the character.

Now for the other side of the coin: There's a new Tomb Raider game coming soon. The protagonist (in case you're unfamiliar with the game) is female, a woman named Lara.

In promotional videos/interviews, the developers *specifically* stated that boys playing the game would be "caring for" or "protecting" Lara by playing, since they obviously wouldn't be able to imagine themselves in her shoes.

In movies, it's the same. If a girl rented an action movie to watch by herself, no one would think anything of it. If a boy rented a "chick flick" to watch by himself, an eyebrow or two might be raised.

I think the stated idea that boys think they are "downgrading" is right on the money.


I think that if boys are too embarrassed to read your books because of the cover, maybe they should get a book jacket to put over it! That way they wouldn't miss out on your awesome books.

Alexandra Wood

I don't know why, but I have for the most part disliked putting books into the "girl" and "boy" book categories. I know that some books are meant for boys and others for girls, but i believe that most authors would be aiming for both genders. It is what the world at large seems to be teaching, to be a strong man you need to only focus on the guy stuff. To do anything related to girls is going to make you weak. The picture that boys are being shown is one where girls are weak as is anything to do with them. I do know several guys that like books that are considered "girl" books. But now that I think about it, they are the guys that are home schooled. That is a sad thought, as most the population isn't home schooled. Something needs to happen and I will certainly be here to do what I can to encourage a change! Starting with entertainment all the way to daily life in general. Come on girls!! Don't let the guys be deluded by such lies!!

Glori H. Smith

I recently heard this stereotype-breaker on NPR from the superstar performer Usher:
"If there is any book I enjoy reading to my boys, it is "Amelia Bedelia" books. These are the funniest books ever. We have our reading time before they go to bed, and they absolutely love them. It just - basically it's a play on words. So, if there's something like a specific meaning of something but has a different meaning, she always mixes it up. And they just die laughing. So, it's such cool books. And there's, like, a ton of series of them. You know, I've been actually looking all over the world for these "Amelia Bedelia" books. They kind of republish them but they, I mean, they are, like, maybe, like, 50 years old, man."

uk dissertation

It doesn't mean that boys are downgrading girls just because they don't want to read girl's book it is because they are afraid to be clung with girly stuff. They are just protecting their masculinity. By the way, I don't see any issue with boys reading girl's book. Actually, I think it's cool and that kind of guy is a guy most women will fall in love with. It looks sexy when guys read books! That's all!

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