I was going to post about my fun contest today, but I just had to repeat and respond to some of your outstanding comments about why boys don't read "girl" books. Check back Thursday for the contest. Palace of Stone comes out next week! See my events page for signing locations.
Julie says, "Teaching boys that it is shameful to read "girl books" also, I feel, teaches boys that there is something shameful about being a girl. A couple of people have pointed out that girls don't get ridiculed for reading "boy books." I wonder if this is because these girls are seen to be reaching for a "superior" gender role, while boys with "girl books" are in a sense "downgrading." It's a sad stigma, and I wish that books didn't have to be gendered in a socially hierarchical way. In a culture that has recently been pumped up with hollow girl power rhetoric, it seems that our boys are suffering more." This sums it up for me, thanks.
Will Terry says, "For me Shannon I would have been glad to have been left out of your school groups. We boys were too immature to handle it." I may be misunderstanding you, Will my friend, but it seems like you're saying that when you were in school you wouldn't have wanted to attend my author assembly. I don't think you've been to one, so it seems as if your only basis for saying that is because I'm a woman. Many times I've seen adults make this judgement. I'm quite disturbed by the common assumption that men have interesting and meaningful things to say to both boys adn girls but what women think and say is only intresting and meaningful to girls. Hopefully I'm wrong in my interpretation of your comment (maybe you were kidding?). And to clarify, I absolutely do not think that all boys (or all girls) should like my books or any one kind of books. What I am saying is that we're making broad assumptions about what all boys won't or shouldn't like, and that's just as damaging as only forcing on boys the kinds of books that turned a reader like you off reading. Let 'em read what they like, and if we don't mock them for their choices, they're more likely to read broadly.
LaChelle writes, "I love this. I'm raising three little boys right now, and just beginning to see some of what's in store for them as they get older and begin to experience media and cultural expectations. I provide a good mix of "girl" books and "boy" books, and they accept and love it all without any thought of whether or not it was intended for them. But how long will that last? At some point they will begin to pick up cues from teachers and peers at school (homeschooling isn't in our plan). So how do I get around that? Any thoughts on what a mother of boys can do? Is it enough to model and encourage openmindedness at home and hope that it sticks with them?" Great question. Any ideas for LaChelle? Kids and teens, what works for you? Parents, what have you tried successfully?
Kyle says, "I feel like I'm in the minority being one of those guys that has gone to one of your signings and also having not been home schooled. And I never tried to hide that I was reading your books. I brought them to school, on the bus, to work, everywhere. You're a great author and a great person!" Kyle, why are you so awesome? Seriously, why do you think the stigma didn't bother you?
KBM asks, "Poor Issac! Was his mom trying to embarrass him, I mean, what kind of question is that?! I mean she might be teasing but STILL!" I know, it was really shocking to me in the moment too, but I don't think she meant any harm. Sometimes people get nervous when they get their books signed and say or do silly or out of character things. She may have been trying to relieve any of his embarrassment by making light of the situation. It made me wonder if I've ever made comments like that--intended to be light-hearted but really having negative effects.
Chelsey Magnuson says, "It's a real shame for the poor boys - they're being pushed away from a lot of good stories without any chance to judge it for themselves. Granted, not everyone will love both the books considered "masculine" and "feminine", but boy, wouldn't it'd be nice if they could make the choice on their own? (and wouldn't it be nice if stories were just /stories/ and we didn't have terms like "girl books" and "boy books"? If wishes were fishes...)" YES!
Christina writes, "From my husband, who has read every one of your fantasy books: Very interesting and not very surprising. She did leave out the one sensible factor though, in why boys don't often like to read girls books -- when you read a book and enjoy it at all, you kind of put yourself, imaginatively, into the shoes of the characters whose viewpoints are being described -- and most boys are not very interested in seeing the world (or fantasy world) through the eyes of a girl." Exactly! But why not? Why are girls willing to try to see the world through the eyes of a boy but boys aren't willing? A huge benefit of reading is readers can develop empathy for people different from themselves. Are most boys being raised to only identify, connect with, understand and have empathy for other boys/men? If so, they're really going to get left behind in adulthood. Half the world is female, after all.
EAC says, "So here I am, mother, teacher, tutor, and I do recommend your books to all sorts of kids, but I think publishing feeds into this problem. Your books all have these pictures of girls on the covers. When I'm 11 or 12 and I see pictures of a girl, or boy on the cover of the book I make an assumption." Yes, you're right, they appear to be "branded" for girls. But again I'll say that most girls don't seem to have this problem. If a boy is on the cover, most girls won't assume it's branded for boys and off limits or uninteresting to them. (Like Fablehaven, per your example.) Parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians, other boys and girls, authors like me--we are all in a position to either reinforce that damaging notion or toss it out the window. I love that we're talking about this. I think it makes us all more aware.
Kristin Ahrens says, "I have always noticed this about boys in school. My boyfriend, who was homeschooled until 10th grade, loves Jane Austen and many other 'girl' books. When he entered the public high school, he was immediately branded gay, because of this and his love of theater. It's all so inane, but I think girls are often responsible for this unwritten rule. I've seen girls tease boys over 'girl books' way more than other guys do. I wonder why that is?" I wonder too. It makes me very sad.
For further reading, a selection of the comments from my tumblr post and librarian Liz B gives her insight on the subject over at the School Library Journal blog. So what do you think, if you agree this is a problem, any solutions?