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August 06, 2012

Comments

Abby

And it's ridiculous, because people don't have a problem with girls reading "boy books." A man can write a book about a boy and girls can read it, but if a woman writes a book about a girl boys can't read it.

Poor Issac.

Will Terry

I can only speak for myself but I struggled in school - like - really bad. I've written about this on my blog too. I hated reading because almost all of the books that I was forced to read were picked by female teachers. Ironically it was a female teacher who quietly walked by my desk one day, laid a copy of "The Call Of The Wild" on my desk, and said, "you'll like this - they go camping". She didn't force me to read it and she didn't beg me to read it she simply saw a struggling kid and figured out the solution. It was the first novel I ever read. Things were going great as I found similar books that my teachers let me read and report on. Then I landed a few more female teachers that required me to read books like Wuthering Heights. I stopped reading again. Now you could say, "Well, that's your fault Will - you should have been better in school" perhaps. Or we could stop pushing our own reading agendas and just celebrate the idea of learning to read. After all how many life lessons are tucked away in the kinds of books boys like that girls never read? 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. We would have been too distracting to the girls. We couldn't admit that we had feelings, feelings for our parents, feelings for girls, feelings of compassion, etc.

Chandler

I'm a boy and I've loved your books ever since I started reading them. Reading about a girl main character who is strong-willed and powerful isn't something we get very often, and frankly it's exciting. I've introduced your books to a few of my friends, and all those who actually read them, loved them.

Maybe you'll just have to cover one of your books with a fake title like "Monster trucks and Chain Saws!" You can trick the boys into reading it. ;-) Once they start, they'll be hooked and will love the characters, girls or boys.

Danielle

One of my friends had a family book club last summer. All of them chose a book that everyone had to read. My friend chose the Goose Girl. Her older brother protested at first, but when they went on vacation, he spent most of his time reading it, instead of checking out most of the stuff he would normally be interested in. He also told me that he's read Ella Enchanted twice. Twice! I wonder, was he forced to or did he do that by choice? Either way, he read "girl" books and he's not ashamed of it. So far as I can tell. And he went to public school (he recently graduated). I won't put my opinions about this whole boys not reading so-called "girl" books thing. It irritates me, but if I start, I won't stop. I'm just adding one more boy to the list of boys who've read "girl" books and liked them.

Meredith B.

I was recently talking to one of my guy customers about a book that had a female protagonist. The rest of this particular authors books had had both boy and girl characters sharing the stage pretty equally, and this young man (maybe eleven or twelve years old) had enjoyed those, but he didn't seem sure whether to try this book or not. As he hesitated, I asked him, "What did you like about the other books by this author? Was it the plot, and the way they were written, or was it just the guy characters?" He kind of shrugged, but I could see that he got it. So I said, "I'll bet you'd like this one too. If you're brave enough to read it." He walked out with the book. Maybe it helps that it's the Summer and he won't get caught with it at school. I don't know, but I'm not above daring kids to get them to try something outside of their comfort zone. :-)

LaChelle

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?

Ashley R.

I have really tried to get my brothers to read some "girl books". They have read many "girl books", and they really enjoy them. I think it is ridiculous how boys feel that they can't read "girl books". I think encouragement from girls is helpful.

Carlie

Interesting discussion. It makes me think of an article I just read in the Deseret News. I wonder if you saw this article, Shannon? What do you think? http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765592913/Many-working-to-bridge-wide-gender-reading-gap-in-the-US.html?pg=all

And wait... so now you have a tumblr blog? Great, now I have two websites of yours that I will have to check on a daily basis. :)

Heather

I'm raising three little boys (currently 10, 6, and 4) and a girl (age 12). My oldest son has expressed an interest in one day reading your books ("one day" because he has dyslexia and, on his own, can only read about a 3rd-ish grade level at this point). But... we homeschool. It's a shame that books are perceived as "for boys" or "for girls" at all. The thing I find most puzzling about the whole thing is books perceived as "for boys" are pretty much universally socially acceptable for girls to read. I think the previous poster who said encouragement from girls is helpful is right on. Books should be just books and if you enjoy them, who cares if they are "for" the opposite sex.

Kate Foley

It makes me sad that the only way to be a "man" is to like sports and shoot-em-up movies. I'm home schooled and people don't get made fun of for boys liking "girl" things and girls liking "boy" things in our home school group. In fact, most people in our group think it's stupid for there to "boy" and "girl" things. J.K. Rowling had to disguise that she was a girl so both boys and girls to read her books. In fact, most people thought she WAS a boy.

I feel bad for Isaac.

Megan

I've been following this discussion for a while, and I wholeheartedly agree with this post. I was reading through the comments and thought Will Terry (fabulous illustrator!) made some great points too. There are boys (there always will be) who JUST DON'T WANT TO READ GIRL BOOKS. I agree that our society, to an extent, has predisposed those boys to be against reading "girl" books, no matter the value of reading about people different than we are. But even if we took away the stigma attached to boys reading about princesses for example, I really do believe that there would still be boys (and girls!) who wouldn't want to read about princesses.

So what am I saying? I think that we need to stop separating books into a boy and girl category. Let the kids decide what interests them and let them read it. Let's work at taking away the stigma that would stop a boy from reading a book about a princess (again, just an example), all while accepting that some children just want to read a magazine about motorcycles.

It's really not fair to kids to split them into two groups of people when they are in reality so diverse.

Julie

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. No one should be denied the joy of reading, particularly those books, like Princess Academy, that in many ways defy such rigid gender expectations by depicting full, complex, and sympathetic characters--male and female.

Welshje1

There is a generation of boys that we are loosing. I wish more men would step up to mentor boys. Sports is not the answer. It helps with the energy part of the boys but not the "human" part of boys.

Kyle

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

I was probably considered weird.

K.M.B

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!

Raejean

We just finished reading Princess Academy for our family book club. My son didn't complain about the choice. He was happy to listen to me read it while he and his twin sister did chores and was always sad when it was time to stop. After the first day, his sister started reading ahead. By the third day, my son was also reading ahead.

I'm excited for our meeting later this week and see what he has to say about it.

Klymene

It's interesting because the reverse isn't true. Girls have the natural tendency to read solely girl romance, fantasy books, because there are so many books geared towards girls of the age. But girls who love reading often reach out to other books, such as the so-called "Boy books" for other material.

It's an interesting reversal of the olden times where girls would be criticized for being too manly and intelligent. Instead, boys are teased for being too feminine

Angela

When I first began writing, I always assumed that my story appealed mostly to young women. And for three reasons that in truth are absolutely ridiculous 1)I'm a girl. 2) My main character is a girl. 3)I write about love. The most ridiculous part is that I assumed boys do not want to read about girls that fall in love. But, as I share my chapters on my blog, about half the people who like or follow me turn out (or pretend to be) male. Naturally, this delights me.
And honestly, I am a little ashamed of myself for making these assumptions. I've long had a theory about "boy" books and "girl" books, and it really has nothing to do with character gender. I've always thought boys gravitated towards books heavy with external conflict, the "action" books, and girls internal conflict, or "emotional" books (and I really hate how that term has gotten negative connotations attached to it, like "melodramatic" and "irrational"). It's a general theory of course, with exceptions to every rule. But the books that I like, yours included, were always a fine balance of internal and external conflict: an appeal to both minds. The gender of a character is only a small factor to the larger picture that becomes a book.

H.P.

Boys are sometimes ridiculed for reading "girl books" but girls aren't ridiculed for reading "boy books"? That's just unfair. I agree with Julie. "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." So true. Why are girls looked down on, anyway? It's been like that for centuries. About 300-500 years ago, the idea of a girl being as intelligent as a man would have been laughed about, probably. In some countries, girls didn't even have a choice about who to marry. They just had to cook, look after the babies, and meekly submit to everything their husband, or any male, told them to do. And now I go talking about this when this post is about books... Back to the topic. In the library I go to, there's a display, if it can be called that, about "Good Books for Boys." There's nothing about good books for girls. Even better, some of my favorite books are in that display. Who said that just because there's a male main character and there's a lot of action in the book, only boys like it???

Amy

My brothers read your books, but, you guessed it, they are homeschooled.

Annie

My class read Princess Acadamy a few years back. And by class... I mean all the girls in it. The boys read another book. And now I wish that the boys would've read it because they might've liked it as much as us girls. I also know lots of homeschool boys, and I wouldn't be surprised if they had a copy of at least one of your books!

Brittany

This is a great reminder to be more aware of how we unintentionally make/support that gender gap. I do love sharing your books with every girl I can think of. But... I never thought of lending The Goose Girl to my nephew, although I've talked to his sisters about it. And I thought I was a feminist! My oldest, a 7yo boy, loves reading Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, but, come to think of it, he prefers Calamity Jack! Is that because there's a boy's name in the title? Is it because of something I've said or done, or does it just happen to be his favorite? (He's read them both multiple times, by the way, and he recently started reading full chapter books by himself. I think the graphic novels are an awesome bridge to that next step. Queue the tears.)

In Isaac's mother's defense, I can see being in that situation and saying something silly like that just because I'm nervous in a crowd, in front of someone famous that I respect, trying to be funny, etc. Then later I would feel totally stupid. "Is that what people think I really think?!" But it's a scary thought that the gender mindset might be so ingrained in some of us that we really do think that way!

So is my son old enough that I can encourage him to read Princess Academy yet?

Will Terry

Maybe it's just me but after reading most of the comments I think we're really only addressing half of the issue. To me there are really two reasons to get kids reading. The first is to to teach kids how to read and to boost their comprehension. The second is reading to understand the world around them. It seems as if almost everyone is only talking about the later.

If you have kids like I was - a reluctant reader with poor comprehension the last thing you want to do is push something they aren't interested in. I was a like a little squirrel - make sudden movements with reading agendas and I was gone - leave a book about survival stories on the kitchen table and I would casually check it out.

I ask you guys - how many of you read subjects you're not interested in today?

-and thanks Megan :)

Rachel Coker

Love this post! It's funny, because I am homeschooled, and I can definitely see a difference in the reading habits of my homeschooled guy friends and my public schooled guy friends. Most of my homeschooled guy friends LOVE your books, Shannon! And they're not ashamed to admit it. ;)

Cheyene Ortega

My brain can't help immediately jumping to the topic of authors choosing sexually ambiguous pen names (or in some cases, women penning under masculine names) in an effort to bridge the gap and confuse gender stereotyping. Would as many boys have read Harry Potter if "Joanne Rowling" was emblazoned on the cover, in lieu of J.K. Rowling?

Cheyene Ortega

And on a different note, I was homeschooled as well as my husband and most his friends, and I can absolutely say with confidence that both his and my reading habits are much more well-rounded than they would have been otherwise. He has read most the Bayern books, as well as most of the other books on my "strong female lead" shelf...time and time again.

Ani Brooke

Will Terry asks, "how many of you read subjects you're not interested in today?"

I don't today - but when I was in college, I ended up breaking my high school vow to major in anything but English because of a required English course. Being forced to try something I THOUGHT I disliked let me find out I actually liked it. This has led me to try books now which I otherwise might avoid - so overall, I'm glad I was forced to take that class.

Of course, one reason I hated English prior to college was the amount of dry, uninteresting, and unpleasant reading I was forced to do in high school. So this could be an argument either way. But since Shannon has already done a wonderful ramble on high school required reading (which I'm going to try to link to here - hope that's coded correctly), I'm not going to touch that discussion. Besides, by high school, students ought to be able to decode well enough and be on to reading to broaden the mind. (says the high school teacher all-too-well aware of the gap between "ought to" and "are")

Camile

I feel that by nature, boys and girls are interested in different subjects. I have a lot of brothers, and they are excited by action and adventure. Intense dialogue and plots based on social interactions simply do not hold their attention. It is true that society pushes boys away from anything 'girly', but it is also true that some things are just more feminine or masculine.

Chelsey Magnuson

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...)

Excellent post, thank you for speaking out about this issue =)

H.P.

If you want books with female leads, read Tamora Pierce's books.

Shehenaz (Age:10)

That happens all the time. I feel bad for them. Just because girls read your books doesnt mean boys cant like them! And it doesnt make sense, because girls read books with boys on the cover and in the plotline and no one says anything to them! BUT, if its vice versa, the boy is made fun/teased. It doesnt make sense at all! Im a girl, but I read your stories and they are so awesome! I say if a boy read them he would really like them. Stop the genderism. It doesnt make sense.

Kitty

This seems to not only apply to books, but to everything. I remember several boys in my neighborhood asking me if i had this toy and that toy only because they were "girl" toys. Once I even thought I wanted to be a boy so i could play with race cars and legos.

I also find it strange that girls can read any book, weather "boy" or "girl."

But why??? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why not just read all literature. I wont condemn a guy for reading a girly book (not if i think its well written and worth reading). Why do we assign this label to everything?

but hey what do I know?

Andrea

Ever since before I was born my mom read a book to my brothers and me every night (a chapter a night). We each took a turn choosing a book and my 2 brothers always graoned when one of the 6 of us girls chose a book they thought was girly, but at the end of each night it was generally one of them saying "Please one more chapter Mom!!" One of my brothers even admits to me that he likes Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and multiple other girl books and movies but he is embarassed to with his guy friends. It is sad that boys have that stigma in their minds when they choose books.

Monica

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Christina

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.

Go home schoolers!

H.P.

Boys aren't interested in the viewpoint of a girl? Why, then, do girls read books from the viewpoint of boys? I don't care if the main character is male or female as long as I like the book itself.

Nancy

I must confess that I an a gender-bending aunt and stepmother. I encourage my nephews (and nieces) and my stepson to read your books. And to read other books that are often deemed "girl books". After introducing my entire gaggle of sibling-produced relatives to Harry Potter, the boys were more than eager to read anything I recommended and sent for birthdays, Christmas, Arbor Day, whatever. Since I've married, my stepson and I have discovered a couple of shared passions: music and good fantasy books. Even though he is now 16, he still asks me if I have anything new that I would suggest he pick up. And my most avid-reader nephews are three brothers who are all in their 20s and don't flinch from "girlie"-looking reading suggestions (one really didn't like P&P by J. Austen, but I will be the first to allow an outlier every now and then [especially because his wife makes him watch all the Austen-based movies]). The all three love the Enchanted Chronicles by Patricia Wrede and will read your books without batting a eye at me or their mother (who might actually love your books a little bit more than me, but only a little bit more).

Nancy

Oh, and all three of those nephews went to public school and graduated valedictorian, salutatorian, valedictorian (in age order).

Jenny

It's true. I think young girls will associate themselves more with strong female protagonists. The strong heroine they see on the front cover is attractive. I think that maybe a boy would read the same kind of book if it had a similar story featuring a good male role-model protagonist.
Remember those Marines recruiting ads in the 80s and 90s featuring a young hero overcoming obstacles and vanquishing his foe? I think the young boys will just pick a book with a hero (on the cover) they think they can identify with more. I will actively browse the young reader and teen sections, and read both girl and boy-oriented books even though I'm almost 40! There are many good stories out there, regardless of gender.

E A C

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. I often have a much easier time getting my tutoring students to read the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull because the covers tend to be less gender specific or even leans toward the male reader slightly, even though one of the two main characters is a girl that has romantic teen relationships. I'm also amazed at how many parents encourage their boys to turn their backs on girl pursuits, or even girl playmates. This weekend we visited my husbands family. My nephew had an injury he needed to keep clean and dry, so he was left out of the pool activities. The entire family lamented how he had nothing to do except sulk and watch TV. NO ONE mentioned that my daughter and his sister, who didn't want to swim, were also in the room with him playing games the entire time. He decided he didn't want to play with girls. So everyone pitied him and made special allowances for him, but no one expected him to play with the girls who were exactly his age. It amazed me.

Margie

My two sons are in their 20s now and both love to read. It wasn't always like that. When the oldest was in about first grade he told me that people like to do different things, his big sister liked to read, he liked to do other things. I informed him that he still needed to learn to read. Maybe Cathy liked one type of book, but we would find what kind of book he liked. We discovered the section of the library with Zoobooks and books about airplanes, tanks and war. I read fiction to him, but when he read to himself it was usually non-fiction. As he got older he took a liking to history but also discovered that he liked fantasy as well. I know he follows you on Twitter, but I will have to ask him if he has read your books.

My other son struggled to learn to read and I was willing to let him read anything that would interest him. We didn't think of them as boy books or girl books, just good books. I read to and with him every night and always felt like I was trying to sell him on reading. It finally took when he discovered the Redwall books in Junior High. School was still a struggle for him, but he considers himself a reader and that was my goal.

I don't like the idea of classifying books as for boys or girls, but even as adults, my husband and I both like to read, but we read different things. Last year he read Street Fighter, about the fall of Bear Stearns, and I read Street Gang, about the history of Sesame Street. Isn't it great that there are books for everyone?

Andy

I recently went to a book signing with my wife. The protagonist of the book was a young female. When we got to the table, there was no line. The author glanced over me, dismissed me, and engaged with my wife (to be fair: 1. They had chatted online a bit already and 2. I'm a 6'7" guy who tends to favor jeans and motorcycle boots and is too lazy to shave every day). We all tend to codify people in frequently detrimental ways.

I think the covers idea that was mentioned is a good point. The covers to the Bayern series tend to skew feminine. This makes it less likely for a masculine reader (or a reader desperate to be seen as masculine) to pick up, let alone carry around, a book like that.

Truth be told, I thought Goose Girl was a more feminine book. The two that followed were a bit less so.

To be honest, we ought to foster reading regardless of preferences for masculinity and femininity in stories. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to sidle up to getting people to engage with books outside their preferred norms. This is why when I teach older works in college, I've found a lot of success in bringing in superheroes as a comparative. Granted, segregation for Hale's presentations by gender is problematic. But, unfortunately, until we men change the stereotype, most guys, if given the option, would choose to skip a presentation by a "girly writer" (but they should be given the choice, not have it made for them by school administrators).

echo

Well, I think it goes both ways. I mean, I grew up in a house that was mostly dominated by men (4 boys) and to try and prove I WAS a girl I wouldn't read books about boys. I started reading teen fiction when I was 7 and only now am I forcing myself to read books about boys. So you really cant say this only applies to boys because given the right circumstances it could apply to girls too.

Katie Boord

I was the first one to read your books in my family, and after reading them I talked about them so much that my older brother, even though he's fifteen, read them as well. He loved the Books of Bayern, but I haven't gotten him to read Princess Academy yet. Though he is writing a story with a female main character, which kind of amazes me, we have five brothers and I am his only sister. But I do think it's a shame that girl books have become "uncool" for most boys. Some of the best books are "girl" books.

Dawn Anderson

I love what you're saying here! :) My son is 15 and he would not ever read Princess Academy. But I recently read The False Prince and told him what a wonderful book it was (seeing as it was about a "boy". Even my 8 year old would not ever "want"to read a book with a girl on the cover. BUT it seems girls don't CARE if something is written about a boy, or from a boy's perspective. I don't know. I have 5 boys and just one girl, and so far she is by far the one that gets the greatest joy from reading. My 8 year old has been reading since he was 3, so I don't think it has anything to do with level of reading, just the genre or "type" of book. I don't think it has anything to do with the gender of the author either. If someone figures it out, though, I would love to know the secret to get boys to read more. (Besides Diary of a Wimpy Kid which my older boys just LOVE and have read the series at least 3 times!)

Dawn Anderson

Oh, and also the Harry Potter series with the boy as the main character. Right now my son is reading Lord of the Rings, and recently re-read the first book in the "Halo" series (**sigh**, but at least he's reading, right??? ;)

Christina

An interesting thing happened with my 12 year-old nephew, who is staying with us for a few weeks. The first day he was here, I pulled out The Goose Girl and announced that I would be reading it aloud to all the kids (5 boys, 1 girl). My nephew looked sideways at me, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and promptly fell asleep. So, yesterday, I thought I would try a different tactic. As we drove into the big city to visit the museum, I put on The Goose Girl on CD. We got through the entire first part of the book, thanks to traffic jams. As we pulled into our driveway at the end of the day, the first thing my nephew said to me was, "Aunt Christina, do you have a copy of that book?" I walked into the house and handed it to him, and he stayed up late into the night reading. He's hooked.

Stephanie

Yes, it annoys me that females are just as happy to read a book or see a movie with a male main character, but males will not be caught dead watching a movie or reading a book with the main character being a girl. My boys are like that (even though they were homeschooled). Drives me crazy.

Megan

You're welcome, Will! This past winter I was in Rick Walton's class and I remember you coming to speak with a few other illustrators. I especially enjoyed your speed painting videos!

You asked how many of us read books that don't interest us--the answer, for me, is not many. It's a good question to consider when getting reluctant readers to read. But I would ask a different question: WHY do so many boys shy away from reading "girl" books? I believe (and I could be wrong) that Shannon's post offers an explanation. Whether it be the publishing industry, a teacher, or a family member, there are people in a kid's reading life that influence that decision to dismiss, without a personal exploration on the part of the kid, any story that skews female. And I think that's wrong. I don't think ALL boys MUST read "girl books." But I think we could get out of their way and let them choose for themselves, because some boys would like them if not for a perceived stigma. Some boys wouldn't. And that's okay because they would have chosen for themselves.

It's my hope that more boys would read books about girls and by girls. The Call of the Wild is a great book full of action and adventure--and there are plenty of books like Call of the Wild that feature female protagonists.

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