I am excited to be a guest blogger and share a fantastic experience we had in our library. After hearing Shannon speak at UELMA last spring about a mother gathering autographed books for her daughters and then asking her son if he wanted a “girl book” signed for him, the gears in my brain went to work. As a librarian, how could I change that perspective with my students? And so the Boy/Girl Book challenge was created.
To start my lesson, I talked about reading books and magazines that my kids, who are young adults now, read so I can find out more about what they like and then we can have great conversations about those topics and I get to know them better. I, in turn, share articles and books with them, and they get to know me better. It might be car magazines, outdoor adventures, travel books, cookbooks, or just some great fiction. It’s a great way to understand people better.
Then I told them I wanted to share two great books with them. I gave a short, but very descriptive, summary of “Island of the Blue Dolphin” by Scott O’Dell and “Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper, but I kept gender out of the description all together. I also wrapped the books to hide their covers. I chose these books because I felt they had several things in common. They are stories with history, Native American ties, struggle, and survival. They both have a beautiful sense of tragedy and heroism. I did point out that one was written by a woman and one by a man, but didn’t tell them which.
After my descriptions, I started asking questions to see if they had listened and which book sounded interesting to them. I asked what they noticed about the two books that was similar, and what was different. Then I asked, by raise of hands, which one would they read and maybe it would be both.
I then left that point of my lesson, and shared the experience that Shannon had shared with us that I mentioned earlier. Their reactions were wonderful and exactly what I was hoping for. They were dismayed, outraged, and had lots to say on the subject. I let them express their feelings for about a minute and then began the challenge.
I uncovered the books and reminded them about each story, but this time, letting them know which one was about a girl and which was about a boy. I pointed out that the author of Ghost Hawk was a woman and a man had written the other. I asked if they thought that authors wrote books for only boys to read or only for girls, or did they write books for people to read. By now some of the students began to catch on, and there were some groans and rolling of eyes, but we pressed on!
I then challenged the girls to check out what they would consider to be a “boy book” and the boys to check out a “girl book”. More moans and groans! Then I used their words of dismay, outrage, and other thoughts against them! They quickly surrendered because they knew their protests would be lost on me! Then I turned them loose on the library and watched amazing things unfold! Boys were recommending books to girls. Girls were recommending books to boys. In some cases I heard, “Well if I read this book, you have to read one I give you!” but, they were listening to descriptions from each other and taking their advice!! It was GREAT!
I did a follow up “Book Talk” two weeks later, so the kids could share what they were reading and what they had learned. In most cases, they had discovered that they could read anything they wanted to in the library and were learning about different perspectives. It was twenty marvelous minutes of students teaching students! I did give all of the students who participated a book mark to thank them, but I didn’t tell them at the start they would earn a reward for participation. That was a surprise.
Two interesting things I observed through this little experiment. One: this was certainly not mandatory, and a few of my cool boys resisted at first, but when they saw how many others were participating, they slowly began to get involved. They really got interested after they heard students sharing what they had read during Book Talk and asked if it was too late to be part of it.
Second: I had two boys whose parents told them to return their books because they didn’t want them reading girl books. One father was concerned that the pink book about dragons and princesses wasn’t something his son should read. The boys came to me, still wanting to participate, but couldn’t have the books they had checked out. I told them they could check them in or maybe there was something they could come up with to solve the problem. One boy went back home and explained everything again to the parents. His book still had to be turned in. The other kept his book at school and finished it.
I did this experience with my third through sixth graders and it got such great response that a couple of months later, I did something similar, but this time profiling our “ugly books”. They loved this one too!
The first week back in library this year, the first question that was asked in every class was, “Are we going to do the challenges again this year?” I am happy to report that it is now trendy to read “girl books” and “boy books” because the books in our library are for EVERYONE to enjoy!
Thanks for this opportunity, Shannon! I would love to share ideas and get feedback from all you fabulous librarians out there.
Margaret Millward firstname.lastname@example.org
Margaret Millward has been the librarian at West Bountiful Elementary for six years. She is the mother of three fabulous young adults and has two (almost three) adorable grandchildren. and a very patient husband. She is passionate about all things creative and educational and combines the two whenever possible to get kids thinking deeper and outside the box.
EDIT: Shannon Hale here. I adore Margaret’s experiment and I hope many more librarians and teachers feel inspired to try it in their classrooms and libraries. A note on the books cited here (Island of the Blue Dolphins and Ghost Hawk): noted Native scholar Debbie Reese writes in the comments below, “Both misrepresent Native peoples and cultures, and we need not do that, right?“
Her thoughts on Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Other librarians have suggested books like Louise Erdrich’s BIRCHBARK HOUSE and Tim Tingle’s HOW I BECAME A GHOST instead.