Twinkle Twinkle Little SMASH! The Princess in Black is off to an amazing start. It's currently on the New York Times best seller list and was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year (see me and Dean in a short video interview) and an Amazon Best Book. We've been overwhelmed by parents reporting that it's become a favorite book at their house, with some precious children sleeping with it hugged to their chest. Yes, that sound you hear is me choking up.
I recently signed about 60 copies of the book for people in my neighborhood, which was a lovely experience. However, I noticed that the parents all asked me to sign the book for their daughters. I know these families so I knew that almost all of them also had sons in the book's age range. It reminded me again that adults are the ones who tell kids what they should and shouldn't be reading. I've met loads of 3-4 year old boys who don't think twice about wanting to read The Princess in Black. By age 5-7, however, they've been shamed for liking something about a girl, often subtly. If we don't give our boys books about girls (princesses even!) then we're quietly saying, these books aren't for you.
I have seen several times, right in front of me, dads shoo their sons away from my books.
"Are you sure you want to read something called Princess Academy?"
"Those are for girls."
Moms aren't usually so obvious. It's more subtle, like getting a book about a girl signed for "The Anderson girls" or "Mama's princesses" while a son lingers nearby.
About three years ago I got a bookcase for my son's room, and as I went through all our middle grade books, I found myself picking out the ones about boys for his shelves and setting aside the ones about girls for my daughter's, until finally I was like, wait, what am I doing?? It's so easy to fall into this trap. Parents are all trying our best. I know we don't mean any harm. But I hope that if I keep talking about this, we'll all become more aware. I believe reading books is one of the best ways to gain real empathy for people different from ourselves, and helping boys develop empathy for girls is a cause worth fighting for.