Boy Books or Girl Books

Shannon Hale offers insight (and, for this reader, at least, a touch of heartbreak) in her post, Why Boys Don’t Read Girls (Sometimes).

It’s about boys reading “girl” books.

A lot is written about reading, and boys reading, and girls reading. (See my post from a few months back, Boys, Girls, Books, for instance).

Hale addresses a specific issue: boys being taught by society that some books are too “girly” for them, that books are indeed either “girl books” or “boy books” and that this artificially keeps boys from reading books they would otherwise like. Go read the whole thing, but here it is in a nutshell: “There’s something that happens to our boys in school. Maybe it’s because they’re around so many other boys, and the pressure to be a boy is high. They’re looking around at each other, trying to figure out what it means to be a boy—and often their conclusion is to be “not a girl.” Whatever a girl is, they must be the opposite. So a book written by a girl? With a girl on the cover? Not something a boy should be caught reading. But something else happens in school too. Without even meaning to perhaps, the adults in the boy’s life are nudging the boy away from “girl” books to “boy” books. When I go on tour and do school visits, sometimes the school will take the girls out of class for my assembly and not invite the boys. I talk about reading and how to fall in love with reading. I talk about storytelling and how to start your own story. I talk about things that aren’t gender-exclusive. But because I’m a girl and there are girls on my covers, often I’m deemed a girl-only author.”

And the heartbreak? She mentioned a book signing, attended by a mother and her children, and when the boy looked interested in Hale’s books the mother stopped the son from getting an autographed book by saying, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in a girl book?” and the sisters all giggled.”

If boys (or girls, for that matter) want to read action, or humor, I’m not saying, give them a thick tome that is all about character development, emotions, and setting.

No, I’m about respecting the reader and giving them what they want.

But if a boy wants action and adventure? And loves stories about spies, with some humor? And you tell them about a great series about teens who are in a secret spy school, learning how to be spies in their regular classes and going on missions, and using and inventing cool gadgets, and the only reason that boy says “no” to that series is because it’s author is a woman, the spies in question are teenage girls, and the covers show girls, then there is something wrong. The book has all the elements for the reading story that reader wants, and the reason for the “no” is based entirely on the main characters being girls.

If boys will read fantasies were the cast of characters is mice or cats, why not read ones with girls?

Stripped to the elements of story, without regard to whether the main character is male or female, many times “girl” books meet the reading needs of boys. And instead of saying to those readers, “yes, Georgia Nicolson is hysterical, you’ll laugh the entire time” we at best don’t even offer or pitch that book because it’s a “girl book” or at worst do what that mother basically did: explicitly prevent the reader from reading that book because it is a “girl book.”

Part of the reason boys don’t read is, no doubt, their reading choices aren’t respected. Part of the reason is perhaps the adults in their lives only value some books and not the books the reader wants to read. But another part of that reason is a society that teaches boys that there are such things as “girl books” that boys shouldn’t read.

And that’s just sad.

Edited to add: Shannon Hale posted again, with some reaction to her post, at Boys Shamed For Reading Girl Books.


10 thoughts on “Boy Books or Girl Books

  1. Actually, it was the comment on her tumblr about how this is sort of a sexism — that not allowing boys to read/like/immerse themselves in girl things adds to the repression of women, because if books/movies about women/girls are not valued by men, then how can women be valued by men — is what really struck me.

    If I had a boy, I’d like to say I was encouraging him to read books with female protagonists, but I do have to admit mostly selling boys, and parents of boys, “boy” books.

    On the other hand: Hunger Games was loved by both sexes, I think. So there are exceptions. I wish there were more, though.


  2. Melissa, now I’m thinking Hunger Games but also book blurbs and covers. HG had a cover that didn’t have a girl in a prom dress, and, easily it could have (Katniss during the ceremonies). Some covers themselves don’t portray the appeal of the book accurately; or, rather, show a narrower appeal than the book could have. And many readers encounter a book not thru a bookseller/librarian booktalking/handselling but from finding it themselves on the shelf. Plus the blurb was the hunger games, not a romance (peeta v gale).


  3. Everyone should read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn.
    This is a real eyeopener about the mentality and cultural traditions that have contributed to the subjugation and victimization of women.
    This is an ADULT book and quite graphic in parts, but well researched.


  4. We had tons of boys reading about that spy school after Ally Carter came to our school afew years ago. They loved them.


  5. I like in the original post (right before the part you quoted) that Hale mentioned the majority of boys who do come to her for signings are homeschooled. I taught in a public school. I currently work with homeschooled kids. The difference in the social interaction between the genders in those two groups is night and day. The boys and girls interact with each other as individuals in a way I never saw in the traditional classroom. (No matter how hard I worked to encourage it. There were simply some paradigms in their heads I couldn’t break through in 180 days.)


  6. Oops, I hit submit accidentally.

    I was going to add that I think this might be because homeschool kids learn side by side with their siblings and therefore don’t segregate into groups like happens in a traditional school. (It’s also why homeschool kids interact easily with a variety of age groups). The boys value their sisters, and also spend a great deal of time with their mother, and that tumbles into their interactions with other females. I had one boy in my group last year who didn’t want to read ELLA ENCHANTED because it was a “girl book”. He was told by the other boys to get over it and one actually said, “You know girls are people and interesting too.” Every single one of those other boys has a sister he spends his days with.

    I have thought a lot about this and I don’t know how you would replicate this thinking in a traditional school environment.


  7. Gloria, thanks for the suggestion.

    Lea, Excellent!

    Brandy, yes, that the boys who are reading Hale’s “girl” books are those who are homeschooled struck me, also. What can we do in school/library/bookstores?


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