There’s No Such Thing as ‘Boy Books’ and ‘Girl Books’
Students’ fictional explorations can sometimes be limited by societal pressures.
One thing I’ve encountered a lot is the gendered expectations imposed on kids (especially boys) when it comes to choosing reading material. Girls who are voracious readers are still considered to be “normal,” but a boy who is voracious reader is viewed as wasting his time, or acting childish when he should be out doing something more productive.
There’s still a mindset that “boy books” have to be action-packed with little to no emotion, while “girl books” are more emotional and relational. However, at the events I’ve done, I’ve had boys tell me they like emotional books, and girls say they like action books. I think our society is beginning to realize this and move towards declassifying certain books as “boy books” or “girl books,” but there is still plenty of room for growth.
For instance, I was volunteering at a Back to School book event at a department store when I saw a family come in with two young boys dressed for baseball practice. There was a popular book series at the time called The Sisters Grimm (like the Brothers Grimm, but with a pair of girls instead). When the younger boy got excited about seeing this book series he liked in the store, the father insisted that those weren’t the kind of books he should be reading.
When we limit children to what kind of books they are “allowed” to read because of their gender (or other factors), we are limiting their ability to experience the world from a different point of view, a point of view that may teach them something incredibly valuable.
Despite instances like that, I still believe our culture is moving in a very positive direction when it comes to encouraging children to read and explore a variety of books from a variety of viewpoints. I see a growing desire for diverse characters in books—which my publisher, Capstone, embraces fully—and more openness to let children read the books they want, regardless of stereotypes.
One thing I love about writing (and reading) children’s fiction is that it’s so optimistic. The characters are admirable, good is rewarded, and there’s this sense of innocence and wonder that reflects what children are like as a readership. They engage so intensely with the stories they read, because they’re still eager to learn and excited about reading.
That’s how I know that fiction can make a difference when teaching children how to treat each other. When children see our diverse world displayed in the fiction they read, they learn that we’re all not that different from each other. When they see how the heroic characters they act towards others, they begin to find the hero within themselves, who is full of empathy, compassion, and respect.