"For Girls" and "For Boys"
Occasionally, I receive books from Canadian publishers that are marketed and labeled as “for girls” and “for boys." Not surprisingly, this practice is considered offensive by many people because it so obviously aims to exclude readers. So how exactly do I handle these gender-specific books when they arrive in my mailbox? Good question! I put them on the reviewer shelves outside my office, making them available to our dedicated team of Deakin reviewers to decide for themselves whether they wish to read and review books that are so obviously gender segregated. In other words, we don’t censor books.
You can imagine my surprise when I read a pledge on March 16th by literary editor Katy Guest that the Independent on Sunday will no longer review any book which is aimed exclusively at boys or girls. Guest explained, “What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them” (http://www.independent.co.uk). I wholeheartedly agree that children’s books should be available to all children, but the irony here is that Guest has made a firm commitment to not review gender-specific books, making them unavailable to Independent readers. She warns publishers not to send books in “glittery pink covers” because they will “go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys.” Naturally, many journalists and readers were appalled and swiftly denounced Guest’s decision to ignore an entire category of children’s books.
Publishers have their reasons for marketing books the way they do, and while we may not agree with their strategies, they have every right to market their books to a target audience with pink covers, sparkles, co-packaged toys, multimedia, etc. They are doing what they believe is necessary to help readers figure out what to buy, just like we reserve the right to review all genres of children’s books to help our readers decide what to read. Rest assured, if we review children’s books that are too narrowly marketed to one gender, we’ll say so and we’ll also be frank with our readers about why it is or is not a good book. So, dear publishers, please continue to send us your gender-labeled books, but be advised that we’ll want to understand and assess why your book does not appeal to all children.
Happy reading (to readers of all genders)!Robert Desmarais