By Tricia Lowther, originally published in the Guardian.
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and its more recent male equivalent Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, are among a clutch of bestselling children’s books that supposedly break down gender stereotypes. By sharing tales of inspirational women and men who succeeded against the prevailing stereotypes of their time, these books aim to challenge ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. But could they actually be reinforcing the problem? Read more…
New research released this week by the Observer newspaper shows how picture books present children a worryingly lopsided view of the world: with males outnumbering females 2:1 among significant speaking characters, and male villains in 89% of books with ‘baddies’. Jess Day takes a look at the results.
The Observer’s research looked at 2017’s 100 top selling picture books: non-human characters (animals and monsters) were nearly twice as likely to be male, while you were twenty times more likely to come across an all-male book, than an all-female book.
- "When I was a kid I devoured comics.The Beano, Dandy, Nutty, Whizzer and Chips, Beezer, Buster - basically anything funny I could get my hands on. The Beano was always my top read, filled with such favourites as Dennis the Menace and Roger the Dodger. However, The first strip I always turned to was Minnie the Minx. It never even occurred to me that I was reading about a girl! She was the funniest and, most of the time, the naughtiest. (Sorry Dennis, please don't set Gnasher on me!)This year I started writing for the Beano. My first strip was a Minnie and I couldn't have been happier. To me, Minnie is the Beano. Always was, always will be!" Children's and YA author, Cavan Scott
- "M loves his Peppa Pig books. His favourite character is Suzy Sheep."
- "As a child, I thought she was called 'Alison Wonderland' and I loved her adventures. It never even occurred to me that we weren't the same gender. Now, as a writer, I see that Alice is the first great character of children's literature: an iconic heroine who transcends gender, age and time. Every book I write owes her a debt." Author, SF Said
- "I love Daisy because she is so funny. She does silly things and always says it isn't her fault"
- "The Hunger Games is a brilliant book - a thrilling, thought-provoking story that grabs you from the first page. It makes you angry about injustice, stupidity and cruelty. And Katniss is the sort of hero we can all look up to." Children’s author and poet, John Dougherty
- "P loves reading about Sophie and all of the mischief and adventures she gets up to. Best of all she is also 7, just like him!"
- "When I was growing up, lots of my favourite characters were girls - Pippi Longstocking, Marmalade Atkins, Dorothy Gale, the Blackett Sisters. The book I'm reading here is called 'Travel Light', its about a little girl who's brought up by dragons before going out to explore the real world. It's a bit like 'The Hobbit', only backwards, and it's completely great." Author, Tom Huddleston
- "Since childhood I have loved Little My from Tove Jansson's Moomin books. She is subversive, dangerous, wise, and unlike any other character I can think of anywhere." Author, Illustrator, and TV Director, Joel Stewart
- reading Sophie's complete adventures on a long ferry trip to Spain
- "In childhood, it's heros like Matilda that really matter. She's only five years old but, by using her intelligence and imagination, takes on the formidable Miss Trunchbull and wins." Simon, London.
- 5yo Joe (who doesn't stay still!) loves Clarice Bean
- "As a boy I loved adventure books like C.S Lewis's The Silver Chair. Jill is the main character and she travels across the Wildlands on a mission to rescue Prince Caspian" Alan, Durham.
- "I always enjoyed getting Milly Molly Mandy books from my local library when I was a child. I never thought of them as 'girls' books." Barry, London.
- “September’s an amazing role model for all ages and genders, especially since she’s not tied down by stereotypes. She’s a fantastic character with a uniquely cynical personality"
Children’s publishers often say that boys won’t read about girls. We think it’s plain daft to think that boys aren’t capable of empathising with half the planet’s population, and irresponsible to market books in a way that suggests they’re not meant to.
We asked a few boys (and former boys!) to tell us about books that they love featuring girls. Read more…
Our friends at Letterbox Library have picked out some great books that offer an alternative to fighting and snot vs fairies and cupcakes. Which books do you love that show boys exploring their emotional side, or girls making their mark?
At Letterbox Library all our books are chosen by a team of volunteer reviewers: teachers and parents and children. We know that followers of Let Toys Be Toys will have their favourites so we’ve tried to introduce some lesser-known titles into the mix. (Ages are guidelines only) Read more…
Let Toys Be Toys campaigner Tessa Trabue reflects on what her son loves to read, and asks, if it’s true that many boys won’t read about girls, where are they getting the idea that they shouldn’t? Read more…
Fen and Kerry of stereotype-busting children’s booksellers, Letterbox Library, take a look at the gendered world of reading, and ask, why are publishers so keen to tell children which sort of stories are for them?
Flick through pretty much any publisher’s catalogue these days, or search using the same publisher’s website and you will most likely be hit by a collection of books which have been so gender-specifically packaged that they even include the words ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the title. Read more…