Since we launched our campaign, eleven children’s publishers have agreed to take the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books and allow children to choose freely what kinds of stories and activity books interest them.
How can a story be only for a girl, or a sticker be just for a boy? But titles like ‘The Beautiful Girls’ Book of Colouring’ or ‘Illustrated Classics for Boys’ are on the shelves in toyshops, bookstores and supermarkets around the UK and Ireland.
Just like labelling toys ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ these books send out very limiting messages to children about what kinds of things are appropriate for girls or for boys. Blue covers, with themes of action and adventure, robots, space, trucks and pirates contrast with a riot of pink sparkles, fairies, princesses, flowers and butterflies. But real children’s interests are a lot more diverse, and more interesting, than that.
Why does it matter?
Children are listening, and take seriously the messages they receive from books, from toys, from marketing and the adults around them. Do we really want them to believe that certain things are off-limits for them because of their gender? They’re not ‘getting it wrong’ if a girl likes robots, or if a boy wants to doodle flowers. These artificial boundaries turn children away from their true preferences, and provide a fertile ground for bullying.
Just like labelling toys for girls or boys, we think these book titles are limiting and restrictive. It’s time that publishers Let Books Be Books and leave children free to choose their interests for themselves.
Reactions to the campaign
We were really pleased that respected educational publishers Usborne were the first to announce that they will not be commissioning any new boys/girls titles, saying in the Guardian that a plan to “discontinue publication of titles such as these was decided some time ago”. They added that the company takes “feedback on gender-specific titles very seriously”, and now has “no plans to produce any titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the future”.
Since then, Buster Books, Scholastic, Parragon, Egmont, Ladybird Books (Random House), Chad Valley, Dorling Kindersley, Miles Kelly and Hachette publishers have told us they will not be releasing any new girl/boy labelled titles, and Paperchase have agreed to withdraw gendered activity books.
We’re also happy to have had very supportive media coverage in the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent newspapers (see below), with prominent authors speaking out in support of the campaign, including former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, current Laureate Malorie Blackman, Poet Laureate Carol-Ann Duffy, and author of the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, Philip Pullman.
Who’s holding out for gendered marketing?
While we are seeing changes, publishers including Igloo Books and Autumn publishing continue to label books by gender. Do let us know via Twitter, facebook or email if you see any others.
We haven’t had a reply – see the letter for contact details to help us get a response.