Big Brilliant Colouring Book for Boys, Big Beautiful Colouring Book for Girls - photo: @CratesNRibbons

Letter to Buster Books

Buster Books, the children’s imprint of Michael O’Mara Books, is one of the biggest publishers of gender-labelled children’s titles, including ‘The Big Brilliant Colouring Book for Boys’ and the ‘Big Beautiful Colouring Book for Girls’. We wrote to Michael O’Mara to explain why it’s time to Let Books Be Books, but we haven’t yet had a reply.

Michael O’Mara responded to the launch of the Let Books Be Books campaign in a comment to the Independent back in March, saying that gender-specific titles are ‘easier to sell’. We don’t think profits justify telling children what they should or shouldn’t like.

and if you haven’t already, please sign our Let Books Be Books petition.

Dear Mr O’Mara,

We are writing to follow-up on our Let Books Be Books petition, which asks Buster Books to stop labelling books as either ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’.

We are aware of your earlier indirect response to our petition in March 2014 via an article in The Independent, in which you described positive responses from Usborne and Parragon as “knee-jerk reactions”, and were quoted as saying, “The proof is in the pudding. Our two best children books ever are The Boys’ Book and The Girls’ Book….we sold 500,000 copies of The Girls’ Book. These statistics tell me I’m going in the right direction.”

We realise that you run a business for profit, but a business that creates products for children has a responsibility to ensure that those products don’t come at the price of children’s well being. We have been contacted by many parents, teachers and supporters who have serious concerns about several of the titles currently on your website and being marketed in shops across the UK. They believe, as we do, that labelling books by gender narrows children’s choices and imaginations by telling them what they ‘should’ be reading, instead of letting them choose books that interest them.

We believe that limiting children’s book choices in such an arbitrary way is confusing for children and can be detrimental to their development, and may also lead to bullying and “gender policing” within their peer groups. If the books you publish send narrow messages to children, and restrict their reading choices, then Buster Books is failing to be a responsible publisher of books suitable for children.

You might be interested in the outcome of our follow-up meeting with Usborne. They acknowledged that some people do buy ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ books, but Peter Usborne said that, even if they were to lose sales, “We will do this because it is the right thing to do.”

Many supporters have told us that they refuse to buy gendered books, and make a choice to buy more inclusive books instead. Our supporters are also increasingly putting pressure on retailers not to stock these limiting titles. The children’s book buyer for Waterstones bookstore has now confirmed to us that they will not buy in any new gendered titles. It is also our understanding that after customer complaints, the National Trust has agreed to remove two of your titles, The Boys’ Miscellany and The Girls’ Miscellany, from their shops and review their list of gendered titles.

We have had positive interactions with other publishers and retailers including Paperchase who said they would no longer produce their gendered activity books, and DK Books who have confirmed that their future publishing lists will not include any gendered titles.

We are writing to you directly now in the hope that you will reconsider your decision to continue producing these books. We were pleased to see ‘The Clever Kids Colouring Book’ on your site. This is exactly the kind of product we want to encourage, and we hope this represents a new direction for your publishing programme.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this further. We look forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards,

Tessa Trabue
Let Toys Be Toys

Header photo credit: @CratesNRibbons

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