Child's drawing of a person holding a book that says 'Let Books Be Books' on the cover, surrounded by children's names

‘No books should be ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls” Els, 8, tells Scholastic

Eight-year-old Els was really annoyed to see books labelled ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ in the range brought to her school by the regular Scholastic book fair. Annoyed enough to want to write to the publisher, and get her school friends and their grown ups behind her.

Amazing things for boys to make and do book

One of the books that caught Els’ eye in the Scholastic catalogue

Updated 22/4 with response from Scholastic – see below.

Her Mum got in touch with us, saying, “Termly my daughter’s school has a Scholastic book fair and catalogues are sent home with the children to drum up interest. Els regularly takes exception to (for example) pirate books labelled for boys, and pet books for girls, so I told her about petitions. She typed up the petition the same morning and went off to school touting her cause.”

Taking action

It’s great to hear about children recognising the limiting messages of these titles, and challenging publishers on their responsibility to young readers. Here’s what Els had to say about her petition:

Els_friends_540“I started this petition to Scholastic because they are selling books called ‘FOR BOYS’ and ‘FOR GIRLS’, I want to stop that. Why? Because girls may not like things that are labelled ‘FOR GIRLS’, they might want a monster book labelled ‘FOR BOYS’. Books should be for everyone and we all like different things.

“I think this is very wrong because if you tell that girl she could not have one of the books she likes, when she grows up she might feel lonely because she thinks that all the other girls like pretty, pink princesses and she doesn’t.

“Scholastic come to my school and everyone’s very excited – they spend lots of money and so I think Scholastic should be more responsible about what they are selling to all my friends.

“I don’t want my friends to grow up being sad and lonely because they think they are different. They should be happy because we are ALL different and different is the best.

“Scholastic are showing my friends what they should like and do but I think we should all be able to choose for ourselves.

“Scholastic send home catalogues from our school and get lots of money from our mums and dads and they are telling us what to read, I think it is wrong.

“I hope Scholastic listen to my petition and change what they sell and I hope it makes them think about selling these types of books because the book fairs are so important to us.”

Els’ petition

Els_artwork_friends_540

Els and her friends made this piece of artwork to send with the petition

The petition is now winging its way to Scholastic through the post, with over 80 signatures collected from Els’ school friends, teachers and family members. We look forward to hearing how Scholastic respond.

To SCHOLASTIC Book Club XD

No books should be ‘FOR GIRLS’ or ‘FOR BOYS’.

When I was younger I got a prize, a Barbie maker, and my boy friends who got prizes got Tonka Trucks – which was what I wanted. I was sad.

What if a girl wanted a pirate book and it said ‘FOR BOYS’, she might say ‘What’s wrong with me, I like boy’s stuff?’

Els_envelope_300

Els petition is on its way to Scholastic in the post

I don’t like that. It might make her feel lonely and like being different is wrong. See? If you could stop advertising and selling books labelled this way we would all appreciate it. We are all different and like different things and this many people agree with me…

Els, age 8

Scholastic

Scholastic don’t currently publish any titles labelled ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, [See correction below] but they do stock them in the catalogues distributed in schools as part of their programme of school book fairs.

We don’t think gender is a good guide to a child’s interests, and that marketing books ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ can be actively harmful to children’s reading as well as sending limiting and outdated messages about what boys and girls are ‘supposed’ to be like.

Scholastic_bookpicker

Questions for a 7-8 year old boy or girl from Scholastic’s online ‘book picker’ tool – click to view a larger image.

So we’re concerned that the children’s ‘Book wizard’ on the Scholastic website offers very different questions, and different books to boys and girls. The questions make some big assumptions about children’s interests. For example, if you’re a boy, you won’t even be asked whether you like pets – that’s strictly for the girls it seems!

We’d like to see Scholastic drop or rewrite the book picker to recognise that children’s reading interests aren’t dictated by their gender, and to drop ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ titles from their book fairs. As the only major publisher with this kind of presence in schools, we feel they have a particular responsibility to market books in an inclusive way.

Update 22/4 Response from Scholastic

Scholastic press office have replied to our email and sent Let Toys Be Toys a statement:

“At Scholastic, we care passionately about children reading, and our Book Clubs and Fairs are designed to offer children the widest selection of books from the majority of UK publishers. We do not label books as being ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ in our leaflets or at our fairs as we encourage free choice. The Pirate Book for boys which you refer to in your blog post was bought from another publisher and was only featured on our March Clubs leaflet in order to clear stock – it will not be featured again. Our website is in the process of being re-launched and new Book Wizard will be part of that work.”

We’ve responded, asking them to confirm whether this means they will not be promoting any further titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ at book fairs from now on, and also asking whether a redeveloped Book Wizard will offer the same range of choices to boys and girls.

Warstoriesforboys

One review of this book on the Scholastic site reads, ‘I enjoyed this book even though I am a girl’

A supporter has pointed out to us that Scholastic do in fact have some ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labelled titles, including ‘War Stories for Boys’ and we’ve asked if they will also be discontinuing or renaming these titles.

We’re also looking forward to hearing that Scholastic have responded directly to Els about her petition.

Eight publishers have now committed to no further titles labelled ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ following our Let Books Be Books campaign, which has gained high-profile support from authors including Malorie Blackman, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris, John Dougherty, SF Said and Chuck Wendig.

Sign books petition

17 Comments

  1. John Lightfoot

    No 8 year old would care at all, this child has been manipulated by an adult, this campaign is all about grown ups manipulating children and taking childhood off them.

    • steven S

      I’m a friend of the family concerned and can tell you that children are full of opinions. When they’re nurtured and brought up in the right way, through good education and the freedom to express themselves then they are definitely likely to care about and talk about things such as this.

    • It may be more comfortable for you to believe that John, but as you haven’t met Els, you may not be best placed to speak about what she does and doesn’t care about. Children are generally very good at spotting things that seem unfair to them – as her mother explains, Els felt strongly about this, her mother explained a way that she could do something about it. Els wrote the petition herself, talked to her friends about it, and they decided to support her.

      Our campaign is very much about allowing children the chance to enjoy their childhood without adults telling them what they should and shouldn’t like because of their gender. In contrast, marketing that tells girls and boys that their interests should fit in neat ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ boxes is highly manipulative.

      • John Lightfoot

        Well from your comments your children seem to be far more developed than any I have ever met including my own children but I still say that boys and girls are totally different and all you are doing is taking away any guidance that is being given.

        • John, I know where you are coming from. Our society is so permeated gender concepts, so much so, that it seems normal now. My daughter picked out green and black boots for winter last year and one of her friends told her they were boy boots, the implication being that she was not allowed to wear those colours and she should take them back to the store and buy some pink/purple/sparkly ones. She told them there was no such thing as “boy boots” and went on her merry way, but this incidence really affected me. This was the day I really started seeing the everyday things we do to police gender and who we are allowed to be.

          I want my girls to be everything. To be able to imagine limitless possibilities.

          We are so entrenched in the assertion that males and females magically and innately prefer different things, that it has become possible for us to see things like these books for what they are: barriers.

          Barriers to what and who we can be, not “guidance.”

          The only guidance these kinds of books and ideas give to children is a limited concept of who they can be.

          Good for Els; more and more this new generation is picking on these barriers and calling them out.

          This is the liberation of the constraints of gender and it is amazing.

        • AP

          John, you need to think a lot harder about the world around you. If girls and boys were naturally different, why would they need what you call ‘guidance’? They wouldn’t. Children are all individuals, and the segregation of them into groups of people who are supposed to like very narrow sets of things considered appropriate for their sex is a process that doesn’t happen naturally at all. It is achieved – where it is achieved – by many forces working together to bring it about. At the centre is a massive marketing campaign by corporations who want to sell more products by manipulating parents into thinking that their male and female children can’t use the same toys, books and clothes. They also know that if girls can be taught very early that it’s important to be pretty and, like princesses, to exist in order to attract a prince, the companies will have consumers for life – all buying cosmetics and other ‘beauty’ treatments, the latest fashions, magazines to tell them the latest fashions, the huge wedding industry, etc. Disney films back this up, with an eye to the massive profits of merchandising their films, and so do many booksellers, who don’t want children to be able to share books when they could sell more by making the books for separate groups. If you imagine all this isn’t deliberate and connected, you are simply not thinking hard enough.

          Behind it is a long history of religion and other forces of social conservatism who know that the best way to get women to accept secondary status in society as ‘only’ mothers, carers, people paid less than other people, people who do more domestic work than other people – is to get to children as young as possible and reward girls for pretty, compliant, polite, unchallenging, empathetic behaviour, and to encourage boys towards adventurous, aggressive, domineering behaviour. If a boy dresses as a princess, many adults will put a stop to it straight away. The boy learns that he can’t show ‘feminine’ qualities because women are weak, different, inferior. How long before he describes the things he’s told are ‘for girls’ as being ‘only for girls’, and assumes that girls are separate from him, and inferior? And how long before he grows up to think it’s OK to expect his partner to do more work around the house than him – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of boys who grow up to sexually harass, abuse or rape women. He is taught he can’t show emotions – and perhaps ends up chronically depressed, even suicidal (the suicide rates for men are high, mostly because they’ve been thought that recognising and dealing with emotion is ‘for girls’). And all the girls who are socialised to accept that ‘boys will be boys’, and grow up to think they have to accept harassment, abusive behaviour and second-class status in the workforce? You think all this is ‘natural’? It isn’t. It begins with whole sets of interests and behaviours being inculcated through books, toys and clothing being ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’.

          And frankly, also inculcated by adults like you who tell their children than girls and boys are ‘totally different’, and think that they can be a good parent while not actually bothering to think critically about the world they live in. And you think that the child who has thought critically about her world and challenged the cultural hegemony of massive corporations is the one who is being manipulated!!!

    • Richard

      This is a child who had been encouraged to think for herself. Children are often very drawn to questions about fairness and equality and this child had expressed that. Have you ever tried to MAKE an 8 year old have an opinion by the way!?

  2. LC

    Actually John, that’s my daughter and although I found it to be an interesting conversation about ‘if you’re not happy about something don’t just stand there and gripe’ she was driven about the initial petition and only had to be manipulated into NOT getting big headed about the attention it created!

    Thanks for your comment though

  3. Karen

    I totally disagree John.. my 7yr old daughter has commented on a number of occasions as to why all boy things are blue and girl things are pink. Don’t underestimate just how perceptive children can be.

    • Ida

      I couldn’t agree more – my daughter is only 3 and has already commented on the blue/pink thing in shops. Although at the moment her favourite colour is blue – we’ll see how long that lasts!….

  4. Emily

    I would sign if I could

  5. KB

    This is a great article. I’m very proud of Els. I can see exactly why she would be concerned about books for boys and books for girls. It’s like advertising a job opportunity just for men or just for women. Didn’t think we lived in a world now with gender bias. Clearly John has never heard of equal opportunities and gender diversity.

  6. FS

    John, your comment is revealing. If you tell your children that ‘boys and girls are different’ and that’s that, how can you expect them to share Els’ questioning nature, inquisitiveness, ability to express preference, self-confidence and capacity for self-expression?

  7. Anna

    So fantastic that a young girl has taken action against clear gender stereotyping and discrimination. Far more powerful than parents saying the same thing 🙂

  8. Lucy

    John, if boys and girls are completely different then what is the problem with taking away the girl/boy labels? Surely they don’t need guidance as they’d be drawn to the ‘correct’ things automatically.

  9. Hilary Johnson

    It is more than 50 years since I was an 8 year old but I can assure you I was concerned about fairness between boys and girls by then.

    At the age of 7 I wanted to do ‘woodwork’ but was told it was only for the boys. I won that battle (I’m told I threatened do nothing else) and proceeded to make a doll’s cot (not very successfully). Boyish or girly?

    All power to Els and her friends.

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