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.
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.”
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:
“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.”
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?’
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 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.
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.
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