Yes, we do like Dear Zoo

Many of us have copies at home and have enjoyed reading it to our children (yes, even when it was for the 179th time!). So if you’ve read in The Sun and the MailOnline linking us with calls to get rid of it, please be reassured that this isn’t the case, and that the quote from one of our campaigners was manufactured.

At Let Toys Be Toys we believe all toys and books are for all kids: our campaign is how those toys and books are marketed to children and parents. We know that every child can have a bundle of different interests regardless of gender. You can find out more about our campaign here.

So, what did we say about Dear Zoo?

In 2018 Donna Ferguson from the Observer newspaper did a study of the 100 bestselling children’s books from 2017 that showed how in picture books males outnumber females 2:1 among significant speaking characters. Our blogpost on the research includes a short anecdote about Dear Zoo as an example of how accustomed we all are to male dominance seeming ‘normal’. Most readers never notice that every single animal is male. (You have to worry about the captive breeding programme. But maybe their habit of posting animals is more of a problem… ;-))

The quote attributed to Jess Day doesn’t appear anywhere in the blogpost. We were not approached for a comment.

What we’re asking for

Since we started campaigning toy shops and websites have taken down ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ signs and labels from toys and we’re heartened that 11 publishers have pledged to let books be books and to publish no new titles labelled as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ such as ‘brilliant boys colouring book / gorgeous girls colouring’.

As part of our campaign, we also want to raise discussion of the bias and gender stereotyping that goes on in the world around us, and in the toys, books, TV programmes and clothes that children are exposed to every day. The ‘drip, drip’ effect of gender stereotypes is very pervasive and widely recognised as harmful but one book (or advert, or film) is not responsible on its own.

What we do want is for current authors, publishers, TV producers and toy manufacturers to really think about what they are creating for children today and what view of the world that gives them.

The idea that male is default, or that men and boys are more important, more worth hearing about, than women and girls is damaging for all boys and girls, so we have a number of positive suggestions of how parents and publishers can improve this situation in relation to books: you’ll note none of them involve banning or throwing books away!

Parents/carers and book-buyers

  • Do a ‘ten book test’ on your bookcase – pick ten books at random and take a look at the gender balance. How many male and female characters? Who gets to speak? Act? What are male and female characters shown doing?
  • If the balance isn’t as good as you’d like, look for, share and give as gifts books with better gender balance: our friends @GenderDiary have crowdsourced a fantastic kids book list
    Don’t just seek out girl-led stories as ‘great for girls’. Boys need to read about girls too.
  • Kids quite often notice what adults don’t. Use questions as a chance to discuss balance and inclusion – children have a strong sense of what’s fair!

Teachers and educators

  • Take a critical look at your bookshelves, and think about whether you can improve the range and balance on offer. Specialist suppliers like Letterbox Library can help.
  • Books can be a great starting point for group discussions about stereotypes – check out the suggestions in the NUT’s It’s Child’s Play resource.

Publishers and creatives

  • Think critically about the received wisdom that boys won’t read/watch material about girls – what research is this based on? Is it self-perpetuating? Is it more about adult assumptions than children’s real interests? Is it something that ought to be reinforced, or undermined?
  • Create, commission, promote and market more balanced books and media. Seriously – would that story be so different if the wolf were female? Might it even be better?

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