A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
This is Summer Romance Week on the Author Allsorts blog. Yay!
Yeah, well, actually, how on earth did I manage to get that gig? Summer Romance? And what does it mean? Should I write something about a summer romance I might have had? Or should I write something about a romantic book I’ve read?
I don’t read a lot of books with romance at the core . . . or do I? Maybe I could write about The Go-Between, which I love, or Atonement which is strikingly similar in mood and tone. I could write about The Outsiders, and the curious chemistry between Ponyboy Curtis and Cherry Valance, or I could go really left field and write about The Fly; eccentric Seth meets smart Veronica, they fall in love, things get rocky, fingernails peel off, teeth fall out . . . But no, instead I’m going wonder about something that I know a lot of people have very strong opinions about; something which, in a vague way, relates to ‘romance’.
‘Books for Boys’ and ‘Books for Girls’.
I have always thought of myself as an author who writes books for anyone who wants to read them. I’m pleased to say that this bears out to a large extent – the reactions I get at schools are equally positive from both boys and girls. I receive messages and letters from both. I write adventures stories, boys and girls both like adventures so, yeah, why not?
But at a recent event, I was introduced as someone who writes Middle Grade books that are more skewed towards boys’ interests, and I was asked if I think that boys and girls want something different from stories.
As a firm believer in encouraging children to read whatever they want, I cringe at pink pony and princess books for girls, and blue fart and football books for boys but, at the same time, I am also able to see that boys and girls perhaps do want different things from the stories they read.
I have two children. My daughter is fourteen years old, and my son is ten years old. My son is not what marketing types might describe as a ‘typical boy’. He doesn’t like football, doesn’t play rugby, and doesn’t like getting dirty. He does, however, like video games, Spiderman, and thinks farts and burps are highly amusing. My daughter isn’t what marketing types might describe
as a ‘typical’ girl’. She’s your semi-emo rocker who’s into manga and Marvel, never wanted a pony, likes Star Wars, but thinks farts and burps are highly disgusting.
They are both fantastic readers, but neither of them has ever been particularly attracted to the pink pony/blue football marketing strategy. Right now my son is reading True Grit (Charles Portiss) and my daughter is reading Lifers (by fellow AA author Martin Griffin). My daughter also reads a lot of YA books that feature female protagonists, relationships, and issues at their core – the kind of books that may be considered as appealing to girls rather than boys. I have a very strong suspicion they are books that will not interest my son when he is a teenager, regardless of the colour of the cover or who they are marketed at. There are, however, certain books that cross over their interests. The Hunger Games, Holes, True Grit, Alex Rider, Harry Potter, to name a few.
That is a list of books that feature both male and female protagonists, and have huge appeal to both boys and girls. And, it would be fair to say most of them are books that feature strong relationship issues at their core – relationships that are surrounded by action and movement and conflict. Also, interestingly, they are not marketed as gender specific. So what is the appeal? Do girls enjoy those books for different reasons than boys enjoy them? Are ‘books for girls’ and ‘books for boys’ a distillation of the aspects that appeal to each gender?
I wish I knew.
My feeling is that we should avoid the awful gender specific marketing, but consider this: We, as adults, may think it’s hideous stereotyping, but what if some girls really want pink pony and princess books? What if some boys really want blue fart and football books? In our campaign to encourage children to read what they want, who are we to take that option away from them? Just a thought.
For my money, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical boy’, but I believe that generally speaking, boys and girls really do have different tastes. I see it in my own children. I see it in my friends’ children. I see it in children when I visit schools. It’s not an exact science, it’s not an absolute, (there are very few of those in this crazy world) but some things are going to appeal more generally to boys and some things are going to appeal more generally to girls.
And some things will appeal to everyone (hooray!).
I’m still undecided about this whole thorny issue. I find it very difficult to have a strong opinion – after all, who am I to take pink princess books away from the girl who desperately wants to read and own them? So I’m wondering what other people think. Do you think your books appeal more to boys or girls? Do you hate the idea of it? Do you specifically write for girls or boys?