Good balanced piece of journalism by Emine Saner on the subject of gender imbalance in children’s books, kicking off with coverage the crowdfunded Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls but moving on to considering more positive aspects of the current publishing scene. Kate Wilson is one of those interviewed…
Referring to the Rebel Girls’ bookshelf “experiment”, Kate Wilson, managing director of the children’s publishing house Nosy Crow, says: “I could have assembled a different bookshelf for that child, filled with brilliant books. Any bookseller or librarian worth their salt could put together a different bookshelf.” In the UK, more than 10,000 children’s books are published every year. “I think the challenge is how to find the books that are right for you. Libraries and bookshops have an incredibly important part to play in that, because we have incredibly knowledgable people who can guide you towards things. But there’s no lack of great books with girls as central characters.”
She admits the publishing world needs to make more effort when creating animal characters. “The default seems to be to assume that a crocodile, or a Gruffalo, or a mouse on a page is male.” She describes one of the books she published last year, Don’t Wake Up Tiger!, in which the tiger is female, as “really unusual, particularly for a predatory animal. A tiger is ostensibly the scary creature, and we made a deliberate choice about [her gender] … As an industry we have to think about pronouns and gender attributions for animal characters in younger books, but I think otherwise things have moved on, and a lot of the strongest stuff we see at the moment has a girl protagonist.” She points to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine, a historical crime novel in which two girls solve a crime; Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (another mystery with a girl as a central character) and Attack of the Demon Dinner Ladies by Pamela Butchart, which has a wealth of female main characters.
In the five years of running A Mighty Girl, Danckaert has noticed trends in publishing. Early on there were lots of “independent princess” books, which were “pushing back against the princess stories that had dominated. The concept of the girl power book is not new. We have a classics section on our website and there are books there going back to the 1940s.” In the last couple of years, she says, there has been “a boom in picture-book biographies, and particularly books with a science theme. Books of those sorts have been very popular on our site.”
Wilson says parents are increasingly asking for diversity, and that booksellers report they explicitly ask for books that reflect feminism. The huge success of the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls crowdfunding campaign, and the book itself (at the time of writing, it is number five on Amazon), points to this. There are similar books, including Kate Pankhurst’s bestselling Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, which was published in September and, for older children, Rad Women Worldwide.