A 2011 Florida State University study found that just 7.5 percent of nearly 6,000 picture books published between 1900 and 2000 depict female animal protagonists; male animals were the central characters in more than 23 percent each year. (For books in which characters were not assigned a gender, researchers noted, parents reading to their children tended to assign one: male.) No more than 33 percent of children’s books in any given year featured an adult woman or female animal, but adult men and male animals appeared in 100 percent of the books.
My own nonscientific research suggests that not much has changed.
Robert Muchamore with interesting observations about gender and children’s publishing….
Speaking at the Hay Festival, in an event with author Sophie McKenzie, [Robert] Muchamore, the author of the best-selling Cherub series, said: “The longer I’ve been a writer, the more I’ve realised that actually girls and boys are more into the same things than they are into different things.
“There’s a lot of convention in children’s publishing – that if you write a book for a boy it’s got to be very simplistic, it’s got to have lots of action in it because all boys want to do is run around and bang their heads up against the wall because they’re lunatics.
“And if you write for a girl it’s got to be about make-up and lipstick and kissing boys and all that. And it’ s just not true.
“My books have got bits of all of that stuff in and what I actually find is that I get emails from boys who are really interested in who James’s girlfriend is going to be or what relationship he’s going to have in the next book; I get emails from girls who are interested in the action scenes.”
Gendered book covers are a large part of the problem.
Muchamore said: “I think there’s a lot of cliché, especially the way children’s books are packaged sometimes. You’ve got the pink girls’ books, and the boys’ books with a man running on the cover. I find it all a bit depressing really, because the longer I’ve written I find once you’ve got past the barrier of getting the boy or the girl to pick the book up and read it, what they actually like inside the books is actually much more the same. “
The number of children who enjoy reading for pleasure has increased but the gender gap between girls and boys has widened, according to a new report from the National Literacy Trust (NLT).
For this year’s ‘Children’s and Young People’s Reading’, an annual report into children’s reading habits, the NLT surveyed young people aged eight to 18 in the UK in November and December 2014.
During that period, 54.4% of children and young people said they enjoyed reading very much or quite a lot, compared to 53.3% in 2013. Last year there was also an increase in the number of those who read daily outside school (41.4%, up from 32.2% in 2013).
The NLT asked participants about what types of reading the children did, dividing it into categories such as fiction, websites, text messages, song lyrics and e-books, and 46.7% said they read fiction outside the class. All formats had grown in popularity apart from magazines, which were read by 48.7% of children, compared to 52.7% in 2013.
However, the survey also showed that the gap between the number of girls who read compared to boys is wider than before, as 61.6% of girls said they enjoyed reading either very much or quite a lot compared with 47.2% of boys.
The gap rose from a 12.7 percentage point difference in 2013 to a 14.4 percentage point difference in 2014 because more girls said they enjoyed reading, while the number of boys who said the same thing remained static.
American writer Shannon Hale on the issue of segregating girls from boys on author visits.
I’d be interested to hear from UK authors as to how often / if ever this happens to them:
“The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”
"Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?"
"Yes," she said.
I tried not to explode in front of the children.
After the presentation, I signed books for the students who had pre-ordered my books (all girls), but one 3rd grade boy hung around.
“Did you want to ask her a question?” a teacher asked.
“Yes,” he said nervously, “but not now. I’ll wait till everyone is gone.”
Once the other students were gone, three adults still remained. He was still clearly uncomfortable that we weren’t alone but his question was also clearly important to him. So he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Do you have a copy of the black princess book?”
It broke my heart that he felt he had to whisper the question.
Froma a Guardian Ebooks post by Anna Baddely:
Research recently published by the National Literacy Trust and educational publisher Pearson shows that among low-income families, technology can be a “more engaging learning tool” for three- to five-year-olds than books. Boys were twice as likely as girls to spend more time with stories on touch screens than printed stories.
Early years are the vital time to get hooked on books. As boys get older, quiet reading takes a back seat to friends, homework, sports and computer games. Children’s author Jeff Norton was himself a “game-obsessed… very reluctant reader” as a youngster. His popular series MetaWars was deliberately conceived to be as immersive and addictive as a video game. Former teacher (and keen gamer)Simon Scarrow’s novels about Roman gladiators Cato and Macro have been wildly successful, and have now inspired a free app game. With the ability to unlock book extracts, it’s a clever way of connecting with reluctant readers.
Tempting boys into fiction isn’t just about building literacy skills for the sake of passing tests: it’s about developing empathy and encouraging escapism. Novels, according to Scarrow, “offer a far greater degree of creative action for a reader and therefore [a] greater sense of immersion”.
As reported in The Bookseller:
Penguin Random House’s Ladybird imprint will no longer publish books labelled “for boys” and “for girls”, in response to a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys.
Ladybird has previously published books such as Ladybird Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls and Ladybird Favourite Stories for Boys.
Empowering boys to find a passion for reading is the life’s work of Jon Scieszka, the 59-year-old elementary school teacher turned multi-million-selling children’s author. At the age of eight, his own son was prescribed Little House on the Prairie to read at school. ‘I asked him how he was enjoying the book,’ Scieszka says. ‘He turned to me and said, “Are you kidding me? Is anything ever going to happen?” And that sent him the message: if this – dense fiction writing – is reading, then I’m not a reader.’
His son’s experience, and a befuddlement that ‘the educational world cannot tap into the mania and energy’ that boys have for non-fiction, helped fuel Scieszka’s latest franchise. Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is the first in a six-part series centred on its eponymous child genius hero. It integrates real science, immersive and educational illustrative diagrams and experiments that children can (safely) undertake themselves.
Jonathan Emmett set up the Cool Not Cute blog a while back “to start a debate about gender bias in picture books”. That debate well and truly kicked off over the holiday weekend with lots of coverage in the national press and on the Twittersphere.
Here, from the blog post that informed the press articles is Emmett’s essential premise:
I’m a picture book author and evidence shows that the literacy gender gap takes root at picture book age. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the same age at which female reviewers are most dominant. While the gender balance of picture book authors and illustrators matches that of the intended readership (roughly 50:50 male:female) the chain of gatekeepers that link these two groups is far from gender-balanced. In this 2013 sample, female picture book reviewers outnumbered males by a ratio of 12:1. Similarly overwhelming female to male ratios can be found among picture book publishers, infant teachers, children’s librarians and, perhaps most significantly, picture book buyers, the majority of whom are adult women. Whether a picture book is being accepted for publication, selected for use in a school or library, purchased in a bookshop or recommended in a newspaper, the people judging its appeal are overwhelmingly female.
For this reason the relatively even gender split of authors and illustrators in the analysis should not be taken as showing that the range of picture books reviewed will appeal equally to both sexes. As a male author, I’ve learnt to write for a market that is dominated by female gatekeepers. Even picture books about pirates, dinosaurs, aliens or vehicles that might be characterised as having boy-typical appeal, partially reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually be purchasing them. As a consequence, elements such as combat, technology, peril and villainy are often toned down or omitted altogether. A lot of content that’s commonly found in children’s TV, films and video games watched or played by 4-6 year olds is often deemed unappealing or inappropriate for picture books. This rejected content appeals to children of both sexes but it’s particularly appealing to boys and I think this is one reason many boys reject books in favour of these other media. I still love writing picture books and feel privileged to be able to make a living doing it – I just wish that the stories I’m able to get published could respond to boy-typical tastes as uncompromisingly as they do to girl-typical tastes. And it’s not just boys that are missing out; there are plenty of girls with boy-typical tastes who would enjoy reading these stories too.
And here is the infographic that summarises Emmett’s research into the reviewing of children’s books during 2013 as referenced in the rest of the (highly recommended) blog post:
What is ACHUKA’s take on this? Mainly that the research statistics above do not amount to much and have to be understood in relation to different newspapers’ approaches to the way they manage reviewing. The Guardian and Telegraph use a mixed panel of reviewers, hence their figures appear more balanced compared with The Times and Sunday Times, who both use a single specialist (female) reviewer.
I don’t see any absence of, or absence of appreciation for boy-friendly fiction for ages 7 and up. But Emmett is most concerned about picture books and the fact that nearly all those involved in the publishing of picture books are women. I would be interested to hear a response from a publisher such as Walker Books to this observation.
I certainly think the children’s publishing industry would benefit from greater male participation, but then this observation is also true of education – a strong male presence is still lacking in too many primary schools.
Where I have always felt that Emmett’s campaign is at its strongest is in his highlighting of the overwhelming female dominance on the Carnegie and Greenaway judging panels – but then these are awards judged by librarians, and the gender imbalance is simply a reflection of the imbalance in the profession itself. It is neveretheless worthy of being highlighted and discussed.
Alice Vincent, an avid reader, is dismayed by the growing trend for gender-specific books…
That demystifier of puberty, the school library book that had a waiting list for curious year 4s, Growing Up, has been renamed and rebranded to become What’s Happening To Me – pink, naturally, for girls, blue for boys. Why are we reducing the access of biological knowledge to pre-teens? Surely the more they know, the better.
Usborne is responsible for that shift change, but they are one of the publishers, along with Parragon Books, who have decided to call time on publishing further gender-specific titles after empowered parents rallied to the Let Books Be Books campaign.
Jonathan Emmett continues his Cool Not Cute campaign with another New Statesman blog post calling dads to commit an act of literary heroism:
The overwhelming majority of picture books are bought by women, consequently the picture book market reflects female-typical tastes far more than male-typical ones. Even picture books that are intended to appeal to boys partially reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually purchase them. This won’t change unless fathers and grandfathers start buying more picture books.
The Literacy Trust’s report was published to coincide with the launch of its “Literacy Heroes” campaign celebrating people who inspire a love of books. Dads are always being encouraged to read more to their children at bedtimes; I’d like to encourage dads to go one step further and commit another small act of literacy heroism by going into a bookshop and choosing a really cool picture book to read to their kids.