Melanie McDoanagh’s introduction to her children’s books roundup in The Spectator:
A children’s author and illustrator, Jonathan Emmet, created a stir recently by saying that women are effectively gatekeepers of children’s books — chiefly picture books. They constitute the majority of the buyers, reviewers and prizegivers – and the result is that boys are shortchanged. Too few pirates and dragons — or the wrong sort — and too little peril, too little technology, too little non-fiction. Naturally, he’s had to spend a good deal of energy since explaining no offence was intended.
Actually, I think he’s right, and not just about picture books. Children’s books are feminised and I’m thinking of the conflict aversion that takes the form of Red Riding Hood and her granny ending up best friends with the wolf, or the dragon really not wanting to fight St George. If it’s a stab at humour, that’s fine, but what’s pervasive is the sense that fighting is really a bit horrid and we should all just be nice. That’s only true of books for younger children mind you.
Naturally I’ve been brooding about whether I’m part of the problem. I hope not, on account of being more or less a boy or at least a hermaphrodite when it comes to reading. My own tastes were of the Rider Haggard/R.L. Stevenson/John Buchan sort and as a child the books I liked were of the kind that either gender could identify with: E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Boston, Mary Norton, Joan Aiken and John Masefield. Actually the thing about all of them is that they’re wonderful storytellers and — though you don’t bother about style as a child — fine prose writers.