Chocolat author Joanne Harris has attacked the “subliminal indoctrination” of children through gendered packaging of books, which she says gives “the false message to a new generation that boys must be clever, brave and strong, while girls should aspire to be decorative”.
Writing in The Author, a quarterly magazine for British writers, Harris described a shelf in her local supermarket stocked with the blue Brilliant Colouring Book for Boys, full of “rocket ships, Vikings, pirates and kites”, and the pink Beautiful Colouring Book for Girls, full of “princesses, puppies, flowers and cupcakes”.
It might appear to adults to be “a harmless marketing strategy”, writes Harris, but for children, who are “highly impressionable”, and for whom “ideas (including prejudices) adopted early on will follow them into adulthood”, it is “really a form of brainwashing, repeating the false message to a new generation that boys must be clever, brave and strong, while girls should aspire to be decorative”, and is “harmful in so many ways”.
Canada’s Globe & Mail has had a go, in an editorial, at the UK’s IoS editor’s announcement that she will no longer consider for review books that come in gender-specific cover designs.
“A tad fanatical”, the editorial thinks.
The sins of undiscerning marketers should not be visited on innocent children’s books. Katy Guest, the literary editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper in Britain, announced on the weekend that henceforth no children’s book that is marketed by the publisher as “for girls” or “for boys” would even be considered for review. That strikes us as a tad fanatical.
If there is a problem here, blame adults who know little or nothing about children’s literature (or literature), and just want someone to help them figure out what to buy for this or that child. Yes, a children’s book that is narrowly directed to one gender is probably not a good book. But the fault may lie in a publishing company’s presentation, rather than what the author has written. And is it so wrong for cover designers and dust-jacket writers to try to help buyers, by suggesting who might be most likely to enjoy a book? Ms. Guest’s promise to throw ostensibly gender-targeted children’s books “straight into the recycling pile” will cause injustices.
Strong words from Katy Guest, literary editor of Independent On Sunday:
I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
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.