After reading all the "there are no books for boys with strong boy characters" and "there are no books for girls with strong girl characters" type of stuff, I just want to sit those people down and have them exchange reading lists.
In all honesty. like Carlie and others, I don't believe in "boy books" or "girl books." I'm sure to let out a groan when the main descriptor of a book is based on the gender of the intended reader.
Readers are complex people; and it's about fitting the book to the reader. Now, I'm not naive; and that's why I read books and articles by people like Michael Sullivan and Michael Smith and Jeff Wilhelm. I am open to adding to the "tricks" up my sleeve to connect books with kids. I believe we have to recognize the value in all reading choices, including newspapers, magazines, comic books, etc. And I believe we have to realize that in connecting a book to a reader, different things will work for different kids. So typically (but not always!) the long booktalk will work for girls; while typically (but not always!) the short one is better for boys.
But to turn all the research and good ideas by people like Sullivan, Smith and Wilhelm into "boys don't read books about girls" mindset is both simplistic and disrespectful to male and female readers.
Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky is a great example of this; when I met with the author and we talked about audience, she mentioned that young men were reading it as a western and loving it.
When I booktalk Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, boys laugh as hard as the girls. And want the book just as much.
Again, I'm not being naive. And I am not trying to force books on kids that aren't a right fit. I sure as heck am not saying that if we just describe the girliest girl book ever that all boys will want to read it, or that we can force someone who wants a pageturner to love a slow read. I am saying that "boy books" or "girl books" is too narrow. Really, do we think all boys are alike? Or all girls? No.
I love that we have websites like Guys Lit Wire and Guys Read. Part of the reason I like both sites is that too often, the adult does only think of the books they like when recommending books.... and we need reminders there are other books out there, and just because they aren't your taste, doesn't mean it isn't a good book. You, there! Yes, you! Stop making that face every time someone asks for fantasy. That -- the bias against certain types of books -- is as big a problem as anything else.
I also have to point out that those sites aren't locked into narrow definitions of boy books; Guys Read includes Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began (an amazing book) which...wait for it... has a FEMALE main character. One of the guys interviewed at Guys Lit Wire named The Awakening as a book he "really enjoyed" reading in high school.
Here, Dear Readers, is where I see the potential harm for too much labeling of girl/boy books. If a reader such as the one interviewed at Guys Lit Wire approached our desk, would we ever have recommended The Awakening? (Actually, would we ever recommend it, regardless of gender of the asker?) In talking about boy/girl books too much with readers who are at a point in their lives where peers mean everything, do we risk keeping a boy away from a book he would really love because we just called it a girl book?
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