Thursday, 20 March 2014

Why I am judging children's books by their covers

This is my six year old daughter, Maggie. She likes princesses, fairies and kittens. She also likes superheroes, aeroplanes and dragons. She has a Lalaloopsy mermaid and a Playmobil pirate ship, a Rapunzel dress and a Spiderman costume. She plays with soft toys and with her remote controlled car.

She also likes books, mostly when I read to her but she's beginning to read to herself too, she recently loved The Dinosaur's Packed Lunch by Jacqueline Wilson. Her favourites are The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Fox in Socks and Zog.
As she grows older I don't want her being told that certain books aren't for her. I want her to choose a book based on whether she thinks she will find it interesting or fun, not because she's been told it's meant for girls. More importantly I don't want her rejecting books because the front cover tells her it's for boys.
Let Toys Be Toys has recently been campaigning against gendered books for children and in the light of this The Independent and The Independent on Sunday announced they will no longer be reviewing gender-specific children's books. Whilst many people have applauded the campaign not everybody agrees, with the usual cries of censorship and accusations of not accepting that girls and boys have different tastes and shouldn't be forced into books that don't interest them just to prove a point and to create a homogenised society that doesn't recognise the natural differences between the sexes.
Surely though by telling children that a book isn't for them they have less choice? Yes more boys may choose books about tractors and pirates and more girls may be drawn to fairies and butterflies (at 5 or 6 my eldest daughter would have picked the fairies every time) and that's fine but not all of them will and they deserve the right to make their own choices. There can still be books called "The Big Book of Tractor Driving Pirates" or "Pretty Fairies Fly with the Butterflies" but neither also needs a "helpful" blue or pink cover and the words "boys" or "girls" emblazoned on the front. Just imagine if well-loved children's books were marketed like this; "The Gruffalo - A Monster Book for Boys" or "Tales of Peter Rabbit - Bunny Tales for Girls". Once a young child can read they will be led by what they're told and if they see a book labelled as not for them they won't read it for fear of being wrong, even before then colour will influence their choices. Do not underestimate how quickly children start to believe that certain toys or books are gender-specific, Maggie even came home from school saying a boy in her class said her umbrella is for boys. Her umbrella is a clear dome with a green tortoise on it. All this campaign is asking is that children are allowed to be guided by their tastes and interests and not by prescriptive - and restrictive - front covers.
You can sign the Let Books be Books petition here.

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