|I was heartened by Jon Scieszka's comments|
on the Playing by the book blog.
In the meantime, having focused on the critical responses to my call for gender balance in my last two posts, I wanted to highlight a few of the more supportive responses.
I’ve commented before that many people within the world of children’s literature are reluctant to speak publicly about a possible pro-female gender bias in picture book content. Some of the vitriolic responses my arguments have provoked in the last few months make this all the more understandable. In the week after The Times article was published, I received the following comment in an email from a picture book editor:
"This is such an interesting debate. I think you have raised so many good points, which makes it frustrating that so many people – the media, authors on twitter – seem to jump to such extreme or polarised positions on the matter. It would be great to be able to have a sensible, more nuanced discussion about it all without people ‘shouting’ so much! The points you have raised really deserve to be discussed properly."And, as I mentioned in my last post, another picture book editor voiced her support publicly on her blog, for which I’m extremely grateful.
The blog post that provoked the media interest focussed on the lack of gender-balance in children's book reviewing, so I was also grateful to Spectator reviewer Melanie McDonagh for beginning her summer round-up with some words of support.
US novelist Elizabeth Spann Craig (who writes for adults) wrote a blog post acknowledging that my observations about gender bias in picture book content reflected her own experience of trying to find books that appealed to her son, commenting that it was "much, much easier" finding books that her daughter enjoyed. However, apart from a few comments on Twitter, the children’s authors and illustrators that expressed their support for my arguments have, until now, done so privately. So I was heartened to read the comments of US author Jon Scieszka on Zoe Toft’s Playing by the book blog yesterday. As well as writing numerous children's books, Jon is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (the US equivalent to the UK’s Children’s Laureate) and the founder of the Guys Read literacy programme.
Zoe asked Jon several questions relating to boys' literacy. Here's a couple, the second of which relates directly to the arguments made on this blog.
Zoe: As part of Guys Read you’ve edited and contributed to a series of themed short story books all targeted specifically at boys – their titles all make it clear that these are books for boys. I personally hate seeing books labelled as “for girls” as such titles seem to me to only pigeonhole what girls and young women can be and might like. Why is it ok to have books categorically labelled as “for boys” (or even “guys”)?
Jon Scieszka: The Guys Read Library of Great Reading is curated to give boys a reason to want to be readers. My experiences as a parent, a teacher, and a book writer have all shown me that the most effective way to inspire boys to be readers is to give them something they are interested in reading; and that in the most broad strokes, many boys are interested in types of reading that are different from what interests girls. These genre-themed short story collections aren’t meant to limit or exclude anyone. They are simply offered as a wide range of stories (written by great male and female authors) that boys can peruse … and hopefully find an author that inspires them to want to read more.
Zoe: Recently there was a lot of debate and even anger here in the UK about the gendered marketing of books, a debate sparked by the author Jonathan Emmett, who argues that the UK “picture book industry reflects girls’ tastes more than it does boys’ and that this bias is exacerbating the gender gap between boys’ and girls’ reading abilities.”
To what extent do you think the same could be said for the US market?
Jon Scieszka: I think Jonathan Emmett made a very thoughtful, considered, statistical, and careful presentation about the realities of children’s publishing. The statistics and challenges he mentions for the UK are very much the same in the US. Here elementary school teachers, librarians, children’s booksellers, and children’s book prize committee members are mostly women. It is not unreasonable to wonder if this gender inequality might influence what is produced and bought and awarded in children’s books.
And I think the anger this question provokes is more about gender inequality in the wider world at large than just about kids’ books.It’s well worth reading the full interview over on Zoe’s blog.