I’d like to respond to some of the points Joy made in her reply to my article.
I’m afraid I don’t accept that the CKG judging criteria ensure objectivity as many individual criterion, such as “the overall impact of the book on the reader”, are open to subjective judgement. Children’s literature is an art not a science; is it really possible to judge objectively that the characters in one book are more “believable and convincing” than the characters in another? Indeed if the judges don’t have differing subjective opinions on which books best meet the criteria, then why are there so many judges? I imagine that one reason for having 13 judges is to reflect a wide range of views when making a judgement. If that is the case then, at a time when children’s books appeal more to one sex than the other, shouldn’t that range incorporate male views as much as female ones?
While I accept that some regions might reject the idea of selecting judges on an alternating male/female basis, I hope that others might recognise some merit in doing this. If only one region were to adopt such a system, it would be a step in the right direction.
In the last decade female CKG judges have outnumbered male CKG judges by a ratio of 10:1. A similar female to male ratio can be found across all the gatekeeper roles in the world of picture books, from commissioning editors through to the adults that purchase the books. Given the overwhelming number of female gatekeepers, it is odd that so few picture books feature female characters. Nevertheless, this is an issue that needs addressing.
Having a male protagonist is one of several ingredients that I think is likely to make a story more appealing to boys. The point I make about male protagonists in my COOL not CUTE essay is that picture books are more likely to cater to girls with boy-typical tastes than they are to cater to boys with girl-typical tastes. In the same essay I mention that Eileen Browne’s technology themed picture book No Problem was a big hit with my three-year-old son and cite it as an example of a book with strong technological appeal. Although books about technology typically appeal to boys, all five of the book’s characters are female. Similarly, although pirate stories typically appeal to boys, there are a growing number of picture books featuring female pirates, such as Peter Harris’s The Night Pirates in which all the pirate characters are girls. The situation is very different for picture books that have content that typically appeals to girls; can you think of any ballet or princess/prince themed picture books in which all the dancers or glamorous royals are male? As I’ve argued in another essay, FIGHTERS and FASHIONISTAS, it’s just as important to cater to boys with girl-typical tastes as it is to cater for girls with boy-typical tastes. Personally, I think a gender-balanced approach to casting is preferable to replacing a single-sex cast with a single-sex cast of the opposite sex. That way children of both sexes will be able to find characters that they can readily identify with, whether the book is about technology or ballet-dancing.
Having said which, the central argument of COOL not CUTE is about the sort of content that is generally deemed appropriate and appealing for picture books, regardless of the sex of the protagonist or the authors and illustrators that create them.
Despite our differences in opinion, I’m very grateful to Joy for giving me the opportunity to publicly debate this issue with her and would like to state once more that I recognise that the Greenaway and Carnegie both do a tremendous job of raising the profile of children’s books and promoting children’s literacy for both sexes.
I’ve set up this blog because I want to start a debate about gender bias in picture books.
I think that the output of the picture book industry reflects girls’ tastes far more than it does boys’ and that this bias is exacerbating the gender gap between boys’ and girls’ reading abilities.
My argument, based on my experience as both an author and a parent, is set out in the three articles below.
This article looks at some of the scientific evidence that suggests there are innate differences in boys' and girls' preferences.
This article addresses concerns about gender stereotyping which may arise from the assertion that some preferences are boy or girl-typical.
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Here is my article:
IS IT TIME FOR A GENDER BALANCED CARNEGIE GREENAWAY JUDGING PANEL?
Outside of writing and illustrating them, men don’t seem to be as interested in picture books as women are. There are relatively few men working in the picture book industry and most picture books are bought by women. And most teachers, reviewers and librarians that work with picture books are women too.
I believe that the scarcity of men in these gatekeeper roles means that picture books tend to reflect female tastes more than male ones and that this bias is exacerbating the gender gap in children’s literacy. It’s an issue I’ve written about at length at coolnotcute.com.
When my son was four years old, he and his friends were obsessed with Star Wars, a saga of good versus evil, packed with deadly combat, sophisticated technology, murderous villains and threatening predicaments. The four Star Wars films available at the time were all U certificates, showing that — in the BBFC’s judgment — their content was appropriate for four-year-olds. I struggled to find my son picture books with a similar appeal. There were books that featured aliens and spacecraft, but their content was far tamer and cuter than that of the films. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my son’s enthusiasm for Star Wars grew, his interest in books waned.
In my experience, a lot of content that’s accepted as appealing and age-appropriate for four-year-olds in films, TV shows and video games is often rejected as unappealing and age-inappropriate for picture books. This rejected content appeals to children of both sexes, but it’s especially appealing to boys, and its exclusion from picture books is one reason that some young boys turn to other media that reflect their tastes more accurately. There are still plenty of picture books published each year that many boys find appealing, but all children are different and picture books don’t reflect the full range of boys’ tastes as effectively as they do girls’. I think the scarcity of male gatekeepers, judging the appropriateness and appeal of picture book content, is the chief reason for this.
I’ve suggested a number of ways to get male tastes better represented in picture books. It’s generally accepted that more men ought to read to their children, but it’s equally important that more men start buying children’s books, so that the market is influenced by the tastes of dads and grandpas as much as mums and grandmas. I’ve also suggested that the judging of children’s book awards, the Carnegie Greenaway in particular, ought to reflect male perspectives as much as female ones.
While gender-balanced judging panels are now the norm for prestigious adult book awards such as the Booker, CKG panels are predominantly female. At a time when children’s books appeal more to girls than boys, I think this imbalance is worth addressing. I understand that the CKG’s judging criteria brings consistency to the way the awards are judged and that a panel of professional librarians will be far more objective than an ordinary panel. However each judge will still have some subjectivity, with differing opinions as to which books are best. Shouldn’t that subjectivity represent male perspectives as much as female ones?
One way to achieve a gender-balanced panel would be to use alternating single-sex shortlists, with each region selecting a male judge one year and a female judge the next. I realise that adopting such a system would mean over-representing the number of male YLG members, but surely it’s more important for “children’s” book awards to reflect the gender balance of children rather than the profession that serves them.
I think the majority of the profession would agree that they dislike gender stereotypical publishing of any sort and indeed might contend that the problem is even more severe when children move out of picture books into chapter books and beyond. High Street bookstores can appear almost as colour coded as the clothing ranges available for babies!
There would also be absolutely no excuse for having a non-gender balanced judging panel if the judges were indeed selected, but as we initially explained, the judges are elected democratically by their regional committee. This means that our panels are at least geographically diverse unlike, I would suggest, the Booker panels etc. They also stand for a two year period and around half of the panel changes each year so that each panel will have a mix of experienced and brand new judges. This would, I am afraid, negate the suggestion of alternating male and female judges from a region each year.
But even if we were to ask each region to alternate the gender of their judges every two years would this even be possible? While we might hope that Jonathan’s piece will make the male members of YLG feel that they should join their regional committee and get actively involved, we cannot force them to do so and therefore we cannot force our committees to do that. But for all that it has been unusual that for the last couple of years there have been all female judges.
However our main point is that, unlike so many of the major awards, we have a published set of criteria and both nominations and judging are conducted solely by reference to those and suitability or appeal to either gender is not one of them. I do not believe that anybody could find any gender bias in the criteria themselves. In the Greenaway we primarily look for outstanding artistic quality and where text exists particular attention should be paid to the synergy between the two.
Jonathan, in our conversations, has maintained that nevertheless our judgement and taste is still subjective! But the fact remains that of the 57 Greenaway winners 34 have been men and as Eileen Browne quotes in her fascinating article: Two to One - Females Outnumbered by Males in Children's Picture Books, (Write4Children Vol IV Issue II. p 157. ) “Liza Miller, an MA student at City University, London, had analysed the seventy-five main characters in thirty-two Kate Greenaway Medal winners between 1956 and 2010. Her results were the same as mine: Females were outnumbered by males in picture books by about 2:1. Female animal characters were underrepresented by 4.5:1 — less than 20% had female characters.”
So it would seem that the evidence suggests that female judges over the years have primarily chosen books which are about males. However I realise that Jonathan’s points are more about the plot and style than merely characters. The fact remains that our role is restricted to judging what is actually published. Perhaps his campaigning should be aimed at the editorial and marketing departments of children’s publishers? We would be delighted to publish a response from any of our publisher friends.
It was disappointing to receive no member responses to this interesting post, but it is nevertheless good that the issue has been raised and hopefully we will see more men responding to the call to arms! Meanwhile it is my job to ensure that the judging will continue to be carried out with the highest possible standards, as objectively as possible and always with reference to the criteria.
Joy Court, Chair of the Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards Working Party
Joy has raised a number of new points which I’ll address in my next post, but in the meantime please feel free to post your own responses below.
Thursday, 31 October 2013
The panel, which consisted of neuroscientist Lise Eliot, behavioural neurobiologist Larry Cahill and psychologists Melissa Hines, Janet Hyde and Maryjane Wraga, represented a diverse range of expert opinions on this controversial subject.
The article notes that the debate “didn’t settle the controversy, because it isn’t binary, and evidence is complex.” So instead of attempting to present a conclusion, Saletan highlights ten pitfalls to be wary of when assessing arguments regarding innate sex differences. It’s well worth reading the whole article, but I’m going to pick out five of the pitfalls that Saletan identifies which are particularly relevant to my experience of debating the issue in relation to the gender gap in children’s literacy.
1. IdeologyIn my experience the belief that “there’s no such thing as innate sex differences” is often rooted in ideology rather than evidence. I commented in an earlier post that I suspect that many people who hold this belief are not aware of the evidence that helped establish it – or the degree to which this evidence has subsequently been discredited. For some people acknowledging innate sex differences is indistinguishable from sexism and so ideologically out of bounds – regardless of the evidence. Saletan notes that “fear of sexism has produced a bias against conceding sex differences, which gets in the way of frank discussion and investigation.”
2. Casual ExtrapolationSaletan describes psychologist Melissa Hines recalling “an incident in which, after she had described data on toy preference among girls, a male physicist said she had just explained why it was hard to recruit women to teach physics. The leap from dolls to doctorates was effortless, though groundless.”
Similarly inappropriate extrapolations are often made by individuals on both sides of the innate sex differences debate. One thing that distinguishes Hines’s book Brain Gender from many others on the subject is the way in which Hines studiously avoids such extrapolations.
3. StereotypesSaletan notes that “girls differ from boys, but girls also differ from other girls.” And goes on to say that “you certainly can’t infer from a person’s sex how well he or she will do on a test.”
I know from my own experience that no matter how carefully one tries to qualify an argument about sex differences by saying that some girls will have boy-typical reading tastes and vice versa, one will inevitably be accused of stereotyping simply for describing certain reading tastes as boy or girl-typical. In this context “boy-typical” means “commonly associated with boys”, it does not and should not mean “exclusive to boys” or even “better suited to boys”. Saletan explains that sex differences don’t show up as separate clusters, but as “overlapping distributions”, a point I attempted to get across in the “Twin Peaks” section of my essay NATURE and NURTURE.
4. Either/OrIn my experience an Either/Or approach, ranks alongside Ideology as the most commonly encountered pitfall in arguments on sex differences. There’s no reason whatsoever to regard nature and nurture as mutually exclusive factors and yet I’ve heard from several people who seem to assume that the indisputable evidence that nurture influences a child’s reading tastes can also be taken as indisputable evidence that nature has no influence.
The growing number of recent studies demonstrating the influence of nature on children’s preferences are dismissed by the nurture-only lobby as either biased, unreliable or unconvincing. Even if all of these studies were invalid, discrediting the evidence that something is true is not the same as categorically proving it is false. Separate evidence is needed to demonstrate this and as yet no such evidence has come to light.
5. Inferred ImmutabilityI think one reason many people find innate sex differences difficult to accept is that they associate them with a biologically deterministic view of gender roles. This perception has some justification. In his book The Essential Difference, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen states its central theory thus:
The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.Saletan comments that “several panelists targeted the word hardwired as a misleading metaphor for explaining the brain”. Neuroscientist Lise Eliot, who moderated the panel discussion, regards the brain as plastic and susceptible to change. In her own book Pink Brain, Blue Brain Eliot argues that “adults need to be aware of boy-girl differences so that we can help children compensate for them early on”. Instead of a gender-neutral approach to child development, Eliot advocates differing approaches for boys and girls, which reflect their different preferences, but are intended to close the gaps on their differing abilities. As I said in my essay FIGHTER and FASHIONISTAS, I believe that such an approach can be used to close the gender gap in children’s literacy and this is the type of approach I’m advocating in COOL not CUTE.
Wednesday, 23 October 2013
To set the record straight, I’m told that the organisers drafted a response to the original email I sent them in March but, due to an oversight, it was never sent to me.
Over the summer I got in touch with Joy Court, the new chair of the Carnegie Greenaway working party, who explained to me that the working party have no influence over the selection of individual judges, who are selected by the Youth Libraries Group members in the region each judge represents. However Joy arranged for me to put the case for a gender-balanced judging panel to YLG members through their October newsletter, which can be read here.
I’m very grateful to Joy and the newsletter's editor Helen Thompson for giving the proposal a fair hearing in this way.
Joy's response to the article will be published in the November issue of the newsletter, along with any responses from YLG members.
Friday, 18 October 2013
Books aren’t cool — or so a growing number of children seem to think. A report just published by the National Literacy Trust reveals "children are spending less of their own time reading and are increasingly embarrassed to be seen reading". According to the report, "children who do not think 'reading is cool' are four times more likely to be below average readers". I think the perception that books aren’t cool has more to do with book content than the act of reading. Specifically, it has to do with the first books most children encounter, which are picture books.
When my son was four years old, he and his friends were obsessed with Star Wars, a saga of good versus evil, packed with deadly combat, sophisticated technology, murderous villains and threatening predicaments. The Star Wars films available at the time were all U certificates, showing that — in the BBFC’s judgment — their content was appropriate for four-year-olds. Such content is rarely found in the cosier, cuter world of picture books. Picture books tend to steer well clear of deadly combat, technology is often simply represented, murderous villains are almost nonexistent and threatening predicaments are few and far between. Small wonder then that many children that relish this sort of “cool” content decide that books aren’t for them and turn to other media that reflect their tastes. For such children, the reading habit is broken before it’s barely begun.
The majority of the "below average readers" referred to in the Literacy Trust report are boys. The report shows that “nearly twice as many boys as girls say that they don’t enjoy reading at all” and “twice as many boys as girls say that they never read outside of class”. And it’s no coincidence that the type of cool content that’s absent from picture books typically appeals to boys.
In a previous piece for the New Statesman's Cultural Capital blog, I highlighted the fact that that most of the gatekeepers in the world of picture books — commissioning editors, infant teachers, children’s librarians, reviewers – are women. However the picture book industry, like any other industry, is subject to the rule of supply and demand and the most influential gatekeepers are consumers. The overwhelming majority of picture books are bought by women, consequently the picture book market reflects female-typical tastes far more than male-typical ones. Even picture books that are intended to appeal to boys partially reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually purchase them. This won't change unless fathers and grandfathers start buying more picture books.
The Literacy Trust’s report was published to coincide with the launch of its “Literacy Heroes” campaign celebrating people who inspire a love of books. Dads are always being encouraged to read more to their children at bedtimes; I’d like to encourage dads to go one step further and commit another small act of literacy heroism by going into a bookshop and choosing a really cool picture book to read to their kids.
Saturday, 28 September 2013
Marketing children’s books for individual sexes is a bad idea — but so is ignoring sex-typical preferences.
I’m aware that some people think that by acknowledging certain reading tastes as boy-typical and girl-typical I am at odds with campaigns seeking to challenge harmful gender stereotyping such as Let Toys Be Toys.
The principles of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign are outlined in this statement on the home page of their web site.
Let Toys Be Toys is asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.
Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them.
I wholeheartedly subscribe to these principles, which ought to apply to books as much as toys. Marketing or packaging a book or a toy as “for girls” or “for boys” reinforces stereotypes in a way that can limit the development of a child of either sex. As an author, I want the books I’ve written to be bought and read by as wide an audience as possible. Aside from the stereotyping issue, deterring half that audience by telling them that this book is not for them makes little sense from a business point of view.
What I can’t subscribe to is the dogmatic belief, often held by supporters of campaigns such as this, that sex differences in children’s preferences are entirely determined by environment and upbringing and that nature plays no role whatsoever. Far from promoting equality, I think that this belief is actually hindering the closure of gender gaps in children’s abilities, including literacy.
I’ve described this belief as 'dogmatic' as, in my experience, people that hold it are far more likely to attack the evidence against it than they are to examine the evidence for. Indeed I suspect that some of them may not even be aware of the nature of this evidence, so I’d like to highlight the case study that was the most instrumental in establishing this belief.
In 1965 a Canadian woman, Janet Reimer, gave birth to identical twin sons, Bruce and Brian. A year later, Bruce Riemer lost his entire penis in a botched circumcision. Desperate to give their child as normal a life as possible, Janet and her husband Ron followed the advice of psychologist John Money and began raising their son as girl. Money persuaded the Reimers that gender identity could be determined by upbringing alone and that if Bruce believed he was female and was raised as a girl he could have a relatively normal life as a woman. So the child’s testes were removed and a vagina was formed and Bruce became Brenda. Money explained that for the gender reassignment to be effective, Brenda must never learn of her birth sex and the Riemers agreed to keep this secret from both their children and everyone they interacted with.
|Left: Psychologist John Money’s case study of John/Joan helped establish the belief that gender identity was determined by upbringing alone. Right: David Reimer the subject of the John/Joan study.|
Over the following years Money monitored the development of both Brenda and her brother Brian. The fact that Brian was Brenda’s identical twin, a genetic clone, made the case ideal for study, providing Money with a “matched control” that he could use for comparison. In 1972 Money documented the case in a book called Man Woman, Boy Girl. Changing Brian/Brenda’s name to John/Joan to maintain her anonymity, Money reported that the gender reassignment as an unqualified success. He claimed that as a result of being brought up as girl, Brenda had developed girl-typical tastes and contrasted her interest in "dolls, a doll house and a doll carriage" with her brother’s interest in "cars and gas pumps and tools”. A second book, Sexual Signatures, followed in 1975 in which Money claimed that Brenda’s case was “dramatic proof that the gender-identity option is open at birth for normal infants”.
The following excerpt is taken from John Colapinto’s 1997 Rolling Stone article The True Story of John/Joan
“That the twins were reported to have grown into happy, well-adjusted children of opposite sex seemed unassailable proof of the primacy of rearing over biology in the differentiation of the sexes and was the basis for the rewriting of textbooks in a wide range of medical disciplines. Most seriously, the case set a precedent for sex reassignment as the standard treatment for thousands of newborns with similarly injured, or irregular, genitals. It also became a touchstone for the feminist movement in the 1970s, when it was cited as living proof that the gender gap is purely a result of cultural conditioning, not biology. For Dr. John Money, the medical psychologist who was the architect of the experiment, this case was to be the most publicly celebrated triumph of a 40-year career that recently earned him the accolade "one of the greatest sex researchers of the century."The John/Joan case continued to be presented as unassailable proof that gender identity is simply a result of cultural conditioning for over 25 years, by which time the idea had become widely accepted by both scientists and the general public.
However not everyone had accepted it. Biologist Milton Diamond had always maintained that gender identity had a biological component and had remained sceptical of Money’s theories. He’d been trying to track down the Reimer family for years and in 1997 he finally succeeded. He didn’t succeed in finding Brenda Reimer — because Brenda had undergone surgery to revert to her original sex and was now living as David, quite unaware of how influential his case had become. The account that David Reimer and his family gave of Brenda’s childhood contrasted starkly with the one that Money had published. Throughout her childhood Brenda had rejected the girls' toys she was encouraged to play with and the girls' clothing she was expected to wear in favour of masculine alternatives. "I could see that Brenda wasn't happy as a girl," Janet recalled. "She was very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine”. Her brother Brian recalled that when Brenda was 6 or 7 years old, her ambition was to be “a garbage man”.
Both twins regarded their sessions with John Money as unpleasant ordeals and described how the avuncular front Money presented to their parents disappeared once the psychologist had the twins on their own. During the sessions Money made the twins rehearse sexual acts with each other as he believed this was needed to establish a “healthy adult gender identity”. At age 8 Brenda began to resist the regular visits to Money’s clinic. By 13 Brenda was suffering from suicidal depression and told her parents she would kill herself if she was made to see Money again, at which point the family broke contact with the psychologist. A year later Brenda’s parents decided to ignore Money’s instructions and told Brenda the truth about her birth gender. She immediately assumed a male identity and began calling herself David. By the time Milton Diamond found him in 1997, David had undergone surgery to reverse his gender reassignment, had married a woman and was a stepfather to three children. David Reimer subsequently committed suicide in 2004.
The realisation that Money had misrepresented the John/Joan case to support his theories sent shockwaves across the scientific and medical community. One unfortunate consequence of the acceptance of Money’s theories was that gender reassignment had become common practice for boys born with malformed or missing genitals. I outlined urologists William Reiner and John Gearheart’s follow-up study of a group of children with one such condition, cloacal exstrophy, on page 8 of my essay Nature and Nurture. Money and his supporters dismissed the failure of David Reimer’s reassignment on the grounds that Reimer had been almost 22 months old when the initial reassignment surgery had taken place, allowing a male gender identity to become imprinted on him prior to reassignment. However thirteen of the fourteen gender-reassigned children in Reiner and Gearheart’s study underwent surgery within two weeks of birth. The study was already underway before Money’s theories had been discredited and, following Money’s methodology, all fourteen children were being raised as girls. Despite Money’s claims, the study showed that all fourteen children grew up, like David Reimer, displaying male-typical preferences and behaviour. As a result of this and other studies, gender reassignment is now only used on infants in exceptional circumstances.
Despite the complete discrediting of the John/Joan studies and the growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that BOTH nature and nurture are responsible for gender identity, the belief that nurture alone is responsible seems to have become an article of faith for many people and even some psychologists such as Cordelia Fine. Fine’s book Delusions of Gender does a great job of outlining the evidence for the influence of nurture, but presents a deeply prejudiced assessment of the evidence for nature, with Fine attempting to debunk each and every study as she goes. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that while this book was warmly received by reviewers in the mainstream media, it had a cooler reception from her fellow scientists some of whom have commented that Fine’s “critiques of the science are as weak and unfounded as she accuses the science to be”. According to Fine, the field of gender identity is full of scientists misrepresenting evidence in order to support their theories, but her book conveniently neglects to mention John Money, the field’s most notorious offender in this respect. Fine also has a convenient habit of omitting some of the most compelling evidence contradicting her beliefs — my 2012 edition of Delusions of Gender does not contain a single reference to the studies of cloacal exstrophy.
How does this affect the gender gap in children’s literacy?
The problem with believing that reading tastes are entirely determined by upbringing is that it gives people an excuse to dismiss this difference in content. The argument goes something like this: It doesn't matter if it’s overwhelmingly one sex deciding what is suitable and appealing for picture books — if we raise both sexes in the same way, they'll develop the same tastes. Then they’ll find the same books equally appealing and the literacy gender gap will disappear.
I hope I’ve shown in this post that, while such an approach might take us some of the way, it won’t enable us to close the gender gap. To do that we need to accept that nature also plays a part in determining children’s preferences. We need to recognise that some preferences are sex-typical.
The critical thing is to produce more picture books that include the types of boy-friendly content that are currently only found in films, TV and video games. Doing so would not reinforce sexual stereotypes providing the books themselves were not marketed as being “for boys only”. Children are quite capable of deciding what sort of content they like for themselves.
Friday, 2 August 2013
Inclusive Minds is a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children's literature and are committed changing the face of children's books. Click here to visit the Inclusive Minds web site.
“Avoid pigs and witches,” — this advice was given to me a few years ago when I was writing fiction for a schools’ reading scheme. Pigs had to be avoided because they could offend Muslim readers and witches because they could offend Christians. The editor that imparted this advice knew from experience that stories that included them were unlikely to be accepted for publication in a schools’ reading scheme.
Picture book publishers are less sensitive about these elements and three of my most popular picture books are about pigs. When I do a school or library visit, I give the school or library service advance notice of which books I intend to read so they can assess their suitability. I’m rarely asked to change my original selection, but when I am it’s usually on the grounds of religion. On one occasion in 2010 I had to cut my picture book Pigs Might Fly from a visit as the library I was visiting was in a predominately Muslim area and the library service felt that some of the audience might find the book offensive. A couple of years earlier, a predominately Asian (mixed Hindu and Muslim) school I visited in the same city had specifically asked me to read the same book. When I’d mentioned the supposed unsuitability of the book for a Muslim audience to one of the school’s Asian teachers, she’d rolled her eyes and shook her head at the idea that anyone might hold this view.
Although the belief that Muslims find stories about pigs offensive is still evident among publishers, librarians and teachers, in my experience it’s only non-Muslims that subscribe to it. Indeed, as long ago as 2003 the Muslim Council of Britain appealed for an end to the "well-intentioned but misguided" movement to remove books featuring pigs from primary school shelves so as not to offend Muslims.
The wider point here is that the most reliable way to judge a book’s appeal to a certain demographic group is to get a member of that demographic group to judge it. The judgement of a well-informed outsider will generally be less reliable than that of a well-informed insider.
I’ve been making this point a lot recently, but the issue has been gender rather than religion. I believe that picture books tend to reflect female reading tastes more than male ones and that this is deterring many boys from establishing a reading habit. I’ve written at length about this issue at coolnotcute.com and made several suggestions as to how male tastes might be better represented in the picture book world. One suggestion I’ve made is that both sexes be equally represented on the judging panel of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, which also judges the Carnegie Medal for fiction. The Carnegie Greenaway panels have been overwhelmingly female for some time and this year all thirteen judges were women. I’ve suggested that the Carnegie Greenaway should follow the example of grown-up literary awards, such as the Man Booker, by selecting gender-balanced panels from next year onwards.
If we want every child to love books, we have to do our utmost to make sure that every child’s perspective is accurately reflected in them. At the moment I think we’re falling far short of this, particularly in the world of picture books where reading habits are first established. It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If a child does not see their perspective represented in the world of children’s books, they’re less likely to want to enter that world. They’re less likely to read books and less likely to become publishers, booksellers, children’s librarians — or book award judges. And, if they have children of their own, they are less likely to read to them. If we want to break this cycle, we have to make a concerted effort to get under-represented groups directly involved in the world of children’s literature.
While some people have supported my proposal of a gender-balanced Carnegie Greenaway others have strongly opposed it. The judging panel is made up of children’s librarians and one children’s librarian told me that it was hugely insulting to her profession to suggest that a gender-balanced panel would be a better judge of books for children of both sexes than a woman-only panel.
One justification for a woman-only panel is that any differences between male and female reading tastes are entirely a result of upbringing, so the gender of the panellists is irrelevant. I’m not going to address this particular argument here, but my essay Nature and Nurture outlines some of the scientific evidence that contradicts this view.
Other justifications I’ve heard for a woman-only panel are:
- The judges are representative of the profession, which is overwhelmingly female.
- It tends to be women that put themselves forward to be judges.
- The judges are highly trained, experienced professionals who are entirely objective in their judgments.
- Gender-balancing the panel would mean that some male judges would be selected on the basis of representation rather than merit.
Appropriately reworded, these same four arguments could be used to justify the under-representation of any demographic group, whether that demographic related to religion, class, race or sexuality. I suspect that some of the people that used these arguments to justify an all-women panel would be less comfortable using them to justify an all-white panel.
These same four arguments have also been used to justify the under-representation of women in the British judiciary. 23% of the judiciary of England and Wales are women compared with 51% of the population. This is the third lowest figure in Europe — the European average is 48% women in the judiciary. High court judges are highly trained, experienced professionals; I suspect that some of them might find the suggestion that a gender-balanced judiciary would be better than a male-dominated one “hugely insulting”. Nevertheless, there is a growing acceptance both within and without the legal profession that the judiciary ought to be more representative of the population as a whole, not just in terms of gender, but in terms of race and other demographics.
Being of a different sex, race, class, religion or sexuality brings a different perspective to judgment that no amount of training can authentically replicate – and this applies to the judges on a children’s book award panel as much as the judges on high court benches.
The Carnegie Greenaway panel’s lack of inclusivity is only a tiny part of this problem, but it’s not insignificant. The Carnegie and Greenaway awards do a great deal to promote children’s literature and thoroughly deserve their prestigious positions. But their prestigious positions are also the reason I’ve chosen to focus on them. If the Carnegie and Greenaway adopted an inclusive approach to panel selection then other children’s awards might follow their example. The winners of many children’s book awards are decided by children’s votes, but the shortlists for these awards are sometimes selected by a panel of adults — if so, that panel needs to be inclusive! And if book awards became more inclusive, other institutions in children’s literature might follow suit.
Book awards are important. When we give a book an award we’re not just recognising that that particular book is exceptional, we’re sending out a message that books are to be cherished and valued. If we want every child to pay attention to that message, we have to ensure that every child’s perspective is accurately and equally reflected in the judging of children’s book awards.
Friday, 12 July 2013
Fine’s depiction of the science probably needs addressing in a separate post, but in the meantime here’s a selection of documentaries outlining the evidence for innate sex differences and one showing how an awareness of sex differences in children's preferences can help to close the gender gap in children's literacy.
Bang Goes the Theory (BBC 2009)This short clip from the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory science magazine programme deals with sex differences in children’s toy preferences. It features both a Child X study, which demonstrates the role that nurture plays in determining children’s tastes, and Melissa Hines and Gerianne Alexander's primate study, which suggests that nature also plays an important role.
The Gender Equality Paradox (NRK 2010)This Norwegian documentary (in English and Norwegian with English subtitles) features interviews with researchers on both sides of the innate sex differences debate. The “paradox" of the programme’s title is that young people in gender-egalitarian countries such as Norway tend to be more gender-typical in their career choices than young people in less gender-egalitarian countries. Evolutionary psychologist Anne Campbell offers an explanation for this paradox in the programme.
It’s worth noting that all of the researchers featured in the programme that accept the evidence for innate sex differences are either scientists or medical practitioners, while none of the researchers dismissing the scientific evidence are scientifically or medically qualified.
Brainsex (BBC 2005)This documentary examines a range of sex-difference studies including those carried out by psychologist Richard Lippa in collaboration with the BBC. The Lippa/BBC studies are based on the analyses of survey results from 200,000 people across 53 countries and demonstrate consistent sex differences in preferences across all cultures.
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys (BBC 2010)My argument in Cool Not Cute is about prevention: I believe that boys’ underachievement in literacy can be nipped in the bud if the first books that boys encounter reflect their enthusiasms as much as TV or video games currently do. This 3-part series is about cure. In it choirmaster Gareth Malone attempts to mend the long-broken reading habits of older primary school boys. Malone believes that primary school teaching tends to encourage girls more than boys and sets out to correct this bias by introducing a number of boy-friendly factors including risk, competition and vigorous outdoor activity.
This second episode focusses on reading. It begins with the boys play-fighting a Roman battle with swords and shields, an activity that’s intended to fire-up their enthusiasm to read about the Romans. Acknowledging the importance of appealing book content, Malone takes a group of reluctant boy readers to a bookshop to make their own choice of boy-friendly books to add to the school library. “I don’t want the teachers [all but one of whom are female] to be deciding on all the books,” he explains to them.
This approach is more effective with some boys than others and no doubt some of the girls in the school would also have benefitted from it. However, while Malone’s experiment lacks scientific rigour, it shows how an awareness of innate sex differences can be used to close gender-gaps and promote equality between the sexes. Malone is hardly a swaggering alpha male and it’s clear that his promotion of risk, competition and vigorous outdoor activity is intended to engage boys in schooling so that they will turn into sensitive, well-rounded individuals rather than brutish sexual stereotypes.
The other 2 episodes of the series can also be viewed using the links below:
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys: Episode 1
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys: Episode 3
Saturday, 22 June 2013
I don’t accept that acknowledging sex differences is in any way anti-feminist and it’s a mistake to regard such acknowledgements as reflecting either a right or left-wing political perspective, as an exchange on this week’s BBC’s Question Time programme (starts at 14:17 mins) ably demonstrates.
|MP Tessa Jowell (left) and columnist Melanie Phillips (far right) on this week’s Question Time.|
I’m not sure who that bloke in the middle is.
The Commission’s recommendation is in line with the views of Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, who wrote in a recent article, "I have joked that a “male” culture of reckless financial risk taking was at the heart of the global crisis. Studies back this up. Men trade more often—some say 45 percent more often—and risk taking can be mapped to trading room profits and losses. Mixing the genders can help. Companies with more women on their boards have higher sales, higher returns on equity, and higher profitability."
One of the studies Lagarde is referring to was carried out by Cambridge scientist John Coates who suggests that an effective way to “to lower extreme levels of testosterone or increase oestrogenic effects on a trading floor is to hire more older men and more women.”
Right-wing newspaper columnist Melanie Phillips dismissed Jowell’s argument, claiming that both men and women are equally susceptible to the “recklessness” that contributed to the economic collapse.
Phillips’ dismissal of sex differences echo the views of Cordelia Fine, the Australian psychologist and author of Delusions of Gender. Published in 2010, this book claims to show “The Real Science Behind Sex Differences” and supposedly debunks many of the recent studies and experiments that suggest innate differences between the sexes. The book has been widely acclaimed in the mainstream media, receiving favourable reviews in both the left-leaning Guardian and the right-leaning Daily Mail for which Phillips writes a regular column. Fine’s “debunkings” are largely dependant on her claims that the studies were not conducted and/or interpreted in an objective and impartial manner. Some of these claims turned out to be nothing more than assumptions on Fine’s part and were swiftly rebutted in the professional journal The Psychologist. Not surprisingly, the reviews Fine’s book received from her fellow scientists in The Psychologist and other sceintific journals, such as the Biology of Sex Differences, are somewhat different from the ones in the Mail and Guardian.
Regardless of its veracity, Fine’s claim — that there is no such thing as innate sex differences — is embraced by individuals on both sides of the political spectrum and is a card that can be played both ways in arguments concerning inclusivity and gender. By rejecting Jowell’s claim that women are less risk averse than men, Phillips was undermining the credibility of Jowell’s case for including more women in the banking industry. A similar argument – that women will bring nothing new to the table – could be employed against moves to include more women in parliament or the judiciary. If women are going to behave indistinguishably from men in these roles, why should their relative numbers be an issue?
I’ve been hearing a similar argument — that men would have brought nothing new to the table – as a justification for this year’s Greenaway Carnegie women-only judging panel.
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
My last post was in response to this year’s selection of a women-only Greenaway and Carnegie judging panel and included an email that I’d written to awards organisers urging them to adopt a gender-balanced panel for future awards.
At the end of the post I said that if anything came of it, I’d post an update on this blog.
Well, I’ve yet to receive a response form the awards organisers. I'd cc’d the email to CILIP’s Chief Executive and I did receive a prompt response from CILIP’s Campaign Manager, who told me that he’d forwarded my email to the Co-ordinator and the Chair of awards’ working party who where best placed to answer the “interesting points” I’d raised. He made it clear that they were very busy people who ran the awards on a voluntary basis and so they might take some time to get back to me. I thought I ought to give the organisers the opportunity to respond, which is why I stopped tweeting and blogging about the issue.
After six weeks of waiting I realised that the organisers probably weren’t going to respond to me, so I wrote to the media asking if they would help me raise awareness of the issue. The New Statesman offered me a guest post on their blog, which is reproduced below.
In the post I claim that “the Greenaway and Carnegie panels have for some time been overwhelmingly female.” I verified this by looking at the last few years’ judging panels as listed (or previously listed) on the “Meet the Judges” page of the Greenaway and Carnegie web site. Here’s a table showing what I found.
And here’s the post from the New Statesman blog.
There is a problem with boys and books — they don’t seem to want to read them as much as girls do. As a result, boys’ average reading abilities are lagging behind that of girls by the equivalent of one year's schooling. I believe this difference in appeal is partly due to a bias towards female tastes in children’s literature and in picture books in particular. Last year’s All Party Parliamentary Boys Reading Commission Report notes that the gap between boys’ and girls’ reading ability is already evident at age 5, which suggests that the problem starts at picture book age.
Although there are plenty of men such as myself writing and illustrating picture books, the gatekeepers in the world of picture books are overwhelmingly female. It’s predominately women publishers that select picture books for publication, women teachers that choose which books to read in nurseries and infant classrooms and women customers that purchase picture books for reading at home. Women aren’t keeping men out of these gatekeeper roles, the imbalance is there because relatively few men are interested in occupying them, but as a consequence picture books tend to reflect female tastes more than male ones.
Even picture books that are intended to appeal primarily to boys reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually be buying them as well as the child they’re bought for. Picture book pirates are less prone to combat than their counterparts in other media, monsters and aliens less frightening, vehicles and machines less technically detailed. Elements of danger and threat are tamed down or omitted altogether on the grounds of being unappealing or inappropriate. In short, picture books with boy-friendly themes tend to be cuter and tamer than similarly themed TV shows, films or video games.
I think the failure of picture books to accurately reflect the full range of boys’ tastes is deterring many boys from developing a reading habit. Elements with strong boy-appeal such as combat, peril, villainy and technology that are abundant in U certificate films like The Incredibles are rarely found or diluted in picture books. I believe that one reason many children, especially boys, reject books in favour of films, TV and video games is that these media reflect their tastes more effectively.
I’ve written at length about this issue at coolnotcute.com and made several suggestions as to how male tastes might be better represented in the picture book world. One suggestion is that both sexes should be equally represented on the judging panel of the Kate Greenaway Medal, the high-profile UK children’s book award that usually goes to a picture book illustrator. The award is organised by CILIP, the professional body for UK librarians and the winner is chosen each year by a panel of CILIP members who also chose the winner of the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction.
The Greenaway and Carnegie Medals are (to quote their web site) “the UK's oldest and most prestigious children's book awards” and widely regarded as children’s literature’s equivalents of the Man Booker Prize. However, while the Man Booker’s judging panels have been consistently gender-balanced since 1997, the Greenaway and Carnegie panels have for some time been overwhelmingly female. Last year there were twelve women and one man on the panel; this year all thirteen judges are women.
The Greenaway and Carnegie have always made an invaluable contribution to raising the profile of children’s books and promoting children’s literacy for both sexes and I don’t wish to detract from this achievement. However, if we want books to appeal to boys as much as girls, shouldn’t the UK’s “most prestigious children’s book awards” reflect male tastes as much as female ones?
I wrote to the awards’ organisers on 19 March to urge them to adopt a gender-balanced panel for future awards, but have yet to receive a response. I realise that adopting a gender-balanced panel would mean over-representing the number of men working as librarians, but surely it’s more important for “children’s” book awards to reflect the gender balance of the books’ intended readers rather than the profession that serves them? If there aren’t enough male librarians to balance a panel of thirteen, men from related professions such as teaching could be included. Or the size of the panel could be reduced until it could be balanced; a panel of five, like that of the Man Booker, would only require two men to balance it.
I recognise that, as professional librarians, the judges will do their best to be objective and take the reading preferences of both sexes into account. But no judge can be entirely objective; two librarians working in the same library might have differing opinions on the best children’s books published last year. Given that there’ll always be some degree of subjectivity, shouldn’t that subjectivity reflect the tastes of both sexes?
I don’t deny that previous year’s panels have sometimes selected books that have been very appealing to boys. And I can’t claim with any certainty that this year’s panel would select different books if it had been gender-balanced rather than women-only. However, I’d maintain that by consistently selecting panels made up overwhelmingly or exclusively of women, year after year, there is likely to be some overall bias in favour of female preferences. And at a time when we are struggling to make books appealing to boys, it makes sense to address this bias.
The Greenaway and Carnegie are wonderful awards and whichever books the judges pick this year will no doubt be worthy of the recognition that the medals bring them. However, these awards would be even more wonderful and the winning books even more worthy of recognition if both sexes were equally involved in choosing them. Such a change would also help to send out the message that books are for boys as much as girls.
For an alternative viewpoint, you might want to check out the comments section beneath the post on the The New Statesman site where book consultant and former Carnegie Greenaway judge, Jake Hope, defends the way the awards are judged and dismisses my call for a gender-balanced panel.
If you've got any thoughts on the issue, for or against, please post a comment below.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Both this year’s shortlists are as impressive as ever. Although I’m only familiar with a few of the books listed, I’ve no doubt that all of them are excellent and worthy of recognition. What is less impressive is the lack of gender-balance on this year’s judging panel; all thirteen judges on the 2013 panel are female.
In Part 1 of COOL not CUTE I wrote this about the 2012 Greenaway/Carnegie panel.
Neither award is gender-specific; they are supposed to recognise excellence in books for children of both sexes. There are thirteen librarians on the 2012 panel; only one of them is male. If this male to female balance reflects that of previous panels, it can be assumed that no one has ever won either the Carnegie or the Greenaway Medal by appealing to the little boys that the panellists once were.And in Part 2, I made the following suggestion.
One simple thing that CILIP could do to demonstrate its commitment to encouraging both boys and girls to read is to ensure that both sexes are equally represented on the judging panel for the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals. As the most prestigious book awards in the UK, this would set a fine example to other awards. I realise that this would mean over-representing the number of men in the profession, but what is more important — reflecting the preferences of the profession or of the readership it is meant to serve?I recognise that all the judges on this year's panel are experienced children’s librarians that understand the sort of content that appeals to boys, but surely it would have been better to include some male judges who could offer a genuinely male perspective?
As the most prestigious UK children’s book awards, the Greenaway and the Carnegie Awards are the junior equivalent of the Booker Prize. The panel for the Booker has always included judges of both sexes and since 1997 the panel has been made up of either 3 men and 2 women or 3 women and 2 men. Imagine if the Booker’s organisers selected a men-only panel, offering the assurance that all five men had a good awareness of what appealed to women. I suspect that few people in the world of grown-up literature would accept this as an adequate substitute for a gender-balanced judging panel.
If we want to persuade boys that books are for them as much as girls, shouldn’t prestigious book awards such as the Greenaway and the Carnegie give male opinions as much recognition as female ones?
I think they should, so I sent the organisers the following email.
Dear Greenaway and Carnegie Awards Organisers
As the UK’s most important children’s book awards, I recognise the invaluable contribution that the Greenaway and Carnegie make to raising the profile of children’s books and promoting children’s literacy. However, I’m writing to express my dismay at your selection of a women-only judging panel for this year’s awards.
I’m particularly concerned about the judging of the Greenaway award. I believe that one of the reasons so many boys are turned off reading at an early age is that the first books they encounter, which are usually picture books, tend to reflect female preferences far more than male ones. The overwhelming majority of picture books are both published and bought by women. And it’s usually women teachers and librarians that select picture books for schools and libraries. I believe this has resulted in a female bias in picture book content that’s exacerbating the gap between boys' and girls' reading abilities. I’ve written more about this issue on a blog at coolnotcute.com.
I don’t doubt the suitability of any of your individual panelists and recognise that as experienced children’s librarians they will understand the sort of content that appeals to boys, but surely it would have been better to have some male judges who could offer a genuinely male perspective? A judge of either sex will inevitably bring a degree of subjectivity to their judgement. They will tend to favour books that reflect their own tastes, that appeal to the child they once were. In a women-only panel, those children will all be girls
I accept that it’s too late to do anything about this year’s awards, but I urge you to follow the example set by other literary awards, such as the Booker, by selecting a gender-balanced panel from next year onwards. If you can’t find enough male librarians to balance a panel of thirteen you could include men from related professions, such as teaching. Or you could reduce the size of the panel until you can balance it; a panel of five, like that of the Booker, would only require two men to balance.
I recognise that the organisation of the awards requires a tremendous amount of effort on behalf of yourselves and other individuals and don’t wish to detract from this or undermine the credibility of the awards in any way. I’m sure that whichever books win this year will be worthy of the recognition that the awards will bring.
However, I think this effort would be even more commendable and the winners even more worthy of recognition if both sexes were equally involved in choosing them.
If anything comes of it, I'll post an update on this blog.
Monday, 18 February 2013
I wrote to all the picture book publishers I’ve worked with recently to let them know I was publishing the article and have heard back from most of them. Most of the publishers that responded acknowledged that the issue was worthy of debate but defended the picture book industry’s current output. Most of them did so by making one or more of the following points.
1. Many picture books currently being published appeal universally to both boys and girls.
2. Many picture books are published each year with themes with boy-typical appeal such as aliens, dinosaurs, monsters, diggers and pirates.
For instance, one picture book theme that’s particularly appealing to boys is pirates. In 2012 Aardman released a U certificate film called The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! which includes all of the Missing Ingredients listed in Part 2 of COOL not CUTE. Here are some specific examples:
Combat and Violence: Characters are seen fighting with cutlasses, firing pistols and canons and hitting each other with various objects such as frying pans. The violence in the film is generally non-lethal, but one running joke involves a pirate, Cutlass Liz, killing other pirates by running them through with her sword.
Peril and Threat: Characters repeatedly find themselves in life-threatening situations and at one point the hero is almost beheaded by an executioner.
Irredeemable Villainy: The film’s villain is an evil, sabre-wielding incarnation of Queen Victoria, who’s last seen swearing vengeance on the hero.
Although many pirate-themed picture books have been published over the last few years, very few of them contain dangerous, exciting ingredients such as these. I accept that some four-year-old boys will find these ingredients unappealing and I’m not arguing that ALL picture books should include them; but in addition to tamer, cuter picture books about pirates, aliens, dinosaurs, diggers and monsters, there need to be many more wilder, cooler picture books for the children of both sexes who are currently rejecting books in favour of films and TV shows which cater to their tastes.
3. Films and TV shows may have different standards of age-appropriateness to picture books, but that’s because picture books have higher standards.
I’ve been using films and TV shows as a measuring stick to judge picture books against. Should it be the other way around? Is it TV and films that are getting it wrong?
The main reason I think it’s reasonable to use film and TV age standards as a measuring stick is that they are judged in a far more impartial manner. TV shows and films have their age-appropriateness assessed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), an independent organisation that has a statutory responsibility to make such assessments.
To ensure that its judgements reflects public attitudes, the BBFC commissions regular public consultations and revises its guidelines accordingly. A report on the last consultation, comprising of 8700 interviews, can be found here on the BBFC web site. An appendix on page 79 of the report outlines the methods that were used to obtain a demographically diverse sample that represents the public as a whole.
I think this demographic diversity of views, including an equal representation of both sexes, goes a long way towards explaining the differing standards of age-appropriateness between films/TV and picture books. I think the more restrictive standards of age-appropriateness evident in picture books reflect the views of a far narrower demographic, and one that I’ve argued in COOL not CUTE is overwhelmingly female.
What do you think?
Are there any flaws in my arguments?
Friday, 15 February 2013
One email I received was from a content creator who’s been working in the picture book industry for longer than I have. They began by saying, “Thank you so much for articulating, in a calm and reasoned manner, what I've been frustrated by for many years,”* and went on to outline their experiences with several publishers where they had “come up against the cosy censorship and self-censorship” that I’d described.
Their comments seemed so pertinent that I wrote back to them asking if they’d post something similar in the comments section of the blog, without pointing the finger at any individual publishers. In their response they explained that, “the problem with accusing the gatekeepers of conscious or unconscious bias is that they are, unfortunately, still the gatekeepers,” and went on to say that they’d “got many very good female friends in publishing who would be completely outraged at the idea that they might not know what's best for boys. And that's my friends! So, unfortunately, I can't be the one to raise my head above the parapet.”*
I think this response explains the reluctance many people within the industry have towards expressing their views on this issue publicly.
Several of the people I’ve had responses from are picture book illustrators. When I was writing the article I’d assumed that the predominance of “cute” over “cool” was partly a reflection of the personal preferences of many illustrators and had suggested that illustrators with such preferences might be drawn to working in the picture book industry. However some of the comments I’ve received have made me reassess this view.
One illustrator made this comment about their experience at art college:
“It was funny how the idea' of 'cool' instantly reversed from a 'macho' GCSE school to a more 'feminine' art education and I think this was even reflected in ideas of what is good (suitable) art and bad.”*This suggests that, in some instances, illustrators may be encouraged to suppress their more boy-typical preferences as part of their training.
Other illustrators I subsequently heard from seemed to have had a relatively impartial training (or were self taught) but described being steered away from producing boy-friendly content once they began working in the industry. Two of them made the point that the cuteness that characterises much of their work was a reflection of supply and demand rather than personal preference. They both said they would like to work on more picture books with cooler or darker content, but could rarely get commissioned to do so. And, as one illustrator commented, they needed to “pay the bills” like everyone else. It wasn’t that these illustrators didn’t enjoy working on cute picture books, it’s just that they would have liked to work on some cool books as well.
I suspect that another reason that people both inside and outside the industry have been reluctant to post comments is because the acceptance of boy-typical or girl-typical preferences is often dismissed or condemned as sexism. I should say that - so far – no one has accused me of this in their responses.
The word “typical” is important in these descriptions. While some of the parents that have contacted me have told me that the article reflects their experiences with their sons, others have told me that their sons would not like some of the content, such as combat, peril and villainy, that I’ve identified as having boy-typical appeal. Other parents have told me that their daughters find this same content extremely appealing and made the point that the differences in content between picture books and other media is driving children of both sexes away from books and towards TV and films.
I’d tried to acknowledge these last two points at the beginning of Part 2 of COOL not CUTE where I said that “there will be girls who find all the ingredients I’ve listed very appealing and there will be boys who find none of them appealing.” Throughout that article I made a point of referring to “many” boys preferences, rather than “all” boys or even “most” boys. The article also acknowledges that, while I regard these preferences as boy-typical, they are shared by “many” girls. However it’s a long article, so I can understand that these distinctions and qualifications may have been lost in the mix for some readers.
Although I’d still like people to share their comments and criticisms using the comments sections of this blog, I’ve now added an email link on the right for those who’d prefer to email me instead. As always I’m interested in hearing ANY comments — for or against.
Although I’ve had feedback from authors, illustrators, parents and a couple of reviewers, I’d be particularly interested to hear from infants teachers or children’s librarians as I’ve yet to hear anything from anyone in either of these groups.
The other group I have heard from is publishers and I’m going to address some of their comments and criticisms in my next post.
In the meantime if you are willing to join me “above the parapet”, please use the comments box/link below!
* The quotes in this post are used with permission.