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 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 essays below.

scroll down further for blog posts


cool not cute: what boys really want from picture books

This two-part essay contains my main argument.

Part 1: The Uneven Playing Field explains how publishers, schools, libraries and parents all play a role in making the content of picture books less appealing to boys than girls.

Part 2: What Boys Really Want from Picture Books lists some of the boy-friendly ingredients missing from most picture books and suggests ways to tackle the gender gap.

Click here to view/download a pdf of COOL not CUTE Click here to view/download an Executive Summary of the essay


nature and nurture: boys will be boys

This essay looks at some of the scientific evidence that suggests there are innate differences in boys' and girls' preferences.

Click here to view/download a pdf of NATURE and NURTURE


fighters and fashionistas: the spectre of stereotyping

This essay addresses concerns about gender stereotyping which may arise from the assertion that some preferences are boy or girl-typical.

Click here to view/download a pdf of FIGHTERS and FASHIONISTAS


Errata: As well as correcting typographical errors, I've made some corrections to factual errors in the articles above since they were published, which are listed here.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Another all-female Carnegie Greenaway judging panel – but I’ve decided to draw a line under my gender-balance campaign.

I noticed last week that the “Meet the Judges” page of the Carnegie Greenaway site had been updated to show this year’s judging panel. As was the case in 2013, there are no men among the 13 judges.

This wasn't a surprise as the organisers had told me this would be the case last November (the judges having already been selected). Nevertheless, having spent the last year trying to persuade the Youth Libraries Group to adopt a gender-balanced panel, I’m obviously disappointed with this outcome. I’d like to stress again that I don’t question the suitability of any of the individual judges – I am simply questioning the appropriateness of a single-sex judging panel for awards given to books for children of both sexes.

The gender balance of the Carnegie Greenaway and the Man Booker judging panels for the last decade.
Click the image to see a larger version.

I had said at the end of my last post that I intended to keep pressing the case, but having reflected on it for a couple of weeks, I’ve now decided not to.

I’m still convinced that, given the gender gap in children's literacy, the UK’s most prestigious children’s literature awards ought to have a gender-balanced judging panel. However, the only people that can bring about this change are the YLG members who select the judges. Over the last few months I’ve been able to put the case for gender-balanced judging to YLG members through their newsletter. Having been granted a fair hearing, I accept that it’s now down to the members themselves to decide if they want to make a change. So I’m going to use this post to recap a few key points before drawing a line under my campaign for the foreseeable future.

Here are three things I knew when I started the campaign (but have been told repeatedly) and three things I’ve learnt over the course of the last year.

Three things I knew when I started


1: MEN ARE TO BLAME!

At the end of my COOL not CUTE essay about the wider gender-bias in the world of picture books, I concluded that if one demographic group was to blame for this bias, “it is adult men, for failing to take sufficient interest in what young children are reading.” I recognise that the lack of men on the Carnegie Greenaway panel reflects the lack of men among the YLG membership. However I think there is little chance that this imbalance will change unless men that are willing to join the panel are actively encouraged to do so. My suggestion that the regions select judges on an alternating male/female basis is not that different from the approach that the Labour Party now uses to encourage its local parties to select female parliamentary candidates.

2: Even if there is a gender balance problem in children’s books, the makeup of the Carnegie Greenaway panel would only represent a tiny part of it.

I set up this blog to highlight what I believe to be a female bias in the world of picture books. All-female Carnegie Greenaway panels are only a tiny part of this, but they’re emblematic of a wider gender-imbalance among all the gatekeeper groups that judge what's appealing and appropriate for young children to read. By highlighting the lack of gender-balance in two such prestigious awards I hoped to raise awareness of the wider issue. I’ve argued elsewhere for gender balance in other, more influential, gatekeeper groups, such as consumers, and will continue to do so.

3: The awards are judged in accordance with fixed criteria.

It’s been argued that the judging criteria of the Carnegie and Greenaway ensure that the awards are judged objectively. The Greenaway’s criteria relate to a picture book’s artistic and aesthetic qualities, its typography and how the text relates to the illustrations, while the Carnegie’s criteria relate to a novel’s plotting, characterisation and the effectiveness of its writing style. I accept that these criteria provide a focus for the judges’ deliberations, but each individual judge’s opinion of how well a book meets these criteria is still subjective. Indeed if the judges don’t have differing subjective opinions, then why are there thirteen of them? If one reason for having such a large panel is to reflect a wide range of views when making a judgement, then, at a time when children’s books appeal less to boys than girls, shouldn’t that range incorporate male views as much as female ones?

Three things I’ve learnt in the last year


1: The individual judges are selected by the YLG regions they represent and the awards organisers have no influence over their selection.

I initially wrote to the awards organisers to try to persuade them to take a gender-balanced approach to panel selection. However it has since been explained to me that the judges are selected by the YLG members in each of the regions they represent. Once selected, each judge serves two years and there is a rolling programme of changes so that each judging panel includes a mix of year 1 and year 2 judges.

2: There is a gender balance issue with picture book protagonists.

In her response to my YLG newsletter article, awards organiser Joy Court refers to Liza Miller’s MA dissertation “Society and Commercialism: Core Factors in Picture Book Sex Stereotyping” which reveals that male protagonists outnumber female protagonists in Greenaway-winning picture books by a ratio of 2:1. This imbalance could be interpreted as demonstrating a bias towards male protagonists among Greenaway judges, however Miller’s dissertation suggests that it’s a reflection of a bias in the output of the picture book industry as a whole. While the under-representation of female characters is clearly an issue that needs addressing, I don’t think a bias towards male protagonists can be taken to demonstrate a pro-male bias across picture book content as a whole.

3: There are other, equally important, inclusivity issues that should be considered in the judging of children’s book awards.

Liza Miller’s dissertation touches briefly on racial representation, stating that “not a single Asian or African character has ever featured in a Kate Greenaway-winning picture book.” Again, it should be stressed that this under-representation reflects the output of the picture book industry as a whole. Having said which, there has only been one non-white judge on the Carnegie Greenaway panel in the last eight years*. I have tried to make the case for wider inclusivity in the judging of children’s book awards in this blog post.


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. If only one YLG region decides to take gender balance and wider inclusivity into account when selecting their judges, it will help make these two great awards even greater.


*Judging by the photographs of each year's judges on the Carnegie Greenaway web site. I was only able to obtain complete sets of photographs from 2007 onwards.

Read all the posts on gender-balancing the judging of the Carnegie Greenaway


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for mentioning my dissertation, Jonathan – so encouraging to see it's helping highlight the lack of diversity in UK picture book publishing. I understand your decision to stand back from the campaign, but it's been fab seeing this whole debate play out, kickstarted by you. I'm sure your efforts have definitely planted a seed among YLG members.

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  2. Thanks for commenting, Liza. Although the responses I've posted from YLG members on this blog have been critical, I've had supportive responses from others, so I hope I have indeed "planted a seed" that will result in a more representative judging panel.

    As you know, I fully support your own call to address the pro-male bias in picture book characters. I think that gender bias can manifest itself in picture books in many different ways and I don't see your call as being at odds with my own call to address a pro-female gender bias in other areas.

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