I’ve set up this blog because I want to start a debate about gender bias in picture books.

I believe that the scarcity of male gatekeepers in the picture book industry means that its output reflects boys’ tastes less than girls’ and that this lack of gender-balance is exacerbating the gender gap in children's 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 argues that the lack of gender-balance among publishers, teachers, librarians and picture-book-buyers is making picture books more appealing to girls than boys.

Part 2: The Missing Ingredients lists some of the ingredients with boy-typical appeal that are missing from most picture books and suggests ways to gender-balance picture book appeal.

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 that BOTH nature and nurture are responsible for sex differences in children's 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


These three essays were revised and updated in February 2015. You can read a blog post outlining the revisions and the reasons for them here.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

James Daunt's response to my open letter on gender balancing the Waterstones Children's Book Prize

Here is James Daunt's response to the open letter I sent earlier this week regarding gender balancing the Waterstones Children's Book Prize.

I think the first paragraph may have been a result of a misunderstanding. I was not suggesting that there should be an equal number of male and female authors and illustrators on future shortlists. I was suggesting that future shortlisting/judging should be done by a reasonably gender-balanced group of booksellers. I clarified this to Mr Daunt in a subsequent email.

Dear Mr Emmett 
I agree with the general argument you make but not with the conclusion. The prize should go to the best books irrespective of the gender of the author: in short, I do not believe there should be gender-balanced shortlisting. The prize is aimed at celebrating new and relatively unknown authors which reinforces a central commitment to intrinsic quality. 
The question for us then is whether the judging is fair or is, as you intimate, skewed in favour of female authors. Certainly I have believed it to be fair. We have a longlist from which the shortlist is decided and, having been personally involved in the reading and discussion of these, detected no bias in the judging. 
You are right to suspect that there is a strong female bias to the Waterstones children’s bookselling cohort, as there is also in senior and editorial positions within children’s publishing. At the most senior level within Waterstones we are alive to the importance of encouraging boys to read and generally I think this is appreciated at the shop level. The Book Prize is an important promotion but sits within a schedule of equally visible promotions within our shops. Many are within the control of the individual shops, but there are also centrally dictated offers such as a Book of the Month. Overall, we try to promote a fair proportion of books at boys 
Your letter is interesting and provoking, and I will bear it strongly in mind not only when we come to the prize again next year, but also in how we run promotions in the meantime. It is, as you argue, important. 
With kind regards 
James

I am grateful to Mr Daunt for taking the time to address my argument. However, he has since made it clear that he is currently not willing to commit to any change in how the prize is run.

I still maintain that gender-balanced judgement is every bit as appropriate to children's literature as it is to adult literature, regardless of which sex is predominant, and will continue to campaign for it.

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