Is There Such a Thing as “Girl Books”??
In all the time I have spent traveling to different schools, libraries, and other groups to speak to kids, there is one thing I have observed: Both girls and boys enjoy listening to me talk. While this sounds totally egocentric of me to admit, I swear I’m saying it for a reason! That reason being–I never thought seventh grade boys would enjoy listening to me talk about anything! Much less sit there for an hour and a half while I regale the long and semi-humorous story of how I got published, explain in great detail the plot lines of my two books, and give advice on every writing topic under the sun. And yet–they do! They sit there with their faces pulled in a little half-smirk as they try not to let any of their buddies see just how interesting they find it all. They ask questions, like “So how much money do you make?” and “Hey, are you gonna write another book soon?” and then actually listen as I answer. It’s quite overwhelming, to tell the truth, and immensely flattering!
But as I was thinking about the boys who listen to my lectures the other day, I started wondering just how many of them actually go home and read my book. While it’s true that I have signed many a book to a young middle school boy, I can usually tell by that slight squirm or shift of the eye that those boys are the slightest bit embarrassed. What if their friends catch them with it? What if people can tell that they’re reading a girl book?
And so I started asking myself–Just what is a girl book? And why are boys so scared of them?
If you regarded every single book out there with a photograph of a girl on the cover as a sissified “girl book”, then yeah, no wonder we don’t have too many middle and high-school aged boys reading for fun these days. Because they go to book stores and get it pounded in their heads by all their peers and all the marketing professionals out there that these books are for teenage girls. They’re treated with the same scorn and rejection as the Twilight series, and boys either grab a thick dark book with a dragon claw on the spine, or they make a hasty beeline for the door.
And haven’t you noticed that the exact same is NOT applicable of female readers? You’ll rarely come across a book-loving young girl who wouldn’t jump at the chance to read a book with a dragon, sword, or alien on the cover. Those books aren’t marked “For Boys Only” or made strictly off-limits to anyone in a skirt. Instead, we encourage young women to stand up against the seemingly sexist book market and read those adventurous novels! Girls can basically read any book, any time, anywhere, and not get judged for it.
So why the double standard? Why are guys so afraid of looking “girly”, and girls so fearless about being adventurous?
It’s a question that took me a long, long time to think through, and even now I struggle with it sometimes. It’s always a challenge for me to sell my books to the male market, but it’s something I work long and hard at. I usually stand up in front of a room full of middle-schoolers and put my hands on my hips and ask in deep voice, “Now, I know what you guys are thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Is this a chick book?’” And that will usually draw some chuckles and nudges from all the preteen males in the room. Then I’ll tell them a funny story about one guy friend of mine who told me that he read my book on an airplane and started to cry. But because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was crying, he started freaking out and trying to cover it. So he ended up making some kind of strangled sound in his throat and sat there staring at my book with a look of contorted horror on his face. The guys usually love that story, and if I make them chuckle, they start to realize that hey, if this cool girl’s friend really liked the book, maybe I would too.
It’s really just one small step, but I think it’s a big leap when it comes to opening up the world of middle-grade literature to both girls and guys. Boys need to realize that reading a book with a girl on the cover isn’t going to make them weak, it’s going to make them smarter. Maybe they’ll learn something about life, or friendship, or even just the way the female mind thinks. And you know what? If they don’t like a book, they don’t have to read it again. Hopefully they’ll just remember that.
Stereotypical “Girly” Books That Should Really Be Read By Middle School Guys:
- “Chasing Jupiter” by Rachel Coker (duh!)
- “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale
- “The Two Princesses of Bamarre” by Gail Carson Levine
- “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
- “Matilda” by Roald Dahl
- “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare
P.S. And here is a fantastic blog entry on boys reading “girl books” by Shannon Hale, who really got me thinking on the subject!