Is There Such a Thing as “Girl Books”??

boy reading

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 meΒ 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 myΒ  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”Β 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!

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  1. * Javoniel Trowers says:

    I really like this! I do understand why boys shy away from girly books but to me, your books don’t seem girly. I think the girl on the cover and from a girl’s perspective doesn’t make it girly. For me at least, it’s the topic: romance mainly and some other things girls like.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      I completely agree, with one exception. I have found that a lot of guys actually enjoy a little romance in a book! Guys experience feelings and emotions in real life, and the majority of them actually do tend to get “into” the love triangles of a book. Whether they admit it or not. πŸ˜‰

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  2. * Katia says:

    I agree. It’s weird that it’s taboo in our society for them to read books about girls. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like there are that many books about boys for that age group, either. I love all of those “girly” books that you recommended.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  3. * themagicviolinist says:

    I LOVE Shannon Hale’s blog (and quite possibly because I LOVE Shannon Hale). I’ve read multiple posts by her about just this. I think the answer is public school.

    There are multiple guys in my homeschool group who have read “girly books” and no one makes fun of them. My best friend’s brother is currently reading “The Host” by Stephenie Meyer. But I think in public school, if you’re a boy who’s caught with a book that’s pink or has a girl on the cover, they get made fun of. If a girl walks around with a book that has a dragon or a tough guy with a gun they don’t get made fun of, because all of the other girls do it anyway.

    Anyway, that’s my take on things.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      And that’s why we like homeschooling, right? πŸ˜‰ Haha…

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  4. * Lily Gaines says:

    I’ve always pondered on this subject as well…Why do boys feel embarrassed to read a “girl book” (and why do people tease them?), but when girls read adventurous “boy books” no one even thinks twice about it? I think public school could be part of it, but I have met many a homeschooled boy who would be completely humiliated if seen reading a “girl book”. So, I think the majority of the problem is how we (as a whole) look at boys who are reading “girl books”. We either laugh or tease them, and even if we don’t mean any harm by it it still damages their view on reading. How horrible is that? We’re always saying that boys should read more, but at the same time are limiting what (in our eyes, we think) they should read. Now, I know there are boys out there who don’t care what other think and who love to read, but I think the majority of boys are as described above. To change this, we should encourage boys to read many genre’s and what they think are “girl books”.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      I agree, Lily! We, as females, should never critize or tease boys for reading a great, well-written book. We sometimes fail to realize how much of an impact we have on our male friends! We should definitely always be seeking to encourage them as they develop their literary tastes. πŸ™‚

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  5. LOVE this post. I think boys have so much pressure nowadays to be macho and manly and they can’t ever be vulnerable with themselves or their other male friends (or even girls, who often make fun of them, etc). So they hide and pretend they don’t care and try so hard to fake it (which eventually makes them callous and they end up not caring a lot about much). I do think the publishing industry should try a little harder to appeal to boys (especially Christian publishing!) in their covers and marketing. Why do we have to have pretty girls on every cover (even if it’s more of a girl book)? Haha.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      I completely agree, and once again, there goes that concept of females being encouraging to our male friends and not being demeening or discriminating! πŸ™‚

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  6. I have a twelve year old brother and he is trying to do GTW 100-4-100 challenge. He was telling me about his story and one things that shocked me is that is has romance in it! He has an earth woman fall in love with an alien. I was nearly blown off my seat as he is telling me this plot : ) It’s not a small part in the book either. Just goes to show that boys aren’t all action.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      Oh, yeah! I think boys totally like romance in a book, even if they don’t admit it. Like I said earlier, all guys have emotion and feelings just like females do!

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  7. * Hannah Elise says:

    This was a great post. Like Javoniel said above, I get why a boy wouldn’t want to read one of these so-called “girly” books. But I agree with you, Rachel, that they could gain at least *something* from them! They do read books by girl authors–I bet at least 80-90% have read the Harry Potter series–yet they shy away from books with girls on the cover? Funny πŸ™‚

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * RachelC says:

      Yeah, or even “The Hunger Games”! Guys love that book and it’s all about a strong female protagonist!

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  8. * Jessa says:

    I’ve been thinking about the “girl books” versus “boy books” idea a lot recently. It’s interesting to see some of my male friends reading books usually considered “girly”… and enjoying them just as much as the girls!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  9. Totally true!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  10. * cait says:

    Mm, it’s really true. I walk out of the library with everything from “chick books” to dragons on the front cover, to action-adventure novels… Why do boys have to live in a box of what they “should” read? Though I think the market could do with a few more male narrators, that’s for sure. This is a pretty interesting topic, Rachel! And the Witch of Blackbird pond is a fabulous books for anyone! My brother loved it. πŸ™‚

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  11. * Hannah says:

    Perfect! Thank you so much Rachel — I’ll be emailing this to my (male) potential-step-first-cousin-once-removed — have been trying to convince him to read Lili St Crow’s Strange Angels series, which is packed freaking full of action but has a girl on the cover. Sigh. Boys. I do think we need more male YA protagonists out there though, there’s a scarily small number. I find books with guy narrators tend to be funnier — has anyone read Anna Dressed in Blood? Priceless!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago

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