BRITAIN’S biggest bookseller, Waterstones, is backing a campaign to do away with gender-specific books, joining children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, novelist Philip Pullman, and numerous other authors and publishers. The campaign was launched by the people behind Let Toys Be Toys, who have successfully convinced retailers such as Boots and Tesco to remove the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signage above the toys in their stores. Now they’re turning their attention to books, with the predictable (yet admittedly catchy) campaign name: Let Books Be Books.
Why is this even necessary? people are asking. Surely kids will read whatever they want to read, regardless of the shelf on which it is placed? Well, no. They don’t. Fill a shelf full of blue books labelled ‘brilliant books for boys!’ and another with glittery pink covers under a sign saying ‘beautiful books for girls!’ and it’s no surprise that juvenile readers will gravitate towards their own gender. In doing so, they miss out on exciting, stimulating, mind-enhancing stories – stories written by authors who couldn’t care less about the gender of the reader. Booksellers and publishers who signpost books to a particular gender, either through the cover, the title, or the way in which it is displayed, are unwittingly putting limitations on a child’s imagination. We have no right to fetter minds in this way, and no right to assume that girls only want to read about princesses, ponies and proms. If they do, that’s absolutely fine, but let’s not make up their minds for them.
My local library is a wonderful place. Inspiring, accessible and staffed by professional, trained librarians who know their way around books. They run regular events for children, and have a bright, engaging section for kids, crammed with interesting books. Recently they launched ‘lucky dip’ buckets, perfect for readers who just can’t decide what to pick next. A brilliant idea, totally spoiled in its execution. You guessed it: one bucket for ‘girls books’, and one for ‘boys books’.
Segregating books into genders makes no sense at all. It isn’t even particularly easy to do. E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children is full of action and trains – does that make it for boys? Where do the Famous Five sit in this debate? Harry Potter? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Does every book featuring adventure and risk-taking become a ‘boys book’: every tale of friendship a ‘girls book’?
It’s absurd and unnecessary to categorise books by anything other than their subjects: let the reader decide what they want to read.
Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at www.claremackintosh.com/blog