Pink covers, boy books – and toast

A friend of mine wrote to Sainsbury’s this week, asking them why her daughter’s Gruffalo wellies had a ‘boys’ label on the inside.

Gruffalo wellies.

Gruffalo

FOR BOYS. Well, obviously.

I’ve read some brilliant blogs this week about the perennial ‘pink/blue books’ issue. Kate from Nosy Crow on the publishing bottom line (princesses on the outside, fiesty ninjas on the inside). Louie Stowell, with some positive suggestions for publishers. Chaletfan, questioning the absence of hard research, and the issue of the subjective preconceptions we bring to the table ourselves. (I’ve missed a few more great ones, I know – please comment below and I’ll add?) Plenty of fascinating stuff in the comments, too.

It all intrigues and (to be honest) depresses me – and confuses me, too. Louie Stowell mentions flinching when a girl is given a pinktastically princessy book, but also believing  that they should have that free choice. I feel the same – but I’m also aware that I’d smile if a boy reader felt confident choosing the same book. I know why I’m treating them differently; I know I don’t live in an ungendered culture, so anything that tips those wonky scales a fraction back towards level feels like a win. But I also want my imaginary free-to-choose boy reader to grow up with an idea of girls that isn’t only princess pink.

pink/blue

Pink + Blue: JeongMee Yoon’s project to photograph girls’ and boys’ collections. http://www.jeongmeeyoon.com/

I could waffle all day on the subject, but I wanted to throw this one idea out, that’s prompted in part by another series of blogs from Neill ‘Pirates of Pangaea‘ Cameron, a few weeks ago. Neill was pondering the disappearance of the teen girl weekly story comic – which it turned out was read by lots of boys as well as girls – and hoping to create ‘a new YA Comic for girls’. As the idea got bounced around, it became clear that he was really talking about was ‘a new YA comic about girls’. Because girls are awesome, and everyone should get to read stories with them in.

As Chaletfan’s blog referenced above suggests, paratexts – the paraphernalia that surrounds the book itself: jacket, title, blurb etc – are important and meaningful. But the pink/blue issue is also about content. Books about girls are assumed to be books for girls. Books about boys are for everyone. We’ve all heard ‘oh, girls will read books about boys, it just doesn’t work the other way around’ – and I’m sure most teachers/parents/industry people have got anecdotal evidence both to support that view, and also to explode it.

I’d like to think we can get to a point where all this looks rather daft. (I mean, maths isn’t my strong suit but the entire population > half the population, right? I mean, it’s literally twice the number of people. If painting everything blue or pink narrows the potential audience… er, why are we doing that?) But if we can’t (yet) have a culture where our paratexts aren’t codified by gender – can we at least have more books about girls, packaged for boys?

wendy the happy tractor

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OK, now to the serious stuff. You know a toaster has a lever or button on the side, which you press down to make the toaster do toasting? What is that called? THIS IS DRIVING ME INSANE.

toaster

Look! There it is! It’s in my house, how can I not know what it’s called?

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Oh, and if it’s your half-term next week – hooray, me too! If you’re nearby, please come along to the first ever Penarth Book Festival. I’ll be there on Tuesday 30th October at 12 noon, to talk about Pea’s Book of Best Friends, with my best signing pen at the ready.

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