Consider the following scenarios:
- I had a student several years ago read all of Grace Lin’s books – Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat. The student even created a book trailer, along with several classmates, for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as they loved it so much.
- Several former students have devoured The Maze Runner in their quest to read all of the dystopian fiction that they can.
- Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm has been most popular with the boys in my class even though the protagonist, Jaden, is a girl.
Now consider that the student in the first scenario is a boy and in the second scenario, a group of girls. Imagine how different these scenarios would have been had I pegged these “boy” or “girl” books in class discussion or in book-talking.
I recently perused the Goodreads shelves, and out of curiosity and spurred by some Twitter discussion, I searched for “boy books.” The results came back with 3,687 books. This is not isolated to a book-related social site, however. I have heard this come up in conversations on-line, on blogs and in articles.
I propose that pigeon-holing books as “boy books” or “girl books” is both alarming and harmful to children and their reading development. However, I think it is especially harmful to boys because it makes a statement to them that there are only certain books that they should read. Instead of narrowing the scope, we should be widening it, encouraging students to read out of their comfort zone and to challenge themselves with different types of literature.
Instead of using sweeping generalizations, I think it is critical that we work to match the book to the student, challenging us to really know both the child and middle-grade and young adult books. Instead of placing gender specifications on books, why don’t we say, “Johnny, I know that you really like adventure. This book has a ton of action and is fast-paced. I think you’re going to like the characters; they’re funny and get into a lot of trouble.” OR “Johnny, I see that you recently read Freak, the Mighty. I’m going to suggest Year of the Dog because it also features a special friendship.”
I am not venturing to say that there are not some differences between boy and girl readers, their interests and their reading styles. I am saying, though, that we need to look at the individual child and what the individual child needs as a reader. We need to keep as many pathways open for our readers as possible. Gender specifications close doors to these pathways. Using language that speaks to the books themselves versus generalized classifications and truly knowing our readers, their tastes and what will challenge them will open doors to literacy, enjoyment, and engagement in reading.