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Why Boys Can’t Read Girl Books

I head over to the children and teen fiction section of the bookshop. A mother and her son are browsing through the books. Mum late 30s to early 40s, son 12ish. Mum’s doing the looking, pulling books off shelves and putting them back whilst the son stands passively behind her.

“That’s romance. You don’t want that.”
“That’s got a girl on the cover, you don’t want that, do you?”

Rinse and repeat. This was not a conversation, these were rhetorical questions delivered in a tone that said the comments were not open to discussion; the kid had no say in the matter. Had I been able to spot a few books I knew enough about to combat being ignored (where is Diana Wynne Jones when you need her?), I would’ve stepped in.

When I thought of what I’d seen, and though I don’t think it’s solely down to a mother (it could be father to son, too) I reversed the situation. Perhaps it’s the men in my life but somehow I can’t see it – a man with his twelve year old daughter picking out a book about boys fighting aliens and saying, ‘that’s not for you, sweetheart’. What I see instead is a father singing the praises of it, trying to get his daughter excited about science fiction and Star Wars. It wouldn’t have happened years ago, true, but it would now.

There are articles (and this, too – Hale is the most prominent author in this context), about the gap between boys and girls. Girls are reading lots of books – books by male authors and female authors, books about boys and books about girls. Boys aren’t reading as much, often shun books written by women, and say that books with heroines are ones they won’t relate to.

Well we can teach them about Katniss Everdene as much as we want and may be successful with a boy whose opinion is influenced by his peers but if the problem is, like the one I saw, rooted in a black and white manner at home, the focus is going to have to change.


Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

October 21, 2015, 3:09 pm

This is a very interesting debate. I have two sons (8 and 10) who read a lot and they read a balance of books written by men and women… but they wouldn’t go near a book with a pink cover.

I disagree with you about the girls though. I am the librarian at their school and the girls only want the pink books – they are far less likely to pick up a variety of different genres. I try to persuade both sexes to try new things, but the boys are more willing to give something new a try. Sadly they are all influenced by marketing. It’s the publishers and their gender specific marketing of books that need to change…and a reintroduction of paid school librarians (I do it voluntarily) so that children don’t just have the voice of their parents when it comes to book recommendations!


October 21, 2015, 5:30 pm

I run a book club at our local elementary school, and one of the things we talk about is whom the book is for. Girl book? Boy book? Sport book? And we look at the cover to see it that matches the insides.

I try to read at least one book clearly marketed towards boys and girls and we talk about what was good or bad about it. It’s interesting, although the club is voluntary so I’m only talking to the kids who like reading already.

Jenny @ Reading the End

October 24, 2015, 1:32 am

Ugh. I hate to see this. My brother-in-law teaches ninth grade and, being the best, is constantly steering his kids away from gender stereotypes. In reading and all the areas.


October 30, 2015, 9:38 pm

Such a bad attitude to think that a girl or boy couldn’t learn from books marketed to the opposite gender.



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