“Boy/Girl Books:” Fighting Stereotypes While Honoring Book Access

Raise your hand if you have ever said, “There are no such things as boy/girl books.” πŸ™‹

That’s why Leigh Anne Eck’s recent tweet resonated with me so much:

While it would be absolutely unfair to continue telling students that a book is only meant for girls or boys to read it, it would be equally unfair to ignore differences. After all, Scholastic’s Reading Reports repeatedly find that rates of reading enjoyment for boys lags behind girls. Other measurements of reading achievement also show boys consistently behind girls the world over.

In her book, Best Books for Boys, Pam Allyn shares this great anecdote:

“I once entered a classroom and saw a very unhappy eight-year-old boy reading Junie B. Jones. He looked miserable. Now, I love Junie B. Jones, but this reader did not look happy about this situation. I asked him what was going on, and he said: “Because this is my level, I always have to read this same book, and I don’t want to read books about girls! I don’t even want to read a book with chapters in it!” My heart broke for him. If his library had been stocked with books at every level in every genre, his choices would have been greater, and he would have been hooked. He knew exactly what wasn’t working. The problem was no one was asking him what choices he would have made for himself as a reader.

~Pam Allyn, Best Books for Boys

She also lays out a great rule of thumb for our libraries: “at least 30 percent nonfiction, 30 percent poetry, and 40 percent fiction” (with varied topics, levels, and author genders across the spectrum). When I first read this recommendation, I knew my classroom library was severely lacking. It was my second year of teaching, so my collection was limited anyway, but the limits were compounded by the sameness of my titles, like:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Once Upon a Curse
  • The Sisters Grimm
  • A Little Princess
  • Ramona the Brave
  • Ella Enchanted
  • Charlotte’s Web

All fiction. All chapter books. All female protagonists. All with some degree of fantasy. It was really as far away as you could get from diverse book access! Fortunately for my students, that’s when I received Pam Allyn’s aforementioned book, and we got to work.

I did not tell my students that most of our classroom library were “girl books,” but I did tell them that my collection was mostly based in my personal interests growing up. And I told them that we desperately needed more poetry and nonfiction in our library. Most importantly, I asked for their help. Between my book and my students, we ended up with a lot of new titles I never would have considered on my own, such as:

  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich 
  • Hi! Fly Guy
  • Skeleton Hiccups
  • How Much is a Million?
  • Horrid Henry
  • Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
  • I Survived the Shark Attack of 1916
  • Flat Stanley
  • Bone
  • How to Write Your Life Story
  • Love that Dog

More importantly, I started to sort my classroom library by genre and to be more mindful in general about which gaps I needed to fill.

What I want to emphasize here is that a more diverse classroom library benefited all my students. What may have started as a hunt for “best books for boys” certainly ended in a richer, more accessible library for everyone. Ultimately, that’s what matters most for building our classroom libraries and addressing those gaps we’ve overlooked.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Replies to ““Boy/Girl Books:” Fighting Stereotypes While Honoring Book Access”

  1. I really value your balanced perspective on this. While we don’t want to tell boys “that’s a girl book” or vice versa, we DO need to accept that boys as a population may have different interests than girls, and reflect those in our libraries.

    1. Thanks so much, Jen! I think when kids tell us there are too many boy/girl books, we should hear what they are really telling us: that their interests are not sufficiently represented.

  2. This is wonderful, Mary. Children need to have a role in deciding which books are available in the classroom collection. Each week when we visited the library, children would choose one or two books for themselves and one or two for the classroom library. There was always something for everyone (as long as there was something for everyone in the library) :).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *