I have talented friends, and they write fantastic books. Today I’d like to talk about two recent releases because they are so incredibly different, and yet have so much in common.
Let’s compare the books:
Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout
- Male author, male main character
- Science fiction (post-apocalyptic)
- Setting is wild and dangerous, very “Person vs. Nature”
- Cover marks it as a “boy” book
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
- Female author, female main character
- Fantasy (historical)
- Setting is upperclass society, very “Person vs. Person”
- Cover marks it as a “girl” book
Opposite ends of the spectrum, yes? But what’s not apparent are the way Fisher (Greg’s book) and Kat (Steph’s book) fight for what they believe in. The way they are both resourceful, and scared, and brave, and willing to learn and grow. The way they both want to make a better life for themselves and for the people (or mammoths) they love.
Fisher fights giant parrots and rogue tech. Kat battles nefarious magic users and highwaymen. In many ways, they are both alone on their journeys — struggling to make sense of their power, and of the world. Along the way they make enemies and friends, and a whole lot of jokes, too.
I wish we lived in a world where girls and boys would eagerly pick up both books, devour them, and talk about mammoths and magic in the same sentences. I wish we lived in a world where adults encouraged them to do so.
Because really, no kid should miss out on either of these amazing books.
9 thoughts on “2 Books for Boys & Girls”
In the work I do — trying to increase the diversity and equity of science/engineering education — we know from studies that, for instance, if you make all your example astronauts and chemists etc etc "she"s instead of "he"s, it has some (small) effect on including young women but young men hardly notice at all. (So it's a small win.)
This leads me to wonder: Do we know for a fact that the one book is marked as a boy book and the other is marked as a girl book? Is that anecdotal, or a stereotype, or do we know it works that way?
I'm not sure if this is an answer, but publishing houses definitely market books as "boy" or "girl," or in some cases, "neutral." The idea being that their results will be better if they strongly target one population instead of trying to appeal to both. (As if they are wholly separate entities.) Parents and librarians — the gatekeepers for middle grade fiction — will often use cover designs to help find books for their kids. (I was in a bookstore last week and overheard a boy being told, "This one has a dragon on the cover — I know you'll like it.")
I'm not explaining this well, but yes — it's a real thing in terms of marketing. I don't think it *should be* a real thing, though. I think it's perpetuating stereotypes on all sides, and is ultimately very harmful.
I know from talking to booksellers that it's pretty hard to cross-sell, especially to boys and the parents of boys. It takes a brave and self-confident ten-year-old boy to pick up a book with a party dress and a tea cup on the cover, no matter how much you talk about the highwayman. Such a bummer!
After spending only one afternoon in the middle grade section of my local indie, I despaired. I'm not sure which came first, the marketing or the preferences, but they seem to be fairly ingrained now.
Way back when, when I was young reader, it seemed fantasy novels were family books, like Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time and the Lloyd Alexander books. It's too bad that's been lost, to more sophisticated marketing.
And maybe ya fantasy was a lone gender neutral area, even back then….
But I do remember reading non-fantasy books that were more directly aimed at boys, historical adventures, etc, like Viking Dawn and Robin Hood. And when I hit the adult SF and Fantasy, back then, it was all aimed at males with Frank Frazzetta covers, etc.
Hi Damian! Much like you, I don't remember books being "boy" or "girl" books when I was a kid. Maybe I was too voracious a reader to notice? Or maybe I was just blissfully ignorant. I kind of wish I still was! I think most kids are open-minded would probably love a huge variety of stories if they were given a chance — just like we were.
Interesting. My daughter who gobbles up MG fantasy books would be drawn to the "boy" cover, but probably put off by the "girl" cover. Kate doesn't seem like she's going to have an exciting adventure.
The UK title of Kate has Magick in the title would appeal also to her more.
Thida, thanks for stopping by! And I hope you convince your daughter to give Kat a try, because she really does have some marvelous adventures. She's no fainting gothic heroine, that's for sure! And also — I think I would like your daughter very much. :)
First of all, thanks for this post, Jenn. It's tremendously flattering to read such high praise from you. :-)
I completely agree that my middle-grade books, especially The Boy at the End of the World, are boy books. And while I really do think I got brilliant covers, I do wish there were some signals that girls might like these books too. Kid vs. Squid has a male POV, but I tried to elevate his friends (both girls), and particularly the character of Trudy, above sidekick status. In fact, I'd conceived Kid vs. Squid as the first book in a trilogy, with Trudy starring in the second book, and the other girl character, Shoal, starring in the third. Alas, sales haven't been strong enough to warrant more Strange Summers books (that's what I was calling the series), but I still hold out hope that they'll get their own books.
Even The Boy at the End of the World (originally titled Last), leaves the possibility of a second book with a girl protag.
I love books in which boy and girl characters have equal or near-equal importance. Not that books need to teach lessons, but showing readers that boys and girls can work together, and that their interactions don't necessarily have to take place in the context of romance, is a very, very valuable thing. And it's something you do so well in Above World.
Also, I love books that are thought of as "girl books," too. I bought Steph's book the day it came out and I still can't wait to read it. And when I was a kid, I loved Judy Blume books. Not because they gave me a window into the secret, alien world of girls, but because they were well-written stories about characters I could grow to care about.
Not that I'm at all averse to boy books and to writing boy books — it's what I'm most comfortable doing — but if I come up series that gives each major character a book of their own, maybe I shouldn't make the girls wait their turn.
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