Sunday, August 8, 2010

This post is for girls and boys

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised by how many requests I get from customers for books "for a boy" or "for a girl." It's one thing if the mention of gender is just incidental, as it often is: "I need a book for a six-year-old boy who's just starting to read on his own." But often, the gender seems to be a huge part of how the customer decides what the child needs or should want. One customer held up a coloring book featuring characters from what I'd say is a gender-neutral movie, told me that the young recipient had seen the movie and that the book fit all her other criteria (which were really well thought-out, involving the child's reading level and dexterity), but concluded, "I want something girlier."

In some cases, I get it. If the child is someone the customer only sees once a year, it's understandable to grasp at whatever information is available. Ten-year-old. Girl. If the customer knows the child well, on the other hand, "boy" might be shorthand for "kid who's really into cars and trucks and things that go." (No points for guessing the first book I'd recommend.)

But if you have to ask whether a book is "for boys" or "for girls," as many customers do, isn't it possible it's for both? I know it's a rare boy in our overconditioned world who will go for Felicity the Dazzling, Dancing Fairy Princess Saves LavenderLand, but I bet many a boy has enjoyed When You Reach Me, even if the main character's name is Miranda. And I've seen plenty of girls get excited about adventure, sci-fi, and plain-old dark stories. (Excited about Mockingjay, anyone?... Actually, The Hunger Games and gender may have to be a whole 'nother post.)

Gift-giving is hard. I just hope that when these kids choose their own books, no one tells them, "those books aren't for you."


  1. Incidentally, I knew what kind of book The Hunger Games was when it became clear that the girls had male-sounding names and the boys female-sounding names. Not that that is at all what you are posting about here ;)

  2. That's a good point (and brings back memories of William Congreve). I've wondered a lot about names in THG, actually, and not just about gender. It seems like most of the names are real English words, some foreign names - mostly Greek or Latin - and a few are names currently used in English-speaking culture (your own included). I can't decide whether that's a well-considered speculation on how names might evolve over the next few centuries, or just a mishmash.

  3. I am Bamet J. Gorose, and if forced participation in a televised fight to the death didn't make me glad I don't live in Panem, this would. And what's your name?

  4. Lizmet J. Getmaple. I think I'd get killed pretty quickly.