Monday, March 12, 2018

Just put the book out there

We're celebrating Women's History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter #kidlitwomen. 

There were many things I loved about bookselling. I did not love the books with titles like Stories for Boys and Stickers for Girls.

Yes, "for boys" and "for girls" right in the titles. No, this was not a long time ago.

I avoided facing these books out even if it meant reworking the whole rest of a shelf, and I would've gagged before recommending them to customers. I also grumbled about them. A lot.

Okay, I may also, occasionally, have done some grumbling about books without these sorts of titles that were clearly made with girls, boys, or their adult gift-buyers in mind. But labels--labels written on covers, and labels spoken by adults--were the real problem. 

Some girls do want to read about clothes or fashion or princesses, and some boys do want to read about superheroes and sports. 

And vice versa. And some kids want to read about both. And some kids get placed in one group, but identify with the other one or with neither.

Just put the book out there. Just let it be there for whoever finds it interesting. Don't slap it with a label--whether in its title or in the way you talk about it--that says "this is not for you" and "there's something wrong with you if you want it" and "there are exactly two categories, each with its own menu" and "only people in your own group have interesting stories for you." 

Most of those, and certainly that last one, matter for reasons beyond gender.

Things have improved a little, even just in the past few years. There are fewer books with these "fors" and implied "not-fors" right on their covers. But we still hear books described this way. And we hear, say, chapter books about POC girls described as "Ramona for _____ kids."

Kids hear it, too.

Kids get older, and they create. Some create stories, or re-imagine existing ones. They create chances for people to imagine themselves and others in various roles. They create roles for themselves.

Let's not tell them some things aren't for them.