Thursday, August 30, 2012

The "Girl Book" Debacle

Shannon Hale has been posting about the tragedy of how boys will often refuse to read girl books. Catch up on her excellent blog discussion here, here, and here and on her tumblr account here.

She's running a contest right now where you can post a picture of a boy/guy/man reading any "girl" book and post a link here. Winners will get quality girl books. Like her recently-released sequel to Princess Academy (her "girliest" book), Princess Academy: Palace of Stone.

So I rounded up my boys and handed out copies of "girl" books: Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, the sequel, Dragon Flight, and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. When I first started passing them out to my confused sons, KidC (9 years old) got excited--he thought I was giving them away. He remembered me reading the Dragon Slippers books to them and was grinning. Bouncing. I've recently started reading The Goose Girl to them (spurred, in part, by Shannon's posts) and KidD (11 years old), was the only one who had expressed discontent with the no-explosions-in-the-first-chapter pace. KidC and KidB (7 years old), when asked, admitted to liking the first chapter, no-explosions and all.

So I handed Dragon Slippers to KidD, Dragon Flight to KidB, and Goose Girl to KidC. And I explained that I was going to take a picture of the boys reading the books. And that I would post it on my blog.

KidC exclaimed "I don't want people to see me reading a girl book!" He tried to trade Goose Girl with KidD so he'd have one of the Dragon Slipper books instead (lesson learned: dragons are manly, even if they are friends with a seamstress who exclusively makes fancy ballgowns). KidD tried to pose with the book covering his face. KidB, who is learning what is acceptable from his brothers, was likewise reluctant.

KidC with Goose Girl, KidB with Dragon Slippers, KidD with Dragon Flight
So I called a halt to the proceedings, sat down my young-uns, and asked: What is wrong with girl books?

KidB exclaimed that they talk about girl parts. (We told him that none of the books he'd be reading would have anything like that.)

KidC related a story (the specifics of which he could not remember, which could suggest that it does not have its origins in reality but is instead the product of his expectations) about a time when a boy caught him reading a girl book, laughed at him and then told the other boys.

KidD, an hour after I took the pictures and mocked them for not being manly enough to read "girl" books, asserted that his problem was with having his picture taken, and not with having people see him reading a book with a girl on the cover. He says that wouldn't be a problem for him at all. We will be testing this assertion and reporting back.

When I started reading Shannon's posts, I had a bit of an a-hah! moment. Back when I started reading novels to my boys at bedtime, I started with Dragon Slippers. This was mainly because I had purchased the first two books and knew I needed to own the books before read them, since we didn't make it through a book in 3 weeks. Plus, I wanted something fantasy, since I've noticed that a taste for fantasy must be cultivated very young or it is harder to acquire one later. So I read Dragon Slippers and, despite the very girly scenes, my boys loved it. After that, though, I wanted to try to cultivate their love for reading on their own. So I went looking for "boy" books so they'd be all "Wow! That sort of stuff is in books? I want to read more of it!"

And, sure, I don't think that's a horrible theory. My boys loved Janitors by Tyler Whitesides. They roared at every fart/burp/potty joke in J. Scott Savage's The Zombie Kid (no, it's not out yet--we read it before it was even an ARC--nyah, nyah). They enjoyed the twists and turns of Harry Potter (we stopped at book 3).

But now I think they've got the point. Even though they aren't devouring books (yet--I still have hope), they know there are fascinating stories in there. They know where to go when they're ready for a good time.

Now is the time to expand their horizons, methinks. To introduce them to books they might not pick up on their own, but just might love anyway. To convince them that there doesn't need to be a boy on the cover of every awesome story. That girls, doing girl things, can teach them as much about their own lives as fart jokes. Maybe more.

We're now 5 chapters into Goose Girl, and the boys are warming up to it. It helped that one of the guards was killed by a sword that burst out through his chest. That was cooool.

What do you think? Do you encourage your boys to read "girl" books? Do you ever tease them when they love a "princess" book? (Stop that right now!) When you shop for a story your son/brother/nephew might like, do you consider female protagonists? If not, why do you think that is? Is it socially accepted for a girl to read a boy book? If so, why is it okay for a girl to read a boy book, but not the other way around?

(Updated to change Dragon Spear to Dragon Flight. Spear is the 3rd book. *blushes*)


  1. I loved Shannon's post. I try and expose my boys to all kinds of books. A great story is a great story...right?

  2. That's great. I love the pictures of your boys reading. You are a great mom.

  3. I like how you very practically sat them down to talk about this. I always cringe when I hear someone tell a boy not to act like a girl, or some sort of shaming comment that relates to looking or acting feminine. I think books is a great way to teach against that, but it does seem like it will take effort and a lot of parenting skills. In the end, a good story is a good story.

  4. I'm just happy if I see a guy reading,period, especially as a teacher! BUt I do have a bro-in-law that reads paranormal romance novels alllllll the time:-)