I’m a rule follower. I’ve often wanted not to be – it’s far more exciting and cool to be someone who naturally breaks or makes their own rules. But I think I can accept I’m not one of them, not as my first instinctive reaction anyway.
But today, I heard something in a workshop that got me ready to snap a rule in half. So much so, I instantly wrote, underlined, boxed and marked with a big A for Action my passionate desire to do so.
The workshop was about getting children’s books published, hosted by Kate Wilson, owner of Nosy Crow, a children’s book publisher. Kate made the point that following accepted conventions will help get you published. One aspect of publishing is the indisputable gender divide. Books are quite clearly signposted in style and content to boys or girls. The Grunts or Rescue Princesses. Mr Gum or Rainbow Fairies. Diggers or magic ponies.
I find this infuriating. Are we so determined to stereotype our girls and boys so early in their lives?
As an avid early reader, my daughter has virtually no choice but to reach for the vapid and badly written Rainbow Fairies, or a.n.other book about ballet, fairies, jewels, princesses, magic animals, or possibly gymnastics. Some of these do, to be fair, include adventure, but it’s so proscribed by these core ‘girl’ themes, it’s seriously depressing.
Don’t get me wrong, Little H enjoys many of these books, and at this tender age of first forays into independent reading, the most important thing is that kids find books they want to read. But the books that have got her totally immersed in story and suspense are ones like the Famous Five, Swallows and Amazons, The Faraway Tree series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other Roald Dahl classics, Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Pippi Longstocking.
None of those books, old or new, fall into the ‘girl’ category, I don’t believe, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I know I sound a bit militant – books about princesses, fairies and the like exist because girls like reading about those things. But how much of that is conditioning? If shops weren’t full of pink things for girls, blue for boys, would so many choose it that way?
Surely this is a time for rule-breaking. There MUST be room for girls to enjoy adventure stories, where female characters aren’t princesses, home-makers like the Famous Five’s Anne or pseudo-boys like George, nor indeed tomboys uncomfortable in dresses like the Amazons. Can’t they like fairies AND making dens, dressing up AND muddy jeans, fairytales AND riding bikes? Does it always have to be rescuing poorly animals or using jewels?
Where are these stories? Please, tell me if you know some. Kate Wilson also talked about trends. Quirky is popular right now, space is on the up. Disney have put out Brave, their first animated film featuring a female lead character. Perhaps that is a sign of a trend towards strong, feminine female characters and adventure stories for young readers. Perhaps publishers have a load of books on their lists that will hit that mark (I can only hope – The Rescue Princesses look like they go some of the way at least so I’ll give those a go). Perhaps I’m in too much of a minority. Perhaps I’m denying the reality of what girls want to read. Perhaps I’d better stop writing this and get down to the library to do some proper research and then get my ideas hat on…