In an editorial published yesterday, The Independent on Sunday’s literary editor Katy Guest outlined the manifold problems – artistic, societal and commercial – inherent in publishing children’s books aimed explicitly at one gender over another. You know the kind of thing: How to be a Glittery Pink Fairy Who Also Cooks and Is a Great Mother, or 100 Great Stories About Footballing Soldiers With Blue Wallpaper. Having reeled off the many exasperating qualities of instilling that kind of binary divide from a young age and concluded that ‘What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down’, Guest then expressed her happiness at being in a position to be able to do something about it:
I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
Guest cites as inspiration for the move the Let Books Be Books campaign, an offshoot of Let Toys Be Toys. Let Books Be Books has successfully petitioned publishers, including Parragon and Usborne, to ‘no longer publish books specifically titled “for boys” or “for girls”.’ Others, such as Buster Books, declined to change their methods, with Buster’s owner Michael O’Mara unconsciously revealing why change might be slow to come: ‘Mr O’Mara himself told The Independent that their Boys’ Book covers “things like how to make a bow and arrow and how to play certain sports and you’d get things about style and how to look cool in the girls’ book.” At the same time, he added: “We would never publish a book that demeaned one sex or the other”.’
As a counterargument to that entrenched line of thought, Guest points to the popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy – whose protagonist, of course, is herself pretty nifty with a bow and arrow and certain sports – amongst both girls and boys as evidence that kids don’t really seem to care one way or the other whether the lead character of a book is of the same gender as they are, so long as there’s a good story to be told. From now on, neither will The Independent. Now that this first step has been taken, it doesn’t seem like it’ll take too long for other publications to follow suit.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.