Let Books Be Books: The reaction and the low-down

LetBooksBeBooks
World Book Day 2014 sees the launch of a campaign against gender stereotyping in children's literature, 'Let Books Be Books'. Now this is a campaign we can really get behind.

This way-to-go-you-guys idea is brought to you by the kick-ass (and entirely voluntary) folks responsible for the equally awesome initiative ‘Let Toys Be Toys’, who last year succeeded in persuading twelve of fourteen targeted toy retailers to remove  gender signs in stores.

Working with Letterbox Library and Inclusive Minds, campaigners have launched an online petition which you can sign here, proposing changes to restrictive gender labels placed on kids’ books by publishers:

 To:

Usborne, Buster, Igloo & other children’s publishers

Please stop labelling books, in the title or on the packaging, as for girls or for boys.

Children’s publishing should always aim to open up new worlds for children. But telling children which stories and activities are ‘for them’ based on their gender closes down whole worlds of interest.

We are asking you to stop labelling books this way and let children decide for themselves what kinds of stories and activity books they find interesting.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

So far the petition has rallied over 1,500 supporters and trended on Twitter, with plenty of frustrated 'boys and girls' stepping up to share their own experiences with, or examples of, restrictive gender stereotyping in children's literature.So far the petition has rallied over 1,500 supporters and trended on Twitter, with plenty of frustrated ‘boys and girls’ stepping up to share their own experiences with, or examples of, restrictive gender stereotyping in children’s literature.

Photos shared, detailing ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ specific books, e.g. The Girl’s Book of Secrets: Sssh…don’t tell! and its counterpart, The Boy’s Book of Survival: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere have incurred a backlash – the main, and entirely valid question being, why?

TessGwen ‏@TessGwen
How do you justify separate cookbooks for girls&boys @Usborne ? Do boys&girls eat diff foods? #letbooksbebooks 6 March 2014

Let Toys Be Toys ‏@LetToysBeToys
Hilary “We shouldn’t stifle children’s dreams&ambitions by feeding them stereotypes” http://tinyurl.com/or5ffv7 #letbooksbebooks #WorldBookDay 6 March 2014

Lucy ‏@morecakeandgin
@LetToysBeToys daughter was excluded by classmates today as not dressed as a princess for #WorldBookDay Sad #LetBooksBeBooks 6 March 2014

The comments section of the petition has also seen its fair share of ‘what the hell?!’:

Isabel Davis 6 March 2014
I want my boy to choose what he’s interested in both now and in the future. I want him to think about women and girls as equal to him and to understand that they, too are free to choose their interests and futures.

Grant Denkinson 6 March 2014
Why embed sexism in children?

Meg Wiggins 6 March 2014
I have a son and a daughter and I have watched as their interests have been artificially narrowed by gender specific books – in shops and given to them as gifts. I try to buy only gender neutral ones, but it is becoming increasingly difficult!

Talk about insta-success. Children’s publishing big dogs, Usbourne have announced their intention to discontinue all gender-targeted titles. A spokesperson said that they take “feedback on gender-specific titles very seriously”. Let Books Be Books campaigner, Tricia Lowther responded by saying, “It’s great that Usborne have agreed to take this step to let children decide for themselves what kinds of stories and activity books they find interesting.”

What do you think? Join the conversation on the Twitter hashtag #LetBooksBeBooks, leave us a comment or sign the petition for more successes!

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys and depicts The Beautiful Girls’ Colouring Book and The Brilliant Boys’ Colouring Book, both written by Jessie Eckel and published by Buster Books, September 2012 and September 2011 respectively.