A few decades ago there was an outcry in the world of children’s literature. Where were all the girls? Yes, there were heroines, from A Little Princess to a girl living in a Little House to Harriet, the Spy. Ramona continued her Pest-like behavior, while Meg tried to understand A Wrinkle in Time. You could find girls, but the vast majority of the books published featured boys as main characters. These boys were the heroes, the doers, the inventors, the detectives, the drivers, the change-makers. They survived plane crashes and lived on mountains, they solved crimes and invented machines. Conventional thinking, at the time, said that while girls would read books “about” boys, boys would not read books with girls as main characters. Thankfully, this theory has been debunked, as boys have proven that they, too, are just looking for a good book. Indeed, while kids (and adults) might prefer a certain genre, the gender of the main character, for many readers, is a secondary consideration.
Well, my friends, the pendulum has swung far in the other direction. The girls, for the past couple of years, have been busting out all over. And these girls are amazing! They, too, are inventors, doers, adventurers and problem solvers. These girls are strong, facing modern-day peril in all forms. The books are excellent, and I recommend you check them out. For the past year or so, though, I’ve had this niggling feeling that we are seeing books published with girls as the main character significantly more frequently than boys. At first I shrugged it off, and thought I was probably exaggerating.
It was with this gender question in mind that I opened my latest issue of School Library Journal. Turning to the reviews, I sought out the Middle Grade section. Published for roughly grades three through six, this is where I find great recommendations for chapter books for my patrons.
I scanned the 23 reviews for the names and genders of the main characters. Review 1, Karina and Chris. Hey! A girl/boy pair. Review 2, Corinne. Review 3, Addie. Review 4, Princess Toli. Review 5 is a sibling group of two boys and a girl, and review 6 is a group of five friends. Reviews 7-11: Lalani, Jameela (and her sisters,) Emmy, Eleanor, and Gus! Hey, Gus! (Oops, short for Augusta.) And so it goes. By the end of the section, School Library Journal has presented us with 4 books with a group as the main characters, 1 book featuring anthropomorphic animals, 3 books featuring boy main characters and 15 featuring girls.
So, you say, what’s the problem? Maybe the concerns of the last several decades are simply righting themselves. Perhaps that’s true, and I also want to reiterate that these are good stories that any and all genders would likely enjoy. I have a philosophy, though, that each of my patrons deserves to see their lives reflected in a book, and have their worldview expanded by books. Worldview expansion we’ve got (and that is critically important,) it’s the reflection piece that we are lacking.
Author Beverly Cleary, when asked why she started writing for children, said that it was in response to a boy who asked her “Where are all the books about kids like me?” and she realized that there weren’t any in her library. (Her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950.) We need publishers to see that same need today. Ultimately, the pendulum will surely swing in the other direction. Until then, though, I’m afraid there is a generation of boys who might find it challenging to find themselves on the pages of more than one or two good stories. Perhaps, the publishing world might slow the pendulum and strive for more balance. Happy Reading!
This Week at Your Library
Monday, September 9, at 9:30 and 10:30 it’s Book Time! Join ECFE teachers in the Story Circle for books, songs, finger plays, flannel board stories, and all other sorts of fun! Then move to the Community Room for a snack, a craft, and a time to play and visit.
Thursday, September 12, at 6:00, join us for Vintage Valuables! Do you have vintage items around the house and wonder what they’re worth? Would you like to learn how to sell unique items? Join Pat Vann and Colleen Olson as they share distinctive items in their collections, how to identify special characteristics, and how to resell items.
Friday, September 13, at 3:30, it’s the long awaited return of Anime Club! Join like-minded teens and watch Anime on the Library’s big screen. Snacks are, of course, provided!
Saturday, September 14, at 10:15 and 11:15 it’s Saturday Story Time! Join ECFE teachers in the Story Circle for books and songs, then move to the Community Room for a snack, a craft, and a time to play and visit. Families may earn one Baby Steps coupon for attending this Story Time.