I'd like to write a post about my frustrations with the gender stereotyping in both content but more particularly packaging that dominates the young reader market of first chapter books. I'd like to, but it would be a pointless activity because 'Mrs H.' has already done it brilliantly here. Don't miss scrolling though the comments either and following the link to Kate Wilson at Nosy Crow's pragmatic publishing response.
It's pretty depressing to read that retail buyers are actively seeking out pink titles even in picture books now. Depressing particularly because, at the moment, it does seem to be the simple chapter book market that's the worst offender- but are they just the trailblazers for a new wave of gender-dividing-to-come for picture books and older readers too?
In that early chapter book market, series dominate to hook kids into the reading habit. Gender dividing operates most obviously at a subject matter level: Girls get the princesses and the ponies and boys get the fighting and the farts, but more insidiously I think gender dividing also happens too often in the way those subjects are treated. Boys seem to get the lion's share of funny action, girls get more emotional journey; not very fair on either.
Whilst musing on these things through my letterbox plopped, 'The Snow Bear' by Holly Webb. It being a rainy sort of afternoon and me having a nice headcold brewing I settled down to read it. It's a lovely Christmassy tale of a girl who builds a snow polar bear and igloo with her grandfather and then goes on a magical adventure to help a real lost cub and meet a real Inuit family. Expecting (from the prolific output of its author) something rather formulaic and sentimental, I'll admit I was surprised by its depth and quality. For a short and simple book designed for young readers, there are tricksy themes of dealing with separation and change handled lightly as well as some sound insights into another culture. Traditional life in the Arctic tundra is nicely evoked.
(sidenote to say it rather reminded me of Lucy Fitch Perkin's classic 'The Eskimo Twins' and I've just discovered that all the Twins books are free to kindle now. oooo. an evening of distraction awaits...)
I started reading 'The Snow Bear' to Bill this weekend and, in front of the fire after a day of go-karting down wet muddy hills, it was a good snuggly choice appreciated by us both. I have to say though, if I didn't read it to him I doubt he'd have picked it up to read to himself. Whilst its soft silvery cover is not in-your-face girly, when I showed it to him he furrowed his brow in slight distrust. "Is that for me?" He's learnt the rules. sigh
Browsing around Holly Webb's (nicely designed and informative) website it's clear that her main fanbase is girls and that her books, to a greater or lesser extent are written, marketed and packaged with girl-appeal tuned to max. I understand that's how you may get most copies sold but it makes me sad. Caring for animals (or caring fullstop) is not an exclusively girl-trait after all. And a good book for one is a good book for all...
Disclosure. We received our copy by kindness of the publisher. Our opinions are our own.