Monday, 12 November 2012

The Snow Bear

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...
'The Snow Bear' by Holly Webb, published by Stripes isbn 978-1-84715-255-8

Disclosure. We received our copy by kindness of the publisher. Our opinions are our own.


  1. Hiya Polly, I really enjoyed reading this. Especially as I was one of those girls who was obsessed with adventure stories and witches and wizards, making potions, making dens and reading Dennis the Menace.
    That being said, despite being a bit of a Tom boy I also used to enjoy dressing up, sleepovers and playing with dollhouses, and barbies on occasion.

    I couldn't (and still can't) stand the pretty in pink overly girly style books that are out there - I'm just not that sort of girl. Not because I don't have a girly side to me, which I most definitely do, but because I didn't want to read a book that was specifically aimed at being a girly book for girls.

    I very much prefer books that focus on a good story, with fantastic characters where it doesn't really matter if they are a girl or a boy.
    I think that Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi's Spiderwick Chronicles are great examples of this, as well as Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's young readers books such as 'The Meteorite Spoon' and 'Kasper in the Glitter', which all have strong male and female characters, and are not gender specific. They are about great stories! Which as you say, is the most important thing of all.

    Thank you for your interesting post :)
    I look forward to reading more.

    All the very best,

    1. Thanks Emma- you sound like you were one super-cool kid! I agree with all. The best stories and writers will be enjoyed by both girls and boys- but they may have to get past the packaging to discover them! However obviously books aren't packaged and marketed in a vacuum- so one has to acknowledge the fact that overtly 'girly' or 'boysy' covers sell to a public who may be browsing blind...We're our own enemies (as witnessed by the fact that I'd never bothered getting a Holly Webb book for my boys before)

  2. What a fantastic take on this. I too have a problem with this- although it is much less pronounced in English kidlit than in Japanese!

    I actually really enjoyed a picture book with an androgynous character that I reviewed recently, called Stuck with the Blooz. I confess that it was difficult to write the review without a pronoun but so refreshing!

    1. That did sound cool. Yes thinking about how the Japanese can be round Hello Kitty etc. I can see that gender stereotyping *might* abound... Will you b log about it sometime? ;)

  3. Thanks for the link! One of the best outcomes of my blog post has been all the recommendations for non-gender stereotyping books. Now I just need a free evening / some cash for a night on amazon, or a bit more time to browse at the library!

    1. Pleasure- great post- by the time I caught up with it it didn't seem worth commenting as the comment list was already so rich! Great suggestions to follow up on there too as you say.Believe me for every pink princess you're getting fed up with there's a tiresomely rude, school-hating farting-with-superpowers boy that I've had enough of too(with the honourable exception of Horrid Henry who I am a BIG fan of- but then so are the girls I know...)