Earlier this year the Guardian book blog published a post "The wrong kind of reading lessons" which more or less says that the books being targeted at boys, while praiseworthy in their attempts to persuade boys to read, are reinforcing stereotypes: “a fast food menu of impoverished stereotypes …., based on rigid class systems and exclusion”. The article received a mixed reception.
This week Guardian Unlimited ran an article which reports that a government minister is advocating boys’ bookshelves in school libraries, again in an effort to encourage boys to read.
When they were young I did everything I possibly could to introduce my two sons to the pleasures of reading: library visits, story times, reading at bedtime. One of them turned out to be a reader, the other, well, perhaps he is a late developer.
Personally I don’t really think the content matters too much within certain limits. I was such an avid reader as a child that, living in Africa as we did, my parents couldn’t keep the supply of books going. That’s when I developed my liking for medical journals, specifically The Lancet. I happily read my way through the multiple Enid Blyton series and I really don’t think it did me any harm, for all their repetitiveness, limited vocabulary and dated attitudes. I remember one story which praised a “good” girl though I can’t remember why. I was not impressed so I clearly didn’t think I was likely to be included in that group. Strange the things which stick in your mind.
Where I do quibble about these “boys’ books” articles is at the division of reading matter into boys’ and girls’. As a girl I loved mysteries and adventures. Would they have been available to me if we had had a boys’ bookshelf at school? The books my younger son could be persuaded to read were usually about crafts. Would they have been on the girls’ shelf? Why compartmentalise reading like this, and worse still label it male and female? It could be alienating a sizable number of children who don’t feel their reading tastes fall into the “right” category.