Call for Publishers to Eliminate Gender-Specific Books

By Marlena Chertock — March 25, 2014 1 min read
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Katy Guest, the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, announced Sunday that the British newspaper, its book section, and the children’s books blog at will no longer review gender-specific books. This policy is in response to a broader conversation going on in the publishing world about eradicating gender-marketed books.

Any Girls' Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we'll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we'd thank you not to send us such books at all," Guest wrote.

A U.K. campaign called Let Books Be Books, created by the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, advocates that books should not be marketed with gender stereotypes. The campaign’s online petition launched on March 6 urges publishers to remove labeling like “for girls” or “for boys” from books, including activity and sticker books, and let children decide which books they want to read. As of March 21, the petition had garnered more than 4,000 signatures.

The #LetBooksBeBooks hash tag on Twitter has engaged people around the world. And many petition signers explained why they signed in the online comments.

As a mom of boy/girl twins, I strive to support my daughter's love of Thomas the Train and my son's desire to wear barrettes and tutus because the idea of limiting their explorations of who they are is not beneficial for them or society as a whole. When girls represent a tiny fraction of science-oriented professionals and boys' images of masculinity are one dimensional, society loses," wrote Kate Francis, from Washington.

Some publishers, like Buster Books’ Michael O’Mara, have said they will stick to marketing gender-specific books because they tend to sell well.

It's a fact of life how a very large percentage of people shop when buying for kids, do it by sex. We know for a fact that when they are shopping on Amazon, they quite often type in 'books for boys' and 'books for girls,' " O'Mara told The Independent.

But the pushback from consumers and the literary community is growing. Last week several U.K. newspapers joined the call. Major literary figures have also added to the growing support, including U.K. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, U.K. Children’s Laureate Marjorie Blackman, former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, and author Philip Pullman.

Publishers, including Parragon and Usborne, have already responded to the petition, announcing last week that they would stop publishing gender-specific books, according to the campaign’s website.

Do you buy gender-specific books for your children? Did you ever read gender-specific books as a kid? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or by tweeting at @EWBookMarks.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.