Stop labelling children’s books for girls or boys: new campaign

Publishers should stop marketing children's books in such a gender-specific way, says pressure group Let Books Be Books

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Some of the nation’s best-loved children’s authors have backed a campaign to stop children’s books being labelled as “books for boys” or “books for girls”.

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Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, authors Philip Pullman, Anne Fine and Ros Asquith and poet Carol Ann Duffy, as well as the publishers Usborne and Parragon and the booksellers Waterstones, have declared their support for Let Books Be Books, a campaign to end gender-specific children’s books.

The Let Books Be Book campaign is being driven by the people behind the recent very successful Let Toys Be Toys project, which pressurised retailers to stop stocking gender-specific toys.

They’d like parents to sign their petition to ask publishers to take ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books, so that children can feel free to choose any book that catches their eye.

“‘How can a story be only for a girl, or a sticker be just for a boy?” they say. “But titles like The Beautiful Girls’ Book of Colouring or Illustrated Classics for Boys are on the shelves in toyshops, bookstores and supermarkets around the UK and Ireland.

“These labels send out very limiting messages to children about what kinds of things are appropriate for girls or for boys. Blue covers, with themes of action and adventure, robots, space, trucks and pirates contrast with a riot of pink sparkles, fairies, princesses, flowers and butterflies. But real children’s interests are a lot more diverse, and more interesting, than that.”

“No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer,” adds author Philip Pullman, author of the bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy. “Let the readers decide for themselves.”

And bestselling novelist and mother Harriet Evans agrees. “I have a 2-year-old daughter and it depresses me that one day she’ll realise there are apparently limits on what she’s supposed to like. I never had that as a brown-cords, orange-polo-neck-wearing little girl who happened to like pirates, fairies, tractors and The Railway Children (a book which is now apparently ‘for girls’).

“It doesn’t just restrict girls, it harms boys too. The phrase ‘cynical marketing’ is much overused but in this case, it’s completely apt – and that’s why I love the Let Books Be Books campaign.”

What do you think? Do you think the Let Books Be Books campaigners have a point? Are you more likely to buy a book for your child if it’s clearly marketed at “boys” or “girls”? Do tell!

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