I’ve set up this blog because I want to start a debate about gender bias in picture books.

I believe that the scarcity of male gatekeepers in the picture book industry means that its output reflects boys’ tastes less than girls’ and that this lack of gender-balance is exacerbating the gender gap in children's reading abilities.

My argument, based on my experience as both an author and a parent, is set out in the three essays below.

scroll down further for blog posts

cool not cute: what boys really want from picture books

This two-part essay contains my main argument.

Part 1: The Uneven Playing Field argues that the lack of gender-balance among publishers, teachers, librarians and picture-book-buyers is making picture books more appealing to girls than boys.

Part 2: The Missing Ingredients lists some of the ingredients with boy-typical appeal that are missing from most picture books and suggests ways to gender-balance picture book appeal.

Click here to view/download a pdf of COOL not CUTE Click here to view/download an EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the essay

nature and nurture: boys will be boys

This essay looks at some of the scientific evidence that suggests that BOTH nature and nurture are responsible for sex differences in children's preferences.

Click here to view/download a pdf of NATURE and NURTURE

fighters and fashionistas: the spectre of stereotyping

This essay addresses concerns about gender stereotyping which may arise from the assertion that some preferences are boy or girl-typical.

Click here to view/download a pdf of FIGHTERS and FASHIONISTAS

These three essays were revised and updated in February 2015. You can read a blog post outlining the revisions and the reasons for them here.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

UKLA Conference Seminar

I’m presenting a COOL not CUTE seminar at this year’s UKLA International Conference which is being held at the University of Sussex from Friday 4th to Sunday 6th July.

My seminar is on Saturday 5th July at 14:00 in room 135 (session I7) . The session is only 40 minutes long, so I’m setting gender issues aside and just focusing on the differences in content between picture books and other children’s media which I think are helping to drive many children away from books at an early age.

Here’s the outline for my session from the conference brochure:

COOL not CUTE: How picture books can compete more effectively with other children’s media 

The National Literacy Trust’s ‘Children's and Young People's Reading in 2012’ report (published October 2013) shows that a growing number of children see reading as an ‘uncool’ activity,“are increasingly embarrassed to be seen reading” and are spending less of their own time with books. Conversely, children are spending more time with electronic media such as television and video games.
For many children the perception that books are not as ‘cool’ as other media will have more to do with content than the media itself. First impressions are important – and the first books most children encounter are picture books.

This session will examine the way in which ‘cool’ content elements such as combat, technology, villainy and peril are represented in popular U certificate children’s media and contrast this with the relatively tame way in which these elements are usually represented in picture books.
The more liberal standards of age appropriateness evident in U certificate children’s media are based on demographically representative research. This session will argue that if picture books reflected similar standards of age appropriateness, they would appeal to a wider, more diverse readership and be able to compete more effectively with other children’s media.

I’ll be arguing that the standards of age appropriateness used in picture books are a lot more conservative
than those used in other age-appropriate children’s media including popular U certificate films.

It’s the first time I’ve been to the conference, so I’m not sure what to expect! If you’re attending yourself, please come along and say hello. There will be time for a 10 minute Q and A session after the seminar, but do get in touch if you’d like to get together for a longer chat.

Find out more about the conference on the UKLA web site

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