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.

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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.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right - Why I’m far from happy with the Swindon Youth Festival of Literature’s author line-up

Although I’ve spent most of my time highlighting the under-representation of men in the world of children’s literature on this blog,  I’ve occasionally focussed on instances where the imbalance runs the other way. This morning I found out about another of those instances; it seems that only one of the sixteen children’s and YA authors appearing at this year’s Swindon Youth Festival of Literature’s author line-up is a woman.

You might think that – after all the fuss I’ve made about the under-representation of men – I’d be happy to see men being over-represented in this instance.  I am not. As my mother often told me, “two wrongs do not make a right”. As someone that has spent the last three years campaigning for more GENDER BALANCE in the world of children's literature, I’m no more happy to see women under-represented than I am to see men.

"Children’s books are
 intended for readers of both sexes, so doesn’t it make sense for both sexes to be well represented in the authors appearing at the festival as well?"
To echo the arguments I’ve made repeatedly on this blog – I am not questioning the selection of any of the individual authors in the line-up; I’m sure that they are all very effective in engaging young readers of both sexes. What I am questioning is the appropriateness of the overall demographic. Children’s books are intended for readers of both sexes, so doesn’t it make sense for both sexes to be well represented in the authors appearing at a children's book festival?

I’m not aware of any hard data for this, but a couple of authors have told me that there is also a strong pro-male imbalance in author school visit bookings. Apparently schools sometimes justify this imbalance by saying that they have a particular problem with reluctant boy readers and so they tend to book male authors to compensate for the lack of adult male reader-role-models among school staff. A similar justification might be given for the dominance of male authors in the Swindon Festival programme.

The problem here is that we are attempting to counter the knock on-effect of one gender-imbalance by creating a second imbalance, when it would be far better to tackle the problem at source. UCAS head Mary Curnock Cook has been calling for years for positive action to address the lack of male teachers within UK schools. Earlier this year she commented that there has been a “deafening policy silence” in response to such calls. There are plenty of great initiatives (like the one featured in this video) to encourage girls into male-typical careers – why are there so few initiatives to encourage boys to become primary teachers, librarians, nurses or even stay-at-home-dads?

If we want to close the gender gaps in children’s reading for pleasure and children’s literacy, we need to make far more effort to encourage gender balance across the whole world of children’s literature, regardless of which gender is under-represented.

So come on Swindon Festival, let’s have an author line-up that reflects your intended audience next year!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Parents of preschoolers spend 33% more on books for girls than books for boys

It’s been over a year since I last posted on this blog. Having focussed on publishers, book awards and newspaper reviews in previous years I’d intended to write some posts focussing on schools this year. Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy with other commitments, but I still hope to do this at some point, but probably not until 2017.

In the meantime I thought I’d put up this stopgap post to highlight some relevant research from a recently published report from Childwise.

It's no secret that most book buyers are women or that most picture books are purchased by mothers and grandmothers. A 2013 Bowker report on the UK, US and Canadian children’s book market showed that 84% of picture book buyers are female.

84% of picture books are bought by female customers.
Source: Bowker- Understanding the Children's Book Consumer in the Digital Age 2013

"Parents spend 33%
more on books for their daughters than they do on books for their sons, spending £8 per month on books for girls compared with £6 per month on books for boys"
The assumption I’d been making up until now was that, while picture book buyers may be predominately women, there was an even boy/girl split in the children they where buying for. However the Childwise report, which surveyed the parents of 1,000 0 to 4-year-olds in the UK, suggests otherwise. The report shows that parents spend 33% more on books for their daughters than they do on books for their sons, spending £8 per month on books for girls compared with £6 per month on books for boys.

The report looked at eight other preschool product categories (clothes, days out, organized activities, footwear, magazines, DVDs/Blu-Rays, apps and games) and found that collectively parents spend 16% more on girls than boys each month (£101 per month on boys £117 per month on girls). Parents spend more on preschool girls than boys in every category except ‘DVDs/Blu-Rays’ and ‘apps and games’ where there was an equal spend on both sexes.

I think it’s reasonable to suggest that, following the law of supply and demand, this gender skew in preschool book demand might play some part in the skewed gender appeal of the output of the picture book industry.

In other news, an author got in touch with me this week to draw my attention to the disappointing news that next year’s Carnegie and Greenaway Medals will once again be judged by a woman-only panel. I wrote a series of posts about this in 2013-2014 explaining why I think gender-balanced judging of this and other children’s book awards could help to close the gender gap in children’s reading for pleasure. You can find a summary of the main points in this post.

UPDATE Feb 2017: Since I published this post in October 2016, Jake Hope has been added to 2017 Carnegie and Greenaway Judging Panel changing the balance to 13 women and 1 man.
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