“Why are crocodiles only boys?”

Today I went to read to the children from the Rainbow Library. I took What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing and Open Very Carefully hoping that they would entice some reluctant listeners in from the corners. To some extent it worked. Open Very Carefully was an absolute hit and caught and held the attention of quite a few boys, a couple of whom usually lose interest very quickly and run off to play. Plus one of the girls who tends to only listen from the edges was inspired to sit right in the centre so she could join in with all the crocodile shaking. What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing went down very well with the older children and kept their attention, appealing to the boys and the girls equally.

It was going so well. But then… a little voice piped up, “why are crocodiles only boys?” Why indeed? Stumped by a three year old. I had consciously chosen two books about crocodiles to try and interest some of the children – boys and girls – who don’t tend to sit down and join in. I thought Open Very Carefully would be perfect because it is so different, fun and interactive and I wanted to see whether the humour in What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing would entice a few of the stragglers. The crocodiles were almost incidental. But I had inadvertently planted the seed that all crocodiles are boys. This gender stuff is a tricky business!

So I got to thinking, why are crocodiles in picture books only boys? I thought through the crocodiles I could remember – all boys. Are crocodiles seen as more masculine animals? Are cats always girls? Are any animals girls? I decided to do a quick and very unscientific experiment. I took the nearest pile of books, sorted the ones with animals as characters and then investigated gender.

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Out of a total of 22 books, 19 were by female authors/illustrators. Looking at the main characters showed a whopping 22 males, 5 females and 4 unknown. Even with a huge bias to female authors there was still a large majority of male characters. Why? Do male characters sell more books? I know that girls are happier to read about boys than boys are to read about girls, but even with animal characters? And are we giving them a choice?

A bit more high tech analysis and counting on my fingers showed that things evened out when it came to additional characters, 15 of which were male, 14 female and 14 unknown.

Page one of my highly scientific research.

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Page two, including evidence of finger-counting.

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I had a look at whether the type of animal had any links to gender. The main character female animals were a mouse, orang-utan, dog, chicken, and a rabbit. All crocodiles, bears, lions, weasels and wolves were, of course, male.

Special shout out goes to Copy Cat by Mark Birchall which has a female dog and a male cat. It’s very sad when that feels subversive. But this afternoon, it does.

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I’m sure this isn’t a unique piece of scraped together ‘research’ and it certainly wouldn’t get past any of my old GCSE science teachers as a ‘fair test’. But if even three year olds are pointing out that all crocodiles are boys then something is clearly wrong. These are good books! Books I regularly read to children and recommend. There’s no overt negative gender stereotyping, no big push to pink or blue, and yet….

So do your book stacks match up to mine in the gender stakes or do you get a different result?

And can anyone recommend a book about a female crocodile??? A three year old’s perception of gender is hanging in the balance!

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9 thoughts on ““Why are crocodiles only boys?”

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  1. Awesome post Carmen and thanks for all your hard work 🙂 I will now pay more attention to animal gender in picture books. Interesting how it was a child’s question that sparked off the whole exercise, kids can be more perceptive than we often give them credit for!

  2. This is a really interesting take on the gender issues in picture books. I feel inspired to fo an unscientific experiment with some of our books! But it makes sense – I’ve noticed with children’s clothes that animals are categorised as male or female – cats, bunnies etc are on girls clothes while boys get dogs. Insects and dinosaurs.

    By the way – how did you respond to the tricky question from the child?

    1. I blagged it and said “of course crocodiles are girls too, otherwise they wouldn’t have any mums or sisters.” Then I told her that I’d read her a girl crocodile book next week. Which I can do now, thankfully!

      I’d love it if you could let me know your results if you do do your own unscientific experiment. I’m starting a list of books with female animals as main characters. Would love any examples you come across.

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