Tag Archives: Gender equality

Where’s Lenny? The perfect book for a nursery.

13 Feb

Where’s Lenny? by Ken Wilson-Max is a nursery or play group’s dream book! It is just brilliant on so many levels!

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The version I have is a lovely chunky hardcover, just the right size for toddlers to handle themselves and with gently rounded edges. Even the pages themselves are perfect for the age-group. Rounded card pages that are shiny enough to be splatter resistant and thick enough to be tear-proof, yet still flexible enough for little ones to manage and learn how to turn carefully. This is a wonderful step up from a board book before a paperback picture book – resilient is the word I would use! Toddler-proof!

Lenny is playing hide and seek with Daddy. The reader conspires with Lenny as he swaps his hiding place and stays one step ahead of Daddy. I love the way this brings the reader in and involves them in the game. Children will be squealing and pointing as Lenny runs up the stairs or sneaks behind the sofa. A lovely touch.

The language is immediate and exciting and helps to engage the child in the game. It even includes counting to ten, with numerals for the children to follow. The illustrations work beautifully to keep the child’s interest, bright and bold with not too much going on so that the focus can be drawn to cheeky Lenny as he disappears off again.

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For me, the true beauty of this book is the way it reflects our diverse society. The illustrations show a mixed race family. Dad is playing with Lenny while Mum is fixing a lightbulb. Little things, but so, so important. Hurrah!

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This book really is perfect for a nursery, where it can teach children about our world and fill them with fun and giggles. So my copy is off to The Rainbow Library where it can sit happily in a Brighton nursery and do its job daily.

Thank you to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for sending me this review copy.

Gender non-specific characters

13 Sep

During discussions about the lack of female characters in children’s picture books, I’ve noticed a few people saying that they swap the genders of characters as they read books to their children. It’s easy enough to say ‘she’ rather than ‘he’ as you read along, and it can do wonders to balance out the genders. No, we shouldn’t have to do it, but when faced with a whole book of male characters a little creativity with the pronouns can make a big difference.

Think about Dear Zoo. A book that is a staple of every library, nursery and reception class. A seemingly gentle and innocent lift the flap classic. But… ‘I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet.’ And they sent me eight animals. Every single one male. Why? And when you really think about it and look at the way the animals are described you see that the words used are describing stereotypically male behaviours. ‘He was too naughty’, ‘He was too fierce’, ‘He was too jumpy’. The book changes completely when you change some of those he’s to she’s.

Dear Zoo was first published in 1982 and things are certainly changing now. I love uncovering great books with inspiring female characters and books that flip the gender stereotypes. Another way that gender views are being challenged is through gender non-specific books. I’ve been interested to see quite a few of these crop up lately. It takes what parents and teachers are already doing to the next level – you don’t have to swap the gender of the character anymore, you can create it yourself. Quite empowering for a little one I think!

In my post about the lack of female animal characters in picture books I wrote about the way we use language in relation to animals and how we have been essentially programmed by society to gender animals. Farm visits and bug hunts become unconsciously gendered affairs. I wanted to know how children would react to books with gender non-specific characters. Would they assume that they were all male? That they were the same gender as them? Would the gender be related to the animal type? In my very small, very unscientific experiment, it turned out to be a mix of those things-and more. I used three gender non-specific books; Momo and Snap are Not Friends, It’s not Yours, It’s Mine, and Pip, Pip, Hooray!. All have gender non-specific characters, all of which are animals.

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Pip, Pip, Hooray! is a lift the flap book with a black cat named Pip. Pip is a character that pops up in treat bags alongside Hello Kitty and in a range of activity books published by Hodder Children’s Books. I love the Pip brand for being a bit different. The idea is that Pip is a black cat, only identified from all the other black cats in the book by a name badge. This creates a whole host of spotting opportunities and gender and role play discussions. It’s like Hello Kitty meets Where’s Wally.

The brilliance is that Pip isn’t a girl or a boy, just ‘Pip’ so the children can decide for themselves and use Pip to explore gender concepts. On one page Pip is dressed as an ice cream seller in full pink frilliness. On the next page Pip is wearing a hard hat and controlling a construction vehicle. What madness is this? Is Pip a boy or a girl? The joy is, I really don’t know. The book is very careful not to specify gender with the language it uses and Pip is shown in a variety of costumes so it truly is non-specific. The children didn’t seem fazed by it at all and relished the spotting fun and the counting activities hidden under the flaps. Most of the children assumed Pip was the same gender as them, some asking for clarification when they got to the ice cream cart page- costume seems to be their first stop for gender assigning.

What a brilliant book to use in a role play area and to show children that gender roles are an irrelevant social construct. They can be a fairy or a pirate or a ballet dancer or a construction worker. The sticker books seem to support this idea even more with the tag line ‘who will Pip be today’ alongside pictures of fairies, farmers, astronauts, ballet dancers, racing drivers and pirates. I am a Pip convert.

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It’s not Yours, It’s Mine by Susanna Moores is a gorgeous book about a rabbit called Blieka who has a beautiful red shiny ball. Blieka is worried about sharing the ball and keeps it close at all times. Yellows, reds, oranges and pinks wash across the page as we see Blieka’s love for the ball. It really does go everywhere, until it becomes a little flat and Blieka needs to call in some friends to help restore the beloved ball to its former glory. Blieka slowly begins to share the ball and the story ends with all the friends happily playing and sharing their toys together. There’s just the right amount of gentle humour to keep an adult reader interested and the book perfectly portrays the early struggles of sharing something really precious.

Blieka can be a girl or a boy, there are no clothing clues, no ‘she said’ or ‘he said’s to help. The readers (or listeners) are left to decide for themselves. Interestingly, I read this to a small group of girls who all asked if Blieka was a girl or a boy- it seemed important for them to know what gender they were dealing with. I told them I didn’t know and asked them what they thought and they all decided Blieka was a girl. I wonder what a group of boys would say? Next week I will try to find out.

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Momo and Snap are Not Friends by Airlie Anderson is delicious! It makes me smile for so many reasons. It tells the story of Momo the monkey and Snap the crocodile who bump into each other and instantly begin competing. They try to scare each other away, then attempt to prove their superior strength and skills until potential predators arrive and Snap snaps into action to rescue Momo. It tells this story beautifully, with only the pictures and the animals’ sounds, making the book a riot to read aloud and a wonderful chance for children to act out and explore story lines.

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They can talk about what is happening in the pictures, make the noises, understand and ‘read’ or perform the book themselves without the need for an adult. Momo and Snap are Not Friends is a book that works across ages as younger children explore the animals’ expressions in the pictures and the adventure of the story, while the older children pick up more information from the pictures and are able to read some of the text themselves. I love the bright pictures, and I adore the purple outline around Snap. This book is so much fun for children that the ones I read it with didn’t stop to ask about the gender of the animals, they were far too busy chatting about what was going on in the pictures. But here’s the thing- they did slip into using ‘he’ for both characters, even though I was reading the book with an all-girl group. Hmmm!

There are a lot of books around that use gender non-specific characters, and often these characters are assumed to be male. Think about The Gruffalo. Before The Gruffalo’s Child and James Corden’s voice in the film version, the mouse wasn’t gendered. If you take The Gruffalo book as a standalone, the mouse is consistently referred to as ‘the mouse’. No gender was given until The Gruffalo’s Child. Yet how many people assumed it was a male mouse? I think I probably did. I have found it really interesting to see how many times a gender non-specific character pops up- and if I’m really honest, how many times I have had to stop myself from referring to it as male! My latest one was the dragon in The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. Such a brilliant affirming book and I go and trash it by slipping in a ‘he’! I’ve been brainwashed! But I’m really trying to reprogram. So hurrah for books that allow us to think about and explore gender roles and how we respond to gender non-specific characters. Hurrah for Pip, Momo, Snap, Blieka and Dragon, and all who created them and brought them to our shelves. Because we have had a lot of years of mainly male characters and we have some serious re-learning to do. These books are the ones that will help our children grow up with a more evenly balanced view. Hurrah to that!

Source: Momo and Snap are Not Friends, It’s not Yours, It’s Mine kindly sent for review by ChildsPlay
Pip, Pip, Hooray!</em kindly sent for review by Hodder Children's.

Tom and Millie’s Whizzy Busy People by Guy Parker-Rees

23 May

As a huge fan of Giraffe’s Can’t Dance (and the rock ‘n’ rolling rhinos) I was very excited to find Whizzy Busy People waiting for me on my doormat. And it didn’t disappoint. There’s a lot to love about this book. It combines two of the things little people adore – spotting things, and Exciting Grown-up Jobs.

Tom and Millie are talking about what they want to be when they grow up and decide to seek inspiration from their family and their jobs. They travel around the town visiting relatives in their jobs at the hospital, the recycling centre, building site and airport amongst other places.

Each page is crammed full of busyness and has loads to look at, with a ladybird to spot on each page as well as endless friends and relations. The joy here is the way the things to spot are integrated into the story. Lines like “I can see Ruby picking a pineapple…And – oops! – Jemma just dropped a jar of jam” have you scouring the page for pineapple pluckers and jam jumbles.

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Of course, a RhinoReads review wouldn’t be worth it’s weight in cake without a nod to equality, and Whizzy Busy People gets my Ronnie snort of approval. Guy Parker-Rees hasn’t followed gender stereotypes or gone for a strict, ticking-the-equality-box, stereotype reversal. Instead he has done something to be applauded.
He has made it look like real life.
Such a simple thing, yet such an important thing too. When children read books they gain a glimpse of the wider world. They learn from what they see in the illustrations and what they hear read to them. In a book like this, that is specifically showing children what the grown up world of work looks like, it is even more important to be true to life and provide an honest representation of the world for children to learn from. Obviously a page of bored animals in grey suits tapping on a computer and clinging on to their coffee would be a touch too honest, but a wide range of jobs and a realistic mix of people working them is a positive and realistic view of what really happens in the world.

Guy Parker-Rees gives us a female nurse and a male firefighter, then a female pilot and a female construction worker. By using animal characters and dressing them all in uniforms such as scrubs and fire suits the genders are obscured. The workers could be any gender and children have the opportunity to put themselves in any role they choose. From the very first page where we meet Tom and Millie, it is made clear that this is a book for all children to explore all jobs. Millie has a fire fighter’s hat and Tom has a doctor’s kit and they are surrounded by a delightful mix of toys. No gender stereotyping here. Let Toys be Toys would be proud.

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It’s a lovely touch to include Grandma and Grandad working on their allotment. Grandad is making a flowerpot from clay and Grandma is digging up the carrots. A positive way to include all the family and show children that not all work is a paid job. I also did a little happy dance to see Tom and Millie finish their quest for inspiration at the library where they find books about all sorts of jobs they could do. The bookworm is a note of genius too!

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Guy Parker-Rees has created a truly child-friendly positive book that will entertain and inspire. I’m really excited about taking this book in to read with the Rainbow Library children. They will enjoy spotting all the characters and those pesky hidden ladybirds and will be able to use this book as a springboard for discussions and role play about jobs. I can just see them all running off to the dressing up box now. Next time, perhaps a bit more variation with the disabled characters rather than just including a couple of wheelchairs. But, extra cake for including rhinos throughout the book!

Source: Kindly sent for review by Orchard Books. Tom and Millie’s Whizzy Busy People is due to be published 6th June 2013.

Hans and Matilda by Yokococo

19 May

This book ticks all the boxes for me. It has a strong female animal character, it is quirky and clever, both in design and concept. It is a book that begs to be stroked, makes you smile and makes you think.

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Hans and Matilda was shortlisted for the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award. Guest judge Wendy Cooling called it “A quirky picture book packed with humour and surprises. People, or cats in this case, are not always what they seem.”

There was once a little cat called Matilda. And there was once a little cat called Hans. They were SO different.

Matilda is a very good cat. She is shown in colourful scenes sitting quietly reading her book, watering her garden and sweeping her floor. Hans is the polar opposite, shown up to mischief in greyscale against a black background, with just a hint of red for danger.

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I love the way the pictures echo each other. Matilda and Hans playing with water, both using their brushes.

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But then one night Hans goes too far and causes chaos and calamity at the zoo. Can Matilda save the day? And are they so different after all?

It is hard for me to review this book without ruining it. It is hard to explain why I love it so much without spoiling the joy you will experience when reading it for the first time. So instead I will say this… Go and find it and experience it for yourself. Ask your local bookshop or library or buy it here from Letterbox Library. You won’t regret it.

Source: The RhinoReads bookshelves.

Change is coming

11 May

I cannot tell you how proud I am to report that I have had three (THREE!) authors/illustrators contact me in the last couple of weeks to say that they have included a female character or have changed a character’s gender in their work in progress, in direct response to my posts about the lack of female animal characters in picture books. And a couple have contacted me to say that I’ve given them something to think about for future projects.

Imagine that! I sit here tapping away at a screen, moaning about the inequality of the current situation and not only do people read my witterings, but they comment and retweet and forward and discuss. And change! My fellow book-stroker @chaletfan said that my blog posts have raised “an intriguing and sort of v concerning question.” And she is Spot On with her wording there. It IS intriguing and it is inspiring people to dig through their bookshelves, their school libraries, their own work. It is concerning people enough to think and act on it. Huge thanks to everyone who has dipped in and helped. Actual change could come from a couple of blog posts, one of which was mainly written during a car journey with sporadic internet connection.

So why have I had such an overwhelming and positive reaction? Because things are already changing. Today is the first ever London Radical Book Fair, celebrating books that are “informed by inclusive/anti-discriminatory concerns or those which promote social equality or social justice”. It is also the venue for the awarding of the first ever Little Rebel Book Award, created by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and administered by the ever-inspiring Letterbox Library. What an amazing and encouraging event! Two supporters of the fair, Letterbox Library and Beth Cox from Inclusive Minds, recently challenged the publishing world to publish a book with its usual pink cover AND a gender neutral cover to compare sales. Just this week Jacqueline Wilson echoed this in The Telegraph directly challenging her publishers and the book industry as a whole to publish books with more gender neutral covers rather than the standard pink. At the same time Let Toys Be Toys have led a formidable campaign against gendered marketing and separation of toys in stores. They have had huge success with companies such as Tesco, Asda, Morissons and Boots all changing their store and online categories and product labelling.

Change is beginning. There is a real movement towards gender equality for children and it is being fought through blogs, by email, on facebook, on twitter. The digital age empowers people to stand up together for change. The toy companies are seeing the trend and are changing accordingly. So come on fellow booky peeps, let’s continue to comment and retweet and forward and discuss and maybe we can inspire change in the book world too.

If, due to my chatterings on here, just one new book makes it through to be published with a strong female animal character, I will be a very proud woman indeed!

Female animal characters in picture books

6 May

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted about the lack of female animal main characters in children’s picture books. Since then, I have been pondering the impact that gap might have on children. I’m beginning to think that portraying an overwhelming majority of animal main characters as male is more damaging than the more explicit gendered marketing of picture books. At least when books are explicitly marketed at a particular gender you are going into that book with open eyes and the awareness that you are being marketed to as a girl or boy. With animal characters the gender is often not visually obvious and relies on the text. The gendering here is more insidious. The overwhelming majority of animal main characters are male so children are subconsciously learning that male characters are more frequent, more normal, more important. Am I reading too much into this? Possibly. But take any child to the zoo or the farm. Do they automatically call the animals she or he? If they spot a mini-beast or bird in the park do they assume it is a girl or a boy? And is their reaction different depending on the type of animal? Are cats girls and dogs boys? Are all mini beasts male apart from ladybirds who are all female? Do you unconsciously confirm those gender associations with your use of language? Try it, it’s an eye opener.

In this respect, picture books are (unconsciously) reinforcing dated social stereotypes about gender roles and values. But it doesn’t have to be like this and things are slowly changing. There are great books with female animal leads out there. It is possible to even it out a bit by being aware of what you are reading to children and ensuring you include some books with female main characters. And not books that have an animal’s mum or sister in, or a female main character that reinforces negative gender stereotypes, but books that really celebrate their female characters and portray them in a positive light. Over the last two weeks I have been collecting examples of great books that put female animal characters in the limelight or play with traditional gender stereotypes. Here are a few of my favourites.

Ella by Alex T. Smith

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Ella is a strong and self assured ladybird who knows how to rock her dots and stand up for herself. Ella is a feminist twist on the traditional Cinderella story, full of positive role models and affirming images for children. This is one of the books that I buy again and again to give to children for birthday pressies. I think every child should have a copy of this book because Ella is such a strong and empowering character. The Cinderella story can often reinforce negative gender stereotypes, but not in the hands of Alex T. Smith. Oh no.

Martha and the Bunny Brothers – I Heart School and I Heart Bedtime by Clara Vulliamy

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Martha is a wonderful role model for children because of her immensely positive attitude. She is strong, exuberant and imaginative and inspires children to see the world and their place in it in a positive light. Clara Vulliamy has a real talent for portraying childhood and her Martha books give children a strong sense of seeing their lives represented, and therefore their potential through role models like Martha.

The Maisy books by Lucy Cousins

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I love the Maisy books for their primary coloured, gender-stereotype-free happiness. Maisy is a female mouse but in these books gender is, as it should be, largely irrelevant. The characters are far too busy being friends and having adventures together to worry about traditional gender roles. They all wear primary colours, with no particular colours being linked to gender. They all play together, sharing and swapping roles and responsibilities, completely regardless of gender. Hooray! Very young children don’t care about gender, they just want to play. It’s only when they begin to pick up on and absorb society’s view of gender that they start to include it in their play and their thinking. What better way to teach children about everyday experiences than to reflect the way they play – everyone in together, wearing what they want and playing how they want. Lucy Cousins, I salute you.

Doodle Bites by Polly Dunbar

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A FEMALE CROCODILE! Who is allowed to flip the prescribed gender roles and be loud and boisterous.
And a male pig who wears pink and is quiet and sensitive. The traditional gender roles have been well and truly swapped around. Interestingly, at 3 and 4 years old, the children I have read this book with sometimes try and reverse the genders back. They are sure Hector is a girl and Doodle is a boy, isn’t she? How quickly the gender programming takes hold! All hail Polly Dunbar for challenging it and showing children that gender stereotypes can be messed with and swapped about happily.

Copy Cat by Mark Birchall

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I gave this book a special mention in my original blog post because Mark Birchall has a female dog as the main character and a male cat as her friend. Yes it’s a small thing to have a female dog but it feels subversive and progressive in comparison to the other animal books on the market. He has turned traditional gender assumptions on their head and you can see the power of this when you read it with children. They initially assume that the dog is male and the cat is female. Mark Birchall has illustrated his characters with clothes which helps children visually associate the characters’ gender. I find it sad that they need to reprogram their minds and learn that dog characters can be female and cats male, but hooray for finding a great book that addresses that.

I’m very fond of lists and have started one on this topic. If you can think of any books with a strong female animal character, please leave a comment below, I’d love to add your suggestions.

“Why are crocodiles only boys?”

18 Apr

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!

What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing? By Ben Hawkes

16 Apr

So what is a crocodile’s favourite thing? Perhaps it is driving a car made out of a sausage? Or could it be doing ballet while dressed as a princess? Or eating a dirty pants sandwich? Of course not, silly! But you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out what it is.

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This book is bonkers! Truly bonkers! And hurrah for that, for a child’s bookcase is not complete without a bit of zaniness and icky-stuff related humour.

What I really love about this book though, is its gender neutrality. It isn’t obviously marketed at boys or at girls and even if you play the gender game with the cover it is still very tricky to place it in a gender camp. The cover is yellow with pink and blue writing. It just looks bright and colourful and fun- not boyish or girlish.

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Inside there are all sorts of adventures and much craziness, from riding a tricycle made of jelly on the moon to having a bath full of mud and worms. The illustrations are full of funny the-more-you-look-the-more-you-see details that will encourage children to talk about and giggle over the pictures and scenarios. My personal favourite is the lemur with his many exasperated expressions.

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Hurrah to Ben Hawkes for creating a picture book that celebrates children’s love of all things bonkers and for creating it in a way that will appeal to all children, not just the traditional four year old boy category. It’s great to see.

I think this could prove to be a brilliant book for encouraging children that ‘don’t do books’ to sit down and have a look, or a listen, or both. I shall certainly be putting it to the test at the Rainbow library and seeing which children it appeals to and whether it can entice those reluctant children around the edges.

No pressure, Mr Hawkes! I’m going in!

What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing? was published 4th April by Jonathan Cape.

Source: Kindly sent for review by the publisher.

Playing the gender game through the Rainbow Library

14 Apr

Over on the ReaditDaddy blog they have spent the last week examining the gender gap in picture books and reading. The discussion on Nosy Crow’s blog about the gendering of children’s books was part of the inspiration for this blog, so I was interested to read the ReaditDaddy posts and the discussions they inspired.

The first ReaditDaddy blog post talks about the difficulties faced when trying to ensure children get a mix of books, not just a pile of books that reinforce stereotypical gender roles. He ends by saying ‘you also have to hope with all your heart that they’re going to read the right stuff, and leave books that negatively reinforce these stereotypes exactly where they are.’ And that is oh-so-true, but a tricky business.

I think it’s hugely important for children to be able to see themselves in fiction, whether that is through their gender, race, family background or personality. I also think children have the right to see what they could become. They learn so much about the world from what they see and hear or read in books, so having a wide range of characters dealing with different scenarios opens up the world to them. If children only see gender stereotypes reinforced in their books, how will they learn that they can live their lives outside of them?

There are some really interesting comments raised after the ReaditDaddy blog post, suggesting that gendered covers can encourage children to pick up a book and also help people get decent books into children’s hands via a gendered cover- almost like hiding vegetables in cake. I often come across the ‘at least they are reading’ argument. And yes, I think to some extent it is a worthwhile point, it may be better to get an explicitly gendered book into a child’s hands rather than no book at all. But there are so many wonderful books out there, I can’t help but feel that it’s wrong that so many children are brought up on only these gendered books. I think it’s important to remember that not all gendered books are ‘bad’, just those that negatively reinforce gender stereotypes.

Through the Rainbow Library I try to get books into the hands and minds of young children who aren’t interested in books or, for a variety of reasons, don’t have access to books at home. One of the other things I try to achieve is a balancing of the gender stereotyping that children receive at home. I avoid books that negatively reinforce gender stereotypes and I try to subvert traditional stereotypes and give the children access to books with strong characters from all walks of life. I have found that the girls are much more inclined to read a book whatever the cover image but the boys shy away from anything that might be considered even slightly girly. I am trying to stretch them away from these limitations and show them what is out there. So the little boy who would only read books about pirates was presented with The Night Pirates, about rough, tough little girl pirates. He loved it. And maybe next time he won’t shy away from picking up a book with a girl on the front. Because she might be rough and tough like the girl pirates, he might like her, and he might get a glimpse of the world outside of gender stereotyped restrictions.

Tomorrow the Easter holidays end and the Rainbow Library will be back in action. I will be thinking about all these comments and discussions and I will be playing the gender game with all the books I take in to the children. I urge you to read the gender game blog post about the role of gender in an early years setting, and to play the gender game yourself. Even if you don’t have anything to do with early years children, the concept is one that can really open your eyes to the power of gender marketing and stereotyping. I will be playing it and keeping an eye on the children’s reactions to the books I choose to read with them. Hopefully I will be able to leave books that negatively reinforce these stereotypes exactly where they belong. Behind.

Playing the gender game through the Rainbow Library

14 Apr

Over on the ReaditDaddy blog they have spent the last week examining the gender gap in picture books and reading. The discussion on Nosy Crow’s blog about the gendering of children’s books was part of the inspiration for this blog, so I was interested to read the ReaditDaddy posts and the discussions they inspired.

The first ReaditDaddy blog post talks about the difficulties faced when trying to ensure children get a mix of books, not just a pile of books that reinforce stereotypical gender roles. He ends by saying ‘you also have to hope with all your heart that they’re going to read the right stuff, and leave books that negatively reinforce these stereotypes exactly where they are.’ And that is oh-so-true, but a tricky business.

I think it’s hugely important for children to be able to see themselves in fiction, whether that is through their gender, race, family background or personality. I also think children have the right to see what they could become. They learn so much about the world from what they see and hear or read in books, so having a wide range of characters dealing with different scenarios opens up the world to them. If children only see gender stereotypes reinforced in their books, how will they learn that they can live their lives outside of them?

There are some really interesting comments raised after the ReaditDaddy blog post, suggesting that gendered covers can encourage children to pick up a book and also help people get decent books into children’s hands via a gendered cover- almost like hiding vegetables in cake. I often come across the ‘at least they are reading’ argument. And yes, I think to some extent it is a worthwhile point, it may be better to get an explicitly gendered book into a child’s hands rather than no book at all. But there are so many wonderful books out there, I can’t help but feel that it’s wrong that so many children are brought up on only these gendered books. I think it’s important to remember that not all gendered books are ‘bad’, just those that negatively reinforce gender stereotypes.

Through the Rainbow Library I try to get books into the hands and minds of young children who aren’t interested in books or, for a variety of reasons, don’t have access to books at home. One of the other things I try to achieve is a balancing of the gender stereotyping that children receive at home. I avoid books that negatively reinforce gender stereotypes and I try to subvert traditional stereotypes and give the children access to books with strong characters from all walks of life. I have found that the girls are much more inclined to read a book whatever the cover image but the boys shy away from anything that might be considered even slightly girly. I am trying to stretch them away from these limitations and show them what is out there. So the little boy who would only read books about pirates was presented with The Night Pirates, about rough, tough little girl pirates. He loved it. And maybe next time he won’t shy away from picking up a book with a girl on the front. Because she might be rough and tough like the girl pirates, he might like her, and he might get a glimpse of the world outside of gender stereotyped restrictions.

Tomorrow the Easter holidays end and the Rainbow Library will be back in action. I will be thinking about all these comments and discussions and I will be playing the gender game with all the books I take in to the children. I urge you to read the gender game blog post about the role of gender in an early years setting, and to play the gender game yourself. Even if you don’t have anything to do with early years children, the concept is one that can really open your eyes to the power of gender marketing and stereotyping. I will be playing it and keeping an eye on the children’s reactions to the books I choose to read with them. Hopefully I will be able to leave books that negatively reinforce these stereotypes exactly where they belong. Behind.