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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Boy Books or Books for Boys Only?

Remember the good old boys cave?

I know some people thought that I (and others) either over-reacted or showed we didn’t care about boys reading. (See the comments to that post and linked to posts and articles.)

But, see, to me — it’s not a short walk from going from “for boys” but oh of course girls know we don’t mean that really to “for boys only.”

Which is what happened this past week.

Jackie over at Interactive Reader wrote about it first, at Sexist Much? She showed cover shots and tables of contents of a “how to survive anything” series with a “boys only” and “girls only” version. The difference between the two is stunning; basically, boys are active and do active things that they have to survive, while girls need to learn that survival at the beach requires sunglasses. No, really. Check out both Jackie’s post and the comments. (Try not to get mad about the comments. I wonder if you can guess my favorites?)

Before you get all excited, Jackie wrote this on Thursday and it was quickly picked up by other bloggers and readers; and by the end of the day, the publisher of these books (Scholastic) had responded: “Many readers have expressed concerns about our How to Survive Anything titles, and we want to thank you for your passionate responses. The two titles have had very limited distribution to date, and no further copies will be made available.”

Again, I’ll point you to Jackie’s blog; her second post, Don’t Accept Sexism or Today in Don’t Piss Off Twitter, includes links to those other articles and bloggers. Jackie says, “Objections would not have been had if Boys Only! and Girls Only! hadn’t appeared on the cover. Make them gender neutral, and it’s possible I would have talked these up to the couple thousand students I see this time of year. So, now that these books are no more, my little librarian mind is confused: Did I just instigate some sort of progressive-minded censorship? Regardless, let’s hope that Scholastic will keep this in mind the next time they think creating gendered books is spiffy keen.”

While Jackie and others point out ways in which Scholastic’s response could have been more, I am fine with it. Why? Maybe I’m in a good mood. But considering how many apologies I’ve seen that fail in two issues (timing and action), I liked Scholastic’s. It went up the same day the issue was raised. It presented a solution (no future printings.) It didn’t point fingers at others or make excuses.

Here’s the heart breaking thing: I agree with Jackie that had these titles been gender neutral, it would have been awesome. One book was mainly about surviving outdoorsy, active type things; another was about social situations or reacting to things. (Guess who acts and who reacts?) For example, my niece would love to know how to make a cat to sit. She also wants to know how to survive zombies. Remove the boys/girls only, mix up the “hes” and “shes” being used in the book, and problem solved.

Why does this matter? I’ll quote a comment from Misha at Jackie’s original post: “there’s always a bootstrap problem to the question of commercialism and normativity. At this point in late capitalism, it’s almost impossible to say which came first, the market as it currently exists or the marketing that made the market that way. But just because they are doing it to sell product does NOT make it right. Nor does the fact that children (or adults) are ignorant of the negative effects it has.”

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. I struggle with this daily. It is hard to find books that interest boys, and I adore authors like Jordan Sonnenblick who can speak to both, but they are few and far between. For readers who LIKE to read, I certainly recommend books that might stretch them a bit, but when I have reluctant readers, I do tend to slip into boy or girl friendly comfort zones. I wouldn’t buy a book that had “ONLY” anyone on it, however. Good to keep considering.

  2. Ms Yingling, part of the thing (for me) is that sometimes it is such an easy shorthand, boy books, girl books, and reminding myself that even if I were speaking in front of all girls it wouldn’t be all “pink covers.” Interesting observation about reluctant readers — I know nonfiction is popular with some reluctant readers, but for that, I’ve seen appeal for both girls and boys. But is a book “more like the reader” (ie then a boy or girl) one that someone with reluctance to read would be more willing to read because its less “work” for want of a better word? They “know” the main character (themselves) already…. I’m wording this poorly but you’ve given me food for thought.