I always read with interest debates about there being ‘books for girls’ and ‘books for boys’. Pink vs Blue. Fairies vs Pirates. It baffles me.
I was in a book shop the other day, standing next to a lady who was studying the children’s colouring books, sighing and tutting as she did so. She turned to me and said, ‘Excuse me, do you have a daughter?’ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘I have three sons.’ ‘Oh,’ she sighed, ‘I want to buy a colouring book for a girl but none of these look particularly girly and I don’t think she’ll like them.’ Puzzled, I looked at the shelf of colouring books. ‘This is my best bet,’ she said, picking up a ‘Under the Sea’ colouring book. ‘The cover’s blue, mind.’ Then with another sigh and a tut, she walked away to the till, leaving me to stare in confusion at her retreating back. I mean, we had just been talking about children’s colouring books, hadn’t we?
As a child, I would spend ages in the morning choosing my outfit, always colour-matching my top, skirt and socks. My favourite colour was, and still is, pink. So did this mean I only played with ‘pink and pretty’ things? Only read about fairies and princesses? NO!!!
I had barbies, lots and lots of barbies. I also had a Playmobil set of little construction men and their tools. Enid Blyton sat next to Roald Dahl and Ted Hughes on my book shelf. I had a magic crab apple tree at the bottom of the front garden, which was home to the Crabble Fairies. Our back patio was my pirate ship, on which I would sail the seas on perilous adventures.
My sister, on the other hand, hated pink (she still hates pink and refused to wear a pink dress as my bridesmaid). As a child, she would throw on a random pair of shorts and a t-shirt and go and cause mayhem and mischief with our older brother – getting stuck in trees and losing wellies in streams.
We may have been like chalk and cheese, yet in the evenings, we would snuggle on her bed and read together – it didn’t matter what the book was, it was just the joy of reading aloud together.
Children are children. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have three sons. My eldest loves football and rugby. My 4 year-old loves Peppa Pig and Rosie. My 18 month-old loves to empty cupboards and put toys in the washing machine or down the toilet. They are three individual, boisterously beautiful boys who have their own minds.
When I got my publishing deal and plucked up the courage to start telling people, their first response was, ‘Oooh, how exciting! What’s it about?’ When they learnt that my main character is a girl, they would say, ‘Oh. You have three boys. I’d have thought that you’d write a boys book.’ Really, yes, I have had that comment countless times.
I didn’t set out to write a book for girls or a book for boys. I set out to write a children’s book. End of. If we restrict children’s reading because of gender, then we are teaching them that they have to fit into a pre-conceived mould. Boys shouldn’t like pink – this would confuse my 4 year-old no end. Girls shouldn’t like dangerous adventure, but should sit daintily making daisy chains – this would have enraged my sister!
This may be an exaggeration, but the message really does come across like that if we continue to talk about books for boys and books for girls. We’re turning it into boys vs girls. They are children’s books for little people who have their own minds and a wonderful capacity to imagine. So let’s leave them to choose what they want to read and not make a child feel uncomfortable about wanting to read a book that’s ‘not meant’ for them.
Hwyl am y tro x