The sins of undiscerning marketers should not be visited on innocent children’s books. Katy Guest, the literary editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper in Britain, announced on the weekend that henceforth no children’s book that is marketed by the publisher as “for girls” or “for boys” would even be considered for review. That strikes us as a tad fanatical.
All the members of The Globe and Mail’s editorial board are former children (hard as that may be to believe). Consequently, we know that most good children’s and young adults’ books – as long ago as Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen and Alice in Wonderland and as recently as the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games – speak to, and are read by young human beings of both genders.
Quite a few good children’s authors have written series about groups that include girls and boys, such as E. Nesbit, Arthur Ransome, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. Similarly, writers such as E.B. White, Walter R. Brooks and Beatrix Potter have written well for children about female and male animals with human characteristics. All that is certainly an argument (if any is needed) against gender segregation in children’s sections in bookstores.
If there is a problem here, blame adults who know little or nothing about children’s literature (or literature), and just want someone to help them figure out what to buy for this or that child. Yes, a children’s book that is narrowly directed to one gender is probably not a good book. But the fault may lie in a publishing company’s presentation, rather than what the author has written. And is it so wrong for cover designers and dust-jacket writers to try to help buyers, by suggesting who might be most likely to enjoy a book? Ms. Guest’s promise to throw ostensibly gender-targeted children’s books “straight into the recycling pile” will cause injustices.