authors / Brit Lit / fairy tales / fantasy / gender roles

Will boys read books with girls as main characters?

Passing along an interesting blog by Shannon Hale. I admire this author of fantasy and have reviewed multiple books of hers, including The Goose Girl, Enna BurningRiver Secrets, and Forest Born. My favorite? Book of a Thousand Days.

Hale relates her experience speaking about one of her books at a school. Just because the word “princess” was associated with the book, the school administrators assumed boys wouldn’t be interested and excluded them from the chance to hear a live author speak about the craft of writing. You can read about her post here: No Boys Allowed: School visits as a woman writer.

Have you heard this theory?

“Girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls.”

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image by stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

image by imagerymajestic at freedigitalphotos.net

image by imagerymajestic at freedigitalphotos.net

I sure have! Do you agree? I’m not sure I do. I work with both boys and girls ages 10-18. Many of them are avid readers. You know who introduced me to Tris (from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, with a strong female lead)? A boy. Who introduced me to Katniss from The Hunger Games? A boy.

So is the presumption boys will read books with female main characters if said books are dystopian or action-oriented? I don’t think that’s fair, either. I went to college with two guys who could quote Jane Eyre more extensively than I could (and that’s saying something). And no, before you ask, good taste in classic 19th Century Brit Lit has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

We should strive to encourage an appreciation of all genres of literature, regardless of the gender of the protagonist or the reader. To say, “boys don’t read books about girls,” and then not expose them to any such books, well, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s as insulting as certain educational theories on girls 200 years ago, when most girls were actively discouraged from pursuing arithmetic or science, and then experts announced that the female brain was not capable of learning these topics.

Maybe the word “princess” implies crowns and glitter? If so, I wish people would see beyond the connotations. Shannon Hale’s excellent Princess Academy had not one particle of glitter that I recall. Instead, it said a lot about community, identity, family, and good old teenage rebellion, told with delightful humor. And it was a Newbery Honor Book, among many other awards! Should male students be discouraged from hearing a Newbery author when she comes to their school, if the book features girls?

I am especially invested in this question since I am publishing a “princess book.” Waking Beauty is a spin-off (no pun intended) of Sleeping Beauty. Various readers have told me my prince is the main character, and others that Sleeping Beauty is. I love my main characters equally. I’d have no plot if one of them went AWOL. I confess, I suspect most of my readers will be female. But does that make me realistic (it’s wise to know your market, right?), or unwittingly guilty of the very prejudice Shannon Hale speaks of in her blog? I am being unfair to potential male readers?

What do you think? Will boys read “girl” books? How can we defeat the reader stereotypes?

image by imagerymajestic at freedigitalphotos.net

image by imagerymajestic at freedigitalphotos.net

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