"We want kids to read not just for the act of reading, but because we believe books can play a profound role in a kid's life and self-conception and relationship with the world." Anne Ursu, On Gender and Boys Read Panels
This post, partially written, has been sitting in my drafts for awhile now, but recently I was reminded of two posts that made me want to come back to my computer. The first was a Slice of Life post written by Amy Rudd about gender and toys: Voice of the Toys. Then Stephanie Shouldis and Katherine Sokolowski both shared this article by Anne Ursu at Terrible Trivium: On Gender and Boys Read Panels in which she wonders why a recent panel discussing boy readers has to include only male authors:
More often than I wish, it seems, I am stumbling upon reading posts and books about supporting boys and girls in different ways: "Easy Readers for Girls," "Create Boy-Friendly Classrooms," and "Books for Boys: Reluctant Readers Grades 1-2." I'm not here to argue that there might or might not be differences, but I am here to ask if we are working as educators to take down those walls or if we are helping to build them higher. Couldn't some of those differences be created by messages sent through media, social opportunities, the arrangement of toy store aisles, and even our classrooms?
The Problem with Hidden Messages
In our house, my husband is by far the biggest reader. Our children grew up watching him sit in a chair for hours with a book in his hand. I often ask him what he thinks of the "boy as a reluctant reader" concept. I consider it insulting to a man I've seen read book after book after book in a variety of topics and genres. He's not just sitting with his Sports Illustrated Magazine or reading books by John Grisham. He reads everything.
I'm actually the person who has worked to build a life as a reader. As a young child I was a reader, but got lost somewhere in those middle school years. As a high schooler I remember being forced to finish books I found neither interesting or compelling --- and honestly probably far above where I was as a reader. Thankfully since then, I've found books I love and friends who motivate me and my reading life continues to grow. In my opinion, we are the actual reverse of the stereotypes. I too find the stereotypes insulting.
Where to Begin
My classroom is full of both girls and boys. I would say the number of book crazy friends in my classroom is equal in gender as is the number of boys and girls trying to find a place in the world of reading. I work hard to avoid the boy vs. girl stereotypes of reading in my classroom. It isn't always easy. Marketers work hard to keep these stereotypes alive and well. Bookfairs roll into our schools full of tables of books specifically screaming stereotypical covers of "boy books" or "girl books." Trips to the bookstore can easily yield mass produced titles with covers that are intended to bring some readers and exclude others.
Here are a few ways I try to focus on readers, and not gender, in my classroom:
Baskets readers love: Creating baskets of books for all readers. I have topic baskets to interest all readers such as books about friends, pets, school, and animals. We also have baskets from topics of study in our classroom including maps, personal narratives, and animals in the winter. There are also baskets the students have created such as a brave basket, an art basket, and a problem basket.
Consider Characters: Honestly, I love books in which students really have to work to figure out if the character is a boy or a girl. For some reason they feel they have to figure it out. However, I like stories in which it really doesn't matter. The Hello Goodbye Window is the perfect example of this. Thankfully, for primary readers, animal characters can often take gender out of the equation. My students love Marley, Little Hoot, The Pigeon, Biscuit.
Universal Problems: Books with problems all readers can relate to in their lives such as books about problems with friends like Matthew and Tilly, Yoko, and Ladybug Girl and Bumble Bee Boy.
I'm still considering this topic and know I've only skimmed the surface here, but I hope you'll share your thinking and grow the conversation.
What are your suggestions for overcoming these gender stereotypes for the readers in our classroom? How do we help to send a gender equal message? How do we send a message that all readers matter?
A Few More Gender Articles of Interest