Let’s Stop Labeling Books as “Boy Books” or “Girl Books”

by Janssen Bradshaw

Photo credit: andresr, E+ Collection/Getty Images

I have four young daughters, ranging in ages from 4 to 11. Which means that one of the most frequent questions I get on my blog or Instagram is, “but can you recommend some books for boys?”

I noticed this particularly the first time my 11-year-old daughter recommended several books she loved on my blog.

After these questions started rolling in, I took a second look at the books she’d recommended.

The surprising thing was that the titles she’d suggested were an even split between books with male protagonists and female protagonists. Still, many parents couldn’t fathom that their sons might enjoy these books because a girl recommended them.

It’s such a shame when we, as parents, teachers, or librarians, automatically assume that a boy wouldn’t enjoy a story with a female protagonist.

Girls read books with male protagonists all. the. time. and no one thinks twice about it. It would be laughable for someone to see a girl reading a Harry Potter novel and say, “I can’t believe you’re reading that boy book.”

The sad truth is that often, we assume books with male main characters are for everyone, and books with female main characters are only for girls.

And this is a lose-lose situation.

It’s a disservice to boys because it cuts them off from so many great stories and characters.

It’s also bad for the boys who want to read those stories because they feel embarrassed about their reading choices.

I’ll never forget when I talked about this topic on my Instagram Stories. One mother told me about her son who loves The Baby-Sitters Club books but asked her to take him to another library branch outside their city. He was afraid that his friends would see him checking out the books and tease him.

And it’s bad for both boys and girls when the assumption is that stories starring female characters are niche and only interesting for girls — that a boy couldn’t possibly be interested in the adventures of a girl.

It sends the message that girls are inherently less interesting, less worthy, and less universal.

And because one of the best parts of literature is that it helps us understand other life experiences, boys lose out on seeing the world through the lens of a female protagonist. This leaves them less able to understand the world around them and the people who live in it.

No one wins when we label books “boy books” or “girl books.”

Of course, I’m not saying we should force our children (boys or girls!) to read books they have no interest in reading.

I am saying that we shouldn’t label books or assume boys only want to read stories with male protagonists. If a boy asks for a mystery book, we can offer several options to choose from, with both female and male characters.

When we’re suggesting books to our children or students, we can also do a better job selling them. Instead of saying, “This is a girl book, but I think you’ll like it,” you can say something like, “This is a great fantasy series. Lots of readers who loved Harry Potter also loved this one. It’s funny and action-packed, and you won’t believe what happens in chapter three.”

And when we read books aloud, buy them as gifts, or help children and students pick out library books, we should rotate between novels with female and male main characters. Let children see the stories of both girls and boys as interesting, engaging, and worth exploring.

Books can open up a whole new world to our young readers. Let’s not slam half that world shut in the faces of the boys.