received wisdom', said the lady from the BBC at a recent meeting, 'is that
girls will go to boy themes, but boys won’t go to girl themes.'
Yes, I’ve noticed that. Girls will happily watch Thomas The Tank Engine, but most boys won’t watch Angelina Ballerina. And it carries on through life, doesn’t it? Well it does in my house anyway, where I am outnumbered by five to one (three sons, one husband and a boy dog). I’ll watch action thrillers galore, but will anyone sit with me to watch my DVD of Miss Potter or Sense & Sensibility?
So, why is it so hard to get boys to enjoy girls’ things? It’s a real issue in the children’s book world. What to do? Write just for boys, or just for girls? Or have strong boy and girl characters together?
Why did J.K. Rowling use her name in a gender ambiguous form when starting out? I guess because we tend to believe that boys won’t even read books about boys that are written by girls. Boys, we are told, like slapstick, lavatorial, anarchic, epic battles, other world fantasy…
Maybe it really is social conditioning. Girls are so lucky in that they can dress like boys if they choose, with jeans and t-shirts, but boys can’t dress like girls without being thought of as rather odd. Girls can play with trains and cars, and can scramble around playing action games, but if boys over a certain age play with dolls, or at houses, or enjoy emotions-based stuff, the men-folk around them often get a bit antsy.
In terms of which toys, books, TV shows and films each gender are attracted to, girls supposedly prefer topics about people, relationships, house-keeping, pop-singing, emotions, dress-up and pretty things. Boys tend to prefer action, adventure, fantasy, gadgets, beasts and monsters, vehicles and war. If anyone has seen the film TRANFORMERS, they’ll know that all these boys’ topics can be rolled beautifully into one fluent, believable, artistic story. Ha!
As a mum of three boys, it really would be nice to see a gentler series winning through for boys one of these fine days.
Janey Louise Jones' Princess Poppy books are published by Random House. Her latest book Cloudberry Castle was published in September (Floris).
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