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Boys Who Boo Books

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Shannon Hale had a great piece about gender and books in the Washington Post, and it had me thinking about something happening in my K-4 school library this week . . .

The Scholastic book fair is an annual event in my school. Every year they send an author video so kids can find out about the books in the book fair and the authors and illustrators who made them.

My first year when I showed this video, something happened that I didn’t expect – kids booed the books they didn’t like. More accurately, some of the boys booed books that featured girl characters or topics they considered “un-boylike”.

I was furious. I stopped the video and talked with the class. Later that day, the same thing happened. I responded in the same way. I was beginning to dread showing the video if this was going to be the reaction.

I decided I should talk with students beforehand – address the issue before it became an issue.

So with the next class I talked with students about how we treat each other, and I looked every student in the eye and told them that whatever they like to read is okay. And that making fun of someone for reading what they like is not okay. And that putting down books is not okay because that book might be someone else’s favorite book.

And it felt good, but more importantly it helped. Boys cut it out. And, to be honest, I think (whether they realized it or not) they felt relief not having to put on a big macho show anymore. Because whatever anyone likes to read is okay. I have the same conversation with kids every year now – we’re having it again this week.

I don’t tell this story to say I’m some great person (we all know that is soo not the case). I say it because I think it’s rare when we get a good opportunity to talk about this with students. So take the opportunity (or make the opportunity), because, as Shannon Hale’s piece shows, this sort of discussion needs to be happening way more often.

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.

Comments

  1. Joanne Rubenstein says:

    I have had exactly the same experience. I have seen kindergarten boys excited by the beginning of a segment, and then when a girl figure appears, they physically pull back and start booing to prove their masculinity. I give the talk also. i also speak to them about how in 2018 girls can truly be anything, but boys are stills stuck in a narrow stereotype and that they are the generation to change that.

  2. Good for both of you, Travis and Joanne (and the doubtless many school librarians who DO have this talk with their students). Think of how freeing it is for these boys to hear that it’s ok to read what they want to read. For what it’s worth (as I am not really in a position to give this talk to groups of kids directly), I gave both Dork Diaries and Babymouse to the 8 year old son of a friend recently, and he was quite pleased with them both :-).

  3. Thanks, Travis! The boos were new to me till I wrote the Ever After High books. I wrote about it here: http://www.squeetus.com/2015/04/boos-for-girls.html
    I’ve since heard from a lot of educators how common it is. Speaking up beforehand is such a good idea! What a gift you’re giving those kids that they’re allowed to not like something but don’t have to exhibit hatred toward it and toward those who do. Hatred hurts the hater. (not to mention they probably will like it when they can try it without fear) I would love to live my life without ever hearing “boys will be boys” ever again.
    Also librarian Margaret Millward came up with a reading experiment she does in her school that I think is worth checking out: http://shannonhale.tumblr.com/post/131043165410/stories-for-all-librarian-margaret-millward

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