Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GIRL BOOKS, BOY BOOKS, UNISEX... AND MORE

I recently attended an SCBWI workshop in Los Angeles about girl books and boy books. Cecil Castelluci (YA novelist) and Michael Reisman (middle grade sci fi) led the discussions, and everyone in the room had plenty to say about the subject. We talked about girl books, boy books, and “unisex” books. [Unresolved question of the day – without Hermione Granger, would Harry Potter be a boys’ series?]

We’ve all heard the axiom that girls will read books about girls and boys, but boys won’t read about girls, unless the protagonist is a girl in an outdoor/wilderness/dangerous setting and or/surrounded by boys. Hard-core sci fi and thrillers are seen as boys’ books. “Relationship” books about girls are for girls.

Throughout the day, not a word was spoken about nonfiction, but that didn’t stop me thinking about it. Looking at the Sibert award books and the YALSA nonfiction award books this year, (see http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048) it’s harder to assign gender categories, and it seems to me that nonfiction appears more “unisex” than fiction.

Robert F. Sibert Medal

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop; Part of Scientists in the Field series.

Honor Books

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (art/music/dance history)

Lafayette and the American Revolution, by Russell Freedman

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing, by Ann Angel

Finalists

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement, by Rick Bowers

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories, by Paul Janeczko

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates, by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw

So,

One for dance/music/art history

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, co-authored by our own Jan Greenberg.

Apart from the occasional Billy Elliot, ballet is usually meant for girls, but the composer and set designer were men, and so this book has hooks for girls and boys.

Two for science.

Kakapo Rescue combines biography, zoology, and conservation. All kids love animals and saving them is a challenge that attracts both genders. Unisex all the way.

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates Forensic science, history, mystery, archaeology – the appeal is broad enough for both genders.

Two biographies

Lafayette and the American Revolution Lafayette - a male subject and war stories: boys like those; but all biographies are about relationships and girls like those.

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing – about a girl, but full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll – what’s not to attract any YA?

Three histories

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

• Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories

All three of these books are multi-faceted: part mystery, part thriller, part civil rights history. The first two books feature men; the third includes women spies as well. The sensationalism of the subject must surely cross the gender line.

I began this posting meaning to discuss the issue of gender in writing nonfiction. But I see that it has morphed into the multi-disciplinary approach that award-winning nonfiction authors are pursuing. Don’t you love it?!

2 comments:

April Pulley Sayre said...

Interesting post, Gretchen! Nonfiction does have broad appeal. Librarians keep telling me that their reluctant readers, boys and girls, have reading breakthroughs with nonfiction on high interest topics.

Loreen Leedy said...

“...multi-disciplinary approach..”

I love books that ignore prefab categories and incorporate whatever works.