This round of discussion touches on two similar questions:
- If there is such a thing as a boy’s book, what does it look like?
- If there is such a thing as a girl’s book what does it look like?
I’m posting panelist’s answers in alphabetical order today.
If there is such a thing, what does a boy’s book look like?
Jerene Battisti: To me, some of the “boy” books are Hole in My Life, Son of the Mob, Hoot, Flush, and Peter and the Starcatchers, but that is not to say that girls do not read these titles as well.
Erin Blakemore: Wow, I am having a really hard time answering this one! My gut says “it looks like it is not a girl book.” Wow.
Tyler Larson: Instinct would tell me it’s either fantasy/sci fi or sports related and has a strong male protagonist.
Dave Patneaude: I’m generalizing here, but I’d say a boys’ book needs to have characters a reader cares about, but it also needs to have something for them to do. And that something has to start early and continue. The conflict has to be significant and consequential. Girls may be happy with relationship conflicts, but boys (even if the relationship conflicts involve vampires), not so much. That said, there are boys with the patience for a quieter well-written story. I’m definitely not a boy anymore, but I really appreciate a well-designed character-driven story, whether it involves a boy or girl.
Nancy Pearl: I think a “boys book” is probably more action oriented, less interior, focused more on exterior attributes. That being said, I think about Al Capone Does My Shirts and how much boys love that as much as girls do (or more), and that’s very interior, very feeling focused. But this division into “books for boys” and “books for girls” continues through adulthood. I know male readers who wouldn’t touch a Barbara Kingsolver or an Anne Tyler novel with a ten-foot pole. And that’s sad.
Rodman Philbrick: It’s called Captain Underpants and I wish I’d thought of it.
Jon Scieszka: Some of the very rare real research that has been done about gender and reading is in a great book called Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys. The authors found that boys, in general, prefer action/adventure, humor, non-fiction, visual storytelling, and mysteries. But they also found that boys are social readers. They want to read for a reason — to gain knowledge, to read what friends are reading. They will read a wide variety of books.
Joni Sensel: My first novel has been described as a boys’ book, though that wasn’t intentional on my part. It has a lot of silly humor and a mystery, so I supposed I’d start with descriptions such as funny, unexpected or mysterious, and perhaps with a strong villain or physical conflict. But I’m not sure I’m qualified to really answer this question.
Terry Trueman: A book with a teenaged, male protagonist.
Ben Watson: Stereotypically it would look like Greg Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, though it was my girl cousin who introduced me to it. And I love it. I think if a story is mostly just about angst, relationships, and miscommunication, well, you’re not gonna get the largest readership of boys in the world. I’d get restless reading books where I didn’t feel like there was much action. I remember reading a book of short stories called Sinister Spies by Alfred Hitchcock (doubt it was actually by him). I was riveted. That sums up a typical boys book to me. Great Brain books, The Outsiders. What do bb’s look like? Sometimes a boy on the cover or a gothic font like on Artemis Fowl. Linda Zuckerman’s A Taste For Rabbit cover looks like a boy book, with an archer bunny silhouette in the background and a rabbit getting mauled by a fox in the foreground with bloody paw prints. Something suggesting danger, adventure, or something funny. Hardy Boys. (ehh)
If there is such a thing, what does a girl’s book look like?
Jerene Battisti: The “girl” books that come to mind immediately are titles like Princess Mia, Princess Academy, President’s Daughter, Beka Cooper, Terrier and many others. Obviously the Clique and the Gossip Girl series are designed to appeal to tween and teen readers.
Erin Blakemore: In my heart I feel like there are no such things, but the reality is that there are plenty of series books still marketed as “girl books” that feature pink or pastel covers, art that features girls looking gorgeous and poised, and the promise of many, many more books in the series.
Tyler Larson: Probably historical or contemporary fiction with a strong female protagonist.
Dave Patneaude: A girls’ book? Another generalization, because girls tend to cross all kinds of boundaries to read what they want to read. I write mostly mystery/suspense stuff with mostly boy characters, but I’d be willing to bet that most of my readers are girls. So my generalization is that girl books tend to be quieter and less tied to plot. But there are all kinds of exceptions to that. Girls may not be much into sci-fi or sports, but pretty much everything else is fair game.
Nancy Pearl: The general consensus, I suppose, of a “girls book” is that it focuses on domestic issues, be they doll houses, love and marriage, or child rearing. They’re less page-turners. Again, I think that boys can enjoy a book that includes these things, but it takes a good teacher/librarian to help boy readers overcome their initial reluctance.
Rodman Philbrick: The American Girl book series? Seems very calculated to me, as to marketing, etc., but I assume zillions of young readers love them, and the vast majority are girls – or am I mistaken about that? Or, at a much higher level (the highest, in fact) any book by Judy Blume.
Jon Scieszka: The publishers would have you believe it is pink and covered with sparkles. We need to fight this bad trend too. Girls deserve more.
As writers, we need to keep pushing publishers. They are naturally conservative, and will just keep printing pink books and chick-lit novels as long as they sell.
Joni Sensel: I guess I believe, although without much to support it except observation, that girls are more likely to be interested in stories about relationships and communication (or lack thereof), and the resultant feelings and complications.
Terry Trueman: Twilight ☺☺
Ben Watson: Stereotypically, I’d say Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but that’s just by the cover, I’ve never read it. Dare I say it? Twilight. Haven’t read it either. Sappy vampires? That being said, it’s on my list of books to read, but I’m going in with some skepticism. Harriet the Spy. What do they look like? Traveling Pants cover. Or with a girl on the cover, leaning back on a swing looking melancholy. That seems pretty popular. Or a shopping bag. Or pretty flip flops, maybe with or without plastic flowers adorning them. To me, that’s what the stereotypical girl cover looks like. Nancy Drew books (which I’d trade my Hardy Boy books to my sister for and usually liked Nancy Drew better! But I wouldn’t be caught dead with them anywhere).
Tomorrow, I torture our panelists even further by asking them to give some examples of children’s and young adult books that seem to appeal to readers, regardless of gender.