Different for girls

<p>Walk into any bookshop and you'll see some big names on the shelves this autumn&mdash;a new Alex Rider from Anthony Horowitz, Charlie Higson's <i>The Enemy</i> and Darren Shan's Demonata finale, as well as the wonderfully funny <i>Wimpy Kid</i> by Jeff Kenny and Michael Morpurgo's jungle adventure story, <i>Running Wild</i>.</p>
<p>But where, in this wealth of storytelling, are the books for girls? What has happened to the books that explore friends and families, girls' lives and adventures? Are they not being published, are they not being written, or are they not being 'seen'? While teens are well provided for, girl readers aged eight to 11 or 12 years are not, and we should be asking, why?</p>
<p>The fact that girls will pick up 'boy' books, but boys won't be seen dead reading a girl's book, has gone against girls. A girl lead character will exclude boy readers, so a lead boy character with a girl sidekick has become the norm in much of children's fiction, giving a book the widest possible appeal.</p>
<p>Author Catherine Johnson, who helped select the books for this year's Booked Up selection for Year 7 pupils, was critical about the choice that faced the panel. &ldquo;The books we read seemed so homogenous, there were very few that reflected life and the ones that did really stood out,&rdquo; she said, adding, &ldquo;And where are the girl books? We did find some, but we really had to trawl around to get them. Where are the great role models for girls?&rdquo;</p>
<p>Of the 12 books finally selected for Booked Up, three are by female writers and only one is clearly a 'girl' read. This trend is also reflected in today's children's book awards. Of the seven titles selected for this year's Carnegie Medal shortlist, for example, just two were by women writers (Kate Thompson and Siobhan Dowd) and not one shortlisted novel had a female lead. It's a similar picture in the recently-announced shortlist for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.</p>
<p>Jacqueline Wilson, whose <i>Hetty Feather</i> is also published this autumn, believes that girls need 'girl' books. &ldquo;Girls will still read 'boy' books, but here is a caring quality and imaginativeness about girls that you won't find in books about boys jumping out of aeroplanes,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I think that girls like to read about friendships and those things that girls talk about like clothes, parties and pets. The domestic side of things is still quite important to girls.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Hilary McKay's newly-launched <i>Wishing for Tomorrow</i> revisits the old-fashioned world of <i>A Little Princess </i>(Frances Hodgson Burnett) and gave me a glimpse back into girls' lives and their friendships, the minutiae of day-to-day events, a focus on caring and being imaginative &mdash;all those things that it is so hard to find in today's bestsellers. I wondered how much today's girls are missing out by not having these stories for themselves? <br />
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