Publishing industry figures have dismissed claims by children's authors that too many female editors are having an adverse effect on boys' reading as “absurd”.
Chicken House m.d. Barry Cunningham said women editors are equally good at publishing books for boys as they are for girls, while
Adam Freudenheim, publisher and m.d. of Pushkin Press, said blaming gender for boys not reading is "absurd".
“Modern editors have a very good knowledge of varied voices and gender doesn’t dictate what stories you gravitate towards,” Cunningham said. “Anyway, most of the main themes in children’s books are universal, dealing with bullying, for example.”
Alice Swann, commissioning editor at Faber Children’s, agreed, saying that “to be a good publisher you have to think like a child, quite simply”.
Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books (Scholastic), said on radio 4's PM programme on Saturday (19th April) that he has worked with only two male editors out of 40 in his career, hinting that “squeamish” female editors leaned towards girl-friendly fiction. And author Jonathan Emmett wrote a blogpost saying the predominance of women in publishing means the industry is biased towards female references.
“It’s my experience that a great many books that the industry perceives as having cross-gender appeal are actually far more appealing to girls,” said Emmett, whose books are published by Macmillan Children’s Books and Oxford University Press, amongst others. “And while books targeted at girls are usually uncompromising in the way they maximize their girl appeal, books targeted at boys usually have their boy-appeal compromised to some degree.”
However, Amanda Craig, novelist and former children’s book reviewer of the Times, thought that publishers may in fact veer towards more boy-friendly books, saying: “If anything, women publishers tend towards more boy-friendly books because they know girls will read them as well. That doesn’t work the other way around.”
Freudenheim and Craig said there are other issues that have an effect on boys reading. Freudenheim said a lack of male role models reading could be a problem, while Craig suggested some books for boys are just not up to scratch.
“By and large, a lot of people writing with boys in mind aim too low,” she said. “They sometimes think it’s enough to have a few jokes and a bit of adventure rather than writing the best book possible. More care is needed and both writers and publishers should take responsibility for that.”
Author Joe Craig said the problem has more to do with general expectations of boys and girls from the wider world rather than some “supposed clique of women creating books that only girls like”.
Children’s literary agent Paul Moreton, meanwhile, warned that the debate detracts from the main objective – producing good books for children of either sex.
“Let’s stop over analysing and do an even better job of getting more books into more kids’ hands. As an industry we should be selling the good stories rather than dealing with distractions all of the time,” he said.
Catherine Bell, co-group managing director, Scholastic UK, which publishes Deary's Horrible Histories books, said: “Scholastic believes in publishing for every child and devotes a great deal of time to finding out what boys and girls of all ages are really interested in reading. Also, we agree that it would be brilliant to see equality at every level, and in every industry. We always seek the most qualified candidate for any position regardless of gender.”