Children's publishers respond to 'gender' debate

Children's publishers respond to 'gender' debate

There has been a mixed response from children's publishers to a campaign encouraging them to drop designating books as either for boys or for girls, with Usborne saying it is dropping such designations, but Michael O' Mara describing it as "a fact of life" that parents shop according to gender.

A petition launched by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys, aims to encourage publishers to drop what it calls “limiting labels” on books, with publishers Usborne, Igloo and Buster Books, owned by Michael O’Mara Books, among those it is targeting. The petition has so far been signed by close to 2,000 people.

Tessa Trabue from Let Toys Be Toys said: “Every child is different and has their own individual taste; it makes no sense to push boys and girls towards separate books. We believe that books are for everyone; children should have the freedom to read about or colour in robots, fairies, pirates or flowers, without publishers telling them otherwise.”

Buster Books publishes titles like The Girls' Princess Colouring Book by Ann Kronheimer and The Brilliant Boys' Colouring Book by Jessie Eckel. Michael O’Mara said he was aware of the “sensitivity” of labelling books as for boys or girls, but added that it was a “fact of life” that people continue to shop for one sex or the other when purchasing children’s books.

O’Mara said that websites such as Amazon showed that people were still searching using terms such as “books for girls” or “books for boys”, and that the company’s books designated that way sold more on Amazon than those that were not. But he said “nine out of 10, at least” of the company’s books were not labelled for a specific gender.

O’Mara added: “We have been aware of this issue for a while and we are addressing it in as much as we are making it very, very clear that none of our books are meant to be exclusively for one or the other sex. Despite all the sensitivities people still very often shop for a girl or a boy.”

However Usborne, which publishes titles including Girls' Activity Book and Boys' Activity Book, appears to be changing its approach, saying it had “no plans to produce any titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the future”. Anna Howorth, marketing and publicity manager, said: “We take feedback on gender-specific titles very seriously.”

Let Toys Be Toys was established in November 2012 and “believes both boys and girls benefit from a range of play experiences, and should not be restricted by marketing which tells them which toys, books and activities are for boys or girls”. It is working with Inclusive Minds, a collective for “people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature”, education supplier Letterbox Library, and For Books’ Sake, which promotes and celebrates writing by women.

Igloo, which publishes girls' activity books themed on mermaids and ballerinas, and boys' activity books themed on dinosaurs and diggers, has yet to respond to a request for comment.