International Women's Day, book reviewing, and raising the next generation of male book reviewers

So in this post, written in honor or International Women's Day,  I do two things--look at the gender of the authors I read and review, and reflect on raising boy readers today who might grow up to be the male reviewers of tomorrow.

I have Ana at Things Mean a Lot to thank for this post, as it was inspired by her link to the VIDA Count for 2012.   This project basically tallies up the stats for gender in book reviewing, broken down by publication--the number of book reviewers who are male or female, and the number of authors reviewed who are female or male.   The heavy, heavy tilt of the scales to men on both counts is depressing.

Part 1:  My own stats from 2012, for the genre I read and review most often--middle grade (ie, for readers 9-12) science fiction and fantasy (give or take a few counting errors):

27% of the mg sff fantasy books I read were written by men.

In 2012, I read 312 books in their entirety. 173 were mg sc fi/fantasy, and 47 of these were written by men (two more were co-authored by a man and a woman), which is about 27%.   I think this particular tilt toward me reading female authors is mostly because more women than men write mg sci fi/fantasy, and partly because I am not drawn as much to some of the more popular male authors (like John Flanagan).

But then I ask-- do my percentages of male authored and female authored books actually reviewed reflect this same gender imbalance?

25% of the mg sff fantasy books I reviewed were written by men.

I reviewed 105 mg sff books in 2012.  26 were written by men, which is about a quarter.  So it's more or less the same--I am not guilty of privileging one gender over another when it comes to reviewing, given the pool of books from which I chose to read.

Conclusion:  I will continue to think about gender with regard to my own reading, but not sweat it. 

Part 2:  Looking at my nine year old voracious reader as a future book reviewer, and thoughts on raising the male book reviewer of tomorrow

I have been enjoying doing my best to raise my two boys to be aware of disparities and injustices.   I'm not exactly sure how well I'm doing, but both my boys, for instance, are now aware of white washing (characters shown on the cover as white, when they aren't).

They are not aware of any gender disparities when it comes to books, except to acknowledge that some books are aggressively marketed to girls, and some to boys.  To them, the gender of the author, and (I'm pretty sure) the gender of the main character on the cover (as long as it doesn't have a sparkly dress on) are immaterial.  Which I think is the way it should be.

For instance, my nine-year old has done five major book report projects so far this year. The books he chose were:

The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prinesas
Eldest, by Christopher Paolini
Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood
The Lost Heir, by Tui T. Sutherland

4 out of 5 of the authors are women, 2 of the 5 had central female characters.

It seems to be perfectly natural for him to read books by and about girls/women.  My hope is that it will always seem so.

 It's really easy for me as a parent to raise a mg sff-loving boy to read in this way; I simply have piles and piles of good mg sff that fits the bill.  Which leads too....

Thoughts on how, as a blogger, I can encourage boys who aren't my own boys to read books by and about girls

--I am going to stop talking about girl books and boy books in my reviews; however, noting the book is being marketed to one or the other is different and perfectly acceptable.  Observing that a book might have limited appeal to one gender in general is also acceptable;  for instance, I think books featuring potty humor have more boy appeal than they do girl appeal.
--A lot of parents or other gatekeepers use google to search for lists of books for kids of various ages.  And just about every one of these searches specifies the gender of the kid.  For instance, I get lots of people looking for "good fantasy for a nine year old girl" and almost no-one looking for "good fantasy for a nine year old."  Recognizing that this is the case, I will (at some point) create lists of books for boys of various ages, that will include books by women, starring girls, and showing girls.

Edited to add:  I feel rather silly for not remembering that just a few months ago, not thinking at all about the gender of authors, I compiled a list of fantasy books for a nine-year old boy.  Of the 13 authors I mention, 12 of them were women.  I am rather taken aback by this....

Any other suggestions on how to raise boy readers today to become balanced book reviewers of tomorrow?

And finally, the Amelia Bloomer project (a fine resource for those looking for feminist fantasy for the young) is currently accepting nominations from the general public.   As soon as I have a minute, I'll be nominating these fine mg sff books.


  1. I like the idea of making lists "for girls" and "for boys" but seeding them with books about all genders.

  2. Steer them to books by both genders. Point them to female authors yes, but also authors like Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Adam Rex etc. Show them great graphic novels by Jeff Smith (the Bone series) and Gene Luen Yang and the folks who created the Avatar series.

    1. Oh yes, I'd definitly include the highlights of the male authored side of things!

  3. Variety is the spice of life. Thanks for highlighting this to me, it's a good point to remember while raising those future readers.

  4. Great discussion, Charlotte. I just wrote a review of a book with two female protagonists, and I felt compelled to specifically mention the boy-friend aspects of the book in the review. Because this book (written by a man) could clearly be enjoyed by either gender. But I hesitate sometimes in writing things like this, because I feel like I'm playing to the stereotypes by having to say anything at all. I do like your idea of just creating lists, and including authors and protagonists of both genders. I'll have to keep thinking about this...

    1. I think I will keep thinking about it pretty much as long as I keep talking about books, because there are books with more girl appeal than boy appeal, and vice versa, and I don't think gender essentialism and gender as construct can ever be completely untangled. And there's the issue of anxiety viz Keeping the Children Reading--and so catering to preceived gender preferences, and then there's marketing--the fact that all those Girl in Dress YA paranoral romances sell really well.

      With regard to the last point--Grave Mercy is the sort of book I imagine my son enjoying when he's 13 or so, but will he still be cool with books that underline so heavily the central Girl? I wonder if e-readers will offer books someday with a variety of covers, to suit all preferences--readers, gatekeepers, marketers, etc.

  5. Send your boys over to the Boys Rule Boys Read blog. I'm always looking for boys to review books. (all the instructions are on the left-hand side of the blog)


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