Monday, April 28, 2014

Boys, Girls and Books

For the past few years, I have spent most of the summer reading with my kids. The first year, we tore through most of the Harry Potter series. I told my oldest son that he could only watch the movies after we had read the books and it became a family affair. What started out as something we intended to do only for short periods of time became something they all were obsessed with. The kids became book critics, movie critics, picking out all the differences in the film interpretations, from the major changes to the subtle issues.

Back then, only my oldest was a confident enough reader to help me in the actual reading aloud of the books. Since then, two of the other kids have begun taking chapters at a time.

Yes, we read the books aloud. That way, even my five year old is a participant.


I started sharing the lists as more people realized what we were doing. These days, it seems that kids aren't being required to read many novels in school anymore, though we were definitely assigned them back when we were there. I don't want my kids to miss out on the importance of these stories, so we do it over the summer. I schedule a book a week and try to choose books with film adaptations to watch after we finish reading.

This year, I decided to give them a little more input into the books we would be reading this summer, and they helped with the selection of about half of the books. We read To Kill A Mockingbird over Spring Break and they fell completely in love with the story, the characters, all of it.

Here is this year's list if you haven't seen it already.

May 26 -        20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
June 2 -         Little Women
June 9 -         Catching Fire
June 16 -      Huckleberry Finn
June 23 -     off/catch-up
June 30 -     Divergent
July 7 -         Frankenstein
July 14 -      Of Mice and Men
July 21 -      Shakespeare: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet
July 28 -     Edgar Allen Poe: stories and poems TBD
August 4 -  Diary of Anne Frank

Anyway, as soon as I posted the list this year, I got a few comments from people about the books chosen...primarily about Little Women. Mostly it was concerns about whether boys would want to read the book.

I knew then that eventually this post was going to be written, it just took me this long to get to it.

My concerns are many, but they all boil down to one issue - gender equality. If we don't blink an eye at a girl reading Huckleberry Finn, why do we doubt that a boy might be interested in Little Women?

Why is it that most of the classic stories we grew up reading centered on male characters and no one ever thinks to doubt their literary value, but the instant that a book that focuses on females is mentioned, people shy away from it?

Why do we see the inherent good for all children in the books about boys, but just assume that boys won't want to read anything about girls?

Why?

I don't have a good answer for you, but I am sure that it has something to do with our male dominated society, one that we may be unintentionally perpetuating if we only ever expose male children to the stories about other boys.

Girls need heroines. Girls need protagonists. Girls need to be the lead characters, they need to read those stories. Girls need books that hold more relevance to them, to their stories, to their lives. And boys need to read those books just as much as the girls do.

Sometime after attending Comic Con last year, I finally wrote the piece about Wonder Woman that had been floating around in my head forever. Questioning why the movie producers won't take a risk on a film with her as the lead, even in the blockbuster superhero film world we currently occupy, it just seems, well, wrong. Part of the reason is the systemic doubt that women and girls will provide enough of a fan base to market to (which is patently wrong). Part of the reason is this bizarre notion that men and boys will never want to watch a movie about a female superhero (which is also patently wrong).

A big part of the reason there isn't a Wonder Woman movie, though, is the same reason that people flinched when I put out the reading list this year. We assume, on their behalf and without even presenting or requiring it, that boys will have no interest in the stories of girls.


Anthony Mackie plays Falcon in the latest Captain America movie. He gets it. We all need to.

We don't tell them these stories. We don't require them to listen. We don't even bother to ask if they would be interested. And we start doing it when they are young enough that they grow up with the expectation that they never will have to actively listen to the stories of women.

At the same time, girls are subjected, almost constantly, to the stories of male leads, of male characters. And we often don't even see what is missing.

So, I urge you all, whether you have boys or girls or both, tell them all the stories from the time they are small. Read all the books with them. Teach them different viewpoints from a time that they are so young that they will grow up with a greater understanding. Teach them from birth, teach them that there are stories for all children.

My boys will be reading Little Women this summer. Will yours?

4 comments:

  1. AMEN! Girl books vs. boy books? Stuff and nonsense. Little Women is about family and history and loss and pickled friggin limes. It's a HUMAN story; what's not to love?!

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  2. I read Little Women. I didn't care for it from an entertainment POV but it's well written literature and I know why it should be required reading. My teenager read it a couple of years back and I helped her with the homework.

    I would expect her to feel the same way about the Club we can't talk about, book and movie.

    The Wonder Woman thing is ridiculous. She;s better than Zena Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and everyone walked those shows, dudes and gals.

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