I definitely don’t want to get into a discussion about what’s PC and what’s not – gender identity in children is something of a hot topic at the moment, and I don’t want to cause any controversy by passing comment.
But what I do want to write about is something that I have been thinking about a fair deal while writing and putting together my newest book. Books for boys and books for girls – what’s the difference? And does it matter?
My latest story is about a unicorn which, generally, is considered a bit girly. Unicorns are most often depicted with rainbow manes, glitter, sparkle and fairy dust – usually on pink book covers and accompanied by a princess. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I know many, many young girls love the idea a magical unicorn and play princesses and all the rest. I certainly did as a child.
I also know that many boys enjoy these stories – increasingly our younger generations care less about the colour of a book cover and it’s associated trappings and more about whether it’s fun or cool or magical. I find this really rather inspirational.
What I wanted to do though with The Unicorn in the Castle was take a folkloric icon, a current trend and a modern fantasy, and present it in a way that could appeal to any young reader. That’s partly why there is no rainbow mane, no glitter and no fairy dust. It’s perhaps not how children are used to seeing a unicorn, but I hope that doesn’t put them off the story. The main reason though, is that in heraldic legend this is how unicorns look. You’ll find them, goblin-esque, on hundreds of stone statues and adornments across the country.
I’ve said on my book blurbs that my stories appeal to boys and girls and I genuinely believe that. But it’s not because different stories should, or often do, appeal to boys and girls. For me it’s just a way to say that they can appeal to everyone. Being in schools is a really refreshing way to learn about our young children and how they think – free from the social and cultural connotations of being gender neutral, masculine or feminine. When a child is five, it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl when they dress up as a bride or a princess, a knight or a warrior, a pirate, a Viking, a dog, a dragon or a doctor. And so it shouldn’t.
If you have a little girl, read them ‘Stories for Girls’, they enjoy it – fantastic.
If you have a little boy, read them ‘Stories for Girls’, they enjoy it – fantastic.
If you have a little girl or a little boy, or one or more of each, read them anything and everything. They will enjoy it.
We could all learn something from our five year olds.