I run the Children’s Department in a bookstore. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. And I love it! I love working with kids’ books, I love introducing kids to books that will blow their minds, and I love constantly discovering new amazing authors and illustrators. There is one part of the job, though, that I’ve never been able to come to grips with. The “it’s for a boy” or “it’s for a girl” part. In fact, I wrote my first Book Riot post about it!
Since then, the question “What do you suggest for a [AGE] [boy OR girl]?” is still the most common inquiry I get, and “Sure, do you know anything they’ve read and liked?” is still my standard response, but I’ve been workshopping some other answers. What do you think of these?
1. suggest a diverse array of titles, representing all genders.
When the person asks which one is good for a boy, say they are all great choices for all genders. When they say “Sure, but which ones do boys like?” carefully place the stack next to them and slowly retreat.
2. ask what the kid is interested in specifically.
When they respond by saying “Oh, typical boy stuff: trucks. Cars.” find a book that matches the subjects named.
3. ask for clarification.
What do they mean by “boy books”? What books are unsuitable for girls? What is “boy stuff”?
4. Suggest a feminist book.
Ada Twist, Scientist is great! And it’s about science. Boys like science, right?
5. find all the books that have “boy” in the title.
Finally! An excuse to try to sell those “FOR BOYS ONLY” books.
6. recommend books that have boys and girls in equal representation.
The Magic Tree House series has a boy and girl as the main characters! How can anyone object to it not being suitable based on gender? Sorry? Did you say, “Is Harry Potter for boys or for girls?” Oh. Well…
7. attempt to have a nuanced conversation about gender.
Explain that books don’t have genders, that kids should read about experiences that are different than their own, and that by limiting their kids’ access to books based on gender, they’re keeping them from really amazing stories and from learning more about the world and the people they share it with. Realize that you are far more invested in this topic than they are. They just want a book. You’re not really doing your job right now.
8. take a break in the back. stare into the abyss.
This is a present for a baby shower. They aren’t even born yet. How can they only want boy board books? This kid literally has no preferences at all yet. He can’t read! These books are basically just to be chewed on—why does it have to be about trucks??
Take a deep breath. Go back to shelving.
“Can I help you find anything?”
“Yes, actually. What’s a good book for an 8-year-old boy?”
(Half second pause) “Sure! Do you know anything he’s read and liked?”