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For the first time I had evidence that contradicted everything I’d been taught about boys and reading. I started to pay more attention and found I did in fact have many boy readers, most likely hundreds of thousands of them at this point, but they had been reading in secret because they were embarrassed. I got better at noticing the myriad ways adults teach boys they should feel ashamed for taking an interest in a story about a girl, from outset. “Put that down, that’s a girl book”, to subtle, “I think you’ll like this book even though it’s about a girl”. There is peer shaming too, but it starts with and is supported by adults. I’ve now asked thousands of kids the same question: “What kind of books do you like?” They answer, fantasy, funny, comics, mystery, nonfiction, etc. No kid has ever said, “I like books about boys.” Yet booksellers tell me parents shop for their sons as if books have gender: “I need a boy book. He won’t read anything about a girl.” Not only does this kind of thinking prevent

boys from learning empathy for girls, it also prescribes narrow gender definitions. There is only one kind of boy and any boy who doesn’t fit that mould is wrong. Stories make us human. We form bonds by swapping personal stories with others, and reading fiction is a deeply immersive exercise in empathy. So, what happens to a culture which encourages girls to read books about boys but shoos boys away from reading books about girls? What happens to a boy who is taught he should be ashamed of reading a book about a girl? For feeling empathy for a girl? For trying to understand how she feels? For caring about her? What kind of a man does that boy grow up to be? The bias against boys reading about girls runs so deep, it can feel daunting to try to change it. But change can start with a simple preposition swap. When talking to young readers, we can communicate that a book is about girls without

Profile for ElectricPress

Electric Press - literary insights magazine. May 2019 edition.