Choosing books for kids

I’m curious to find out how parents/carers/general people choose which books to buy for children. Part of Let Books be Books includes asking retailers to take down signs ‘For Boys’ and ‘For Girls’ to avoid limiting the audience for a particular book. However, bookshop displays can provide so much visual stimuli as to be somewhat overwhelming, so do gender divisions ever help to narrow down the vast choice? Can it ever be useful for, say a grandparent or relative, buying a book for a young toddler to have gender divisions in a bookshop?

Also, gender labelling can be more subtle than the title (although there is nothing subtle about these!)


Book covers which are pink and sparkly indicate the book is aimed at a certain audience, whereas blue trucks suggest the opposite. Some discussions suggest that heavily gendered covers are repelling adult buyers, but can help children to make a decision – but as Helen Mitchell (2000) points out:

‘Of course, the choices stated by children may not necessarily be their preferences; there is always the issue of stated choices being influenced by what the child thought they should be seen to be choosing to please teachers, parents and researchers’

So what should bookshops/retailers be doing to help shoppers choose children’s books? And what about book covers?

This article shows Maureen Johnson’s view on gendered covers on fiction books – the coverflip is worth a look to illustrate her point about the cover of books colouring our opinion of the contents.


8 thoughts on “Choosing books for kids

  1. I have never understood why gender divides are encouraged when it comes to books surely if the content is well written then it should apply to a range of people regardless of gender. I think children should be allowed to grow up without having these divisions imposed upon them – I think it’s great that these issues are being addressed in publishing and the wider marketplace.

    Buying a pink or blue just adds into the gender stereotyping that becomes dangerously ingrained in our children by the time they reach their teens. Why is one story any more suited to one gender – are girls not allowed to like pirates? Can little boys not be interested in what a group of girls get up to on an adventure?

    As Pete said, education is needed on this subject and the industry leaders should step forwards and take action, even if it does mean a short-term dip in profits. Looking at this purely as a numbers game, if publishers want to increase sales then surely having gender neutral books that appeal to both boys and girls will boost profits? The most popular children’s books have mixed friendship groups and the covers are fairly gender neutral.


  2. I think the most important thing is that children are given books to look at whatever the colour of the cover from a young age, as it greatly enhances their ability to speak and when they reach school age their ability to read. Most preschool books are brightly coloured and therefore attractive to all children.School children seem to naturally gravitate to gender specific and probably colour books, boys preferring football, dinasour, action type books while I guess will have dark coloured covers and girls towards books related to fairy, princess, pony type books which are more likely to be pink/shiny/sparkly covers.


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