Girl Books, Boy Books


The library is now in session! The picture books look good, but the middle grade area needs massive organizing. I’m trying to remain calm despite the chaos. It kills me that I don’t know where every book in the library is, but if we get the automation software I’ll need to take all the books off the shelves to enter them. I refuse to organize the books twice.

Last week I spent the beginning of each class going over the procedures for the library. I went over the usual rules and showed how they apply to our school’s new point-based discipline program. The kids were surprised to learn that the biggest point loss in library fell under the category Disrespect. I’ll take away 3 points–a huge ding on a student’s weekly conduct grade–to any student who makes fun of what another student reads. I had the same lecture for each class, but here’s how it went for 3rd grade, Nico’s class.

“For example,” I said nodding to Nico. “Let’s say Nico’s favorite books to read are princess books.” As predicted, everyone in the class started laughing hysterically. One boy, looking slightly horrified stopped laughing, turned to Nico and said, “Wait…is that true?”

He made my point so perfectly you would have thought I planted him.

By the end of the week I had 16 classes parroting back: There are no girl books or boy books. Just books.

Hahn Collage

Book covers are important, especially to kids. I’ve noticed that girls like illustrated covers and boys rarely check out books with a female on the cover unless that female is a zombie or demon. It’s just how it is–at least at my school. Which means you could have knocked me over with a feather when the very boy son of a police officer checked out Stepping on the Cracks, a book with a girl in a mint green sweater on the cover.

Sure, it’s Mary Downing Hahn, the queen of middle grade horror, but it’s still a girl with braids wearing a pastel twinset. I’ve tried to sell Mary Downing Hahn before, always focusing on the blood-and-guts potential, but the boys never showed any interest. Maybe my stern lecture had impact and gave this boy confidence to check out a “girl” book? Or, probably, they’re all tired of me harping, “Read the blurb on the back of the book if you want to know what it’s about!”

(Seriously. Reading the blurb on the back is the last resort for kids.)
(And if he read the blurb on the back of the book he knew it’s a book about WWII.)

This week he stormed into the library and, while waving the book, passed my desk and said, “Mrs. Kendall, Hahn is demented! DEMENTED.”

Then he went on and explained the many ways the book was creepy, and spooky, and weird, and made for demented people.

“So…are you getting a different book?”

“Oh, I’m checking it out again,” he said, dropping Stepping on the Cracks on my desk. “I’m totally finishing this one.”

Two other boys checked out Mary Downing Hahn books thanks to him, and later I heard another boy say to him, “OK, so, like, give me break down of the book.”

Less than 10 feet away from them, my heart filled to bursting listening two 10 year old boys talk about books.

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  1. Awesome! Boys need to read books with girl characters to develop some incite. Girls read books with boy characters all the time.

    I’m having trouble with my 6th grade avid reader. Our middle school stocks tons of YA books which were off limits in elementary. She keeps coming home with books that I think are high school+. Anybody have suggestions for YA books that are on the tame end of the spectrum or middle grade books that are on the older end? She’s read Shannon Hale, Gail Carson Levine, the first Hunger Games (interestingly she quit on Catching Fire) and Jessica Day George’s 12 princess books. She loves a good fantasy, but the last book she brought home she was asking what brothels and courtesans were so I’m looking for more PG choices! Thanks in advance to anyone with suggestions!

    • I would suggest the Heist Society by Ally Carter. Think Oceans 12 with teenagers. Cute fun story with nothing objectionable.

    • My daughter is 19 now, but I remember that grade 6-ish age as being a really difficult one in terms of choosing books. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to remember what my daughter read at that age. There’s the Harry Potter series, the Inkheart trilogy (Cornelia Funke), East (Edith Pattou), the City of Ember series (Jeanne Du Prau), The Golden Compass trilogy (Philip Pullman), and Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass). (The last one by Wendy Mass isn’t fantasy; all the others are). Those are the ones I distinctly remember as being in the kids’ section at Barnes and Noble. The next group are from the YA section, but they seemed to be on the tamer side of YA; I read all these alongside my daughter, and don’t remember thinking they were racy books, but word of warning, it HAS been a few years, so I do hope I’m not steering you wrong: The Uglies series (Scott Westerfeld), a Great and Terrible Beauty series (Libba Bray), City of Bones series (Cassandra Clare), the Twilight series (Stephanie Meyer).

      And, I just now happened across this website — and I thought it might be useful to you. She/they rate books for children and young adults. I just had a very quick look, but it seems like it might be a really good resource for sorting out what books have acceptable content. Good luck and I hope your daughter keeps reading 🙂

  2. RIGHT? It astounds me how clueless the kids are about opening up a book and READING THE INSIDE JACKET (or back cover) to find out what a book is about. We only go to 5th in the elementary school, but still.

    I also have had to clarify many, many times that “chapter books” and “Fiction” are really the same thing. (Granted, many non-fiction books have chapters, but in general, this holds true.)

  3. Love it! I remember when one of my “cool guy” grade 11 students started checking out “chick” books (as he called them) like Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. He reasoned these books would help him understand girls better and thus improve his chances. Once word got around there was a run on these books from the guys. Best part was when they would confess to me secretly that they loved them, even though they were playing the strategic angle.

  4. I love this and I love librarians like you. I teach second and third grade. Each year I ask my kids to trust me and give a particular book a try. They are all game and happy to make me happy. When I tell them it’s an American Girl book we’re trying, I have to talk over the boy’s groans. I tell them I’m about to read aloud “Meet Addy” to them. I talk to them about how a book can be a great book for boys even if it stars a girl. Then, I tell them that I’ll prove it. “Meet Addy” does it every time. I’ve been doing this for five years and each time I let the class vote on whether or not to read the second book in the series. So far, it’s been a unanimous decision to go continue reading the Addy books. I love it!

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