Writing for boys? Girls?
The cover of my book Whistle in the Dark has a boy on it, and a dog. The colors are reds and browns, with a sepia wash. The display type is rugged. One bookseller I know told me, “It’s a beautiful cover. I’ll have to put it directly into girls’ hands.”
Is it a boy book? Did I write the book with boy-readers in mind? No, not really. I wrote it with a particular boy in mind, my main character, Clem. But there’s a girl in the story, too, and some uncooperative weather events, and the wonder of discovering a talent, a gift, a friend. As I mentioned here in a previous post, I have to think that the questions Clem asks are the same ones that any child asks, boy or girl. Who am I? What if I die or if someone I know dies? Am I loved? What is my place in the world?
But: even Clem, my main character, is suspicious of fairies, and isn’t sure he’ll want to bother reading Peter Pan. (Future post: boys-in-books who read girl-books.) Shannon Hale, author of PRINCESS ACADEMY, BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, and many other wonderful books, has despaired on her blog that her books are perceived of as written for girls. Adults will say to her, “Oh, my son would never pick up that book.” And that’s a shame.
What happens after we write a book is mostly out of our hands. The cover makes a statement, mothers-in-law make statements (no complaints about mine!), sales catalogs, reviewers, and complete strangers make statements. The best librarians and booksellers get the books into the right hands, boy or girl. We hope that books of all variety will find their way. Who can know what book or other will touch the heart of a reader? What reaches one child, boy or girl, might not touch another, which is why, as Marian Dane Bauer reminds us, in a recent blog post I hope you’ll read, “literature must be endlessly various.”
Do most of us write for ourselves, rather than write for a boy audience, a girl audience, or any particular audience at all? I think so, in the sense that we try to tell a good story, to share something we hope is interesting, something that will remind a child that things can change, that time both stays the same and marches on, that he or she—while unique in all the world—is not alone here. Fairies not required, of course, but neither do they rule a reader out. (If you want to know, Clem reads Peter Pan long into the night.)