Non-Binary Children’s Book Titles Breaking Boundaries
by Underground Contributor Erin Roux
The next edition of the Oxford Dictionary is possibly adding in an alternative to the Ms., Mr. and Mrs. titles: Mx., for those who don’t identify with male, female, or even the idea of being labeled by their marital statuses. But before we are a Mr., Mrs. or Mx., we are separated into little boxes next to little bookshelves from the day we are born as a “boy” or a “girl”. We become blushing boys and girls with ties and hair-bows, respectively, on the covers of children’s books tailored to our gender assignments. But what is a “boy book” and what is a “girl book”? According to typical gender stereotypes we have charmingly alliterated brilliant, brainy boys and gorgeous, glittery girls. Flattering? Yes. Confining? Absolutely. What do kids think when they see their lives through the limiting lens of gender dichotomies? If you’re a boy, you are blue, brawny and boisterous. If you’re a girl, you are gentle, gowned and glamourous. zzthe binary allows for no gray area. There is only black and white, yes or no, boy or girl.
With literature, we don’t want to hear “no”. We want a symbiotic and affirming “yes” that is as fluid as gender identities outside of a binary. A “yes” that acknowledges the children who might be boys or girls or something else but don’t see themselves in the two options presented in the book titles. We want the “yes, you can read this” and the “yes, this is a safe place to explore your identity”, as literature was always meant to be.
Buster Books, a publisher of coloring books, known to previously label their books as pertaining to “Brilliant Boys” and “Gorgeous Girls” has now decided to stop gendering their books. Buster Books is the 10th publisher to do so since the launch of the campaign “Let Books Be Books”, a United Kingdom based movement originally focused on ending the gendering of toys. Along with this, Ladybird Books, a publisher notorious for printing classic stories and fairy tales pertaining to gender roles, will stop labeling books specifically “for girls” or “for boys”.
As The Guardian quotes Buster Books owner Michael O’Mara as saying, gendered books sell about three times as much as non-gendered books, but the people who are buying these books are most likely adults looking for a piece to pertain to their child’s interests. These books are tailored to a certain gender to limit choices and the impact that this has continues on as kids grow up.
We are telling children that because they are born a certain way, they can only read a certain way and thus they are limited to live a certain way. Think about how a considerable percentage of girls don’t go into math or science fields compared to the percentage of boys. Along with this, books shouldn’t be sold to make a profit, they should be sold to allow a safe outlet for kids becoming teens becoming adults to explore other identities and ways of life through the safe edges of ink on a page.
As these children’s book publishers are beginning to implement non-binary titling, kids won’t be restricted by gender expectations when searching for their identities through literature; books will be something that children can turn to for entertainment, answers to questions, and solace even more than before. To continue to limit reading options is to slowly lose the importance of literature, which is to reach large groups and to allow new worlds to safely unfold, along with our identities.