Erin Roux Explores the Degendering of Children’s Book Titles

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.

image via The Guardian

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.



Joe Turner’s Come and Gone: Finding Song, Stability and Self in Post-Slavery America

by Erin Roux

To find one’s “song” or way of life is a journey. It is to make sense of the past and to find a way to heal. It is to stay in a house for people who come and go. It is to look toward the future and to “figure out the secret of your life on your own”, as the play tells us. Written in 1984, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes place in 1911 in post-slavery America and shows small pieces of the lives of the African-American people who come and go through a Pittsburgh boardinghouse owned by a stern, yet charitable couple, Seth and Bertha Holly. The Theatre School is performing this provocative work, written by August Wilson and directed by Phyllis E. Griffin, from November 6th through November 15th, 2015.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone Vertical

The majority of the show takes place in a modest kitchen and living room setting, offset by various scenes that we understand, as the audience, to take place outside. Above the audience hangs a clothesline, seemingly meant to bring the viewers into the scene as opposed to remaining on the outside. It’s as if we are invited into this boardinghouse. While the entirety of this play takes place in the house setting, the audience is taken to different times and places through the stories told throughout the play.

Storytelling in this play provides for an interesting dynamic. Just as the setting invites the audience into the lives of the characters, the stories invite the characters into each other’s lives. Stories about guitar contests, “shining” men and beautiful women like “water and berries” uncover the complex pasts of the characters we see on stage. This play illustrates the connections between past and present through these stories, allowing the characters to make sense of their lives as well as a way to heal from the hardships of the past.

The boardinghouse is a place of stability and connections in a time of constant movement and confusion. It is a place where people are “bound together” as opposed to being “bound up”. It is where people are allowed to reflect on the past to then look toward the future. It is a solid home for the fluid and searching vagabonds.

Each tenant of the boardinghouse is African-American and is searching for something, be it laughter, love, or a lost wife, each being representations of certain values held during this complex time in American history as well as of values we hold today. Proprietor Seth Holly, born in the north to a fairly stable household, is proud of his boardinghouse. He wants stability and to simply stay afloat financially and doesn’t understand people who don’t follow this way of life. This solid character provides the boardinghouse for the tenants and a setting for the play itself. Bynum Walker, a spiritual man known to “fix things” and “bind people together”, is looking for a “song” by which he can live his life. Herald Loomis, a mysterious man with a bright daughter has a dark past looking for his wife whom he hasn’t seen for several years. Though each person is looking for something different, each is looking away from the past and toward the future, while making sense of the present, going as fast as their legs and spirits can take them.

Heartwarming scenes juxtaposed with intense monologues and inevitable truth make up this emotional and thought-provoking show, all performed by a brilliant cast. It is an excellent representation of the healing powers of the arts and writing; this play reflects the boardinghouse in that it is safe place to touch on difficult memories, a way to make sense of the past, and a means in which to heal to continue the journey into the future. Anyone looking to see incredible talent, have a closer look at a confusing time in American history or someone who wants to “find a song from the pieces inside of you” is absolutely encouraged to come and see this show.

On the Fullerton Stage through November 15th at The Theatre School at DePaul. Tickets available here.