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.



Write for The Underground!


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The Underground is currently seeking student contributors to submit short articles and write-ups on a recurring basis. Topics would include on-campus events (English Dept-sponsored and not), off-campus events (literary or English-related in nature), and noteworthy topics. Pieces wouldn’t exceed 1,200 words (and that’s on the longer end). I welcome your ideas/pitches, so long as they are clearly thematically related to the Underground mission.

Here’s how it works: I’ll keep a list of contributors and each Tuesday afternoon those contributors would receive an email with a list of topics/pitches that would be up for grabs. If you see one that interests you, you’d respond by noon Wednesday (the following day) with a one or two-line summary of your piece. Once I give you the all-clear to proceed with the piece, turnaround time is 1-3 days (will vary depending on topic). You send it in, I check it over, and it runs on the site.

Much of what we hope you’ll cover is the events. Many times students see events advertised that they’d like to attend but can’t make. By providing recaps, we create a conversation about the goings-on and also allow others to gain from the event.

What’s in it for you? Primarily, experience! This is a great way to build writing habits beyond those enforced by the structure of your courses and academic life. Pieces are short and informal, so the time input is low, and you’ll also learn a bit of what freelancing entails. Not to mention honing your idea-generation skills! You’ll also be able to add it to your resume and see your work on the blog.

Here’s a sample topic email, taken from last quarter:

  1. Visiting Writers Series: Fredrick Barton, 9/22: Did anyone attend? Would love a recap on it, especially with notes/thoughts on Katrina anniversary.
  2.   Autumn Quarter Book ClubA Song of Ice and Fire: 9/30. Looking for a recap on this (how discussion played out, external connects, etc), as well, also hopefully with a nod to this being the third installment of the club.
  3.    It’s Banned Books Week. DePaul’s Richardson Library hosts an hourlong dramatic reading featuring selections from some of the most challenged books in the United States this past year. It takes place on Friday, October 2nd, at 2pm.
  4.    I’d also love an essay or reflection on Banned Books in general. What does censorship mean for us as students of literature? Should we ban books?
  5.    Upcoming: Visiting Writers’ Series, 10/6: Cyn Vargas and John McNally.
  6.     *open pitch! Tell me what you want to write!*


***If being a contributor interests you, please email the editor, Anastasia Sasewich, and I will add your name and email address to the list.***

Please also note any special areas of interest so that I can keep you in mind for special assignments.

Thanks again for your interest! I look forward to working with you!

Anastasia Sasewich, Underground editor

Erin Roux Explores Short Story Vending Machines as Mending Machines of the “Literary Experience”


by Erin Roux

In an age of smart phones and e-readers, it is not often that people indulge in the beauty and simplicity that is the classic literary experience: the reading of a physical book. In the last two decades, ink on paper has been replaced by pixels and iPads. The turning of a page is now a mindless swipe. The appeal of the hard copy is diminishing as people succumb to the allure of the screen.

Interestingly, though, Inverse reports that the city of Grenoble in southeastern France has caused many to consider new directions for the intersection of literature and technology in its implementation of “vending machines” in public areas that dispense short stories: a modern concept that is bringing back the classic experience. These new and completely free devices were created from a collaboration between a publishing company called Short Édition and Grenoble’s mayor, Éric Piolle. They have been placed in eight different places around the city in an attempt to fill up various unproductive moments that are often spent scrolling on smartphones. The machines distribute original short stories that are written by members of Short Édition and are dispensed at random to the readers, though they can pick how long they want their story based on how much time that have to fill while waiting around with a choice of one, three, or five-minute stories.

This is a small yet significant return to the practice of the reading of a hard copy as opposed to spending time plugged in. Reading on anything other than a digital device—be it a slip of paper or a trade paperback—eliminates the other distractions that technology allows for. When reading on a smartphone it’s easy to reply to an incoming text or watch some video on Facebook. But with a physical copy, when feeling the pages in your hands, it’s hard not to be absorbed in the work.

The feel of a page is special and characteristic of the original experience most readers had with a physical book until digital publishing changed the sole method of delivery. It’s an experience that people generations before us have enjoyed, and also something that is on the cusp of disappearing. It’s important to remember the point of literature, which is in part to be connected with the past and to experience things that can’t all be experienced in one lifetime. Grenoble’s short story machines are proof that the future and the past can continue to coexist and that physical copies of literature won’t disappear anytime soon.

More importantly, the fact that access to these short story vending machines is free to the public allows the literary experience to be available to everyone. Instead of spending free time on social media, people can fill little moments with brilliant stories, new perspectives, and appealing prose. Much like libraries are home to free information for those who search for it, these machines are like little libraries for those who give a minute or two of their lives to experience it. The classic literary experience is not deteriorating—it is changing for the better.

The ability for the old and the new to coexist while still staying true to the tradition of literature will allow easier access to a much wider audience than ever before. And better yet, the smartphones and e-readers are out of sight, out of mind.