Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?

Article excerpt

Many of us with years of teaching experience in a school library or in a classroom have seen the reactions children have to different books. Some look at the cover with a beautiful horse riding across an open field and immediately gush and goo about what a great book this would be. Others pick it up and say "Oh, that's a girl book.

As a class of Grade 3 of Grade 4 children tumble into the school library for book exchange, we can hear the cries for joke books, hockey books and dinosaur books. We've seen children walking with their arms folded around a book hugging it close to their body as if it was a newly discovered treasure. We've seen other children immediately open up a new book and start talking animatedly with a friend or laughing and giggling about a gross scene or a "naked picture."

We've seen some children jockey for position with their friends to take out the same book the friend just had, as if their social status will somehow rise if they are seen with that same book choice. We have seen children scrunch up their faces, almost in disgust, as we hold up the latest Caldecott or Newbery winner and tell them this is a great book to read.

We've seen many trends come and go as The babysitters' club, The boxcar children, Goosebumps, Animorphs, Sweet Valley High and the current Harry Potter series wash over the school like a tidal wave of reading interest that can't be stopped or even redirected. We've seen many children get stuck in the same genre of category of book and refuse to take anything but a sports book or a horse book or a paperback novel. What is problematic I think, as teacher-librarians and classroom teachers, is the feeling that we are somehow failing if we don't redirect children to what we feel are the "best" books, when in fact, children are exercising their freedom of choice when they pick books and they are showing us what they are really interested in and what they like to read.

Researching gender reading preferences

These experiences formed the foundation of my research over the past few years on elementary children's reading preferences. While working as a teacher-librarian and as a classroom teacher, there seemed to be "trends" in boys' and girls' reading choices which were at once very evident and impossible to change. For instance, boys generally chose books about sports, space, science, jokes and vehicles; girls picked picture storybooks and books about horses, cats and crafts as well as novels, particularly ones about friends. Both boys and girls chose books about seasonal holidays and humorous stories; both chose animal books, although with animals, boys really liked sharks, snakes and dinosaurs, while girls liked pets and animals like deer, bears and raccoons.

These observations gave rise to a series of questions: Were these generalizations from my experience true of simply examples of an inherent stereotype? Could the whole issue be reduced to the simple fact that boys prefer information books and girls prefer fiction? How do children's preferences develop and what can we do as adults to affect them? Do boys and girls come wired this way or are we as a culture teaching them to identify themselves in these choices? These questions propelled me into a major research project where I examined the content of elementary classroom libraries across a large school district in my home province. It was evident in that study (Doiron, 1995) that children were presented predominately with fiction paperbacks as reading choices from their classroom libraries. Over 85 percent of the books counted in those classrooms were paperback novels purchased by classroom teachers from book clubs and book fairs. My "informal" study while working as a teacher-librarian in a large elementary school library, plus my discussions with fellow teacher-librarians, suggested many students preferred information books when they came to the school library. Counts from my school library automated circulation indicated that students were choosing twice as many information books as novels. …

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