Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Dear Scholastic,

As a geeky bookworm of a kid, I looked forward to nothing more than Scholastic Book day at school - the day those thin, two page booklets full of books to buy would get passed out.  We rarely ordered from them (my grandmother was a teacher, so if we had stuff we really wanted, she'd order for us with her class order), but the idea that there were all these new (to me) books to add to my library list was one of my favorite parts of school, hands down.  And I've read a million excellent books that  you've published, or had a part in, and, as a former K/1st Gr teacher, taught out of more than one of them myself.  That's why I was disheartened this morning to see these two specific groupings of books available for sale through one of my many daily deal outlets: 
The Girl's Book of Glamour: A Guide to Being A Goddess; The Girls' Book: How to be the Best At Everything; The Girls' Book of Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Ever.


The Boys' Book of Adventure: Are You Ready to Face the Challenge?; The Boy's Guide: How to Be the Best at Everything; The Boys' Book of Survival: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere.

I'm going to be really clear and say that I have obviously not read these books, and hope that there is not such a great difference between the two sets as the titles imply, but it seems unlikely that this could be so.  The titles make it clear that the girls' set is concerned with appearances and relationships - things girls can be into; while the boys' set is equally stereotypical - boys need to survive and have adventures, can face challenges.  Is this the message we should be sending to our children - not just our girls, who need to know they can face challenges too, and don't have to be glamorous while doing so, but also to our boys, who should also be capable of being good friends?  Is there a reason why girls can't be adventurous as well as glamorous? Or why boys can't be gods who know how to survive anything?  This kind of gender binary crap is beneath you. 

Yes: both boys and girls have their own guide to being the "best at anything," and hopefully the chapters of those books are less gendered - although a quick glimpse of their Amazon book descriptions does not bear out that hope.  The boy's book includes how tos on all sorts of interesting things:
Found yourself in a sticky situation? Inside you'll learn how to escape quicksand (p. 40), build a raft (p.41), start a survival fire (p.99), or fly a helicopter (p. 11).
Want to impress your friends? Now you can rip a phonebook in half (p. 35), hypnotize a chicken (p. 56), or read their minds (p. 73).
Boring Saturday afternoon? Not anymore when you find out how to make a waterbomb (p. 79), a boomerang (p. 95), or a volcano (p. 88).
And loads of other keen things you need to know how to do!
 while the girls choices are certainly more stereotypically 'girly':

Want to be known for your unique style? Inside you'll learn how to design your own clothes (p. 35), do the perfect manicure (p. 82), or make your own lip gloss (p. 11).
Feel like impressing your friends? Show them how you can make a crystal (p. 16), juggle one-handed (p. 33), or deal with a bully (p. 42).
Bored and need something to do? Not anymore when you find out how to keep a secret diary (p. 88), make a scrapbook (p. 9), or put together a dance routine (p. 24).
And tons of other neat-o things you need to know how to do!
Here's the thing: I get that these books follow a trend - following The Dangerous Book for Boys book that came out a few years ago, and it's Daring Book for Girls cohort - and that there's a call for these kind of books with all these different skill sets that are seen as retro throwbacks to when kids knew things like how to play cat's cradle and build a campfire out of sticks.  I even think the two books I just mentioned were both interesting and informative (if similarly gender-biased).  I just don't get why it has to be so gender specific: I know more than one boy who could use some information about how to deal with a bully and am sure there are some who would be interested in making crystals or scrapbooks (if only they weren't just for girls!) And I was a young girl, and I happen to know a few of them currently - (me and) every single one of them would like to read minds, loves to play with waterbombs, and would be the hit of a party if she could rip a phonebook in half.  I mean: c'mon.

I just don't get it, and I would hope that a company that is dedicated to helping educate children would endeavor to help them learn that they don't need to be limited by what a girl/boy should do.    So, Scholastic: You Can Do Better.

Sincerely, NTE

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