I was at (I don't remember where, but there were books), looking for new books for the twins. Granted, they're only six months old so my selections are light on the content and heavy on the is-this-short-and/or-partially-edible? BUT. They're starting to show signs that they understand when I speak to them, like turning when I say their names and lighting up at the mention of food (ah, sons after my own heart), so I'm becoming more focused on reading them Good Kiddy Books, as opposed to This Book Is Drool Proof.
So, back to the (I don't remember the store name) incident. I was looking at a book about a pig ballerina...Olivia...? It looked cute. I like talking pigs. The drawings were brightly colored, something babies seem to appreciate. Cue old lady..."what adorable little boys!"
OL: Do you read to them often?
Me: I do, yes.
OL: Oh, Olivia. My granddaughter loves that book. But it's a girl's book! They won't like that!
Me: ...they're six months old...I don't think they care what it's about as long as the corner fits in their mouth...
Me: ..... *smiles, scoots away*
Now, this lady wasn't rude or even critical- she was very sweet in that Neighborhood Grandmother Who Makes You Cookies sort of way. But the encounter left me thinking about a NYT article I read a few months ago that made the claim that boys aren't reading YA because most YA is written to/by/about ladies, and boys don't like reading about ladies. It also reminded me of when my husband read Gone With the Wind, which was back when I was pregnant. His coworkers ribbed him for reading a "girl" book- which he ended up loving so much we named our oldest twin Rhett. (Also, what the hell? No one ever gives ME crap for reading a "man's" book).
Thinking back on my own childhood reading experience, it was pretty Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Babysitter's Club, Nancy Drew heavy. Neither my parents nor my teachers ever suggested that I read a book with a male protagonist extracurricularly, though we were assigned several. It was only when I was old enough to have a feeling about what books are considered Important that I started purposefully seeking out novels with male protagonists. And this wasn't purposeful, I wasn't thinking "icky boy books, no me likey." It was the result of a guided reading experience combined with what I was expected to like, as a girl.
I don't really want that for my boys. I don't want them to shy away from picking up a book because they're expected to like something else, or because the protagonist is Other Than Me. I don't want them to turn down Island of the Blue Dolphins, which kicks MAJOR ADVENTURE ASS, just because they main character is a girl. I don't want to make assumptions about what they'll be interested in based on the fact that they are male. But, on the other hand, I'm not going to raise them without any concept of being boys. If they end up wanting to chase each other around pretending sticks are guns, and playing cops and robbers, whatever. I think there's a balance, and it stems from not expecting them to be x, y, or z, just because of their sex. But I do want to expose them to books with girls, and books with main characters that aren't white, and books with main characters that aren't human, and books about...everything.
I WANT THEM TO KNOW EVERYTHING.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, my son isn't going to "catch girliness" from reading a book with a pink cover. In fact, reading books with characters that are unlike him will probably make him more open minded and accepting of others- which is important in a time when bullying is a big issue. So if my kid wants to read Olivia, awesome. If he wants to read Huck Finn and The Red Badge of Courage over and over, awesome. I just might slip a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe between the pages because...go Lucy.
Anyway, what are your thoughts? Can/Should kids read books that are obviously made for the other gender? Why are some people made so uncomfortable by the sight of a little boy reading something intended for a female audience? Are they that uncomfortable with femininity? Discuss.