There’s a new person on my literary heroine podium this weekend, and it’s eight-year-old Els, from north London, whose petition you can read about here. Els was fed up when she saw publishers implying that some books are just for boys to read and some are only for girls, and so she wrote a petition and persuaded them to change their minds. There you have it: the power of the written word.
As the literary editor of this paper, I have written about this kind of thing before; it’s just over a year since I vowed never to review any children’s books which are sold as being exclusively for girls or for boys. So, I know that saying this makes some grown ups really, really cross. Lo and behold! A man called John has already written on the lettoysbetoys.org.uk website, which supported Els’s appeal, saying: “No 8 year old would care at all… this campaign is all about grown ups manipulating children and taking childhood off them.” Remarkably, he doesn’t mean that the campaign to keep girls away from pirate books and persuade boys that pet stories are not for them is manipulative, but that the pro-pirates and pets party is. Rubbish, I say: pets AND pirates for all!
I don’t know what Els thinks, but I reckon he’s also wrong about eight-year-olds not caring about this kind of stuff. Personally, I’ve never met an eight-year-old who didn’t have an opinion about something that’s clearly unfair. Nor a five-year-old. In fact, if I told my three-year-old niece and nephew that he’s not interested in cats or pop music because he’s a boy, and she can’t possibly care about sporty games or piratical adventures, or that she should earn 9.4 per cent less cake than him for doing the same amount of colouring in… well, I’m pretty sure I’d be swashbuckled out of town.
Sometimes, children see things a lot more clearly than grown ups do, and we should listen when they tell us that something fishy is going on. You know that phase that children go through of asking “Why?” a hundred times a day? Well, that one-word question that refuses to be fobbed off is exactly how children get to be so smart. When it comes to girls and boys being lazily pigeonholed, “just because” is not a good enough explanation. And children who read a lot are especially clever, as Els and her classmates proved, so you can’t pull the wool over their eyes for long.
Els has said that she’d like to be a palaeontologist when she grows up. “[People] should be happy because we are all different and different is the best,” she said, and I agree. I think she’d also make a very good investigative journalist; or a scientist, seeking the truth; or a politician, campaigning for fair treatment for everybody. I think Els and her friends could be anything, just so long as they keep reading books. Books about pirates, and pets… and anything else they choose.
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