Guest post: Writing for girls and boys
Alan Dapré is the author of more than 60 books for children, including the hilarious Porridge the Tartan Cat series.
In this guest blog post, he reflects on his daughter’s attitudes to gendered books and toys, and how he loves writing for girls and boys.
Recently, I was browsing in a well-known superstore with my young daughter. She found pink pyjamas decorated with rainbows – ‘For Girls age 7-8’. Then a set of dinosaur pyjamas. Isla turned to me with a frustrated look and said, “I really want those dinosaur ones, but it says ‘For Boys age 7-8’.”
Then a similar thing happened when we walked through a local discount store. The toy aisles were clearly segregated by colour and gender – pink for girls and blue for boys. Isla picked up a blue skateboard then put it down. “They make me think I can’t have it. Why can’t girls and boys share the toys?”
As I write this blog at home, I am surrounded by Lego models. Some sets are obviously packaged for boys, others for girls. My daughter chose all of them, regardless. “I think boy stuff is cooler than girl stuff. They get to have ferocious dragons and knights and ninjas. Girls just get pretty rainbows and unicorns and lots of pink. Some girls might want to have different colours and have adventures.”
One of my favourite childhood books was The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp. Tyke takes on the school establishment in an action-packed tale. It was quite a shock to discover the eponymous protagonist was Theodora Tiler. Most of the books I had read up until then featured boys doing all the exciting stuff.
Being adventurous is a vital part of growing up for all children, not just boys. Books should reflect that. My books are funny, fast-moving, action packed adventures that anyone can read.
Twins Isla (named after my daughter, Real Isla) and Ross McFun feature in every book of the Porridge the Tartan Cat series and star in two. Both characters are go-getting children, with enquiring minds who courageously work together to solve tricky problems. I chose non-identical twins because I wanted female and male characters who are equal but different. Children with the confidence and freedom to express and exchange ideas. In each book, they take turns to explore, to question and to lead. I’m not writing for girls or boys. I’m writing for girls and boys.
My wife is an engineer – and a great role model for our daughter. Together we encourage Isla to try new things and believe in herself. Anything is possible. Last month she scuba-dived in a cage at Deep Sea World and loved every moment. Not every child gets a chance to do that. Or to be in a book like Real Isla. But all children should see characters with identifiable traits, and read reassuring books that show them it’s okay to be themselves. Books that nourish, sustain and empower children to be the best they can be.
By the way, Isla loves wearing her dinosaur pyjamas. And I love that she loves them, too.
When Porridge was a wee kitten he toppled into a tin of tartan paint – which is easy to do and not so easy to say. Now he lives by Loch Loch with the quirky McFun family: Gadget Grandad, Groovy Gran, Dino Dad, Mini Mum and the twins, Roaring Ross and Invisible Isla. Everyone has a super secret – or two – and Porridge is always there to lend a helping paw when things go awry. If there’s a fishy biscuit in it for him…
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