Girl cooties, or why do we think boys won’t read books with girl protagonists?

A discussion with our employment based trainee teachers on teachers reading class novels aloud prompted me to think further about my attitude to the assumption that boys won’t read “girls’ books”, which seems to have become extended to experiencing any books with girls as protagonists. My argument against this perception is two-fold- firstly that just because there is a (legitimate) concern about boys’ literacy, particularly white working class boys, does not mean that there aren’t reluctant girl readers who should hear good quality literature to engage them read aloud, and secondly, we don’t expect maths-hating girls to avoid geometry, so why should we not challenge boys’ assumptions about “girl books”?

The case for Pullman’s His Dark Materials boy-friendly books with a girl protagonist has often been made (despite Will becoming the de facto protagonist in The Subtle Knife and Lyra being off stage for most of The Amber Spyglass) so I will say no more about it. But my suggestions for books about girls that should appeal to all children are:

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and sequels. Bonnie Green and Dido Twite are great kick-ass girl characters, but there are also feminine  girl characters who are brave, quick witted and resourceful, while also able to sew and cook.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. A wonderfully creepy book with more than mild peril: definitely more appropriate to upper KS2 (9-11 year olds) and early years of Secondary school.

David Almond’s My Name Is Mina. Skellig is a fixture in both KS2 and KS3. Why not encourage both boys and girls to read this amazing companion text?

Lauren Child’s Clarice Bean books and Dick King-Smith’s Sophie Series. These are great comic books, which have had my lower KS2 (ages 7-9) classes in fits of laughter. Both are set in firmly “real world”, Clarice in an urban setting and Sophie in the country, but with family and school relationships that most children will recognise- annoying siblings, busy parents and in Clarice Bean’s case, an unsympathetic teacher.

For younger children, Catherine Storey’s Polly and the Wolf stories have stood the test of time for a good reason- who doesn’t want to read about a clever little girl outwitting a bad but easily fooled wolf? This is a great read-aloud for years 2 and 3.

All reception and KS1 children (5-7 year olds) will relate to Rebecca Pattinson’s Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning My Big Shouting Day– a day when your cereal is too crackly, you don’t want to play with your friends and ballet is TOO ITCHY. It’s great to read a book where a girl’s anger is not punished. This would be good to read alongside Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. 

Pip Jones’ Squishy McFluff books are great- funny domestic stories about a girl and her invisible cat. Written in rhyme but in early chapter book format, these will engage years 2 and 3 as read-alouds due to the rollicking text and because of the delightful illustrations.

Finally, two comic/ graphic novel books: Kate DiCamillo’s award winning Flora and Ulysses, beautifully written and illustrated part-novel and part-comic strip, a book about love, loss and faith. It’s a book that made me think deeply and laugh a lot. Zita the Space Girl is a graphic novel, not great for reading aloud, but one that both boys and girls should enjoy for independent reading.

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