Boys will enjoy reading Brave New World, while girls would probably prefer A Little Love Song.
Girls should read female authors, but boys needn’t bother.
I wish I was talking about the view of an educationalist from fifty years ago, but unfortunately this is the guidance being given by teachit.co.uk, one of the UK’s leading websites for English teachers (the website claims its resources are used by “thousands of teachers nationwide”).
They have split their recommended reading list for 14-15 year olds by gender. I’m sure they’d never provide separate reading lists for white and ethnic minority students, or decide that Protestant kids, with their famous work ethic, would like different books to their decadent Catholic classmates. As usual it seems the essentialist myths about gender are the toughest to shift.
The boys list contains no books written by women, and tales of adventure, fantasy, and political intrigue:
Bernard Ashley – Little Soldier
Tim Bowler – River Boy
Benjamin Zephaniah – Refugee Boy
Robert Harris – Enigma
Phillip Pullman – His Dark Materials
Terry Pratchett – Discworld series
John Grisham – The Firm
Douglas Adams – Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Nick Hornby – Fever Pitch
Ernest Hemingway – Death in the Afternoon
Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
The list for girls reads rather differently. It is full of love stories, and rather short on books with political relevance or even wit and humour:
Amy Tan – The Bonesetter’s Daughter
Joanne Harris – Chocolat
Michelle Magorian – A Spoonful of Jam
Sebastian Faulks – Charlotte Gray
Louis de Bernieres – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Penepole Lively – Cleopatra’s Sister
Melvin Burgess – Loving April
HE Bates – The Darling Buds of May
Iris Murdoch – A Severed Head
Ian McEwan – Atonement
Alice Seabold – Lovely Bones
This does a disservice to both girls and boys, and to literature itself. I read Brave New World when I was around that age, and enjoyed both the science fiction and the political message, despite being a girl! And why should boys miss out on reading Ian McEwan or Iris Murdoch? These lists play into outdated stereotypes and limit the horizons of young people who should be encouraged to explore the world, and widen their literary experiences.
The joy of reading is that you can be a powerless fourteen year old in a small town, and have access to places you’ve never been, people you’ve never met, and ideas you’ve never encountered before. These are things that can change who you are and how you engage with the world.
It is depressing that teachers who have such a potentially powerful tool at their disposal are misusing it so horribly.
**UPDATE** As I should have mentioned I wanted to leave a link, but unfortunately the list is only available as a downloadable PDF file for registered users of the site. I managed to get hold of a paper copy. I’ll see if I can get the use of a scanner to upload it.