Not for girls: how teachers are limiting horizons

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, 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:

A Sample:

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:

For Example:

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 These lists play into outdated stereotypes and limit the horizons of young people who should be encouraged to explore the world, and widen their literary experiences.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.


6 thoughts on “Not for girls: how teachers are limiting horizons

  1. This one runs and runs. Lisa Jardine was on a similar tack last year, bizarrely suggesting that the publishing industry doesn’t do enough for female readers; I discussed it here.I’m astonished that Pullman is defined as a “boys’ book”, and McEwan a “girls-only” thing. Also, isn’t it odd that the “boys” list contains no female authors, while nearly half of the “girls” authors are male?


  2. I’m doing some research (which will eventually be an outreach project for librarians) about gender and librarianship, and I would love to have access to the original lists — could you send a direct link?


  3. So, girls are not supposed to learn the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything? Maybe because the female hero is a mathematician and astrophysicist and that could inspire young girls’ interest in math?And how can anyone assume that Terry Pratchet would bore girls? I know as many guys who love the discworld as female fans.If there’s a difference in reading kids like it’s usually between the affluent readers and those who don’t like books in general.


  4. I’m disappointed His Dark Materials is consider a “boys” book. I think Lyra is one of the strongest female characters — a truly heroic young girl and a great role model.


  5. I’m clearly a boy! You could have fooled me (and my husband, and our baby)…There are some great books out there about books for children, that are basically indices listing titles and giving brief plot summaries, with each title followed by a list of ‘if the kid likes this, they will probably also like these:’That’s a much better way of recommending books to anyone.– Maire


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