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[March 16, 2014]
Waterstones joins authors in fight to end gender specific titles
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A national campaign to stop children's books being labelled as "for boys" or "for girls" has won the support of Britain's largest specialist bookseller Waterstones, as well as children's laureate Malorie Blackman, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Pullman and a handful of publishers.
The Let Books Be Books campaign seeks to put pressure on retailers and publishers not to market children's books that promote "limiting gender stereotypes".
In the week since its launch it has been backed by publishers Parragon and Usborne, as well as authors including Ros Asquith, Mary Hoffman, Eileen Browne, Pippa Goodhart, Laura Dockrill, James Dawson, Harriet Evans and the former children's laureate Anne Fine.
A petition calling on children's publishers to "stop labelling books, in the title or on the packaging, as for girls or for boys" has passed 3,000 signatures.
The move is the latest project from the Let Toys Be Toys campaign which objects to gender stereotyping of children's toys. It has convinced 13 retailers so far to not market toys based on gender.
Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy said: "I'm against anything, from age-ranging to pinking and blueing, whose effect is to shut the door in the face of children who might enjoy coming in. No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves." Dockrill told the Guardian the book project was an "urgent campaign that everybody needs to get behind".
A Waterstones spokesman said: "Gender-specific displays are a definite 'no' . . . There's no need for them and there are far more intelligent ways to display books." The campaign is attacking titles such as Usborne's Illustrated Classics for Boys, described by the publisher as "a collection of stories of action, adventure and daring-do [sic] suitable for boys", while its Illustrated Stories for Girls contains "brand new stories about mermaids, fairies, princesses and dolls".
The publisher told the Guardian last week that it had "no plans to produce any titles labelled 'for girls' or 'for boys' in the future". Parragon has followed suit, telling campaigners that "feedback on gender-specific titles is important to us" and "we have no plans to create new titles referring to boy/girl in the UK".
Ivy Press said it had "been working toward gender neutral titles and find both boys and girls enjoy art, crafts, science and discovery".
Waterstones said: "We don't buy gender-specific books centrally, so you won't find many in our shops. Some do stock the Usborne ones, which have excellent content. But these are being discontinued by the publisher and we support their decision." A spokeswoman for WHSmith said the retailer does not publish any own brand gender specific children's books, but did not say whether the company would avoid selling such books from other publishers. "WHSmith aims to offer our customers a large variety of children's books across a wide range of subjects," she said.
Campaigner Megan Perryman said she was delighted with the response but added that campaigners would "continue to approach those publishers and retailers, such as Buster Books and WHSmith, who persist in marketing books in this way". She added: "This is not about banning books. This is about letting books speak for themselves without labels indicating who can read them." Captions: Photographs: Christian Sinibaldi; Tina Norris/Rex; Sam Frost Children's laureate Malorie Blackman, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and author Philip Pullman back the campaign. Below, examples of gendering by Buster Books (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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