We have called this special issue “Boys and Girls” in tribute to where the Horn Book’s great adventure began, as the newsletter of Bertha Mahony’s Bookshop for Boys and Girls, est. 1916. But as someone who came of age with the second-wave feminism of the 1970s, I’m anxious that we not be seen as favoring one gender over the other, hence the reversal in the title of this editorial.
Although Harry Potter (whose latest and last volume is reviewed in this issue) has confounded any number of stereotypes about who reads what, it remains true that what we think of as “children’s literature” is read more by girls than by boys, despite many attempts (most recently and notably by Jon Scieszka, interviewed beginning on page 445) to redress the balance. The tension between serving readers and creating readers is one thing that keeps children’s literature so lively; another is the books, writers, and readers that insistently remind us that we read and imagine as individuals first. Taken together, the stories told by children’s and YA writers in the “Little Women, Little Men” essays found throughout this issue present a reasonable spectrum of how one’s gender affects one’s reading. Taken singly, though, each shows how reading happens one person at a time.
You can’t tell the gender of the child created by Tomie dePaola — himself one of children’s literature’s most felicitous philosophers of what it means to be a boy or a girl — for our cover, and that’s on purpose. Reading allows us to independently and privately assume whatever (not whichever) gender we like, to see how it looks from a different side. Remember the old man in Mordicai Gerstein’s The Mountains of Tibet? When allowed to decide what kind of life he wanted for his next incarnation, he chose the one he just had — with only the revision of his gender, a difference at once small and profound. We hope this issue allows our readers plenty of scope to ponder the wisdom of his choice.
From the September/October 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.