'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 25 May 2015

Guest Post: Samantha Turnbull on Books for Boys and Books for Girls

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Samantha Turnbull, author of The Anti-Princess Club series. Samantha shares how her frustration with 'books for boys' and 'books for girls' inspired her write her popular junior fiction series.

“Urgh, princess books!”

A nine-year-old boy screwed up his nose as he walked into the library and spied a poster for The Anti-Princess Club.

“They’re not princess books,” I said. “They’re anti-princess books. Do you know what it means to be ‘anti’ something?”

The boy crossed his arms and frowned.

“Yeah, but they have girls on them,” he said. “So, they’re girls’ books.”

I crossed my arms and frowned back at him. I needed to talk him around.

If it were only girls that read my books, it would defeat the purpose of why I wrote them.

You see, I wrote The Anti-Princess Club because I was sick of girls being boxed into pink, prissy, princess-loving stereotypes.

It happened to my daughter from day dot.

She was given princess outfits, princess books, princess toys, before she’d even left the hospital where she was born.

And when I couldn’t find a single book ‘for girls’ in a local department store when she was a baby, I knew I had to do something about it.

So, I wrote The Anti-Princess Club.

It features four best friends who aren’t ‘stereotypical girls’ at all. In fact, their talents and passions have been more commonly associated with boys in the past – things like building, sport, science and maths.

Theoretically, boys should be just as into the characters as girls are. They’re feisty, talented, funny… nothing like the passive, weak, unskilled and boring princesses in many Disneyfied traditional fairytales.

They’re just like ‘real’ girls.

But that was this boys’ problem – the fact they’re girls, full-stop.

“I want to read a chapter to you,” I said. “It won’t take long.”

He rolled his eyes and slumped down in a chair.

I opened Book Three in the series – Grace’s Dance Disaster – and began to read.

A fluorescent green string of snot is dangling from Tom’s nose like a pendulum. He has never looked prouder.

‘That is seriously disgusting, bro,’ says his siser, Sally. ‘Get a tissue.’

I continued reading the next few pages, describing how Tom, a budding scientist, made some fake snot from gelatine and food colouring.

My one-boy audience smiled and leaned in. He was into it.

“Did you like the sound of that story?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Well, I’ve got a confession to make,” I said. “I just played a trick on you.”

The trick was, as I read the chapter aloud to him, I changed the characters’ names.

‘Tom’ was actually Chloe in the book, and ‘his sister Sally’ actually Chloe’s brother Alex.

It went on, and I changed other girls’ names like Grace to Xavier and a grandmother to a grandfather.

“Why did you do that?” the boy asked.

“I wanted to prove to you that a good story is a good story,” I said.

He furrowed his brow.

“You can read anything you want,” I said. “It doesn’t matter if the characters are girls or boys.”

It was a message I should’ve taken on board when I visited that department store with my baby five years ago.

I should’ve looked beyond the ‘girls’ section when I was browsing the children’s books.

But, then again, it may not have inspired me to write my own stories.

And my books now sit in that same department store in that same section.

I just hope the parents of boys don’t disregard them.

Because there’s no such thing as ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls.’

Every book is for every body.

Samantha Turnbull is an Australian children's author. Her junior fiction series The Anti-Princess Club is published by Allen & Unwin and currently features four titles: Emily's Tiara Trouble, Bella's Backyard Bullies, Grace's Dance Disaster, and Chloe's River Rescue. Visit Samantha's Facebook page and The Anti-Princess Club website for more information. Read Samantha's answers to our 12 Curly Questions here.