Let Books Be Books

We’re asking children’s publishers to take the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books and allow children to choose freely what kinds of stories and activity books interest them.

Sign our petition now and ask publishers to Let Books Be Books

How can a story be only for a girl, or a sticker be just for a boy? But titles like ‘The Beautiful Girls’ Book of Colouring’ or ‘Illustrated Classics for Boys’ are on the shelves in toyshops, bookstores and supermarkets around the UK and Ireland.

The Beautiful Girls Colouring Book, The Briliant Boys' Colouring Book

Just like labelling toys ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ these books send out very limiting messages to children about what kinds of things are appropriate for girls or for boys. Blue covers, with themes of action and adventure, robots, space, trucks and pirates contrast with a riot of pink sparkles, fairies, princesses, flowers and butterflies. But real children’s interests are a lot more diverse, and more interesting, than that.

Why does it matter?

Children are listening, and take seriously the messages they receive from books, from toys, from marketing and the adults around them. Do we really want them to believe that certain things are off-limits for them because of their gender? They’re not ‘getting it wrong’ if a girl likes robots, or if a boy wants to doodle flowers. These artificial boundaries turn children away from their true preferences, and provide a fertile ground for bullying.

Just like labelling toys for girls or boys, we think these book titles are limiting and restrictive. It’s time that publishers Let Books Be Books and leave children free to choose their interests for themselves. Sign our Let Books Be Books petition now

Reactions to the campaign

We’re delighted that Usborne, publishers of ‘Illustrated Classics for Boys/Girls’ and ‘Drawing, doodling and colouring for boys/girls’ have announced that they will not be commissioning any new boys/girls titles, saying in the Guardian that a plan to “discontinue publication of titles such as these was decided some time ago”. They added that the company takes “feedback on gender-specific titles very seriously”, and now has “no plans to produce any titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the future”.

Parragon publishers have also said they will not be releasing any new girl/boy labelled titles.

We’re also happy to have had very supportive media coverage in the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent newspapers, with prominent authors including former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, current Laureate Malorie Blackman, Poet Laureate Carol-Ann Duffy, and  author of the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, Philip Pullman.


  1. Sabrina

    I’m glad to read Usborne’s positive response to this campaign. However, John Lewis and Waterstones should do a bit more to stop encouraging this kind of stereotype. I went in both shops to look for a sticker book for my 4 yrs-old daughter. I was very disappointed to see that 90% of the sticker books on the shelves were gender-specific, with at least 2 shelves dedicated to princesses, fairies and other dressing sticker books!
    I’ve decided that I won’t take my daughter along and I’d rather shop on ebay or Amazon.
    Food for thoughts Waterstones!

    Kind regards

  2. Deweyipad

    Truthfully, I don’t know what the uproar is all about. Think about this: a man and a woman go into store to buy a magazine. They have their choice of all the same magazines, yet does the man grab BHG, taste of home, knitting? Boys and girls generally like different stuff regardless of their age. Publishers print what people buy or it isn’t out there very long. If don’t want them to read it, don’t buy it for your kid. Besides, just let books be books.

    • If boys and girls (or men and women for that matter) have different interests, fine. The campaign is simply asking publishers and the toy industry to stop telling children what those interests should be.

      Real children’s interests are a lot more similar than they are different. As an adult I can just laugh at the idea that the magazine industry thinks I’m interested in makeup, cakes and true life tragedies because I’m female. (My husband couldn’t be less interested in cars or sport, either. Oddly enough, we’re individuals, with individual interests which are not defined by our gender.) Children take messages from adults, including marketing, very literally: http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/thats-for-girls-and-thats-for-boys/

      I don’t want my kids to read this stuff, and I don’t buy it for them, or for anyone else for that matter. That doesn’t keep it out of my house unfortunately. Many of these kinds of books are bought as gifts by kind relatives who believe that buying a book labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ is somehow more personal. A more personal gift would involve finding out more about a child’s interests, or giving them the chance to try something new…

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