Monday, August 22, 2011

The Gatekeeping Problem

Author Robert Lipsyte had an essay in The New York Times Book Review this weekend called Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?.

Now, I've always felt that there is a bizarre thing going on with children's literature because the only literature available to kids is created and vetted by adults, who are a totally different beast. I'm not saying children should write children's books, by any means, or that they should work as editors and reviewers. Still, I accept that children are in a very odd position because every image and thought that comes into their heads by way of books, magazines, Internet, TV,'re following me, right? controlled every step of the way by people who are totally unlike them.

In discussing the position of boy readers, in particular, Lipsyte points out that their reading is controlled not just by adults, but by female adults. He writes of novels that "are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers." I suspect that raising this point is going to bring down a storm of outrage upon him because we're a very polarized culture and one camp always feels it's being attacked by the other and is quick to respond. But there is an abundance of women in children's publishing, on every level. And, traditionally, there have been lots of women educators on the elementary and middle school levels where boys' reading habits are presumably being formed.

I wish Lipsyte's essay had included some suggestions about how the adults of either gender working in publishing and education could do more to help connect readers with books that don't, as he describes it, "split along gender lines."

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