Now, this woman has no idea that I just spent the weekend scouring databases and examining articles on exactly this topic. I must also mention that I have seen this TA with her class multiple times and she is gentle and kind to all of her students. I have known teachers who make it obvious that they prefer girls, or give boys harsher punishments than girls. This woman doesn't strike me this way, at least in the limited time I have observed her. She doesn't appear to have any malicious intent in desiring to segregate books into boy books and girl books. In fact, she is a woman who wants to be kind to her nephew by getting him a book. What is nicer than that?
This interaction left me questioning why exactly we are so insistent on their being different books for the different genders. Much of the research focusing on finding books for boys who are reluctant readers. This is a real problem. In the US, our boys are scoring lower than girls on ever literacy measure, starting very young, and getting worse as they get older. They are also more likely to be described, or even describe themselves as, reluctant readers. Many assume, too, that in a library and teacher profession dominated by women, combined with a children's publishing profession dominated by women, that there are not enough men who understand the needs of boy readers.
This cannot explain why we are so focused on insisting some books are good for girls, and others are good for boys. One thing that stands out the more libraries I work in, it is how scrunched for time most librarians are. In the library I currently work in, there are nearly 800 students in the school from kindergarten through fifth grade. Some come in the library often, others only when their teachers bring them. It is impossible to know all of these students well enough to know their preferences, reading levels and situations. Even the best librarians need to take some shortcuts in helping connecting students to books. It is how readers' advisory works - if you like this book, I have another one like it you might like. And the simplest way to divide a group of students is into boys and girls.
In all the reading I did this weekend on this issue, one sentence stands out to me as the key to remembering why we shouldn't always take this particular shortcut in helping our students find a book to read. In an article in the journal Reference and User Services Quarterly, guest columnist Beth M. Brendler states, " The key to improving readers' advisory is to approach every reader as an individual, recognizing that there is as much diversity within genders as across genders."
I did not touch on all of the reasons we have for dividing books based on gender, but these are at the top of the list. For the most part, the intention is good. Rather than stopping valuable work to get books into the hands of all students, boys and girls, we need to thinking about who me might be leaving out by creating two distinct camps with no room for movement.