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Blog Tour: The Boy With The Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson

Blog Tour: The Boy With The Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson

Butterfly Mind Blog Tour - Victoria Williamson

We Can All Be Butterflies – by author Victoria Williamson 

‘Is it a book for girls?’

This was one of the most annoying, and surprisingly frequently-encountered questions I was asked by parents and teachers when my debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, was published last year. ‘No,’ I’d reply with increasing weariness, ‘The main characters are girls, but it’s a story that boys will be able to relate to just as much.’ After all, how can you gender human experiences such as war, loss, friendship, hope, and redemption?

This time round, with my second novel, The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, there should be no confusion for adults intent on pushing gender stereotypes and so-called ‘gender-appropriate’ products on children. This is definitely a book for boys too. We all know it is, because it’s got the word ‘boy’ in the title. But wait… It’s also got pictures of butterflies on the cover. And aren’t butterflies a bit, well… girly?

The adult obsession, or more specifically, the marketers’ obsession, with categorising everything from clothes and toys, to animals and inanimate objects as either ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, results in parents unwilling to buy anything for their children from the ‘wrong’ section of the shop in case their child gets bullied about it in school. Girls may seem to get let off lightly in this respect – a girl with an Avengers obsession, even though all but one of the superheroes in the film are men, won’t face the same amount of taunting in school as a boy who loves My Little Pony. But this is due to a deeper bias, one that still insists that girls, and by extension anything aimed at girls, is ‘lesser’. Films, toys and products aimed at boys still have a ‘prestige’ factor that makes it acceptable, and understandable, that girls should take an interest in them too. When it comes to books, while boys are allowed to turn their noses up at stories featuring female characters as ‘girly’, girls are still supposed to empathise with male characters without expecting anything approaching equal representation in return.

According to research by the Observer:

‘Male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books and are given far more speaking parts than females, according to Observer research that shines a spotlight on the casual sexism apparently inherent in young children’s reading material.

In-depth analysis of the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017, carried out by this paper with market research company Nielsen, reveals the majority are dominated by male characters, often in stereotypically masculine roles, while female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked.’

Children in this country learn from a young age that animals and insects in stories have a gender. More often or not, that gender is male, unless of course that character is seen as ‘pretty’, in which case it’s automatically categorised as female. Butterflies, ladybirds, peacocks and tropical birds are often gendered as female, which makes little sense when in the real world it’s usually the male of the species who has the pretty wings or the beautiful feathers.

It was interesting this summer to see children playing who hadn’t been influenced by Western marketing to the same extent. I spent four weeks volunteering as a reading assistant with The Book Bus, visiting schools in Zambia to run story and craft sessions. One of the books that proved very popular was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the children enjoyed colouring in butterflies to take home. At the end of the session, most of them, boys and girls, used the pipe cleaner body and tail to attach the butterflies to their hair. The boy at the bottom of this picture was the first of the children to do this, while the boy on the right had just taken his off to adjust his pipe cleaner.

Butterflies - Book Murmuration Blog

No one is suggesting these children aren’t bombarded with gender stereotypes every day of their lives, but with very limited access to electricity, television, films and books, they hadn’t absorbed the marketer’s message that butterflies are considered things that only girls should adorn themselves with. After all, in real life, a butterfly is equally likely to land on the head of a boy or a girl, so why should only girls wear them?

Gendering animals as predominantly male in the stories we tell might not seem like much of a problem, but as Jess Day, who campaigns to end gender stereotyping with the Let Toys Be Toys movement says:

“It is preparing children to see male dominance as normal, so that when women do less than half of the talking, that still feels like too much to some people. And with so few female roles, there’s also not enough space for the female characters to be multi-dimensional. I think the lack of female villains reflects a wider cultural discomfort with women who are not well-behaved and good.”

If girls and boys are to take equal roles in society – in politics, science, management, and in the home – then they have to see all of these roles as open to them from a young age. Gendering books, films, toys, clothes, and even butterflies as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ limits the choices that children have open to them, and in turn, limits the career paths and opportunities they believe are open to them when they’re older. As adults, we can make all the difference in helping children overcome the pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ market that surrounds them, by offering them alternatives to these limited choices.

And next time you see a see a book with ‘girl’ in the title or butterflies on the front cover, just ask ‘Is it for children?’ instead.

 

Thanks to Victoria Williamson for your beautiful article.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (Kate Greenaway Shortlisted Title)

Review: Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (Kate Greenaway Shortlisted Title)

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When Julian is out and about with his Nana, he sees some beautiful people on the train who remind him of mermaids. Julian would love to be a mermaid. When he gets home, he takes down the lace curtains, sticks some plants in his hair and transforms himself into a mermaid. Julian is worried about what his Nana might think, but it turns out she knows a thing or two about mermaids.

A story about love, respect and embracing our inner-selves.

Nana wins my fictional role model of the year award. When she comes out of the bath to find her little grandson parading around with the curtains around his waist, she sees right away what the game means to Julian. Offering him a string of beads and a hand to hold, she takes him outside to find some other people who are beautiful and brimming with self-confidence. People of all genders, people of all sizes, people in all kinds of costumes and outfits. 

img_8822There is no dispute that this is about gender. The key moment in the story is when Nana finds Julian and stares at him with a great big disapproving scowl. My heart brimmed at that moment because it became clear that this was about more than a kid dancing around in the curtains on a whim. However, this is a beautiful narrative about all kinds of gender and identity acceptance. Whether a child is questioning their gender or whether they are broadening their definition of what it means to be a boy or a girl, this book offers a comforting message that the happiest people in the world are the ones who love each other and themselves.

The illustrations are a beautiful wash of watercolour which fits perfectly with the theme. It’s as if there is a hint of the watery world even when Julian is in the city. Particular attention has been paid to clothes, with a range of styles, patterns and colours celebrated. 

Julian Is A Mermaid made the shortlist for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. I can only imagine the judges saw the same joy and celebration and in the illustrations which touches me more with every read. 

A picture book which deserves a place on every shelf. Grab some beautiful items from around the house and prepare to embrace your inner self. 

 

Thanks to Riot Comms and Walker Books UK for my gifted copy of Julian Is A Mermaid. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture book review: Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal

maverick

Review: Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal

Everyone in George’s family is a yeti. Everyone except George. George explores what it means to be a yeti, and what he will need to do to become one … and that’s when he realises he isn’t a yeti at all. George is a unicorn. A gentle story about self-discovery. 

I loved this book. George *knows* he is a unicorn, knows with conviction, and his family love and support him. It is a book about discovering who we are and learning that people will love and support us no matter how we identify. It is clearly a book which would be useful in early discussions about gender and sexuality. Without being about those things, it helps children to understand that knowing deep down who we are is OK, even if it comes as a surprise to our family. 

I liked the idea of being a yeti as a choice – while some act ‘yeti’ without considering it, George knows that just isn’t him. This would be a lovely introduction to discussions about gender. How much of being a boy or a girl is fixed, and how much is about choice? About what we have picked up and learned along the way? 

There isn’t a negative moment in the story. It is an accepting, inclusive book which encourages young children to accept people for who they are. 

I also adore the illustrations – think snow, think rainbows and think yetis teasing the people who venture up the mountains. 

If you are looking for a narrative of acceptance and self-discovery, this one is perfect. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Press for my copy of Not Yet A Yeti. Opinions my own.