blog tour

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.

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

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Extract:

‘I will call you Hurriyah,’ I say softly to the fox in Arabic, and then in halting English I add, ‘I will … call you … Freedom.

I do not know why I have chosen that word out of all the many more suitable ones I could have picked. I only know that it is her name. And it is also a wish for her future.

(The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson. P56.)birdSynopsis:

Caylin feels completely alone. She steals food and money from other children and hasn’t been able to wash her clothes for weeks. She can’t tell anyone in case they separate her and Mum.

Reema feels lost in a new country. Her home in Syria is miles away, and Scotland will never feel like home. There is a new language to learn, a little sister to protect, and a brother who has been missing since the family was forced to leave him behind.

Caylin and Reema are not obvious friends, but when a wounded fox appears with her cubs, the girls come together to protect her and find they have more in common than they thought.

A beautiful story of friendship and hope.

bird

Review:

The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle is a beautiful story about people coming together and discovering they have more in common than they realise. They support each other, and together they are capable of more than they are alone.

Caylin feels a conflict between being liked and taking money to do the shopping. She puts on a tough-girl act but is embarrassed by her lisp. Reema wants her little sister to share her memories of pre-war Syria and is fed-up of people making assumptions about her culture. Both Reema and Caylin felt like real people. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Victoria Williamson has taught children from similar backgrounds, or that she researched her characters’ backgrounds.

The narrative is shared between Reema and Caylin. I was pleased they both got a voice. We see their initial suspicions of each other and

I love how nature brings the children together. The fox, like the children, has struggled at times to survive. She is misunderstood – an animal in a city where nature is often unwelcome. Her story is told through a series of poems, which also reflect the girls’ experiences.  

While the story of the fox is simple, it is used to explore some complex emotions and experiences, and the result is beautiful. It is a story of friendship and tolerance and would be a lovely book for promoting empathy.

 

Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Kelpies and Victoria Williamson for my review copy. Opinions my own.

 

 

Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author content from Victoria Williamson

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I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, a lyrical middle-grade novel about friendship and tolerance. It is the story of Caylin and Reema, who meet on a Glaswegian council estate when they care for an injured fox and her cubs. 

Author Victoria Williamson has written a guest post about animals, and how they bring us together. Thank you, Victoria for your time. birdAnimal Friends 

 

Rabbits 1
Young Victoria with her rabbits

Like most children, I spent years begging my parents for a dog when I was growing up. “It doesn’t need to be a big one,” I’d say, “A little one would do, and I’d walk it every day and feed it and clean up after it and…” My parents knew better than to take my word for it though, and eventually got me a lower-maintenance rabbit instead. I called him Sam, after Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, and soon he was joined by Hazel, a female version of the Watership Down character, and her sister Katy from the What Katy Did series. It didn’t take long for three rabbits to become seven, then twelve, then…

 

Despite the extra work involved in looking after so many rabbits, who seemed to appear despite our very best efforts to keep the males and females apart, I was thrilled by the new arrivals. It wasn’t just because the baby rabbits were so cute, it was because of the new friends they helped me make. Like many aspiring writers, I was a shy teenager who lacked confidence in talking to people at school. But the baby rabbits brought classmates to our garden in droves, and people who had never spoken to me before in school were happy to chat away as they stroked the soft fur of the tiny rabbits they’d heard about through the grapevine.

That was my first lesson in the power that animals have to bring people together and forge new friendships, and it’s one I never forgot. Animals appeared regularly in my own stories, from the first trilogy I wrote about a clan of foxes living in a forest under threat from a pack of wolves, to a monkey sidekick in a pirate book and a wombat companion in a distant planet colony.

It was a family of urban foxes in my debut novel though, that really reflected my own early experience of animals providing an opportunity to make friends with people I previously thought I had little in common with. In The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, Reema and Caylin couldn’t seem more different. Caylin’s a Glaswegian school bully, all defensive and prickly-edged on the outside, but lonely and longing to make a connection to other people on the inside. Reema’s a Syrian Muslim refugee, homesick and resentful at the war that’s uprooted her family and stolen the big brother she adores. When the girls first meet their reaction to each other is mistrust and unease. It isn’t until they find an injured urban fox and her family in the back garden of their apartment building that they discover a shared purpose, and eventually forge a strong friendship.

Most people are familiar with the idea that a pet is not just a companion in the home, but a great way to break the ice with strangers. People who would normally stride on past when out on a walk are happy to stop and say hello, smiling at a dog and asking it questions directly that are really meant for the human owners. A purring cat curled up in your lap is one of the quickest shortcuts to feeling at home in a stranger’s house, and even a less cuddly tortoise or a hamster can provide endless topics to discuss when the conversation starts to flag.

Why do people so often feel more at ease talking to animals than to humans? And why do Caylin and Reema initially find it so much easier to make friends with a fox and her cubs than they do with each other? I think one of the reasons for this that animals are multicultural – with Hurriyah there is no language barrier to cross and no sense of being judged for being different. Caylin and Reema can just be themselves around Hurriyah and tell her what they’re thinking and feeling without the stigma of the labels other people apply to them. With the foxes, Caylin is no longer ‘the bully’, ‘the girl with the lisp’, or ‘the girl who doesn’t wash her clothes’, and Reema isn’t ‘the refugee’, ‘the Muslim’ or ‘that girl with the headscarf.’ They are just themselves – two girls who, when all of the surface differences are stripped away, are more alike than they realise. Both have suffered loss, both care about their family more than anything, and both have a real passion for running.

Their willingness to care for the foxes eventually morphs into a willingness to care for each other, and by the end of the book it becomes clear that rescuing Hurriyah, the fox called ‘Freedom’, is a metaphor for the girls’ struggles to overcome their own difficult circumstances together. In literature and in real life, animals often help us see past our own differences, and making friends with one can often lead to us befriending another person who is more like us than we could ever have imagined.

 

Check out the other stops on the tour: 

FoxGirlBlogTour1