Ask a Storytime Ninja: Gender Neutrality

Welcome to the final installment of April’s Ask a Storytime Ninja. Thank you to our featured Ninjas for taking on these great questions. Just a reminder, if you would like to be a Featured Ninja, helping out your colleagues by answering their questions and offering advice, you can! We have openings! Go here and sign up now.  If you don’t want to answer questions but instead have a question to ask, submit it here. You can even earn badges for asking and answering questions!

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The Question: 

 

I am a big proponent for gender neutrality and am curious if you actively do anything to support this in your library and/or Storytime. More specifically:
How do you let a parent know that their son can and should check out a princess book if he is drawn to it? Are there books you steer away from because they propel gender stereotypes? How do you encourage coworkers to expand their reader’s advisory skills past the stage of ‘truck books for little boys’?

 

The Answers:

 

From Ingrid

 

I am a big proponent for gender neutrality and am curious if you actively do anything to support this in your library and/or Storytime.

 

More specifically:
How do you let a parent know that their son can and should check out a princess book if he is drawn to it? Are there books you steer away from because they propel gender stereotypes? How do you encourage coworkers to expand their reader’s advisory skills past the stage of ‘truck books for little boys’?

 
This is tricky, but an important topic! First, thanks for caring about it enough to ask about it.
If a parent is dead set on not letting their son take out a princess book, there isn’t much we can do about it. There are no magic words that will suddenly change a parent’s mind. No one wants to be told that they’re doing a bad parenting job, but I do try and help a kid out in situations like this. Something like, “Oh, it looks like your child picked up one of my favorite titles! He has good taste!” or something like that. That’s the most you can do without seeming like a jerk. Support the child, don’t make the parent feel bad.

 
I don’t think of it as avoiding certain titles, but rather, I do love to display books that are a bit more progressive as far as gender is concerned. Get ’em off the shelves and into the light where kids can pick them up and take a look at them! The Rainbow List is a great place to start. Current picture book favorites are Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone, This Day in June by Gayle Pitman, I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings, Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. 

 

We all have so much gender nonsense ingrained into our brains from an early age and some of it can be very harmful if we keep perpetrating certain stereotypes. When it comes to staff, training is essential. Maybe have a book club where you all read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein? 

 

All of this is a process and it takes time. Thanks for making your library a little more LBGTQ friendly.

 

From Mel

 

If I were running a training, I might try an exercise where we start with a big pile of heavily gendered books/topics (Fancy Nancy, truck books, etc) and work to group them in unconventional ways (Don’t Let the Pigeon and Fancy Nancy are both about characters who LOVE to TALK!) or by doing book talks that frame a minor thread as the selling point (so, like showing someone Crews’ Train and saying, “Hey look, this is an awesome book about colors!”)

 

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