Children and Gender in Libraries, 1876-1900

So way back when, in the late 1870s and early 1880, Caroline Hewins made lists. She made lists of books for boys and girls in her library in Hartford, Connecticut. She even marked them with special symbols for whether they would appeal to boys, girls, or both. Others in librarianship also talked about reading and gender, including Lutie Stearns, who was concerned with girls' reading of romance stories, a position that fit with her own activism and feminism. There were a smattering of others too, some of whom did not come from such progressive perspectives.

If I were going to write the paper I've had in my mind for some time on what gender means in these book recommendations, what it says about the children and about the books, then I would use these books to launch that project:

Women's Education in the United States, 1780-1840, by Margaret A. Nash (2005)
This book would be a great way to get a feel for at least some women's lived gender context, and it's supposedly the flat-out best history on this topic available.

How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood by Jane H. Hunter (2002)
Looks like I'll be copying the chapters on diaries and on reading out of this one, and thanks to A.P. for citing this in one of her recent articles. There's a ton to draw from here in understanding librarians' recommendations.

Two Delicious YA Novels and a Fairy-Tale Fantasy

Good Enough by Paula Yoo
Is it ever good enough for Patti's parents? She and the other Korean American kids in her church youth group have it bad, with parents who crave to send them to HarvardYalePrinceton. Patti loves music, and she begins to take control of her life when it occurs to her that her viola-playing days are over as soon as she hits college. But her music teacher thinks she could make it in to Julliard. It's a tough and also touching novel, as Patti struggles under the breakneck pace of her school work and extra-curricular obligations while also trying to get to know Ben, the attractive new boy from youth orchestra. This one is a sure hit for anyone burdened with high-pressure parents, now or in the past.

Funny aside: this made me remember 1991 or so, when I had a boyfriend pierce a second hole in my ear. When my father saw the little black rose stud I had in that new hole, he was furious, and yelled at me that I'd "never be a dean at Harvard" now that I had ruined my ear forever. Just your average laid back family....

If this sounds familiar, go now and get Good Enough. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll be mouth-wateringly hungry for Korean food by the end.


Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey doesn't wait when Evan calls her, and so the hit song that launches Evan's band to fame and Audrey's life into a publicity nightmare is born. This one is satisfying on every level; Audrey is no angel, but she is a believable character with a ton of strength and self-possession that any teenage girl would envy.

Favorite quote, from meeting in principal's office:
"'So,' Mr. Rice said as he dank back down, 'there have been some developments recently, Audrey, and I've called your parents in so we could discuss the appropriate course of action in order to insure the best educational experience for you.'
If you don't speak Adult, allow me to translate that sentence: 'You're fucking up and making us all look back. Stop doing that so I can have an easier day at work.'"


The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck
The Trueheart family has six brothers, all of them named Jack (in some form) and a seventh brother named Tom. When his six brothers go missing in the land of stories, Tom sets out to find them. His mother stays behind, presumably wringing her hands. The logic of this fantasy land seems inherently flawed; the Jacks go off to their stories after, presumably, many such adventures, but this time they all come home with princess wives... so how exactly did that work before? I might have been more willing to live with it if the women in the story weren't cardboard characters. The gender imbalances read as if the feminist movement never happened. This simplistic novel makes me long for the days of fractured tales that were funny instead of serious and makes the need for stories with strong female leads clearer than ever. All that said, serious fans of fairy tale fantasy will want to read this one, because there will be sequels, and, I predict, a movie. If your young reader is just moving up from the Spiderwick Chronicles and you've got a good dialog going about gender stereotypes, this might be the next book to read.