The illustrations by Arlene Armacost and Gloria Nixon show a wispy girl, tiny, as befitting the title, who was forced to stand on a stool to wash dishes, yet could crawl inside her doll house and fish pickles out of jars too small for bigger hands.
I can’t speak for my sister, but I longed to be like this petite girl who wore pink.
I’ve been thinking about that book, and how much we adored it, as I’ve read about the UK based campaign, Let Books Be Books, which wishes to reduce the number of gender-specific books.
This movement created an online petition asking publishers “to take the label off books and let children choose freely which types of stories and activity books interest them.”
Some UK publishers quickly acquiesced.
Usborne, with titles like Cookbooks for Girls or Illustrated Classics for Boys, have agreed to re-title and re-market their books so they are gender neutral.
While other publishers have balked.
Michael O’Mara, chairman of the family owned Buster Books, told The Independent, “It’s a fact of life how a very large percentage of people shop when buying for kids, do it by sex. We know for a fact that when they are shopping on Amazon, they quite often type in ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’.”
What Mr. O’Mara says is true in the U.S. also. It’s a buying habit I’ve seen often with parents who are literate, but don’t read.
In my experience, these parents value reading, seeing it as the cornerstone for their child’s education, yet they don’t read themselves.
That doesn’t mean they don’t want books for their children and grandchildren. They do, but when they shop for books they navigate towards what is comfortable: the pink and blue books.
You see, I’m not against using less pink or blue to identify books, nor am I against fewer stereotypes on book covers.
And, c’mon on. It’d be hard not to notice the “pinkification” going on in the children’s department over the last two decades.
But I also work with or live among people who make purchases based on these criteria, and my heart is soft toward them.
I don’t want them to feel more confused when selecting a book. I don’t want them to feel more awkward when pulling their son or daughter, granddaughter or grandson into their lap to read a story. And, I definitely don’t want them to feel ashamed for selecting a pink or blue book.
Picking a book is easy for me, and others who read frequently, because books are friendly and lovely, full of opportunities and adventure.
That’s not the experience many families have though.
So, while I do believe de-emphasizing the “pinkness” and “blueness” from the shelves is a reasonable request, I hesitate to throw my full support into the idea because I don’t want all the pink and blue books to disappear or for there to be a public consensus that buying these books is wrong.
Because if those pink and blue books disappear or the parents and grandparents are shamed away from purchasing them, then I worry those children and grandchildren won’t receive a book at all.
And, that, truly, would be a terrible ending to the story.
P.S. And, if my sister happens to be reading this, then remember possession is nine-tenths of the law. The Little Girl Story is mine. All mine.