Gendered Book Covers and Why Boys Read Less than Girls

They say to never judge a book by its cover, yet it seems like that is exactly what young boys are doing.
In 2016, Scholastic conducted a survey on over two thousand US children ages six to seventeen and found that when it came to reading, boys generally do not like it as much as girls do. Only 52 percent of boys said that they liked to read over the summer, compared to 72 percent of girls. And 45 percent of boys stated that they had trouble finding books they liked.
But why is this? Why are boys having so much trouble finding books to read? There’s certainly no shortage of books with male protagonists in them, yet for some reason, young boys are just not connecting with books in the same way girls are. There are a myriad of reasons for why this could be, but one thing I believe plays a big factor in this reading gap is gendered book covers.
Just take a look at the covers lining the shelves of the young adult section at any bookstore. Many of them feature characteristics like female characters on the cover, loopy and swirling fonts, and bright “girly” colors. By engendering covers, boys have a hard time identifying with them, which makes it less likely for them to be interested in reading them.
But why can’t boys just read them anyway? Unfortunately, the truth is that we live in a society where masculinity is defined as the rejection of all things traditionally identified as feminine. Where a girl is more likely to read a book regardless of the gender it is marketed to, boys are significantly less likely to do the same. Maureen Johnson, author of multiple YA books such as Truly Devious and 13 Little Blue Envelopes, once commented on this phenomenon by tweeting:

I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy’

While I personally think boys should be able to read whatever they want without regard to whether it’s “girly” or not, that’s just not how many boys currently think. While we wait for that change to happen, there are more and more books being published with covers that appeal to all genders. Check out some of the more noteworthy examples I’ve come across:


Sleeping in My Jeans

The neutral color scheme depicted on the cover of Sleeping in My Jeans allows Connie King Leonard to share a powerful story about family, perseverance, and homelessness with all readers.

The Raven Boys

The dark, hazy images on this cover make The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater look like a thrilling and mysterious read for all.



The rainbow-hued geometric cover of Warcross by Marie Lu suggests a thrilling, sci-fi adventure. The perfect book for any gender.
These are just a few examples, what covers have you seen recently that seem to be marketed more towards both genders?

Six Books to Read While You Wait for Sleeping in My Jeans

If you’ve been keeping up with Ooligan Press news, you’ll know that we’re very excited about our upcoming YA novel, Sleeping in My Jeans by Connie King Leonard.

Set to publish in the fall of 2018, Sleeping in My Jeans follows sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins as her life gets turned upside down. When Mattie’s mother packs the family and as many clothes as they can carry into their beat-up station wagon, Mattie hopes it’s only for one night. But as the days go on and Mattie’s mother still isn’t able to find them housing, the reality of their situation begins to sink in. Newly homeless, Mattie must find a way to balance going to high school with living out of a car. The local library becomes her new living room, where she and her young sister, Meg, spend the long hours after school while waiting for their mother to get off work. Just as she begins to settle into her new routine, her mother goes missing. Mattie will have to make a difficult choice: either go to the police and possibly end up in foster care, or venture out into danger and find her mother on her own.

Sound exciting? Sleeping in My Jeans is Ooligan Press’s first title that falls into genre fiction. While the story is clearly the YA style we all know and love, it is also filled with suspense and thrills as Mattie navigates the dangers of living on the street. It is our hope that this novel will bring awareness to homelessness in places like Eugene, Oregon, where the novel is set. The author, Connie King Leonard, also plans to donate a portion of the sales toward domestic abuse centers and homeless shelters.

Sleeping in My Jeans will publish in the fall of 2018, but in the meantime, check out these similar YA titles. If you enjoy them, you’ll be sure to fall in love with Sleeping in My Jeans.

  1. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

    A New York Times bestseller, this haunting portrayal of a teen dealing with mental illness follows seventeen-year-old Charlotte Davis on her journey of healing after she is prematurely released from a mental health facility for the treatment of girls who have self-injury disorders.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

  2. Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

    Nearly Boswell has enough secrets to keep from her fellow high school students—like the fact that she lives in a DC trailer park or that her mother’s job is an exotic dancer. But she finds herself close to bursting when a serial killer begins to target students and leaves mysterious ads in the newspaper, which only she can decipher.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    This New York Times bestseller tackles the topics of police brutality and systematic racism as seen through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter. Starr may attend a rich suburban prep school, but she lives in a poor neighborhood. She does her best to balance her two very different worlds, but everything comes crashing down when her childhood best friend, Khalil, is fatally shot by a police officer while unarmed.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

  4. Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

    Linden Rose has done all she can to keep herself under the radar at her small town high school—no one can know that she’s homeless and has been living in the school. But when Bea, one of the cool-crowd girls, comes to school with a bloody lip, Linden’s past comes back to haunt her. Linden must decide whether to risk everything to tell Bea’s story and confront her own past or remain hidden in the crowd.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

  5. Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

    From bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes the story of Dara and Nick, two sisters who work to find not only each other, but themselves. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick doesn’t think anything of it. But when another girl goes missing, Nick realizes she must find her sister before it’s too late.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

  6. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

    In this national bestseller, author Nina Lacour tells a story that at its core is about grief and the bonds of friendship. Marin has run away from her old life—and even her best friend Mabel—on the California coast, to a new one at a college in New York. Months later, Marin is still haunted by what happened in her old life. With Mabel coming to visit, Marin must face her past and explain her silence to her best friend.

    Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes&Noble

How to Bring the Ricochet River Teaching Unit into your Classroom

It’s time to celebrate! Ricochet River had a successful launch. For many of us on the Rivers team, our hard work is done and we can finally take a well-deserved break. But for others, the hard work is just beginning. Our wonderful marketing and social media staff are working tirelessly to promote our book. But come fall, there will be another group of people who have to think critically about Ricochet River—high school teachers and their students.

Ricochet River has been a staple in Pacific Northwest classrooms for over two decades. And now, in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River, Ooligan has put out a handy new Ricochet River Teaching Unit so high school teachers have a great resource to refer to as they bring Ricochet River into their classrooms.

The Ricochet River Teaching Unit is an excellent—and free!—resource for whoever wishes to use it. In this teaching guide, Ooligan shows teachers how to integrate an intuitive classroom unit into practice. Over the course of thirteen to seventeen days, teachers can help their students navigate the text with critical questions, writing prompts, and classroom activities.

This teaching unit is meant for grades nine and ten, which is apropos to the content of the book itself. Students at this age will find themselves relating to Wade, Lorna, and Jesse. These characters are people that students this age either know or relate to personally: “the local high school hero with the grades, popularity, and prospects for a bright future; the outcast and trouble-maker, stranded between two worlds; and the dreamer, suffocating within the confines of rigid, small-town expectations” (Ricochet River Teaching Unit).

Notably, the Ricochet River Teaching Unit lends itself well to online classrooms. Resources for teachers include suggested links to Blackboard or Google Classroom. However, the teaching unit also includes digital ways to teach students, linking to websites such as YouTube, which are educational and engage teenagers on their own turf.

On top of that, the teaching unit is incredibly easy to use. The website, which can be found both in the back of the Ricochet River twenty-fifth anniversary edition and on the Ooligan Press website, is simple to navigate and contains well-cited hyperlinks for every resource one could possibly need in order to teach Ricochet River in a classroom. Not only that, it is easy to use as much or as little of the teaching unit as desired. The teaching unit is a structure, a skeleton used to frame classroom discussions. It’s just as easy to follow the unit to a T as it is to use as a jumping-off point. Want to go off the rails and spend a class period discussing what it means to be Native American in the Pacific Northwest? The Ricochet River Teaching Unit has got you covered, and even can give you some ideas of where to begin researching your discussion.

Each daily lesson is reflected in the back of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River and on the Ooligan Press website.

Overall, as a free resource, there’s not much more one could ask for from a teaching unit. Feel free to check it out and get some ideas for how to teach Ricochet River in the coming school year.

Ricochet River Cover Reveal!

We’ve had many exciting developments on Team Rivers lately, including our fantastic new cover for Ricochet River.
It comes to us courtesy of Leigh Thomas, current head of Ooligan’s design department, and we couldn’t be happier with it. In fact, the moment I saw Leigh’s original concept for this cover, I was sold. It’s totally in line with current YA cover trends (Did you read this recent post? Can’t you just see our cover sitting on a shelf next to those books?); it honors the imagery of Ooligan’s 2005 edition; and it subtly references Ricochet River’s history in local schools (the water looks like blue-lined notebook paper—once you see it, you can’t unsee it). However, as perfect as I thought the original design was, we still had to go through several revisions to reach our final product. A book cover must serve many masters—through images or emotion, it needs to tell you something true about the book inside, catch your eye on a shelf or table, and convey important information, such as title or author.

Ooligan’s 2005 cover.
Leigh’s first draft.

The first thing to change on our cover was the boat. The original design featured a canoe. As you may recall, Wade’s rowboat plays an important role in Ricochet River. Canoes, though? Not so much. But that’s what comes of having an unclear design brief. Back to the drawing board.
One of the perks of working on design in the digital age is the ability to blend handcrafted images with digital. It can also be a bit of a hazard. Not pictured here is the evolution of our rowboat. The problem we kept running into was that Leigh would draw what looked like a perfect (but still obviously hand-drawn) boat on paper, and then when we shrank it down to replicate on the cover, it would look too perfect, almost like clip art. Be less good at drawing, Leigh! If you ever find yourself facing a similar problem, the key is to simplify, simplify, simplify. While we miss some of the detail, the overall effect on the cover is positive.
As you can see, our happy little trees also underwent a remodel, and some elements got shifted around to make room for the names of our illustrious contributors. The design process is always a lesson in refinement, and we were lucky to be working with a designer who is not only talented but patient to boot. Now we present our new cover to you knowing every element is just right.

We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

One of the great delights of working on a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of any book is that the work has been around for so dang long; it’s had lots of time to find an audience. In a world of information overload, having a bunch of established fans in your corner willing to sing your praises is no small thing. Thanks to Robin’s timeless story and his enthusiastic partnerships with local schools over the years, our team has had the privilege of talking with many of Ricochet River‘s supporters, and I’m happy to report that many of them will be making an appearance in the new edition.

I’ve already told you about our work with some of the teachers who’ve been using Ricochet River in their classrooms. Their contributions to our supplemental teaching materials have been invaluable, and I can’t wait to share the final product with them. But this book isn’t only for schools—it’s a great read for just about everyone, which is why I’m so excited to announce some of the heavy hitters from the local and national literary stage who have contributed thoughtful, supportive words to the new edition.

Brian Doyle, author of Mink River and Martin Marten, has written a lovely meditation on what it means to be a classic. Brian’s books share with Ricochet River a deep respect and adoration of the Pacific Northwest’s wild spaces, and we are honored to have him introducing Robin’s work to a new generation of readers. Molly Gloss, author of Falling From Horses, has written in praise of Lorna, “the strong tentpole holding up the center of this book” and the character Robin has often credited with much of Ricochet River‘s enduring appeal. And finally, William L. Sullivan, godfather of Oregon’s hiking community, has graciously weighed in on the historical aspects of our story with his extensive knowledge of the area.

We are so proud to be able to offer the thoughtful words of these acclaimed authors as a lens through which new readers can view this timeless story.

Looking Back to Move Ahead

Lately when thinking about Ricochet River, our team has been thinking a lot about change. Living in Portland these days, it’s impossible not to notice the pace of change. Sometimes it seems like the entire city is under construction. Older institutions are closing, and new businesses are popping up like mushrooms. So there’s some comfort in knowing that this change didn’t come on all at once—the town has been in constant evolution since it was settled. While the Portland of today feels a lot different than the Portland of five years ago, that Portland feels like an entirely different world compared to the 1960s Portland of Wade, Jesse, and Lorna’s experience.

As the city rushes ahead with today’s particularly dramatic growth spurt, books like Ricochet River can be a helpful and important method of taking stock of where we’ve come from and how we’ve changed. While it can be tempting to romanticize the past, reading about the flooding of Celilo Falls and the environmental and cultural fallout from that decision, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that we’ve made a lot of progress over the years. One of the things we are most excited about including in our new edition of Ricochet River are essays that explore this perspective. Native culture has healed and regained strength in the years since boys like Jesse were dismissed as “dumb Indians.” Logging practices have become more sustainable. And the dams that started it all, decimating salmon populations and encouraging “survival of the timid,” continue to improve their environmental impact, allowing the fish to recover. Keeping the lessons of our past in mind is always good as we navigate our present.

These lessons are something we are trying to keep in mind as we develop our new teacher guide. There are a lot of reasons why Ricochet River has remained vital throughout its twenty-five years in print—it is a vibrant portrait of small-town life that explores some universal coming-of-age struggles. Still, it would be foolish not to acknowledge how the cultural conversation has changed, and we are committed to facilitating that discussion. Also, teaching methods are constantly evolving. When we wrote our teacher guide for the first Ooligan edition in 2005, we focused on the Oregon State Teaching Standards; this time around we are using Common Core standards as our guide. Government standards come and go, however. While the education mandate in five years will depend on which way political winds blow, our goal is simply to create interesting, thought provoking questions and activities that will be useful to teachers and educators everywhere—questions that deepen students’ interaction with Ricochet River and leave room for them to apply their ever-evolving perspectives to its timeless story.

Schools for the Summer

Hello, friends, and welcome to the official home of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River as it makes its way from brilliant idea to beautiful book. We are proud to be working with Robin Cody to ensure that this book remains a vibrant reading experience for students and hope that this new edition will help bring Robin’s story to an even wider audience.

Over the years Ricochet River has been embraced by local Oregon schools. We want to celebrate this legacy. To that end, we’ve been working to develop new content that will enrich the reading experience. Robin, who was an educator himself for many years before turning to writing, has drawn on this history and a decade of experience talking to classrooms about Ricochet River to create a wonderful series of lesson plans; you’ll also find essays and interviews that reveal more about Robin’s personal connection to the story and explore Ricochet River‘s fascinating publication history. Lastly, we are very excited about the opportunity to explore the story we already know and love through some new lenses and place it within a wider cultural context. We’ll be presenting much of this material to local teachers whom Robin has worked with over the years, ensuring that the book will be as helpful to classrooms as it can be.

Though students all over the country will be starting summer vacation soon, we are already thinking ahead to the next school year. Over the past couple of weeks, our team has been scouring online databases for contacts in schools all over the Pacific Northwest. Though the book is set near Portland and certainly has local appeal, it speaks eloquently to the reality of small-town rural life and the universal struggles of growing up. This is a story that students from many states can relate to, and we are determined to reach out and share Ricochet River with as many students as possible. Finding contact info and sending emails isn’t necessarily the sexiest part of working for a small press, but it’s worth it to spread the word about our amazing books. Today the PNW—tomorrow the world!