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.

 

Warcross

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?

Sparking Conversation: Prevalent Issues in Sleeping in My Jeans

Sleeping in My Jeans by Connie Kind Leonard is a powerful book that highlights the struggles of homelessness through the journey of sixteen-year-old Mattie, after she, her mother, and her sister are forced to face out of their home after a domestic abuse dispute. While carrying the question of where she will sleep at night, Mattie also has to juggle the pressures and tribulations of high school, boys, and sisterhood. After the disappearance of her mother, Mattie is pushed to fight against the threat of starvation and ultimately, the threats to young women who appear homeless.

Mattie’s trials bring topics and realities to readers’ attention that many may be unfamiliar with. The struggles that Mattie is pushed through are largely uncharted territory for many young adults and adults alike. So how do we make sure these issues are understood by younger readers? Here is a quick list of discussion questions that can help guide a conversation through concerns as they appear in Sleeping in My Jeans:

  1. How do you feel about Darren’s actions? What are some better ways Darren could have dealt with his anger?
  2. If you were also seeking a safe place, like Mattie and Meg going to the library after school, where would you go and why? What makes a somewhere a safe place?
  3. What do ‘homeless’ and ‘poor’ mean to you? How do they make you feel? How do you think people that are affected by them feel?
  4. If you knew someone was sleeping in their car, how would you feel? How would you feel if you were in that situation?
  5. What do you think are some characteristics of people that you should keep a distance from, such as the man in the library that Mattie moves away from? How would you have gotten out of a similar situation?
  6. Why do you think the mechanic takes Mattie’s mom? Do you think Mattie should have called the police before going in alone? What would you do in a situation where someone you know or love may be hurt, but you are alone?

For a fuller list of conversation-starters circling the topic of domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

For tips for talking about homeless, visit the Wellspring Family services website.

For further suggestions for talking with children specifically about sex-trafficking, visit the Human Trafficking Search website for more information.

The Role of Empathy in YA

In the decades since it initially formed as a literary category, young adult fiction has built a reputation for its evocative, engaging characters. Readers know that they can turn to YA—perhaps more reliably than most adult fiction—to find nuanced, sophisticated characterization, whether they’re reading sprawling fantasies, slice-of-life romances, or gripping thrillers. The power of YA’s most compelling characters, though, doesn’t come from impressive martial arts skills or sharp wits or cool gadgets. These characters are engaging because they are written with empathy.

Empathy is not so much feeling something about a character, but feeling something with a character. It is not only being sorry for a character when they struggle and happy when they succeed—it’s about the reader experiencing those trials and victories as if they were their own. And when those trials and victories are rooted in immediate real-world issues, there’s more at stake than well-written characterization.

For a character to be truly empathetic, they must evoke two feelings in the reader: “I understand what this character is going through,” and “This character understands what I am going through.”

In Ooligan’s upcoming YA title, Sleeping in My Jeans by Connie King Leonard, Mattie Rollins and her family must live out of their car after escaping an abusive household. Mattie not only has to continue contending with her normal high school life, but she has to worry about the safety of her sister and mother, where her family will be getting their next meals, when they will next be able to bathe and clean their clothes, and who can help them if things get even worse. Sleeping in My Jeans will soon be available in stores, but in it’s long journey to publication, we at Ooligan had a number of conversations about the role of empathy in this book.

For many years, homelessness has been considered something of an urgent crisis here in Oregon, for a multitude of intersecting reasons that are too numerous and too long in the making to list here. It’s a discussion that arises frequently, especially in metro areas like Portland and Eugene, and often in the scramble for solutions, people forget about the impact that homelessness has on the real human beings who navigate it, as well as the circumstances in their lives that make many of the proposed solutions inaccessible or only temporary fixes. In Sleeping in My Jeans, one reason that Mattie’s family is stuck living their car—an old red Subaru they call Ruby—is because temporary lodging in a motel is too expensive. Mattie’s mother explains that every night they stay in a motel would eat away at their savings for more permanent housing further down the road. Because of this and the reality that shelters for families often have long waiting lists, their best option is to continue living out of Ruby. However, they soon find that this has its own costs, and they never seem to get closer to saving up the money they need to escape their situation.

While not every reader will know firsthand what it’s like living out of a car or facing constant setbacks when trying to reach a financial goal, Mattie’s struggle here is made more relatable by her pushback against her mother’s explanations. Stressed and distraught by her family’s circumstances, Mattie argues against her mother’s decision not to rent a motel room, even when she knows it’s not a realistic option for them. Her frustration bubbles forth with futile bickering, and even if a reader doesn’t share Mattie’s experience with homelessness, at one point or another, we’ve all been in Mattie’s shoes in an arguments like these—desperate, irrational, and spiteful toward our loved ones, and eager for someone or something to blame.

This is where the richness of YA’s best characters shine, and why it is so important for us at Ooligan to bring to the forefront with Sleeping in My Jeans. A character is so much more than the events that occur around them, and it’s their feelings, reactions, values, and drives that truly form a connection with the reader. For Mattie, we at Ooligan saw ourselves in her anxieties, ambition, frustration, and compassion, and we knew that was where readers would most connect to her story too. From editing to marketing to the very design of the book’s cover, the ethos for Sleeping in My Jeans was not just for readers to hear Mattie’s story, but for them to feel heard by it.

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