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Appealing to Everyone by Adèle Geras

June 22, 2011

Adèle Geras is the author of over 90 books for readers of all ages. Her latest adult title is A HIDDEN LIFE (Orion), her latest young adult book is DIDO ( Corgi), and she has recently brought out a picture book (illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas)  for younger children called MY BALLET DREAM (Orchard). She lives in Cambridge.

Visit her website at  www.adelegeras.com

“I’m very conscious, when I go into schools, that I’m the writer of books mainly for girls. I’m not in any way ashamed of this. I was born a girl, I have given birth to two daughters, I have no siblings, I  went to a school which was exclusively for girls, I’ve taught girls for four years before I became a writer  and I know next to nothing about little boys. I’m on a steep learning curve, having two grandsons, but before they were born, I’d never really met any boy babies or small boy children. My first encounter with the male sex, therefore, was as boyfriends, and so I’m okay when writing for teenagers or adults.  I’m also fine with dads, grandfathers, uncles and older males….it’s just the younger ones I’ve mostly avoided. Also, my own preoccupations are with things not traditionally associated with boys. I don’t write adventures. My books are full of clothes, food, emotions, relationships. I’m not given to fantasy (though I do like a nice spooky story as much as the next person and have written lots of those) and  in general  I’m impatient with books and movies which are full of special effects and short on dialogue.

Some of my covers are pink, I admit it. Most have girls on the cover. Thus it is that whenever I’m in a school and the books are spread out on display,  a look of growing anxiety crosses the faces of any boys in the class. Once, a kid put up his hand and asked me: “Please Miss, have you ever written any books about killer crabs?” It was hard to destroy the hope in that child’s eyes, but I had to confess that killer crabs are not part of my artistic universe.

The first time I spoke at an all-male preparatory school, a strange thing happened. I was a little nervous to see the ranks of boys of about 10 sitting in a kind of theatre. There were hundreds of them, it seemed to me. They were looking down at me and beside me was a table crowded with lots of my titles. Predominant among them were books from my LITTLE SWAN series, which is about a girl called Weezer who wants to be a ballerina. The covers of this series were pink and blue and lilac and beige and they were decorated with ballet slippers picked out in silver foil. I stood up and before I did anything else, I read out loud two pages from the beginning of my novel TROY in which a young lad of about 16 kills someone with a sword. That was like a kind of Open Sesame. When the talk was over, the boys fell on the books laid out on the table and bought most of them. I’d proved myself to be a decent author by being able to describe a death in battle and so they were willing to forgive my pastel covers and also willing to part with a bit of money to buy a book, even if it wasn’t the one from which  I’d read a gruesome extract.

Which leads me to my moral: boys are just as likely as girls to read a girl’s book, if only you can get them past the cover somehow. Boys, just as much as girls, like reading about emotions and relationships and families and private events if you persuade them to try such stories for themselves. Lately, marketing in children’s books has been very much geared towards getting boys to read, so that girls’ books are less frequently hyped, and this makes a certain kind of sense. Girls have always had the imagination to read boys’ books with no problems whatsoever and anything we can do to get boys to try books which have a heroine rather than a hero is worth doing.”

4 Comments
  1. This is a great idea for a blog . . . So glad I discovered you, Niranjana, on She Writes, and equally delighted to be introduced to the work of Adele Geras.

  2. I enjoyed this post. I think it’s important that all children learn to see beyond a cover, though I have been known to pick a few books based on theirs. Hypocrisy, maybe…

    But if the blurb hooks me, it doesn’t matter what the cover looks like.

  3. Covers are so important – they’re the first point of a decision anyone makes in a bookshop before they pick up the book and read the blurb. They can be extremely off-putting – or, in certain cases, so fabulous that one has to see what the book’s about.

    There is a certain societal or peer pressure on boys which considers that to read books featuring largely female characters is somehow “girly” or emasculating.

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  1. Adèle Geras on Women Doing Literary Things | Brown Paper

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