Sunday, August 3, 2008

Gender and Genre

I was lucky as a child to have a librarian mom who brought home piles of books to feed my ravenous hunger for novels. She brought home the stuff she loved, plus anything she thought I'd like, so I grew up on award-winners, fantasy, classics, and all-around great stuff.

One genre Mom didn't bring home was science fiction. Oh sure, I read and loved A Wrinkle in Time - but that was a book that received lots of mainstream attention and kudos; it wasn't relegated to the Science Fiction Ghetto, and so I got my hands on it. But my mom didn't read much, or maybe any, science fiction and so didn't bring much of that genre home to me.

Being an addict, the juicy and ever-present stack of library books next to my bed simply wasn't enough, and I foraged for more reading material wherever I could, particularly after the age of about 11 or 12, when I became aware of an enticing universe beyond my familiar world of family, school, and friends.

This is when I simultaneously discovered and devoured two books - Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein and Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout (aka Philip Jose Farmer). One is an action-packed space adventure and the other is a tongue-in-cheek parody - they both blew my mind. I found them both on my own - Starman Jones was on a rack in the fiction department of LAPL's Central Library and the lurid cover of Venus shone out in all its trashy splendor from the huge collection of SF paperbacks owned by a friend of my family.

This liberal-arts, science-averse (I had to take "Physics for Poets" twice in college before I finally passed) touchy-feely vegetarian children's librarian has been an avid SF reader ever since. Give me post-apocalyptic despair, rollicking space opera, intense military SF, or any other permutation of the genre - I'll take it all.

My point? Don't assume anything about what kids will read. Don't keep Clementine from boys and Danger Boy from girls. We advocates should read widely and outside our comfort zones so that we can get the very, varied best into the hands of kids. Mysteries, historical fiction, science fiction, school stories, graphic novels - give a kid a smorgasbord of these, along with some quickie two-sentence booktalks, and send him or her to a table to look them over. You might be surprised at what gets checked out.

Coming soon -

Excellent Science Fiction For Teens!

Pix and Yux - for Captain Underpants Fans

SCBWI - Starry-eyed in Century City

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