A Change.org petition launched in the UK is calling on “Usborne, Buster, Igloo & other children’s publishers” to “Please stop labelling books, in the title or on the packaging, as for girls or for boys.” At the time of writing, the petition has reached 8,733 supporters – including, as you can see above, “award winning author and journalist Bel Mooney.” a regular columnist for the otherwise staunchly conservative UK Daily Mail.
The petition was launched as part of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, which covers both toys and children’s books. Its open letter continues: “Children’s publishing should always aim to open up new worlds for children. But telling children which stories and activities are ‘for them’ based on their gender closes down whole worlds of interest. We are asking you to stop labelling books this way and let children decide for themselves what kinds of stories and activity books they find interesting.”
The campaign recently posted an update on its success so far – and singled out the laggards. “Since we launched our books campaign on World Book Day 2014, ten publishers have agreed to Let Books Be Books,” it states. However, it also spotlights two conspicuous holdouts. One is Igloo Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing, “currently topping our list with the highest number of gendered children’s titles.” The other, perhaps more prominent one, is Hachette Children’s Group, which apparently has been hiding at times behind its Hodder Children’s Books imprint by claiming that “Hachette was actually *not* the publisher responsible for these titles, but that it was Hodder Children’s books that should be contacted about this issue. Which is all a little disingenuous… after all, Hachette is the parent company of Hodder Children’s Books!”
Igloo Books is apparently the only publisher ready to stand on the premise that, as Igloo CEO John Styring reportedly said to The Guardian, “we make our publishing decisions based on the requirements of our consumers and customers – I don’t believe it’s our call to make decisions on their behalf.” Other publishers appear completely ready to get behind the campaign. That said, there’s apparently massive though hidden resistance in certain other areas of the toy and comic book business to broader cross-gender policies in publishing and toymaking, so this debate is anything but over.