Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Survive a Sexist Book Series!

Two serious posts in a row! I promise, this doesn't usually happen, but I just heard this story and was apalled. I thought more elementary teachers should know, so please spread the word. I read about the story at Ryan North and Interactive Reader.

Like most teachers, I'm a big fan of Scholastic. I have fond memories of poring over Book Clubs forms as a child, I may or may not have spent over $50 during their recent Dollar Days sale, and as a new teacher, they have helped immensely to build my classroom library. Scholastic does a better job than any publication company I know of getting books into children's hands for a low cost, whether it be through my classroom library, book orders sent home, or a book fair.

So I was understandably disappointed to hear about these two books they published recently:

Boys Only: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
  1. How to Survive a Shark Attack
  2. How to Survive in a Forest
  3. How to Survive Frostbite
  4. How to Survive a Plane Crash
  5. How to Survive in the Desert
  6. How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
  7. How to Survive a Flash Flood
  8. How to Survive a Broken Leg
  9. How to Survive an Earthquake
  10. How to Survive a Forest Fire
  11. How to Survive in a Whiteout
  12. How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
  13. How to Survive a Snakebite
  14. How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
  15. How to Survive a Croc Attack
  16. How to Survive a Lightning Strike
  17. How to Survive a T-Rex
  18. How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
  19. How to Survive a Sinking Ship
  20. How to Survive a Vampire Attack
  21. How to Survive an Avalanche
  22. How to Survive a Tornado
  23. How to Survive Quicksand
  24. How to Survive a Fall
  25. How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
  26. How to Survive in Space
Awesome, right? MANY of the kids in my classroom would eat this book up. I mean, I would love to check it out myself!

The other book:

Girls Only: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
  1. How to Survive a BFF Fight
  2. How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
  3. How to Survive a Breakout
  4. How to Show You're Sorry
  5. How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
  6. How to Take the Perfect School Photo
  7. How to Survive Brothers
  8. Scary Survival Dos and Don'ts
  9. How to Handle Becoming Rich
  10. How to Keep Stuff Secret
  11. How to Survive Tests
  12. How to Survive Shyness
  13. How to Handle Sudden Stardom
  14. More Stardom Survival Tips
  15. How to Survive a Camping Trip
  16. How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
  17. How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
  18. How to Turn a No Into a Yes
  19. Top Tips for Speechmaking
  20. How to Survive Embarrassment
  21. How to Be a Mind Reader
  22. How to Survive a Crush
  23. Seaside Survival
  24. How to Soothe Sunburn
  25. How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
  26. Surviving a Zombie Attack
  27. How to Spot a Frenemy
  28. Brilliant Boredom Busters
  29. How to Survive Truth or Dare
  30. How to Beat Bullies
  31. How to be an Amazing Babysitter
Um, are you KIDDING me?

I made a point of teaching my students this year that there are no such things as "girl" things and "boy" things. Case in point? Their teacher, a female, LOVES football- and they knew it. I explained to them in no uncertain terms that football is not a "boy" thing to like- it's a "me" thing, because I like it, and that's all that should matter.

We talked about this at length- boy colors or girl colors? No! You can like whatever you want, and it's a "you" color. Boy books or girl books? No way! They knew one of the girls in the class and I both love reading about frogs and snakes! Boy movies or girl movies? Um, your teacher can talk Star Wars right along with you, so there goes that theory.

I told them how I liked a range of things from singing, to football, to ballet, to fishing, to acting... and to me, if they are things I enjoy doing, that's all that matters.

I also made clear that I would tolerate no mention of "boy things" or "girl things" in my classroom, because we are all individuals and it only matters if it's a "you" thing.

It took a couple of days.

And then one of my "leader" boys picked up a Rainbow Magic Fairies book. And a couple of the other boys laughed, but he shrugged and kept reading.

One of the boys who laughed was curious, and later that day, I caught him flipping through a book in the series.

Somehow, over a few days, it became "cool" for the boys to read what they had previously thought of as "girl" books.

And even better, sometime down the road, no one seemed to notice either way. It wasn't cool or uncool. It was just normal- people reading books they wanted to read.

Now I know this may not happen every year, because I don't know that it would've happened without that extraordinary boy in my room who had the courage to sit down with a hot pink sparkly book in full view of the class. But I do know that it was amazing when I read my teacher report cards at the end of the year, and one of the boys wrote:

"I learned it's okay to like pink."

I want children- not just those in my class, but all children- to learn that it's okay to be themselves, and that they shouldn't hold themselves or anyone else to stereotypes.

And that's why I'm disappointed that Scholastic is choosing to pull these products, but never offered an apology for them being published in the first place!
"Many readers have expressed concerns about our How to Survive Anything titles, and we want to thank you for your passionate responses. The two titles have had very limited distribution to date, and no further copies will be made available.

Please check out the many other titles kids can discover this summer on our summer reading booklists, available on our Summer Challenge page and our Pinterest boards.
Again, we thank you for your feedback."
As I said, no other publishing company does a better job of getting books into children's hands for a low cost than Scholastic, and that's probably why it bothers me so much that they have published books so clearly promoting gender stereotypes- and don't even apologize for their error.

We all make mistakes, but it's important to fess up and fix it when we do.


  1. I LOVE this post! I agree that Scholastic is wonderful and I also agree that the Girls Only book is ridiculous! I would much rather read the Boys Only book.

    I love how you told your kiddos there are no 'girl' things or 'boy' things. I'm definitely going to keep this in mind for next year.

    Thanks for posting! :)


  2. DEFINITELY read the book 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter' by Peggy Orenstein. It's one of my favorite nonfiction books and it covers this exact topic!

  3. The Boys Only Books look fun, the girls not so much. This is super irritating. Loved the post though!

    Adventures of a Third Grade Teacher

  4. Way to go! Kids need to be wise to this type of thing early on.


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