I recently had a fun weekend at a conference for children’s writers. It’s always great getting together with other writers – they are a friendly bunch and I always learn a lot from their experiences and funny stories and bits of advice.
The main guest speaker at the conference this year was the children’s book buyer from Waterstones. Waterstones is an amazingly important outlet for children’s books and we were all fascinated to hear about what kinds of decisions she makes when choosing books to stock – but I was especially interested in what she said about covers.Blue and yellow are apparently the most popular colours for children’s book covers. That’s very good, as I have two blue books and one yellow one in my Spell series! I’ve noticed myself that the third book – Icespell – sells more than any of the others whenever I do school visits – so something about that icy blue cover is certainly attractive! But Swordspell – the yellow/gold one – is also popular. So maybe she’s right!
What was even more interesting was her perspective on pink. For a while now, there has been a bonanza of pink covers on books aimed at girls. It’s sent a message about the books being ‘for girls’ and ‘not for boys’, even where the subject matter might equally appeal to boys or girls. There’s no reason why an alphabet book should be only for girls! And there are plenty of funny, clever stories with girls as the main character that would equally appeal to boys – Emma Barnes’s Wild Thing books, for example, about a girl and her very annoying younger sister, had the boys in my local primary school rolling in the aisles when I read it to them at assembly. So it’s a shame the first one was so pink (although the second and third are yellow and green, so much more boy-friendly!)
This trend towards ‘pinkification’ of books as well as toys and clothes has been criticised by a lot of parents, teachers and librarians – and it seems as if it might, finally be changing. As far as Waterstones is concerned, anyway, it seems they may not be so keen on books that are too pink. A bit of pink is fine, but pink AND sparkly AND glitter – it seems that’s now out of favour.
Hurrah to that, I say! Because I think pink book covers can put off plenty of girls as well as most boys. Both my daughters have gone through a ‘pink phase’ round about 5 or 6 – but they grew out of it very quickly, and from then on pink was a colour they absolutely didn’t want to be associated with. This made buying clothes for them almost impossible, since most shops seem to think girls between the age of 5 and 12 won’t wear any clothes that don’t have at least a luminous pink stripe or flowers somewhere. And it wasn’t much better if I tried to buy them boy’s clothes – then they had the ‘choice’ of combat camouflage or football or car motifs…
It’s about time publishers realised that girls are a diverse bunch, and while some of them may identify with pink and glitter, many of them don’t like being associated with that sort of ‘girly girl’ image. They aren’t necessarily ‘tomboys’ either – they’re just girls that don’t like pink. Just as there are lots of boys who don’t particularly like football (my son hates it with a passion). I’m not saying we should do away with pink books or books about football altogether (there’d be plenty of complaints about that!!) but I am encouraged that a more balanced offering of colours and images might be coming out way!
What do you think? Do pink covers annoy you, or do you like it when a book signals strongly that it’s aimed at girls?