Cover of “Saffy’s Angel”For decades I’ve been following the differences between boys and girls and their reading habits. Researchers know, of course, that girls develop language skills a lot earlier than boys do. But let’s suppose that a group of boys and a group of girls are both exposed to plenty of language, and have lots of books read to them, until they’re seven or so.

Even then, once boys hit second or third grade, at about the age many adults expect them to start reading on their own, their interest in reading fiction drops to the floor – maybe even through the floor. Most will continue being fascinated with nonfiction topics – books on cars, planes, sports, and the more senational aspects of nature, such as crocodiles and tsunamis. Girls continue to read fiction and, to some extent, biographies and history. For the most part (with plenty of exceptions for individual kids), boys like stuff, especially stuff that makes noise, bites you, and/or blows up, and girls enjoy all the mysteries and complexities of human relationships.

I maybe read ten or so novels between the third and sixth grades, but I remember checking out and reading hundreds of nonfiction books. That’s what I see boys do today, although they’ll prefer to look at the Internet if they can. Girls still read fiction (along with the Internet).

All of this is prelude to an article in the UK’s Times Online called “How judging a book by its ‘girlie’ cover is putting boys off reading.” The cover of the British edition of Hilary McKay’s Saffy’s Angel is criticized there for being too much targeted at girls (which of course it is – just look at it). As librarians, we know that the covers can make or break a book. But I still don’t think the covers have all that much to do with boys not voluntarily picking up fiction books, folks. As the Scholastic publisher in the article admits, they know who buys certain kinds of books – fiction + human relationships = way girls – and that’s who they market to. The pink cover is icing on the cake for their target audience.

Just as long as they keep also publishing those other books with suits of armor and erupting volcanoes on the covers…