Johnson goes ahead with books for boys plan

Remember Alan Johnson’s plan to establish a special shelf for “boy’s books” in all school libraries? Back in March I pointed out that it would risk reinforcing all those tired gender stereotypes we know and love.

Well, I guess the Education Secretary isn’t one of our avid readers, because he’s gone ahead and done it anyway.

The Guardian reports that every state secondary school in England will be able to choose 20 books from a list drawn up by librarians.

Look, it’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea to get boys to read more. Hell, everyone should read more. But I just cringe to think of universal classics like Roald Dahl’s two autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or even modern classics, like Coraline by Niel Gaiman, pigeonholed as “for boys” somehow. Surely there is some other way of getting boys to read for fun. Gah.

Substantial research went into the selection of the books that made the final list. Classic swashbuckling tales such as H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island are ranged alongside modern favourites from Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Factual titles, from Mick O’Hare’s bestselling compendium of curious questions, Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?, to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, also make a strong showing.

Teenage girls will like those books too. The government should not be putting them off by putting them on the shelf for boys – especially given the evidence that girls circumscribe their behaviour from early on, in an attempt to seem more feminine.