Wednesday, February 16, 2011

G is for Girls Who Read

If you’re writing middle grade fiction, you’ve probably seen the stats: more girls than boys are reading. And they read different kinds of books. Does this mean you should give up on your funny boy book and write for girls? I don’t think so, because there are still many boys out there reading. Besides, lots of girls read books that could be considered “boy books”. But you might want to keep in mind that there are differences in what boys and girls like to read. So, what do girls like?

In general, girls like stories that feature emotional relationships with strong characters they can identify with. Some recurring topics for girl readers:

1. Friendships and their problems, including BFFs. Being popular, friends that drop you, jealousy, girl friend triangles, girl bullies – these are all topics that reflect the experiences of middle grade girls.

2. Princesses. Princesses and happy endings are also still on the tween shelves in bookstores, some with magical elements like dragons or fairy godmothers, others tackling sophisticated ideas like saving the kingdom or searching for a kidnapped sibling.

3. Family issues. Although 9 to- 12-year-old girls are becoming more and more concerned with friends, deeper family issues start to hold their attention, as they begin to develop and voice opinions.

4. Animal Stories. These range from girls helping animals to animal adventures or even stories that feature animals as the main characters.

Even though these are popular “girl” topics, middle grade girls also like the fast pace of adventure stories or the challenge of solving a mystery. Many middle grade books include a female character along with a boy to add some girl appeal. Girls are often more flexible about their reading than boys. Have you ever seen a boy reading a book with pink cupcakes on the cover? Probably not. But some girls enjoy the Percy Jackson books (by Rick Riordan) because they enjoy the adventure. What is important to some girls is not necessarily the topic of the book. Instead, they might be looking for:

Strong characters. Characters with realistic motivations (even within a fantasy or supernatural setting) and writing that highlights their thoughts and emotions, so girls can analyze and think about their problems.

Big ideas. More complicated stories that allow them to stretch their imaginations and question the world around them.

What do you think is important in writing to appeal to girls? Do you have a favourite MG book for girls?


Boys and Girls Are Different at Getting Kids Reading.Com

A few books specifically targeted for middle grade girls.

Some thoughts on going beyond traditional girl topics.


  1. It's to bad that most boys will refuse to read books with girl covers but there's nothing wrong with girls reading boy books. But, not all girls fall into the category of a girl reader. My daughter never read "girl" books. She loved the boy books. More action. But my daughter is def. the exception.

  2. Laura, it makes me wonder how many "exceptions" there are, and to what extent girls are picking up the "pink covered" books because they think that's what they are supposed to read. Both my girls love the thrill and faster pace of adventure stories, e.g. Alex Rider. They would choose those any day over a "girly" book with the same old "trying to be popular" theme.

  3. Such an interesting post, and lots of food for thought for writing for girls. But I'd like to venture the opinion that one of the reasons boys read less is because there isn't enough out there that appeals to them. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson were great because they got boys reading. Do you have thoughts on what especially appeals to boys? (Sorry if I'm changing the subject :))

  4. Girl books I love: The Misadventures of Maude March, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, Love, Aubrey, Catherine, Called Birdy, and Riding Freedom.

  5. I think the biggest difference is that boys really like toilet/ gross-out humour and most girls don't. Apart from that, I know as a child I never read 'girly' books - I wasn't remotely interested in ponies, princesses or schoolgirl squabbles. I wanted adventure and magic and thrills, just like boys do.

    Also, three of the biggest selling series right now are 'boy books' - Rick Riordan, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Aretemis Fowl. The Skulduggery Pleasant books, although they have a girl MC, also appeal to boys.

  6. Brilliant breakdown. I think you nailed it!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  7. Great post. I totally agree with you on all those counts.

  8. Oh and I meant to tell you I really love your blog colors. Lovely.

  9. Susanna, I will likely do a post on boy readers at some point too. I think, from my own observations, they are more interested in fast-paced stories, and of course non-fiction. It's interesting how boys in my class seem to get hooked on a non-fiction topic and read whatever they can on it, but I don't see that so much in girls.

    Thanks for the recommendations, Caroline. I'll have to check those out (always looking for more books to read).

    Girl Friday, I think you're right about the gross out humor. I'll have to check out those books. Is there is a boy MC to go along with the girl? I think there are more boy-girl friendships in books than there are in real life.

    Thanks Angela & Christy!

  10. Yeah, funny how MG readers are mostly girls and yet publishing wants "boy books." I love Falling In, When You Reach Me, and The Princess Academy.

  11. I hate hearing that! I have a boy and I have noticed that the market is geared towards girls.


  12. Yeah, but even though more girls are reading than boys, there are still lots of boys reading. And if agents and editors say they want "boy books" then there must be a good market for them, too.

  13. Andrea - Skulduggery Pleasant (who the book is named after), her sidekick is an undead skeleton wizard/ detective, so that may have something to do with it :)

  14. Girl Friday, I'm going to look for that book! Sounds so interesting!

  15. My girls love reading books I think of as unisex, like Harry Potter, Debi Gliori's Pure Dead Magic series, Garth Nix's Abhorsen series, etc. They've enjoyed the occasional rewritten fairy tale, like Ella Enchanted, but never once gone for anything remotely pink and frilly. So I write for boys and girls, and about boys and girls too. I hope I'll get readers in both genders!

  16. Mary, Harry Potter is the "golden standard" for my daughters. After they read my drafts, they say things like "It's good, Mom, but not as good as Harry Potter." (Lucky for me, I'm not aiming to write anything even remotely like Harry Potter.) They both own their own copies of the whole series and I expect they will for the rest of their lives.

    While there are always exceptions, it does seem like there is a distinction between "girl books" and "boy books" in the marketplace and it definitely matters to some kids, whether we think it's a good thing or not. But I'm with you -- I like to think that both boys and girls would enjoy reading my books (when they finally get published).


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I've decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).