An interview with bestselling author Shannon Hale
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with New York Times bestselling author Shannon Hale about her new picture book, This Book Is Not For You, and the implications of applying genders to book—that’s a girl book or that’s a boy book.
Shannon Hale is the author of over thirty children’s and young adult novels, including graphic novel memoirs Real Friends and Best Friends, and multiple award winners The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and Newbery Honor recipient Princess Academy. She also penned three books for adults, beginning with Austenland, which is now a major motion picture starring Keri Russell. She co-wrote over a dozen books with her husband, Dean Hale, such as the Eisner-nominated graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and illustrated chapter book series The Princess in Black. They live with their four children near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Listen to the Interview
- About Shannon Hale
- About This Book Is Not For You
- The implications of applying genders to books
- How Shannon and Dean Hale foster a love of reading with their kids
- Writing the picture book This Book Is Not For You
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Hi Shannon. I’m just super excited right now because I get to say something on this podcast for the first time and it is welcome back because, yeah, you’re the first person to come back twice and I’m excited about that.
Shannon Hale: I’m the founder of the two-timers club.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. Woo-Hoo.
So, our listeners have just heard the synopsis for your latest picture book, This Book Is Not for You. And so, they know that it pokes fun at overly gendered notions of boy books and girl books and that it’s ultimately a celebration of the pleasure of a good book. And when I picked up this book to read it, I had no idea how you would pull it off. And oh, my gosh. Well, I’m not surprised, but you nailed it.
Shannon Hale: Thank you.
Bianca Schulze: I want to dig into this whole gender conversation. And so, I’m hoping you don’t mind, but I want to start by reading a snippet from a Washington Post article that you wrote in 2018. It was titled: What are we teaching boys when we discourage them from reading books about girls?
Shannon Hale: Yeah.
Bianca Schulze: Okay. So, you said, “it’s clear that our culture assumes one: boys aren’t going to like a book that stars a girl. Two: men stories are universal, while women’s stories are only for girls. And after all, books about boys like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, holes are for everyone, but books about girls, Judy Blume’s novels, Anne of Green Gables, Twilight are just for Girls.” And you went on to say, “I wasn’t always sure this assumption was incorrect.”
So, let’s talk about that because as an author who’s been publishing books for years and you’ve been touring schools for over 15 years, you’ve had some firsthand experiences in the ways in which grownups either directly or inadvertently steer kids away from a book that they may otherwise have enjoyed. Right? So, let’s go.
Shannon Hale: Let’s go. So, you interrupt me whenever you have a question because I can literally talk about this for hours.
Bianca Schulze: Please do.
Shannon Hale: So, a brief summary of my history with it. My first book was called The Goose Girl. It was a YA fantasy. I remember talking to my editor about the title. She was talking about wanting possibly to change it. And I had named it after the fairy tale that it was based on. And I said, are you worried about boy readers that they would be turned off because there’s a girl in the title. And she said, oh, I’m not worried about boy readers. They’re not going to read this.
That was just the assumption going forward. It’s about a girl, spy, woman that the publishers market to women—these are girls’ books in the market just for girls. This was the assumption when I started in this business. I’m new and fresh and, you know, 29 and going, okay, I guess, you know, more than I do.
My third book was Princess Academy, a very gendered title. Right. But that one won a Newbery honor. And something unexpected happened then because it was a Newbery book. Teachers started to read aloud in classes—which they would not have otherwise. But it has the stamp of approval. Right. And they start to read it or study it with their classes. And I started hearing back from teachers who said that when I told the kids that we would read a book called Princess Academy, the girls went, yay! And the boys went boo. But by the time we’d read it, the boys loved it as much, even more, than the girls did.
And because there was so much of this evidence now, I was able to go, wait a minute. So, it’s not that boys are incapable. It’s disappointing to say this, but this was the belief that boys cannot appreciate and like a book about a girl. When it’s really that they never read them in the first place because the adults are giving them these clues that they’re not supposed to. And I started to notice.
I’m so happy I noticed so early in my career, so I could spend 15 years observing this firsthand. For example, I was doing a school assembly for a whole elementary school, and the librarian introduced me: “Girls, you’re going to be so excited. You are going to love Shannon Hale’s books. Boys, I expect you to behave anyway.” Like, literally, that’s how I got introduced.
I would be at book signings and there would be a boy that would walk up to my table and start asking about it. And a parent, a mom or dad—I saw this hundreds of times—would pull them away and say no, those are girls’ books. This sort of thing I saw firsthand in front of me constantly and sometimes not so overtly so. Sometimes they would be like, hey, boys, I think you’ll like this book even though it’s about a girl. Or a mom would come up to me with her son and be like, my son actually read one of your books and he actually liked it.
These are the little ways adults show kids that we don’t expect boys to like books about girls. And what we’re really saying is we don’t expect boys to empathize with girls.
Bianca Schulze: So, here’s what I’m hearing, is that through your experiences, you started paying more attention and discovered that your books actually had many boy readers, but some of them were probably reading it in secret so that they didn’t have to feel the shame from their peers. And it sounds like the shaming of boys reading books about girls is starting with and supported by grownups. Am I correct?
Shannon Hale: Absolutely. You’re right that peer shaming does happen, but that’s been conditioned into them because when I work with kids that haven’t been conditioned yet, they don’t care. They literally don’t care. I mean, they don’t care what gender the main character is. They want to know what genre it is.
So, when I do signings, especially when they’re at festivals or schools where I get to meet a whole bunch of people, not just the kids that just come to bookstores expressly to see me are almost always, you know, it’s 95 to 100% girls. That’s who makes an effort to come to see me. But when I’m in schools where I get to see everybody who just is there, I ask kids, and I’ve asked, I want to say over 10,000 at this point, I asked them the same question: what kind of books do you like? And they will tell me funny books. I like graphic novels; I like mysteries and these sorts of things. I have never had a kid say, I like books about boys because that’s not how they’re thinking.
But when you talk to booksellers, they get parents and grandparents that come into their bookstore shopping for kids, what they say is, I need a boy book. And what does that really mean? What is a boy book?
I think it means something that is about a boy and something that reinforces our traditional understanding of what is acceptable, what is masculine. Not only is this kind of thing preventing boys from experiencing so many great books, but we know books help develop empathy for people different from you. So, developing empathy for half of the humans is also narrowly prescribing what it means to be a boy.
Not every boy is the same. Not every boy wrestles with his brothers in the dirt, eats worms, and plays baseball. There’s this weird cultural concept of what we have, and this younger generation is just moving past these kinds of gender norms so much faster than our generation or our parents did. And it just doesn’t make sense to them.
So, adults are putting these expectations on them that they’re not understanding but often going along with because they get shamed if they don’t. And of course, being shamed by people you love, I mean, there’s nothing worse, right?
Bianca Schulze: There’s a line in your Washington Post article that I want to read right now because it’s precisely what you’re talking about. And you said: “not only does this kind of thinking prevent boys from learning empathy for girls, but it also prescribes narrow gender definitions. There is only one kind of boy and any boy who doesn’t fit that mold is wrong.”
I love the way you phrase that. It’s true because when you were even just talking now, not every boy is the boy who digs in the dirt and digs for worms and rumbles around with their brothers or friends on the playground. Even if they are that boy, that’s great. That’s who they are. But yeah, it’s reading those books about girls—they’re still going to enjoy them. And like you said, they will learn empathy and an understanding of the opposite gender. Or reading a book about a non-binary person, I mean, there’s so much we can learn from reading books about people who are different from us, you know?
Shannon Hale: Absolutely! I forget who said it, but it’s a famous quote that books should be mirrors and windows. Every kid deserves to read a book that reflects themselves back and absolutely should be able to read books about boys. And there should be a huge variety of what that looks like. Not only sportsbooks, right? I loved Wimpy Kid, but it’s not only Diary of a Wimpy Kid. There should be a huge variety and diversity of options for boys. But books are also windows that give us a chance to look into someone else’s life more intimately than anything. Books can give us that insight that no other kind of interaction or storytelling can. And to deny boys the opportunity to understand and develop empathy for half the human race sets them up for failure in this world, as they will have relationships with female people and non-binary people at work or family or, you know, just in life.
And I’m also thinking about the girls and non-binary people who have to live in a world with people who never learned empathy for them. That’s not fair either, because girls are encouraged, more than encouraged to read and understand books about boys and understand them. And when boys are prevented, that means girls are doing the heavy lifting in this world, in relationships, in understanding, empathy, and compassion. And boys are just leaving it up to half of the human race for that. It breaks my heart to see it. And, you know, you talk to adult women who have married men who never read a book about a girl. And I’m telling you, they can tell.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I don’t know if you ever read that book. Men are from Mars and Women Are from Venus.
Shannon Hale: I never did. I remember it. It was huge in the eighties.
Bianca Schulze: It was. And I read it and it makes sense. And so, I’m somebody who likes to talk about books that I love because I believe that not every book is for every person, but for every person, there is a book. So, if I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t go out there and bash a book. Right? So, I feel bad saying this, but I feel like that book almost weaponizes women and men against each other. Well, I know the ultimate goal was to understand each other. It almost gives each gender an excuse to just stay in this way that culture defines us. And so, I feel like the importance of the conversation we’re having today is that we don’t have to let culture define us. And I think this younger generation that we’re in is teaching us, the adults, to move out of it.
Shannon Hale: Absolutely.
Bianca Schulze: It’s possible that many of us don’t even realize that we have a bias because it’s just been ingrained in us from the moment that we entered the world. So, what do you feel we all need to do to change this gender-based narrative and move forward? What can we do?
Shannon Hale: I think the first thing is recognizing that it exists. I spent most of my time trying to convince people that it exists. The idea that boys won’t read books about girls, but girls will read books about boys is an ideology. It’s something that we’ve said so often that we think it’s true when really, we just make it true. The idea that boys are less capable of empathy than girls is another ideology. We make it true.
So first, we just have to say, hey, this is not written in stone somewhere. This is not written in DNA. There’s so much evidence that it’s not true. So, let’s just take a step back and go, okay, it’s not true. And then we have to examine do we want it to be true? Are we happy in a world where boys are prevented and shamed if they try to empathize with girls and understand them? No. We can see immediately devastating consequences for that behavior when we set boys loose in a world telling them they do not have to wonder about what girls are thinking. You are the center of the story. They are side characters. They do not have an internal narrative. I mean, that’s frightening. That’s a frightening thing. And girls and women have been bearing the consequence of that ideology for centuries.
So, we recognize that it’s real. Changing it is super simple once we recognize it. It’s as simple as, in this particular case, we stop telling boys that certain books are for them, and we stop telling girls certain books are for them or that they shouldn’t read certain books. We just remove that. You can say a book is about girls without saying it’s for girls. It’s really very simple. And books are such powerful teachers that once we sort of open the library doors and be like, you can read whatever and the kids find what they like, they’ll figure it out on their own. Our job, we’re making things worse by doing stuff. If we do less, things will be better.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I agree. I totally agree with that. I think that simple phrasing that you just said nails it instead of communicating that this is a book for girls, that this is a book about girls, or this is not a book for boys because it’s about a high school male football player. This is a book about a boy who plays football.
Shannon Hale: Right.
Bianca Schulze: So, it really is such a simple switch of words, but it’s so impactful.
Shannon Hale: Yeah. You know, famously, Matt de la Pena, the author, often talks about how he grew up just not reading, not being a reader, very much a sportsperson. And he went to college, I believe, on a basketball scholarship and had never read a novel in his life. And while he was in college, he had a professor who gave him a book—a novel—and he read it. The first novel he’d ever read. He loved it so much that he became hooked on reading. And now, you know, he is a famous author.
When you ask what book people would expect that to have been, what book would you have given that boy who was on a basketball scholarship—who was never read a book before? The book was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. And I think our assumptions would have tried to cater to his maleness, his sportiness, or given him something that was Hemingway heavy or something; I don’t know. But it was empathizing with a woman of a different gender, a different race, different sexuality than him, and he was hooked.
So, I think the more we assume what we think kids are going to like, the more we get it wrong. And the more that we try to tell kids what books they should read and which they shouldn’t, the less they read just entirely.
Bianca Schulze: So, I also want to emphasize something here, like in case somebody is listening who does use the term, here’s a book for girls and here’s a book for boys. I jumped at wanting to have this conversation with you, Shannon because I have used those terms before. I have things to learn, and I feel like my responsibility as the founder of The Children’s Book Review is when I’m presenting books I want—it’s like you said before, the mirrors in windows—I don’t want it to be a representation of just the books that are on my shelf at home. I want everybody to be able to come and find the next best book that’s going to turn them into that lifelong reader.
And so, when you started in the industry, you said you were 29. When I started The Children’s Book Review, I was 28. And as I would add books to the website, I would pop them into little categories. And I had for a long time on my website a category that was ‘books for girls’ and a category for ‘books for boys.’ Somebody emailed me a few years back—I want to say maybe five years ago—and kind of ripped into me about having those categories on my website. And of course, my instant reaction was like a little bit for a moment, like taken back, oh my gosh, like this is a labor of love. This website, I put so much passion and time into this. Why are they attacking me? I’m doing the best thing I can.
Shannon Hale: Attacking is never helpful.
Bianca Schulze: So, I stepped back, and I was like, but you know what? It’s 100% correct. So, I need to get over my defensiveness and I need to change it. And so right now, the category is—because there are so many years of books in those categories—it says books with girl characters, books with boy characters. And I still don’t know if that’s just the correct wording, but I know that it’s an improvement in getting out of this conversation of books for boys and books for girls. So anyway, I wanted to share that because if anybody is listening and feeling like we’re shaming them, that they have that opinion, we’re not. We’re having this conversation so that we can grow, we can improve, and we don’t have to feel stuck in what culture has defined for us.
Shannon Hale: I’m so glad you said that. Listen, I have done this myself. After years of talking about it, my son and daughter shared a bedroom, and they shared a bookcase. And when they were going to move into separate bedrooms, I started going through the bookcase and separating the books for his pile and her pile. And I got about halfway through, and I realized I was separating them by the gender of the main character, not by interest, not by age or reading level, but by gender. I did it without thinking.
Our human brains love categories. We love it. There’s so much chaos in the world. We love putting things into simple categories. It’s satisfying for us. And it takes more effort to question these categories that have been instilled in us. So absolutely no shame for this. I don’t like shame for anything. But here’s Mama Shannon absolving anybody guilty of the sin of gendering books in the past. I judge you not. You are welcome here.
It’s just, you know, focusing on it so we can start asking ourselves, is this really the world we want? And what are the little, teeny changes we can make to improve it?
Bianca Schulze: Yes, absolutely.
So, I have a call-in question for you. I want to slot it in right here because you have four kids. I don’t know what gender your kids are. I don’t know if you have all girls or boys; I don’t know who’s in your house. But I do know that with four kids and the fact that both you and your husband are in the children’s book industry, there must be a lot of books and reading. I shouldn’t assume. But I do assume that.
Shannon Hale: Oh, my gosh, we have a book problem in this house. We have so many books. At least once a year, we have boxes and boxes of books to donate, and still, we don’t have enough space.
Bianca Schulze: I know that feeling. So, I’m going to line this question up for you because it’s a good one for right now.
Melissa Taylor: Hi, Shannon and Bianca; this is Melissa Taylor, the founder of Imagination Soup and longtime fan of Shannon.
Shannon, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on how you and your husband have created a love of reading in your home. Thank you.
Shannon Hale: Great question. Yes, I’ve got four kids ages 11 through 18, and my first book was published when I was pregnant with my first. So, I would say they’ve all gone through this crazy career with me. First of all, with my first kid, one of my biggest mistakes was assuming that he would like the books that I liked at his age. And I was always trying to push books that were just not his style and genre. And so, the first thing is figuring out, following their lead, figuring out what they are interested in, and helping them with trips to the library, trips to the bookstore, if that’s in your budget, to fill the house with books that are age-appropriate and that they’re interested in.
Also, man, we read to him all the time. We would read, sit down, snuggle, and read books for hours a day. My second daughter, instead of saying she got hurt or was sad, instead of saying hold me or something, she would say, “Read book, Mama.” That meant comfort to her. So, reading became a comfort thing with four little kids. Our house was just never clean, but I comforted myself with the thought that we live in a place where if you’re lying down on a floor in any room, there should be a book within arm’s reach. So, if you’re in despair and you plop down, there will be something to read close by. So just books everywhere.
And my son started reading books when he was four and is a big reader of novels and non-fiction. My second, you know, teachers were bringing me in for worried conferences until we got her hooked on graphic novels. She’s just a visual learner, and that’s what she needed. By the time she was in sixth grade, she had tested in the top 2% in literacy in the nation, and that was solely graphic novels. To this day, they’re her favorite. She reads just so many comics. She reads so voraciously with comics that we have hooked her up with an iPad with access to Marvel Unlimited, which has all the back issues of all the comics for decades. So, she just never runs out of reading material.
Marvel Unlimited is a great resource because if you don’t have in your budget to buy comics every month as it comes out, and not everything is in libraries, especially for these kids who read so many comics. So, they’ve got it all digitized and they can just read decade’s worth of comics following their favorite characters through the years. It’s a terrific resource. It’s a monthly subscription, but it’s so affordable comparatively. So, with all my kids, it is just following their lead, making sure there are lots of books in the house.
And I love to read the books they are reading to have conversations about them. I have always told my kids they can read any book they want. I do not stop them. There have been a couple of times when I’ve been like, that one? Really? I’m not sure if you’re old enough, but I have not stopped them. I’ve only ever tried to teach them that you can always put a book down if you feel uncomfortable. You never have to finish a book. You get to decide. You’re in control. And, if you ever read something you’re confused about, or you’re uncomfortable with, you can always ask me. I will never shame them for reading something because, honestly, they will find out so much of this information in the world in a lot worse ways than reading through a book.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. And I feel like they come out the other side being prepared for what the world has to offer. It isn’t all candy canes and fairy floss. And, you know, I think it’s important to trust them. I think, ultimately, what you’re saying is that we adults just have to get out of the way sometimes and trust that when we empower kids to select the books that speak to them, we’re going to help raise these lifelong readers who are ready for the world and more empathetic and all of that.
Shannon Hale: Yes, more and more, just generally, as a parent, I think my job is to support, not to make decisions for them and not to protect them from everything, because that’s impossible, but to be a constant love and support and trust them to make those decisions and then be there when the decisions don’t go well to support them through it and to be there if they need someone to help think things through and to be there to celebrate them when they do go well. And that’s hard, you know, as they get older, more and more taking that step back and following their lead.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah.
So, everything that we’ve discussed so far is basically what has led you to write this book is not for you. Am I right?
Shannon Hale: That is true.
Bianca Schulze: So, talk to us a little bit about when you knew that this was a picture book that you had to write.
Shannon Hale: So, I’d never published a picture book before, which is funny because I’ve been in books for so long and I have published every other kind of book, graphic novels, chapter books, middle-grade novels, young adults, adults, screenplays, every like, every genre. But I’d never done a picture book. I’d written several and I just thought, I don’t think I’m good at this. And now I’ve published a picture book series with LeUyen Pham called Itty Bitty Kitty Corn. But this was the first picture book I ever sold. And the editor came to me and said she loved my Washington Post piece and thought it could be a picture book and did I have any ideas?
And so, I thought about it, and I had a couple of different takes I could take on it. So, we talked it through, but I was very wary of doing it because nothing kills a picture book like being didactic, you know, to come in and be like, here’s an important issue that everybody should think about, so, I’m going to tell you in a whimsical way. That kind of picture book, I think, falls flat. And so, I was very, very slow to commit to it, to think it through. I wanted to make sure I had a take on it that would make a good picture book on its own. That would just be a fun, great story on its own, but that could deal with this issue in a way that isn’t preachy or shaming as we talked about.
Some of the best ways to handle anything tricky like that is just simply comedy. I love comedy. I love humorous writing. About half my books are comedies. They’re always harder to write than anything else. It’s harder to make people laugh than cry. But I thought a comedic take would work.
It came out of my assemblies. I talk about boy and girl books and gendered reading in almost every assembly of the 100 assemblies I’ve done for every age group. And I talk about it differently with teens than I would do with middle grade than I do with younger readers.
With younger readers, like our The Princess in Black age readers, I often say that I just want to deal with it upfront because people will tell the boys they can’t read The Princess in Black, and I just like to get it out in the open. And so, I’ll say, hey, kids, if a book is about a robot, does that mean only a robot can read it? And they love to yell, No! It’s so fun to hear them yell no at you. And I say if a book is about cats, does that mean only cats can read it? No. If a book is about boys, can only boys read it? No. If a book is about girls, can only girls read it? No. And then they just get it out. And I’m like, yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I turn the teachers like, you see.
Anybody can read any book. You could be similar to the person that the book’s about. You could be different than the people the book’s about, and you can still read it. And then they get that. It’s a very simple concept, but that’s where this picture book came from—a boy going to a bookmobile to check out a book. He wants to check out a book about cats. First, he wants to check out a book about a girl. And the old man manning the bookmobile is like your boy. You can’t read a book about a girl, which is a thing that.
The bookmobile really came out of that assembly, and it starts with Stanley. He comes to the bookmobile that’s there every week. He walks up to it, and the usual lady isn’t there. A very old man leaned out of the bookmobile. Hey there. The bookmobile lady is on vacation, so you’re stuck with me. He read the back of the book and then peered at Stanley from beneath his eyebrows. Looks like this book is about a girl. You don’t want this one, do you? Well, Stanley really did want to read it, but now he felt embarrassed.
Bianca Schulze: I feel like it’s just the perfect demonstration of how just that simple, you know, the statement from the bookmobile guy just, you know, deterred him instantly.
Shannon Hale: Yes. And this happens all the time. And I meet people who think that it doesn’t happen. And I guess I’ve been in a unique position to see it happen constantly.
Recently, I had an industry person tell me this isn’t really an issue anymore. You don’t need to talk about it anymore. People understand. And what was funny is that same week, I had five women come over to my house to help me with a project in my office. And they all came at different times, and they were all mothers, and they all had both boys and girls. And while they were there in my office, my books are all there. So, I offered to sign books for their kids if they wanted to give them the books as a thank you.
Every one of them asked me to sign it for their daughter, and when I asked about their sons’ age, they were in the appropriate age range for that book. I asked if I could sign one for them as well, and they were all really uncomfortable with that. And a couple of them even said, but they’re girl books. So, this idea is so deeply ingrained in people. And I’ve seen librarians do it. I’ve seen booksellers do it. I see people do it just without thinking about it. And a lot of it is from really good intentions.
About ten years ago, a report came out that boys aren’t reading as much as girls, and everybody just panicked. And it was like 15 years ago, like, oh no, boys are not reading, we’ve got to get them to read. And so, I was like, okay, what do we need to do? What do we need to do to make sure boys read? We make sure they have books that are right for them. So, it all became about shoving what they thought were boy books down their throat to be like, see, look, it’s fun, but adults are just bad at knowing what kids like. It just made everything worse.
Bianca Schulze: This is like a whole other conversation, but it’s the whole book banning issue too. It’s like, why do adults feel like they need to determine what kids like? Kids know what they like; kids know what they want to gravitate towards. I have to believe that these people trying to ban books are doing it just because they really love their kids. Maybe? I don’t know. But we’ve got to get out of the way, and we’ve got to trust our kids.
As you said, we have to prepare them. If you read a book and you’re uncomfortable with it, don’t finish it. If you read a book and you’re not comfortable, but you really want to know what happens, ask your grownup to read it with you, and we’ll have a conversation. We have to trust that they’re going to gravitate towards the books they actually need to read and want to read.
Shannon Hale: Absolutely. They need accessibility. They need to have access to books easily, which is why school libraries are so essential. So many kids do not have books in their homes and cannot afford them, and those libraries need to be filled with books in great condition. Current books that are from a variety of authors of different backgrounds with a lot of different kinds of books. And if kids have that access and people aren’t stopping them, they will learn to love to read.
There are no nonreaders; they just haven’t found the right book for them yet. And once they do, boy, you see a spark goes off. It’s fantastic. And I’ll sing praises of graphic novels all day long because I think that has so many kids that couldn’t find a book for them in the past; now they have hundreds. It’s marvelous.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. I noticed that This Book Is Not for You; it’s a total picture book format. But I love the little use of the speech bubbles there, too. So, this almost appeals to the graphic novel mind, too, with the little speech bubbles and maybe like an intro to that in some way.
Shannon Hale: Yeah. Yeah, it does. That was Tracey Subisak, the marvelous illustrator. That was her touch that she added. I did not write any art notes into the book at all. I just wrote the text. And then she turned some of the dialogue into dialogue balloons and took out he-said-she-said, which I thought was great.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I love it. Her illustrations are so charming. The little facial expressions that she gives everybody and the critters are just really well done.
So, I have a sentence that I hope you will finish. It’s a bit of a cliche sort of sentence, but you’ll get the drift here in a sec.
So, when kids and families read this book is not for you, I hope…
Shannon Hale: That they laugh.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah.
Shannon Hale: Well, ultimately, I mean, I just hope books make you feel good and make you feel happy. That’s, like, number one. And I’m okay if they come away without realizing that I’ve said anything at all. But what I also hope is that a kid who’s read that book, in the future, if an adult tries to tell them, now, this book is not for you. That experience of having read that story will give them a little bit of context, a little bit of bravery, a little bit of an ability to say, oh, I think it is. That’s hard when you’re a kid. That’s hard when someone tells you, you know, in its shaming or mocking way that you can’t do something to be able to say. But it still feels right to me. I hope that a book can help give a kid that courage.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. Well, Shannon, both your words and the way Tracey bought your words to life, you’ve created an impactful book that will open the minds of the grownups who read it with their kids. But it will be really entertaining for the kiddos and empower them to read the books that intrigued them, and it will make them happy. I know it. I know it to my core. It’s a really fun book.
Shannon Hale: Oh, thank you so much.
Bianca Schulze: Well, thanks so much for talking to me today, Shannon, and thanks for coming on a second time. And anybody who wants to go back and listen to our conversation about Itty Bitty Kitty Corn with LeUyen Pham, please go and do that. It’s just been a joy for me today. Shannon, thank you.
Shannon Hale: Thank you, Bianca. I’d love to come anytime. Maybe someday I can start the three-timers club.
Bianca Schulze: Woo!
About the Book
Written by Shannon Hale
Illustrated by Tracy Subisak
Ages 3-7 | 40 Pages
Publisher: Dial Books | ISBN-13: 9781984816856
Publisher’s Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling and Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale and award-winning illustrator Tracy Subisak comes a zany picture book that pokes fun at overly gendered notions of “boy books” and “girl books” and celebrates the pleasure of a good book.
Stanley’s thrilled for bookmobile day—until the old man at the window refuses to lend him the story he wants, all because it features a girl. “Girl books” are only for girls, the bookman insists, just like cat books are only for cats and robot books are only for robots. But when a dinosaur arrives at the bookmobile and successfully demands a book about ponies, Stanley musters the courage to ask for the tale he really wants—about a girl adventurer fighting pirates on the open seas. By speaking up, Stanley inspires the people, cats, robots, and goats around him to read more stories outside their experiences and enjoy the pleasure of a good book of their choosing.
Buy the Book
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Shannon Hale Discusses This Book Is Not For You and Gendering Books. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Author Interview, Gender Identity, Picture Book, and Shannon Hale.
We may receive a small commission from purchases made via the links on this page. If you discover a book or product of interest on this page and use the links provided to make a purchase, you will help support our mission to 'Grow Readers.' Your support means we can keep delivering quality content that's available to all. Thank you!