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Even in children's lit, do male authors gain more attention than female?

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Courtesy of Catherine Smith/Candlewick Press

(Read caption) Bestselling children's author Kate DiCamillo has been named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress for the term 2014-2015. Children's literature is sometimes assumed to be dominated by female authors.

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We’ve heard about gender bias in literature, wherein men have enjoyed disproportionate representation and recognition, both as reviewers and as reviewed.

But of course, there’s one field where women rule – children’s books. Right?

Wrong.

Audiences have long assumed that children’s books were the domain of women, a lone segment female authors could call their own in an industry often dominated by males. But new data released by literary organization VIDA show that though women authors do indeed outnumber men in the arena of children’s books, male authors continue to garner as much attention, awards, and accolades as their female counterparts.

In other words, men enjoy disproportionate representation and recognition even in one of the few segments women rule.

“[I]t's true that being female is not nearly the barrier to initial publication for us that it often is in the adult literary landscape, but as this year's pie charts demonstrate, being male still seems to carry some particular advantages when it comes to recognition, prestige, and awards for literary merit,” VIDA's Kekla Magoon writes in a blog post. She adds, “For a relatively small percentage of our authors, men are very well represented among our award winners and list-mentions.”

In order to consider gender parity/disparity, VIDA counted ten of the most prestigious awards in the industry going back five years, as well as seven of the most prestigious Best Books lists for 2013.

(The organization said it was unable to accurately count all children’s books titles published in the past year, and thereby tally all authors, male and female, for comparison’s sake.)

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It found that most awards, like the Printz, National Book Award, and Schneider Family Book Award are at parity (though women did outnumber men for the Newbery).

Best Books of the Year stats fared similarly, with some booklists giving roughly proportional representation, while others, like Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times, choosing roughly equal amounts of male and female authors as Best Books – even though women vastly outnumber men in the industry.

(See exact counts at VIDA’s page.)

While at surface the results may not seem very dramatic, the impact is.

As FlavorWire’s Elisabeth Donnelly said, “[E]ven when men make up a tiny slice of the pie, the industry is paying more attention to their work than other authors.

“This could be a problem because awards mean attention; attention means booksellers, librarians, and parents know these books exist; these books get increased sales and prestige; and it gives authors a chance to have a career. It’s important to look at the gender disparities in the business and execution of children’s media, as these stories help shape how kids perceive the world.”

As Donnelly pointed out, it’s about more than book sales, recognition, and writers’ careers – all of which are significant advantages men are currently enjoying in the field.

But perhaps the greatest impact is that the folks who write books ultimately mold our perception of the world, a phenomenon that is magnified for children whose world often revolves around the stories they read.


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