The gross stereotypes which turn my pupils off reading…

I’m teaching Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners at the moment with my Year 8 class. When I started reading the book with the class I was surprised by the reaction that the girls gave the book. Basically, they said that they could never like it because it was a “boy’s book”, full of guns, adventure and action. When I first started teaching twenty years ago, girls didn’t respond like this; there was much less stereotyping about what girls and boys should read then. But if you look now at the books that girls are being directed to read, you see that there’s chronic stereotyping going on. Look at this list issued by Amazon which purports to be a teenage fiction list for girls: the covers are all stereotypically “girly”, pink, princessy and “romance-driven”. Interestingly, the books that are suggested for boys are a bit less stereotyped if you look here. However, there is much boys’ fiction which clearly aims to play to certain stereotypes about boys. Look at this list here.


I don’t think this sort of packaging does anyone any good: it puts boys off what can be good books, and it makes girls feel they have to read books with these sorts of covers. The girls in my class are now really enjoying The Machine Gunners but they’ve had to put aside their prejudices before getting into it.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

Categories Teenage fictionTags, , 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “The gross stereotypes which turn my pupils off reading…”

  1. I think the depiction of girls in The Machine Gunners is poor. I agree with the girls in your class and think it is a shame that they are so often asked to tolerate this kind of book for the sake of the boys’ enjoyment.

  2. Westall is a wonderful writer who is good at female characterisation — particularly with older women such as Mrs Spalding and Chas’s mother. He is also one of the best writers — in any genre — about the Blitz. I’ve never read such gripping descriptions of bombing raids. Girls should read him too — I don’t think it’s right that they should be “protected” from this kind of visceral writing.

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