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What are you playing at? 

By Marie-Sabine Roger & Anne Sol

Alanna Books


Hot off the press and published to coincide with Universal Children’s Day (19th November 2013). This is a clever, lift-the-flap, photographic book for early years. Each page starts with a statement such as, 'Boys don’t dance' or 'Girls do not play with cars' which is then challenged when you lift the flap. Endorsed by Amnesty and published by a small indie publisher.

What we like about it

Attractive and bright lift-the-flap format.

Pitched at early years, this book provides a perfect vehicle for children who are at an age when they are exploring ideas of identity, role play and belonging.

A simple but much-needed challenge to ideas about certain activities and toys being either 'for boys' or 'for girls'.

Essentially, this book broadens every child’s horizons and aspirations by breaking down the obstacles adults put in their way each time they decree that some things are only for boys/men or only for girls/women.

Taps into something of a Gender-Role-Busting Zeitgeist. This last decade has witnessed a surge in gendered marketing from our creative industries  and retailers, including within the book trade. However, there is a growing voice of dissent or, in the words of this book‘s publisher, Anna McQuinn, the 'resistance has reached a crescendo'. (She discusses this further in her blog about the book.)

Questions and learning points

This book gives examples of gender stereotypes which will be especially recognisable to the age range the book is targeted at (approx. 3-6yrs) – are there any obvious omissions for this age group?

Does this book primarily ‘work’ for young children who already hold stereotypical ideas about gender or would it also have a place for young children who have been relatively untouched by these?

There is a great deal of pink in this book! Do you see this as deliberate and effective or undermining of the central message?


Beth: I loved this book from the first reading, and it took a while for it to make it from my desk to the bookshelf as wanted to read it again and again. The message is strong and clear. I particularly like the use of photographs as these will offer proof to any children still convinced that certain activities are the preserve of a particular gender. I'm sure there are other activities that are designated to be gender specific, but I think the beauty of this books is that it opens up that discussion for children, and they could be encouraged to find further examples to challenge stereotypes. I strongly believe that this book has a place in every nursery and primary school. That said, if we are to truly change attitudes, we also need books that challenge stereotypes in subtle ways. We need expose children to more than the default stay-at-home mum, the default adventurous male protagonist and the default pink glitter coating in order to truly break down gender stereotypes.

Alex: I found this book an absolute breath of fresh air. The message is bang-on and the approach just right for encouraging children to think about each concept, without dictating. The photography and design are stunning and the lift-the-flap format adds an important dose of fun, so guarding against any hint of worthiness. I'd like to see this book in every nursery and infant school in the country. I agree there are so many other points that could be included (I've got a wealth of material from my own three year old and her friends!) so hope to see a sequel.

Have you read this book? Add your thoughts. 

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