Getting kids hooked on poetry (and dominant gender roles)

By Harriet Staff

Ms. magazine reviews and rightfully criticizes two new poetry collections aimed at kids, 100 Great Poems for Boys and 100 Great Poems for Girls. Of course, each volume is respectively edited by a member of the appropriate gender, and contains poems aimed at the supposedly gendered interests of children. The problem (among many problems) is that the classic poems included do not so easily split themselves down gendered lines:

Straight away it’s easy to see where the sorting problem lies: These aren’t poets you can just split between boys and girls. They’re universal, which is why they’re called classics. One of the Ms. Blog editors pointed out how many of the “boys’” poems she remembers reading and loving when she was a girl. I was particularly bothered by the books’ introductions.

Boys’ intro:

You don’t have to be a special age to be a boy. It’s more a state of mind than anything else (even certain girls can qualify, if they have the right attitude!).

Girls’ intro:

The poems I remember most vividly as a little girl were the ones that we would chant as we sat in a circle and clapped our hands.

Didn’t boys ever chant in a circle and clap hands? And if girls can qualify as boys with the “right attitude,” can boys qualify as girls as well? Or is that just too gender-queering for comfort?

Originally Published: February 22nd, 2011