300 Writing Prize Focuses Kids On Gender Equity

300 Writing Prize Focuses Kids On Gender Equity

Harry Potter would be eligible for entry into a​ contest sponsored by up-and-coming young adult novelist R.J. Nimmo - on​ one condition.

"He would need some magic spell or​ potion to​ change himself from a​ 'Harry' to​ a​ 'Harriet,​'" joked Nimmo,​ who is​ an​ expert on​ entertainment for children and young adults.

"Describing how the​ famous boy wizard would behave as​ a​ witch would be enjoyable for author and reader alike,​" Nimmo said. "And it​ is​ just the​ kind of​ fun,​ witty and creative submission our judges are looking for."

Nimmo,​ author of​ the​ emerging "Mustard Twins" fantasy series,​ says that trends in​ literature aimed at​ young people risk trapping kids in​ what he calls a​ "kind of​ reading time-warp."

"Certainly,​ where representations of​ gender in​ fiction heroes and characters are concerned,​ kids' books lag way behind today's society,​" he said. "A lot of​ popular fiction reflects outdated stereotypes of​ masculine and feminine roles. And books aimed at​ children and young adults share much of​ the​ blame. I am not only talking about mainstream books either,​ but Newbery and Caldecott medal winners as​ well."

To challenge the​ status quo,​ Nimmo is​ encouraging contestants to​ describe how a​ favorite fiction book or​ story hero would act or​ react in​ a​ dramatic situation. But there's a​ twist: Entrants are first required to​ swap the​ hero's gender role or​ characteristics.

With the​ contest,​ Nimmo hopes to​ positively attune parents and kids alike to​ the​ subtle messages being transmitted through popular entertainment.

"Readers - especially younger ones - are constantly being exposed to​ values that are completely out of​ step with modern times,​" he said.

Studies show that,​ from Harry Potter to​ Artemis Fowl,​ boys outnumber girls about four to​ one in​ books and TV shows,​ including those written by women. Furthermore,​ Nimmo points out,​ even books with female or​ gender-neutral names in​ their titles frequently revolve around a​ male character.

Why should parents be concerned?

"Society's values are largely transmitted to​ children through fiction,​" Nimmo said. "It is​ therefore important that parents be aware that self-esteem and personal development are influenced by the​ sort of​ book and story heroes we​ emulate as​ kids."

Nonetheless,​ Nimmo said,​ there are things parents can do to​ sensitize kids to​ the​ issue.

"Make sure to​ include books in​ your reading selection where individuals are portrayed with distinctive personalities irrespective of​ gender,​ where achievements are not evaluated on​ the​ basis of​ gender and where individuals are logical or​ emotional depending on​ the​ situation,​" he said.

To encourage young people to​ challenge the​ conventions in​ stories and books written for them,​ Nimmo is​ offering a​ $300 cash prize,​ plus signed copies of​ his latest novel,​ "The Ancient Egyptian Ennead,​" which tells the​ story of​ two spunky teenage female heroes and their exploits in​ ancient Egypt in​ the​ time of​ the​ pharaohs.

300 Writing Prize Focuses Kids On Gender Equity

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