An Open Letter to Usborne

I sent the letter below to Usborne a couple of weeks ago by post. As of yet I’ve not heard back and although the post is slow, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they have received and ignored my letter. I came back to this post today because International Women’s Day has filled me with an overwhelming and seemingly uncontrollable sense of empowerment and so naturally I turned to my blog to see what jibberish I could put out into the world. And then I remembered that I had this post saved, and that actually I don’t believe that this is silly or unnecessary but in fact the complete opposite.

Dear Usborne,

I am writing to you to ask you why, in 2015, you feel the need to perpetuate gender stereotypes and impose them onto the toddlers who read your books.

I work in an independent bookshop and as such, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by children’s books all day long. I adore children’s books and think that a great deal of the life lessons that we learn are taught to us through reading and sharing stories. Some of my favourite books that we stock are your ‘That’s Not My’ collection and they take pride of place on our Usborne spinner for everyone to see.

Far too much of my time has been spent admiring these books and even now, at 19 years of age, I look forward to the newest copies arriving. I think that these books are so fantastic that earlier today I visited your website to see if there were any titles that have slipped our grasp and that needed to be ordered for our shelves. I was optimistic despite us stocking virtually all of the ‘That’s Not My’ titles and, pen and paper in hand, I eagerly began jotting down ISBNs.

But then my bubble of joy was burst by your obnoxiously sharp gender stereotyping pin. ‘That’s Not My Colouring Book For Boys’. For boys?! I did a little research to find out what exclusive images there would be for little boys to scrawl away at that little girls would not be invited to join in with. Silly me, monkeys and puppies of course! Really, Usborne?

I am so cross that you have created colouring books for children that are aimed solely at one gender and not the other. I think that it is wholly unacceptable to brand books in such a way that excludes children because of their gender.

We know that, in the same way as sexuality, gender is wide spectrum and I think that it is irresponsible to stereotype children in this way. Have you spared a thought for the little girl that likes monsters, robots and puppies but is being told that she’s not allowed to like them because she’s a girl? Or for the little boy that likes penguins, dolls and cats but is told that they’re for girls and that instead he should like ‘boy’ things like tractors?

The consumer is so often fobbed off by companies who tell us that ‘these books sell and that the gender shown is just a guideline’ or that ‘they’re very popular with their target audience’ because this is utter rubbish. When I was little, my favourite TV show was Fireman Sam and I used to play with Duplo and Lego as well as dolls. My younger brother used to love Pingu and rockets whilst at the same time carrying his doll everywhere he went, mimicking our mum as she cared for our younger sister. We were real children, who had interests that spawned every single genre.

So why Usborne, do you impose ridiculous gender stereotypes onto young children? Every single aspect of these books makes me cross, right down to your descriptions on your website. A ‘fun’ book for boys whereas the book for little girls is ‘gorgeous’. Do 4 year old girls not want something that’s fun too? Or are they expected to sit in the corner looking cute and colouring in penguins whilst their male counterparts are having a whale of a time colouring in dinosaurs?

I cannot believe that a company that makes such fantastic books has dropped the ball so badly. When creating products for children you have a responsibility and your complete disregard towards the issues generated from gender moulds has outraged and saddened me.

I really hope that you think about the implications that your books may have and I hope that you are able to make a change to your branding in the future. I sincerely hope to hear back from you,

Thank you,
Jasmine Denholm

After remembering that I had this post unfinished, I did a bit of research to see if there are any campaigns that I could mention and I was so glad to see that there are and that in fact, Usborne responded to one exactly a year ago telling Guardian Books that they have ‘no plans to produce any titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the future’. Despite this, one year on, Usborne are still advertising books ‘for girls’ and ‘for boys’.

Here is the campaign:

I think that for change to happen we need to keep the debate going which I’m keen to do because I think that gender stereotyping children is so unnecessary. Feel free to share/comment/do what you fancy! Thanks for reading, I know it was long!!

Since posting this, Usborne wrote to me and sent me 4 books from their new range of activities books – here is An Open Letter to Usborne Part 2.


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