“We recognize that we have made a mistake. For this we apologize and reiterate that the material will be revised. Our remaining stock will be removed from the warehouse and pulped,” the publisher said.
Despite Usborne’s quick response, Mr. Ragoonanan’s post was shared throughout the internet, with Mr. Frith and Usborne coming in for heavy criticism.
According to Usborne, “Growing Up for Boys” has sold over 26,000 copies, mostly in the United Kingdom, and was in its seventh edition. It appears to be available still on Amazon’s British site.
When asked about the passage in question, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the president of New York’s Child Mind Institute, agreed with critics that it crossed a line.
“It’s an unfortunate statement for a few reasons. One, the audience the book is written for by and large won’t make that shift between scientific fact and humor and, two, if they read it concretely it reinforces the stereotypes we have about boys and girls.“
“It’s a rare pre-pubertal young man who can read a book that is on advice or science and be able to shift from memorizing scientific fact to recognizing something that is tongue in cheek,” he added. “We do know that young kids are particularly concrete.”
Mr. Frith and the series editor, Felicity Brooks — who are both parents themselves expressed dismay that their book might create negative impressions of women in the minds of young men.
“Of course a parent is right to be concerned about their child, and I welcome any feedback on my book so that I can make it better! If any parent read the entire book and felt concerned that young boys would grow up thinking they had a biological right to objectify women, then I am horrified,” Mr. Frith said by email.
Ms. Brooks echoed her author’s sentiments. “We wrote these books out of parental concern too,” she said. “I came up with the idea of “Growing Up for Girls” and “Growing Up for Boys” when my own daughter was approaching puberty, and I wanted to be well prepared with up-to-date and well researched information to help her and her friends, along with many thousands of others, navigate the minefield.”
As is so often the case these days, the outrage about “Growing Up for Boys” has largely been expressed in cyberspace. In response to Mr. Ragoonanan’s post, reviewers took to Amazon to register their disapproval. “Growing Up for Boys” was inundated with one-star reviews and critical messages about its content. One review, from Aug. 28, called the book a “Sexist piece of garbage.” Twitter users also took aim at the book, questioning the judgment of its author and publisher.
On Amazon’s British page, however, “Growing Up for Boys” has 3.3 out of 5 stars and is listed as a best-seller in “General Health for Young Adults.” One review, titled “good guide for tweenagers,” commends its “sensible, age appropriate, honest, respectful and reassuring presentation of information.”
In the 1990s, books dedicated to addressing puberty straightforwardly were published in greater numbers, striving to present the subject in a scientifically accurate manner and also to address its tricky psychological dimensions. “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris, the best-known example, continues to be suggested to parents by pediatricians. In 1998 the doll company American Girl published its well-regarded “The Care and Keeping of You” for girls. Since then, over 6 million copies have been sold.
But books on puberty written specifically for boys lagged behind. American Girl published “Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys” just this August.
Usborne was hailed for its decision in 2014 to stop producing gender-specific titles, after a parents group staged a campaign called “Let Books Be Books” that sought to discourage publications that reinforce gender stereotypes. Usborne responded promptly, discontinuing gendered titles such as “The Usborne Cookbook for Boys.” But “Growing Up for Boys” was still in print.
This incident is yet another sign of how much the publishing environment has changed in the last few years, with parents and critics calling for greater diversity and attention paid to hidden sexism in children’s books. Something that may have barely drawn attention previously, can now be fatal to a book. And, as Tricia Lowther from Let Books Be Books said, “social media in particular has been a huge catalyst for change.” It’s also allowed publishers to interact with and understand the concerns of their customers in a new way, she added.
Mr. Frith made it clear that he recognizes the section should have been written differently, but added that trying to avoid controversy completely might have created another set of problems.
“To be honest there are a handful of possibly controversial passages in the book – for example about drugs, pornography and sexuality – but we felt it was vital to include all of these as they are relevant and important for many of the teenagers who would read it.”