One of my Â favorite new websites is www.sweetonbooks.com.Â Â Founded, written, and edited by two book-loving moms who live in my hometown of Larchmont, New York, Sweet On Books offers childrenâ€™s book recommendations for kids at all literacy levels, from picture books and short chapter readers to novels for middle-schoolers and beyond.Â Â This appealing, user-friendly website is ideal for anyone on the lookout for top-notch childrenâ€™s lit:Â Â parents and kids obviously, but also teachers, librarians, grandparents, relatives, and friends.
As described by co-founders Melissa Young and Melissa Gaynor, the website guides visitors through an annotated â€œvirtual bookstoreâ€ showcasing books that might not be on a readerâ€™s immediate radar or that they might not pick up on their own. The editors write all of the entries themselves, and they add new content every week.Â Â While itâ€™s hardly a comprehensive database, their lively reviews embody the principle of quality over quantity.Â Â Beyond plot summary, each review offers an overall sense of the bookâ€™s quality and tone, and points out issues that could potentially arouse fear or anxiety in young readers. On a lighter note, each book is ranked on a â€œlaugh meterâ€ ranging from â€œnot a comedyâ€ to â€œgigglesâ€ to â€œcanâ€™t stop laughing.â€
The site is especially remarkable because it refuses to trade in the all-too-prevalentÂ gender stereotypes that dominate childrenâ€™s book publishing today.Â Â When designing the site, Ms. Young and Ms. Gaynor chose a palette of light blue, chocolate brown, andÂ burnt orangeâ€”and selected â€œgender-neutralâ€ icons and images that would appeal to readers of both sexes.Â â€œWe definitely wanted to avoid being perceived as a â€˜girly siteâ€™ or a site that only boys or only girls would want to visit,â€ explains Ms. Young.Â Â Occasionally, a review might mention a bookâ€™s potential appeal to â€œreluctant boy readers,â€ but in its basic structure, the site does not presume that readers for particular books will divide neatly along male-female lines.Â Â (Ms. Youngâ€™s own kids, perhaps, have encouraged her to disregard conventional marketing wisdom.Â Â In her household, 8-year-old Hannah has devoured all the books in theÂ Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, while 4-year-old Sam canâ€™t get enough ofÂ Fancy Nancy.)
In conversations with fellow parents and teachers, they discovered that many elementary-school kids seldom discriminate between â€œboy booksâ€ and â€œgirl books,â€ and are â€œequally happy to read from both ends of the spectrum.â€Â Â As Ms. Gaynor elaborated,Â â€œWe try to recommend books that donâ€™t follow typicalÂ stereotypes often found inÂ childrenâ€™s literature:Â Â for example, books that have strong, positive relationships between boys and girls (Melonhead);Â non-traditional roles for boys and girls (Falling for Rapunzel,Â Keeping Score); and books with a main character that will appeal to both sexes (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing).â€
Of course, one website alone canâ€™t change the gendered face of childrenâ€™s publishing, but for now Iâ€™m pleased to report on a cultural space in which sex distinctions arenâ€™t being mined, magnified, and marketed to sell things to kids.Â Â On my own parenting “smile meter,” that scores a big grin indeed.