by Rob Parker, author of World At Your Feet
I had to think long and hard about whether I was happy for World At Your Feet to have the 'books for boys' label. There are a lot of factors at play when considering whether to put the book into that sort of category.
The most important of these factors was that I didn't want to alienate girls who are interested in reading the book. I have two girls of my own who both love reading World At Your Feet, so it is by no means a book for boys only.
Men's international football
Given that the premise of the book is built around the history of men's international football, I was already acutely aware that the book lacks any female characters. This was a consideration during the writing process and I knew it was a criticism that could be levelled against the book. In the end, I decided to stay true to the intended story and not shoehorn in women's football as a way of heading off that potential criticism. If anything, the history of women's international football deserves its own book and, if World At Your Feet proves to be popular enough, perhaps that would make a nice sequel.
Anyway, those were the concerns I had about declaring World At Your Feet as a book for boys. But there were some advantages to consider, too.
Bought for boys
Firstly, reader feedback indicates that the book is predominantly being bought for boys. Most customers leaving reviews or contacting us by email or on social media talk about buying for sons and grandsons. Research by the Football Association shows that 95 per cent of 10-year-old boys play football, compared to just 41 per cent of girls. While the FA is working hard to increase participation among girls, this perhaps explains why the book is largely reaching an audience of boys at the moment.
Secondly, boys are more likely to be reluctant readers than girls. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy and National Literacy Trust’s Boys' Reading Commission found in 2012 that a gender reading gap is widening and that three out of four UK schools were concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading.
Kicking a ball
For parents and teachers seeking to address that growing problem and convince boys that reading is a worthwhile and interesting activity, it is important that they can find suitable books for boys. Knowing, as we do, that World At Your Feet has a strong appeal to boys, particularly those who might prefer to be outside kicking a ball than inside reading a book, it would be silly not to earmark it as being one of those books for boys that might entice reluctant readers to give it a go.
By flagging World At Your Feet as worthy of consideration by those looking for books for boys, we are making it easier for them to find the book.
The category of books for boys
The final factor is a business one. Given that boys enjoy the book and make up the majority of World At Your Feet's readership, it makes commercial sense to ensure that it reaches as many boys as possible. If calling it a book for boys helps to reach more of the people who want to buy the book, that's a very real consideration for a small publishing company like ours.
In summary, I think World At Your Feet will be enjoyable to anyone who likes football (regardless of gender, and even regardless of age). Although girls and adult readers will get something out of the book, it is important to recognise that most of our readers are boys and that this is unlikely to change in the short term.
Given the problems faced in getting many boys to read, I think there is value for everyone in making an honest assessment that boys currently participate in football more than girls and that World At Your Feet fits into the category of books for boys more so than books for girls (albeit it's also enjoyed by girls who like football).