Ben vs. Charlie

In my last post, I talked about Spy School, and I’m still wondering why there’s a definite gender slant towards this series. And that has led me to another question, what about Stuart Gibbs’ other books?

Last year, Stuart Gibs published Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation. I read and LOVED this book, and I’m really excited that the next Charlie Thorne book is coming out in March. Charlie is smart. She’s strong. She’s bold. She’s fierce. She’s not letting anyone push her around. She’s a girl who is not just smart, smart, but she’s also math smart. In a word, this is Spy School if Ben were a girl.

This is the premise (from Stuart Gibbs’ website)

Charlie Thorne is a genius.
Charlie Thorne is a thief.
Charlie Thorne isn’t old enough to drive.

And now it’s up to her to save the world…
Decades ago, Albert Einstein devised an equation that could benefit all life on earth—or destroy it. Fearing what would happen if the equation fell into the wrong hands, he hid it.
But now, a diabolical group known as the Furies are closing in on its location. In desperation, a team of CIA agents drags Charlie into the hunt, needing her brilliance to find it first—even though this means placing her life in grave danger.

In a breakneck adventure that spans the globe, Charlie must crack a complex code created by Einstein himself, struggle to survive in a world where no one can be trusted, and fight to keep the last equation safe once and for all.

It is fast-paced, plot driven, and deals with themes of good vs. evil. Everything that Spy School tackles. Booklist compares Charlie Thorne to Alex Rider (another favorite in my classroom), so why does Charlie Thorne sit on the shelf, while Spy School doesn’t?

At first, I thought it was because Charlie is a girl, and of course “research says” boys don’t read books with female protagonists. Except…they do. Look at The Hunger Games. Look at The Hate U Give. Look at Shadow and Bone. Look at Legend. Look at The Testing. And the list can continue on. My boys do read books with female protagonists. That’s not the problem.

But when I look at those titles, something does occur to me. They are dystopian. They are realistic fiction. They are fantasy. They are not action/adventure. So is that boys don’t read action/adventure/spy thriller with a female protagonist? I don’t know–honestly. This would be a great question to ask in a reading conference.

Here’s the trend I do see in my classroom. My girls don’t read Spy School or Charlie Thorne. My boys read Spy School. They don’t read Charlie Thorne.

Also my boys love reading books about World War II. My girls tend to read books about the Holocaust. They are more interested in the narrative and the human side of the war. My boys love books by Alan Gratz. My girls–not really. Or they don’t read him by choice. Interestingly, Allies by Alan Gratz is the least read book of his in my classroom library. There are a lot of sections with a female POV and female Resistance members. I wonder if that’s it.

Another World War II book–that I love that doesn’t get read–is Front Lines by Michael Grant. This is alternate history, and women play a huge role in the book. They are in combat. They are spies. They are the heroes. And like Alan Gratz, it’s not that they don’t like Michael Grant. The Gone series is completely destroyed and doesn’t stay in my classroom library.

So do my boys not like female protagonists in an espionage or war role? I honestly don’t know. I could say yes, but then Wolf by Wolf--also alternate history–is a favorite. I wonder if it makes a difference with how believable the role of the female spy is? Wolf by Wolf looks at the world if the Axis Powers won World War II. This is not real for my kids, so is it easier to read about a female spy in the case of something that is patently not true?

All these questions are simply causing me to long for days when I can sit shoulder to shoulder with my students and have a good old fashioned reading conference with them.

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