Boys and Books
I grew up almost living in the local library. Reading was my escape and the library was my portal. I loved boy’s adventure stories and have been amazed at the reports that say boys don’t read. Some articles have said that they do read, but not many novels. They like magazines, comic books, and some nonfiction, especially if it’s gross or violent. But why not novels? Everybody loves a good story. Maybe the type of story is the reason for so many reluctant readers. We do know boys gravitate toward some books. The Wimpy Kid series, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson are favorites. There are others, but the numbers are limited, especially for teens and young adult boys.
Today, most books for older kids are girl oriented, a complete reversal of what publishing was like when I was a young reader. Then, most writers were male, and agents and editors were male. There were girl books, but books for boys prevailed. I believe that the change to having women editors in the publishing industry is good. Girls now have tons of books to read about strong girl characters written for them by women, and that’s a shift in the right direction. The problem is that boys now have less books that are specifically for them, and there are fewer male writers. The boys also have fewer adult males as role models for reading. Single moms are raising many of our boys, and the traditional female jobs of teachers and librarians are still mostly women.
However, to me, the main problem is story. There aren’t enough fiction stories in the marketplace that appeal to boys. The publishers seemed to think that a boy book is one that deals with bodily functions, and so we get “fart” books. And while some of those are well written and funny, I think we underestimate boys. As the Harry Potter books demonstrated, boys will read great stories. But many of the popular boy books are paranormal. What about realistic fiction like I read as a kid? There are some adventure books similar to that, but there needs to be more.
So I decided to write the kind of stories I remembered. The result is The Shakertown Adventure Series. More edgy than what I read, maybe The Hardy Boys on steroids. They’re probably PG with some mild cursing and violence. Nothing too terrible, but there are guns and dead bodies. But the whole purpose was to offer boys books with nonstop action and, what I hope, is the authentic interaction between boys. While there is teenage angst, it is limited to one of the boys and is based on something that happened in his past. The stories don’t dwell on the boys feelings, and many of the descriptions are minimal. The book is mostly about the story.
My model for the books was my favorite series as a boy, the Rick Brant Science Adventure Books. The first book was written right after World War II and continued until the late sixties. The stories were exciting with great villains, but the key was the interplay between the two boys. I remember laughing at their antics and running to one of my parents to tell them about it. I loved the way they kidded each other, and yet, when they were in trouble (in every book, of course), they worked together, each using their skills to defeat the bad guys. Male bonding at it’s best.
I still have the books and still enjoy reading them, but now I see the sexism and racism that was prevalent at the time they were written. Something my stories won’t have, although they will deal with the situation of women and African Americans in 1923.
I hope all parents will encourage their children to read—both girls and boys, but especially boys who are reluctant readers. Start them with whatever they will read, comic books, “fart” books or magazines. Then, ease them into novels. Don’t forget the classics, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Many of these are free as ebooks. And please have them check out my books. I’d love to know what they think.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Boys and Books