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Books for Boys

14 Feb

How would you describe a boy’s lit book?  One could argue that it is a novel with a male protagonist, but is that correct?  Well, it’s probably semantic, but shouldn’t “boy’s lit” be something boys in particular would enjoy?  Yes, boys can enjoy all kinds of books, with or without male protagonists, but as long as we have chick lit let’s not waste time arguing that we shouldn’t lump books into categories.  Young boys read little enough, in general, to further encumber them with a political correctness we don’t apply elsewhere.  As for those boys that are voracious readers, well we don’t need to worry about them.  They will find what they like.  I guess in my mind, boy’s lit is literature that is geared towards the male reluctant reader.  I’m not looking for a universally acceptable definition, I’m just trying to frame the purpose of this blog which is to discuss, identify, and promote literature for boys.

I suspect that boys do like what everyone else likes in a story, but young boys haven’t learned that yet, so perhaps it is a question of marketing?   Many boys like sports and are attracted to novels that feature sports.  Does this mean they will only enjoy stories that feature sports?  I don’t think so.  They may not even enjoy the sports stories to which they are drawn.  They may just expect to like them.  I can think of two literary agents who seem to know this.  Chris Richman and Caryn Wiseman both seek sports stories that have a hook other than sports.  So, sports as a backdrop for real stories?  Sounds like a good idea.

Which books do you think of as boy’s books?  What do they have in common?  Authors like Gordon Korman seem to have a style that draws boys.  Korman’s novels are based on action and adventure – and they’re short.  Have you ever watched a reluctant reader select a book?  One of the first things they do is check the page count.  Korman writes long stories that he divides into short books that do not intimidate reluctant readers.  His books often break the “rule” that each book should be a complete story.  Many are not, but he writes books that reluctant readers are attracted to and not afraid to pick up.

Contrast Korman with Rick Riordan.  The Percy Jackson books are fantasy novels that are very long.  Certainly, boys are reading these books, but are these “boy” books?  Are reluctant readers reading them?  I doubt it.  I wish they would, but I just don’t think most would voluntarily pick up a 400 page novel.  They are wonderful novels in their own right, but not what I would classify as “boy books.”

What types of books do you think would attract reluctant readers?

~Carl

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Written by Carl

 
  1. Rose

    February 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that “boy readers” always equates with “reluctant readers.” Sure, there may be many boys who are reluctant to read. But I also think there is far less to interest boys, period. Just because my boys won’t touch a glittery pink novel about fairy unicorns without tongs and a hazmat suit doesn’t mean they don’t like to read.

    My sons are 12 and 9 (and 1 1/2, but he mostly just likes books that taste good). So far, Rick Riordan is one of their favorite writers. They also love Gordon Korman, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Eoin Colfer, RL Stine, Pseudonymous Bosch, Anthony Horowitz, Adam Rex, and Jeff Kinney. And a lot of others. I think what they have in common is that 1) they can relate to the characters in some way (which is why sports stories work for some kids, I think–it’s something that’s part of their world), and 2) stuff *happens.* One of my boys is into spy/thriller/futuristic/horror books, and the other is more into dragons. But there is crossover, and they both do like humor. Issues books, on the other hand, make them want to run as far as they can and pull the earth over their heads until the danger is past.

    I think maybe boys are looking to get something for their reading efforts. 400 pages of nothing much happening = bad. That may be one reason why graphic novels are so popular with boys–it’s easy to see if you’re going to like it or not, just be flipping through the pages. The True Meaning of Smekday might have a female main character, but my boys LOVE that book (seriously, I practically had to pry it out of sleeping fingers to get a shot at reading it myself). And it’s got that random art/comics in it that’s oh, so appealing. GNs are a good bet for reluctant readers. Too bad there aren’t so many of them yet.

    The things my sons (and reader husband) say they dislike are too much thinking and not enough doing, too much depressing stuff, ooh, and especially a book where characters pretend something that is not, in fact, real (none of them like Bridge to Terebithia, for example–but female relatives count it as one of the best books EVAH).

    I love that you’re doing this blog–my boys frequently run out of books and feel frustrated by the high number of girly offerings–especially as they’re getting up to the YA level–and are always looking for something good to read. I’ll be checking back!

     
    • Administrator

      February 15, 2010 at 12:50 am

      Thanks, Rose.

      You make a good point. Reluctant readers are the problem that stands out, but there aren’t enough middle grade and young adult books for boys, in general.

      I know a lot of people will say that there are plenty of middle grade books for boys, but for the most part they are books with male protagonist, not necessarily books that boys want to read.

       
      • Joanne

        February 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm

        I have four boys and find their approaches to reading very different. I have a great student (age 12) who is not a lover of reading, but not a poor reader. He LOVES the Percy Jackson books. This is the first series in a long time he’s read with motivation. He likes Clements, Gutman and Kehret. Other than that, It’s hit or miss.

        My oldest (14) reads challenging books–if they have some sort of golden seal on the front, all the better. Loved The Giver, The Graveyard Book, Slave Dancer–if they have a historical/political twist, he also likes it. Very little fantasy but interested in checking out Percy Jackson because of the unusual positive reaction from his brother.

        My eight year old–he’s the hardest. He reads well but very slow. There is very little in the 3-4th grade range that has boy main characters and isn’t a chapter book or over 150 pages. He has to read a 100+ page book each month and do a book project. Big books overwhelm him. Funny works for him. I read the first half of Bud, not Buddy to him then he was able to finish it. He loved it. It’s just too hard for him by himself. It would have taken him too long alone. 39 Clues is hard for him to follow all of the locations and plot line. He read the first one. Took forever and I had to help him for the first few chapters until he “got it.” Not everyone would be as persistent as he is!

        I’m not sure how reluctantly boys read. They just reluctantly read a lot of the stuff assigned for them to read at school and then develop a negative connotation to reading. They read stuff on the internet all the time, they read sports stats and the news as it scrolls on the bottom of the screen. They read graphic novels. They follow storylines on video games.

        I think a TON is marketing. So many covers of books my boys might consider based on content, they won’t touch because it looks “girly.” That’s where e-books would be cool. Or multiple covers options.

         
  2. MsBookSniper

    February 22, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    I think books for boys vs. books for girls all boils down to sensibility and the focus of the story. Let’s face it, boys and girls care about different things. And even when they care about the same thing, they react differently.

    “Boy Books” hold a sense of adventure and discovery, of leaving your mark on the world, of camaraderie and brotherhood, of making a difference, of coming into their own, or…well…toilet humor. After all, boys will be boys, right?

    Of course there are girls who will read those books too. But as for girl books, those are of finding fulfillment, finding love, of sisterhood and building relationships, and coming of age, and possibly some snarkiness.

    And the important difference between the two “genres” is the focus. Can there be a girl book with lots of action and adventure? Sure. There are plenty of them. But what is the FOCUS of those stories? Look at HUNGER GAMES. Katniss is in the middle of an adventure all right. She’s fighting for her life. But the focus of the story is HER. It’s her growing up, coming-of-age, finding out who she really is and what she believes in. It just happens to occur in the deadly arena.

    I wonder how different the story would be from Peeta’s POV? Or what if Gale were sent to the Hunger Games instead? Do you think it would be told the same way?

    Then look at books like James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge’s DANIEL X series. Yes, there is a boy who is coming into his own in this series. But the focus is the action, the adventure, hunting alien criminals down. It’s fast-paced and doesn’t use nearly as much time on internal reflection.

    Both series are smart, in their own ways, but the focus and sensibility of the stories is what really breaks them down into “boy books” and “girl books.”

    There are a bunch of reasons why there are much less boy books than girl books. Traditionally, girls are more avid readers as a group. But that doesn’t mean that boys aren’t reading at all.

    I think a lot of writers have a difficult time capturing that boy sensibility, without making the characters shallow. Because even though the focus may be the plot, the characters still need depth, and that’s a difficult line to straddle.

    At least these are just my thoughts! This is a great topic for discussion–thank you for bringing it up!

     
    • Carl

      February 23, 2010 at 9:20 am

      “I think a lot of writers have a difficult time capturing that boy sensibility, without making the characters shallow. Because even though the focus may be the plot, the characters still need depth, and that’s a difficult line to straddle.”

      I think you nailed it, Ms Sniper. ( I know it’s MsBook Sniper, but I just like the sound of Ms. Sniper better.)