Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Books and Boys
Day two of the blogging A – Z Challenge.
I’m excited about the letter B because it gives me a chance to blog on something I’m passionate about: boy readers. People will tell you this small human is more elusive than unicorn and twice as ornery about reading, but as the mom of two tween boys, I’m here to tell you, they’re not complicated, just misunderstood.
So here are a few things you might not know about boy readers.
There are real social and biological reasons boys might fall behind as readers. Statistically boys are more likely to read if they were read to as young children and have adult role models, especially male figures who value reading. Patchy reading skills often make them reluctant to pick up a book. They don’t want anyone to see them reading a book below their grade level, but they get frustrated and discouraged when a book is too hard for them. Once a negative cycle starts it’s hard for them to break out of it without lots of encouragement.
Authors and parents can help by supplying them with tempting high interest, easy-to-read books. And yes, some of those books will be cartoon based.
Boys love their tie-ins. If a writer can hook into something critical to boy culture, be it baseball, super heroes, or Dr. Who, boys are more willing to give a new book or a new author a chance.
Boys often reach for nonfiction first, or fiction that reads like nonfiction. Boys will line up in droves for books about well-known historical events if they’re filled with adventure, danger, and courage.
When boys find an author they like, they are insanely loyal. Really they are, trust me. They will read every book (in order) and wait for the new books to come out with enthusiasm.
Boys will gladly overlook something they don’t like in a popular author. This might be the inclusion of a “yucky” love story element. Remember even boys who like a bit of romance in their story are busy looking over their shoulders trying to make sure their friends don’t notice them liking it. Back up that romance with enough action and intrigue to camouflage the romance if you want to keep the bulk of your boy readers happy.
Boys don’t mind reading about girl protagonists as long as they’re cool girls. What makes a cool girl is subjective, but the hallmarks of uncool girls are pretty universally clear–they’re whiners, bossy, scared of their own shadows and boy-crazy gigglers. Cool girls are sporty, smart (but not snotty about it), and adventurous. If the girl is resourceful and knows lots of helpful stuff, making her the sort of person any boy wouldn’t mind being stranded in alternative reality with, you have a winner. I’ve spent a lot of hours volunteering in literacy programs, school libraries and book club programs, and I see just as many copies of the Hunger Games under the arms of 5-6th grade boys as girls.
A hit list of some things boys tend to like in no particular order: Humor: Tickle a boy’s funny bone and he’s yours. Scare him while tickling his funny bone and he’s yours for life. Kid success stories: From running a million-dollar empire, to surviving a year alone in the woods, boy readers love kids who make good against all odds. Underdogs: Boys need to see characters who stands up to a nasty adult, or a schoolyard bully. Maybe they can’t wrangle the courage to do it for themselves, but it helps to know they’re not alone. Characters who are smarter, braver and have more annoying siblings than they do: And if they have some supernatural house pet, a zombie or a robot, all the better.
Most boys I know would like to be better readers, but they need help and a steady supply of great books to do that. As writers we can introduce advanced vocabulary in a friendly way. Keep stories high interest and avoid overly complex sentence structures. Most of all, authors should treat all kids with respect and never, ever talk down to them. Reading is an escape for kids just as it is for adults. They want to walk around in another kid’s shoes for a few hours, and those shoes better go someplace amazing. Boys have less time to read and more distractions than in their parent’s generation, so books need to grab them quickly and not let go.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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