I’ve been paying attention to what it means when we say “books for boys.” As authors and conference attendees we hear the following:
- There is a shortage of books for boys.
- Boys are more reluctant readers than girls.
- Due to number 2 above, publishers lean towards “books for girls” for better sales.
- If we don’t capture a boy’s attention within the first 5 pages, they’ll put the book down. Girls will read to the end, hoping the book gets better.
What makes a book a “boy” book?
I came up with an answer recently that really bothered me A LOT – adults. Parents, teachers, librarians place judgement and the first and foremost reason for a selecting a book is the main character. Is our protagonist a boy or a girl? And this is the determination of who should read a book. . . really? Is that where most (not all, but most) of the weight is put on determining what we feed our kids to read?
For the most part a girl will read both “boy” and “girl” books, girls are considered more open minded. Or, is it that boys are considered un-boylike if they read a book with a female protagonist?
My son, age 19, read my book, Empty Cup, for his grade 12 choice reading project last year. Empty Cup would be considered a “girl book” due to the protagonist being a girl. But when I consider the social issues addressed in the book, shouldn’t boys be enlightened also? Anyway, at the time when he read it, my son said that he liked my book . . .yes, I realize I’m his mom. . .
Recently, I chatted with him about how he felt reading Empty Cup. Excluding the fact that I’m his mom, is it a book he’d read or recommend to his male friends. He said sure. Kids today read whatever they want, it doesn’t matter who the main character is. Basically, kids aren’t judged for exercising their individuality, because it’s cool to be different. So his answer confirmed my thinking that adults place too much judgement on what would be appropriate for boys.
Considered my friend Gabriele Goldstone’s historical novel series. Red Stone and Broken Stone are set during Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany and tell the story of Katya, the main character based on her mother and the true events that happened to her during that time. These books should absolutely be read by both girls and boys as they tell an important story from history in Gabe’s beautiful prose.
Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series – each book has a main female lead character, but the series is appropriate for both boys and girls.
Also consider the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, loved by many girls and boys.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier has a female protagonist, the best middle grade horror… sorry, let’s go with “thriller,” I have ever read! Totally recommend for both boys and girls.
And of course the list goes on…
I’d like to ask you to really think about your book recommendations and consider the pre-judgements you make when you recommend them. What are you basing your opinion on? Is it a valid judgement? Could you make the recommendation differently? Scrutinize why you feel the way you do about the recommendation with regard to boy readers.
I was recently participating in a reading with a teen writers workshop and a boy in the class said he read “anything but romance.” I don’t think boys are as picky as we adults: parents, teachers, librarians — make them out to be. We haven’t given them a chance. We’ve been too quick to judge. Our boys are more open-minded than we give them credit for, and we need to take this into account with our book recommendations. Its time for a shift!
photo credits: pixabay.com