"Boy books"

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ddegreeff
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"Boy books"

Post by ddegreeff » June 11th, 2010, 10:06 pm

Here's a point of confusion for you: I've read in a number of agent's wish (or anti-wish) lists calling for more "boy books". So what in the hell exactly is a boy book? I'm a boy. I've read a number of books. Many of these have appealed to me, and many have not, for a wide variety of reasons -- so what do these agents mean when they invoke that term? Farts? Prat falls? Immature references to boobies? Or does it evolve to some complex level I haven't yet surmised?
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Re: "Boy books"

Post by cheekychook » June 11th, 2010, 11:42 pm

I don't know what agents mean when they say "boy books" but I do know what parents/teachers/counselors who work with boys mean when they complain about a lack of "boy books". In the broadest of terms these are books that appeal to boys; nothing too mushy or gushy, nothing with too much dialogue, basically anything that will get boys to (at least once in a while) read by choice (and not just when the internet is down and they can't access World of Warcraft or sports are canceled due to natural disaster). There are a million and one girl books; books about young love, gossipy teens, pre-teen crushes, teenage angst, first times, bratty siblings...the list is endless. There is no equivalent endless list of books that are directed at boys in the same way those stacks of books are aimed at girls. Do girls tend to read more than boys during the young adult years? Probably. Is that just the nature of humans of that age? Maybe. Does it have to be that way? Maybe not, and if that's going to change it's going to take some worthwhile "boy books" to make it happen.

The popular boy books that are around are generally of the action/adventure/sci-fi/fantasy genres; it's no secret that boys like action stories, gross stuff, and shooting things. Series like Artemis Fowl, Lemony Snicket, Percy Jackson, Diary of A Wimpy Kid are all directed toward boys and they're all big hits. Unlike the "girl books" which boys wouldn't be caught dead thumbing through, let alone reading, these "boy books" tend to appeal to both genders (which is probably why many of them have been made into films). The down side of that is it often leads to boys reading a book or two and then deciding to "wait for the next movie", and the younger set of boys will see the movie first and then use the fact that they've already "seen it" to not read the book version. There's a limited supply of books that are written to appeal to boys on the same level that the "girl books" are supposed to appeal to girls. If someone could come up with a books that would attract a young male audience, address pertinent boy-issues in a cool way, and get boys to read more they'd be filling a gap in the literary world, and I imagine agents would be more than happy to represent authors who could help fill that void.

And farts, prat falls, and immature references to boobies could definitely all have their place in the "boy book" world.
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Re: "Boy books"

Post by Mira » June 12th, 2010, 1:58 pm

Also, books that have a male protagonist. Boys prefer to read books where the MC is male.

Some speculate that if Harry Potter had been Harriet Potter, the books would not have sold as well. :)

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 12th, 2010, 2:15 pm

My YA steampunk series could also be classed as boy books. But I've got no farts or pratfalls or immature references to boobies! Back to the drawring...drawing...keyboard.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by polymath » June 12th, 2010, 2:49 pm

I'm of the opinion middle grade "boy books" are in demand but are complicated by contemporary social conventions and expectations. Boy books of the past promoted macho self-reliance, risk-reward resolutions, and masculine oriented identity formation.

Middle grade literature assumes a role of indoctrinating young people to society's mores and values. Parental and guardian driven selection of reading for middle graders presupposes passing adult standards for boy reading material. Dangerous activities are frowned upon. Inappropriate, socially insensitive viewpoints and attitudes are frowned upon.

I recollect in one boy book I read, the central character glued glass shards to a kite string and used the kite to cut a balloon tether, thus opening the way for a plane to attack an enemy installation. I'd also read news reports of kids imitating the technique and being seriously harmed. Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment resulted in several dozen lightning strike deaths for unsavvy imitators. Part of the problem was newspaper illustrations crudely depicted Franklin's methods, overlooking his safety measures.

What does contemporary society want for indoctrinating middle grade boys today, tomorrow, for the near long term? Respect for others including womankind, respect for elders, respect for self, respect for good and decent wholesome living, at least that hasn't changed appreciably. What has changed perhaps is the balance between emphasizing self-discipline and self-esteem. Prior to the Postmodern social upheaval of the middle Twentieth century, social indoctrination emphasized self-discipline at the expense of self-esteem. Self-esteem at the expense of self-discipline has since gained ground. I'm inclined toward a balanced approach, indoctrinate for both self-esteem and self-discipline at no one else's expense. In what ways middle grade boy book literature might do that, I leave to the inspirations and creative visions of writers who are inclined to give it a try.
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Re: "Boy books"

Post by SM Schmidt » June 12th, 2010, 2:59 pm

Mira wrote:Also, books that have a male protagonist. Boys prefer to read books where the MC is male.

Some speculate that if Harry Potter had been Harriet Potter, the books would not have sold as well. :)
I have to object to this theory boys will only read books with a male lead. I agree guys do not want to read about Lucy & her adventures to the shoe store. But guys are reading Hunger Games, female MC. I think it has more to do with the plot, voice and who is the one providing books. If the parent scorns a certain type of book, the boy will learn to scorn it too even if he actually wanted to read the book.
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Re: "Boy books"

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 12th, 2010, 6:35 pm

So THAT’S why I catch on fire every time I fly my kite in a thunderstorm! I should sue Benjamin Franklin.

I’ve just finished rereading Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND, which achieved much of the balanced approach Polymath advocates, and did so back in 1882, without lecturing, while telling a rollicking great tale.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by Down the well » June 12th, 2010, 6:43 pm

SM Schmidt wrote:But guys are reading Hunger Games, female MC. I think it has more to do with the plot, voice and who is the one providing books.
This is very true. My thirteen-year old son has read both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. We're both waiting for the third book to come out in August. I've noticed an effort by teachers to get the boys to read books with female protags, and I think that is a good thing. But I also think boys will always like adventure stories with characters they can identify with the best - like Hatchet or Holes or The Alex Rider books.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by Nick » June 12th, 2010, 8:48 pm

SM Schmidt wrote:
Mira wrote:Also, books that have a male protagonist. Boys prefer to read books where the MC is male.

Some speculate that if Harry Potter had been Harriet Potter, the books would not have sold as well. :)
I have to object to this theory boys will only read books with a male lead. I agree guys do not want to read about Lucy & her adventures to the shoe store. But guys are reading Hunger Games, female MC. I think it has more to do with the plot, voice and who is the one providing books. If the parent scorns a certain type of book, the boy will learn to scorn it too even if he actually wanted to read the book.
I don't think they meant boys don't ever read female MCs. But as a lad, I tended to read things with male MCs. In fact, I can't think of a story I read with a female MC. Comics were pretty heavily male focused (still are, though not as much). Sherlock Holmes is, obviously, male. Star Wars tie-ins I read had male MCs. The one series I can think of that had a female protagonist had her relegated to being the she-Watson. Pre-teen years were still pretty heavily male dominated, and when included females they were she-Watsons, or if they played a significant part they were never a focal, let alone viewpoint, character. In fact even now I tend to prefer books with male heroes. Generally the books I did read that had a female MC had a rather tomboyish/feral child MC. Nothing to really definitely spike it into one camp or the other.

It works for the other side of the coin as well. My sister spent her pre-teen and early teenage years reading things like the Gossip Girl novels and the Brontes sisters. Not like anyone forced any of our choices of reading on us, either. I started reading Holmes because I liked the Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century cartoon. My sister started reading Jane Eyre because she liked the cover design and thought the synopsis sounded interesting.

As to what publishers mean by wanting boy books, seems pretty obvious to me. I tend not to read YA anymore because for the most part I find it uninteresting (heck even at that age I preferred higher level material) but even just passing through the YA section of the local Borders (who have felt the need to shrink every other genre in order to make a YA section up front that eats up 1/4 the store >.>) all of the books seem pretty well and targeted towards womenfolk. And while I can't attest to it, not having read recent YA, I don't for a moment doubt what polymath said is true. Even thinking of friends' parents nearly two decades ago when I was still a little thing, I doubt if most of them would let their kids read the sort of things I loved because of a dislike for a lot of the things they contained. I know for certain one of my friends' mothers would have disposed of any Sherlock Holmes stories right away on the grounds of violence and drug use. I was fortunate enough to have a negligent mother who assumed I could take care of myself if I had video games and books (and, for most part, I could).

Wow this post turned out way longer than I intended.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by Nathan Bransford » June 12th, 2010, 9:06 pm

polymath wrote:I'm of the opinion middle grade "boy books" are in demand but are complicated by contemporary social conventions and expectations. Boy books of the past promoted macho self-reliance, risk-reward resolutions, and masculine oriented identity formation.

Middle grade literature assumes a role of indoctrinating young people to society's mores and values. Parental and guardian driven selection of reading for middle graders presupposes passing adult standards for boy reading material. Dangerous activities are frowned upon. Inappropriate, socially insensitive viewpoints and attitudes are frowned upon.

I recollect in one boy book I read, the central character glued glass shards to a kite string and used the kite to cut a balloon tether, thus opening the way for a plane to attack an enemy installation. I'd also read news reports of kids imitating the technique and being seriously harmed. Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment resulted in several dozen lightning strike deaths for unsavvy imitators. Part of the problem was newspaper illustrations crudely depicted Franklin's methods, overlooking his safety measures.

What does contemporary society want for indoctrinating middle grade boys today, tomorrow, for the near long term? Respect for others including womankind, respect for elders, respect for self, respect for good and decent wholesome living, at least that hasn't changed appreciably. What has changed perhaps is the balance between emphasizing self-discipline and self-esteem. Prior to the Postmodern social upheaval of the middle Twentieth century, social indoctrination emphasized self-discipline at the expense of self-esteem. Self-esteem at the expense of self-discipline has since gained ground. I'm inclined toward a balanced approach, indoctrinate for both self-esteem and self-discipline at no one else's expense. In what ways middle grade boy book literature might do that, I leave to the inspirations and creative visions of writers who are inclined to give it a try.
I do worry at times with my middle grade boy novel that it may inspire children to steal spaceships and fly around the universe.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by Nathan Bransford » June 12th, 2010, 10:28 pm

polymath wrote:I'm of the opinion middle grade "boy books" are in demand but are complicated by contemporary social conventions and expectations. Boy books of the past promoted macho self-reliance, risk-reward resolutions, and masculine oriented identity formation.

Middle grade literature assumes a role of indoctrinating young people to society's mores and values. Parental and guardian driven selection of reading for middle graders presupposes passing adult standards for boy reading material. Dangerous activities are frowned upon. Inappropriate, socially insensitive viewpoints and attitudes are frowned upon.

I recollect in one boy book I read, the central character glued glass shards to a kite string and used the kite to cut a balloon tether, thus opening the way for a plane to attack an enemy installation. I'd also read news reports of kids imitating the technique and being seriously harmed. Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment resulted in several dozen lightning strike deaths for unsavvy imitators. Part of the problem was newspaper illustrations crudely depicted Franklin's methods, overlooking his safety measures.

What does contemporary society want for indoctrinating middle grade boys today, tomorrow, for the near long term? Respect for others including womankind, respect for elders, respect for self, respect for good and decent wholesome living, at least that hasn't changed appreciably. What has changed perhaps is the balance between emphasizing self-discipline and self-esteem. Prior to the Postmodern social upheaval of the middle Twentieth century, social indoctrination emphasized self-discipline at the expense of self-esteem. Self-esteem at the expense of self-discipline has since gained ground. I'm inclined toward a balanced approach, indoctrinate for both self-esteem and self-discipline at no one else's expense. In what ways middle grade boy book literature might do that, I leave to the inspirations and creative visions of writers who are inclined to give it a try.
In all seriousness though, Polymath, this is a really interesting analysis of the shifting tides in young adult literature. It's very very interesting to track what cultural threads appear in literature, and this is some very good insight.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by polymath » June 12th, 2010, 11:02 pm

Thank you, Mr. Bransford. I have the benefit of some enlightened coursework in middle grade and young adult literature. The emphases were on young readers as audiences rather than the writing or the stories, per se, and society and guardian driven marketplace forces: parents, teachers, librarians, school boards, and other institutions dictating reading selection criteria. Virginia Monseau's Responding to Young Adult Literature was the core textbook. If nothing else, Monseau is an eyeopener for appreciating young reader audiences.

I enjoyed the mental image of children stealing spaceships and carousing around the universe, and laughed out loud. Perhaps it's a good thing we don't yet have flying cars.
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Re: "Boy books"

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 13th, 2010, 12:23 am

In a comment on Nathan’s blog a few weeks ago I warned about the danger of JACOB WONDERBAR inspiring intergalactic juvenile delinquents. Not to mention breaking the universe without making good the damages. Which I just mentioned...But a corndog swap isn’t really stealing, is it?

Anyway, having just reread TREASURE ISLAND, I now feel an irresistible urge to head off to Somalia and become a pirate. I’m already practicing the lingo. ‘Avast there, me hearties! The sun is over the yardarm!’ Even though we’re still three months away from International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th).

And seriously, I must check out Virginia Monseau.

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by ZWarr » June 15th, 2010, 12:28 am

Interesting discussion, especially the bits about the screening of books possibly watering down the material, so boys may be less likely to voluntarily read. Or that's how I'd summarize it, anyway.

Someone mentioned boys not choosing books with a female protagonist, and while I agree that it's not a hard and fast rule, I do think there's an innate tendency in most boys to lean away from those books. It's not necessarily something they're picking up from parents or teachers, either. Our son was at a very open-minded private school where reading was every kids favorite activity during fifth grade. He's a strong reader, too. But he came home one day a bit annoyed 'cause the guys as school were teasing him. He was reading Erin Hunters' 'Warriors' books at the time, and his classmates thought they were girly books, 'cause they had cats and were written by a woman. My son was indignant when telling me how stupid that was, 'cause "the author's name was a boy's name, so it couldn't be a woman, and the main character cat was a boy, so that made it okay." I had to laugh since he didn't realize that the spelling 'Erin' was feminine. Still, it illustrates the point. His parents and teachers hadn't indoctrinated him against female protags or writers, but he was still concerned about the issue.

Okay, that's all I've got. Since I'm a woman (as you can see) subbing what I believe may be a 'boy book' this discussion caught my eye. Keep it coming!

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Re: "Boy books"

Post by mojo25 » June 15th, 2010, 5:16 pm

Nathan's novel sounds like a good example of a boy book--sci fi or adventure, boy characters/maybe some gross stuff/fast-moving etc

Girl books are thicker, sometimes harder to read, usually more complex, have girl characters , about relationships etc Girls are generally better readers...

My boys iiked THE TIME WARP TRIO novels (short novels) by Jon Scieszka and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (real short chapter books) and a few others...I think humor is a BIG plus...and lots of action...

Check out Jon Scieszka's website, GUYS READ, for more info about getting guys to read.

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