Friday, August 29, 2008

Boy Books

Among a lot of other great topics covered at the recent SCBWI Agent's Day in San Francisco, the subject of boy books came up. Some of the agents who spoke that day reminded attendees of the relatively well-known fact that publishers are always looking for middle grade and YA boy books. The popular wisdom is that there are more than enough books that appeal to girls but not nearly enough volumes out there that consistently grab boys' attention.

As a girl who, like many, loves to read (and write) about male as well as female protagonists, I just wanted to throw the topic out there for discussion.

What are some of your favorite boy books? Whether you're male or female, do you like to read books featuring a protagonist of the opposite sex? What's your theory as to why it is that girls readily read about boys yet boys are more reluctant to read a book with a girl as the main character? Or do you disagree that there's a need for more boy books--do you think the market responds to demand and therefore we already have as many boy books as readers want to buy?

Finally--and most interesting--what would you like to see in boy books? In other words, what's missing from the shelves? More believable adventures? More accurate insights into the teenage boy's perspective? Or something else entirely?


Chelsea said...

Well, I just started the Percy Jackson and The Olympian series by Rick Riordan this week (I'm in the middle of book three) and LOVE them. Definitely boy books. My brother rarely ever reads (he's literally only read 11 books for fun, 8 of which were Harry Potter). But I got him to read these, and he devoured the first three within days.

I think most guys (who are reluctant readers) need actionactionaction, with a possible mix of fantasy, and they'll be happy. But if it doesn't constantly throw you into the storyline, they'll give up on it.

amy said...

One question I always have when this issue comes up is, are all boys reluctant readers? Surely not, right? I mean, there are smart boys in the world, I knew loads of smart boys in HS who were voracious readers.

Problem is, those boys were *not* reading YA. So how much of the problem is "boys don't read" vs "boys don't read YA"? *Should* boys be reading YA? And if so, what can we as writers do to attract smart, literate boys to YA?

hannah said...

I *always* prefer to read a male protagonist, and I'm completely unable to write believable girls's voice (and yeah, I'm a chick). However, a lot of my books are targeted not towards boys, but towards girls who enjoy reading about boys.

Most of the boys I know don't read. The ones who do typically enjoy the same books I do--John Green and Ned Vizzini and the like.

Catherine said...

Interesting question.

I was thinking about the books I used to get my bro to read when he was a teen.

I gave him Douglas Hill's Blade of the Poisoner, and Edding's Belgariad, and he was hooked. Totally.

I asked my hubby, and he said when he was a teenager he liked Hardy Boys Case Files, Tai Pan, LOTR, books by Desmond Bagley, and the Biggles books.

So basically those are mostly high on adventure and action. And all featuring male protags.


draw your own

E. J. Griffin said...

I teach seventh grade English, and at the beginning of the year this year we started off with a "Get Excited About Reading" PPT that showed a lot of book trailers and even movie trailers of popular YA books brought to life on the big screen. I have to say I was astonished and quite endeared by the number of boys who took interes in series narrated my female protagonsists. In particular, all three of my classroom copies of Twilight have been checked out to boys in my class. I must admit the movie trailer was greatly skewed towards the Action film genre, but none of them bowed out of reading the series once they started. In fact, one of them even went so far as to say that reading books from a femail perspective was very enlightening (my words, not his). All in all, I agree with you. I have trouble reeling in boys who are reluctant readers to the world of YA lit, but I am hopeful with the current up-surge of a reading centric Hollywood culture that we maybe able to win them over yet.

I recommend: Christopher Paoulini, The Maximum Ride series, even Christopher Pike and RL Stine for the High Interest reader.

brittanimae said...

My take: in my (limited) experience, many of those smart boys referred to prefer non-fiction. My husband is one of them, and I know quite a few others. I'm wondering if injecting lots of facts into a fictional book will attract more male readers. Hmm.

I would also love to know more about the conference!

Rebecca said...

First, I am really glad I found this post (and this blog generally, hooray!). I've been thinking about this a lot.

Reaction-wise, I'm kind of depressed by the gendering of books -- I know it happens and a little bit of why (I suppose it's probably easier to market to a more specific group, and gender is one way to do that), but it's never made sense to me. I think a lot of that has to do with the books I grew up on, though, and how I got them -- my dad was a huge reader of fantasy and scifi, and always adamantly talked about just wanting *good characters*. His favorite writer when I was a tween was Mercedes Lackey, who is pretty much a girl-book author (his favorite now is Tamora Pierce, same thing).

I also remember being frustrated growing up -- I wanted more adventure stories *about girls* and had a hard time finding them in the books that were aimed at my age group. I wanted more Princess Leia characters, and rarely found them -- I think that's why I ate up the Maximum Ride series when I read it last summer; I saw a lot of flaws in it but didn't *care* because Max was exactly the kind of character I'd always wanted and rarely found. So while I see the way the genre has changed since I was part of the target audience (it wasn't *that* long ago...) I'm always always surprised to hear about the lack of boy-books, because... Well, for so long, it seemed like that was *all* there was. I'm *glad* there are more girl-books now and it would never occur to me to worry that there weren't enough for boys.