Friday, July 30, 2010

Boys & YA

Author Hannah Moskowitz recently posted The Boy Problem on her blog.  Read it here.  Her post got me thinking about boys and YA.  My intention with this blog is to focus on books for boys.  As Hannah mentions, this is not as easy as it seems.  When I started blogging, just a few months ago, I had a tough time finding true boy books, which currently constitute books with a male POV that aren't targeted to girls.  (Yes, this does happen.  See I Know It's Over).  Luckily, I've found some promising titles, though some I think I need to read before they can officially be dubbed boy books.

From my experiences, I agree that boys generally don't read YA.  Usually if a teen boy requests help the item is in the adult section or he's reading middle grade novels.  Because of this, I was shocked the other day when a boy came up to me asking for Sweep read-a-likes.  I offered him Blue Bloods, and after reading the first page he decided it was awesome.  Go figure. 

To the point: Hannah's post is yet another in the discussion of boys and reading.  She writes that boys have been stereotyped into four categories: 1. the gay best friend, 2. the best guy friend, 3. the bad, and 4. the nerdy boy.  This is most definitely true of boys in YA with female MCs.  The unfortunate part is that it is even true in books that are supposed to be for boys. First I will say that some authors use these stereotypes as a gimmick; it gets someone, perhaps the nerdy boy, to pick up the book.  The issue, however, is that there are a multitude of YA books that portray male characters this way.

Also, books that claim to be for boys often seem to be for the people who try to understand boys and not for the boys themselves.  As cool as the cover is, I haven't seen many guys pick up You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon Flake.  Perhaps it's the female author, or perhaps guys don't need someone else to tell them who they are.  Honestly, (most) guys don't really do for the touchy-feely introspective stuff anyway.  Instead, hand them something with a little action.  This can sometimes be hard to find.  I only have a handful of YA titles that I can recommend to boys.

Boy Meets BoyAnother point I agree with Hannah about is covers.  There are interesting books with a male POV that, by the covers, are geared toward girls, or at least would not be appealing to boys.  Though we are ashamed to admit it, us readers do indeed judge books by their covers.  In a previous post, I commented on the cover of Boy Meets Boy.  It's baby blue with candy hearts on it.  If a  boy is comfortable with himself, he most likely will not care, but any other boy wouldn't even dare to read the description.  Nobody wants to get their ass kicked over a book cover.  I know the idea of a cover is to entice readers, but by using certain images and certain colors, publishers are guaranteeing that boys will steer clear.  (Granted the market is tends toward females, but usually the idea is to expand, is it not?)

From my experience in the library (and my experience as a girl), girls will read whatever they find interesting, whether it's a girl book or a book about a boy.  Boys, on he other hand, want boy stuff.  And (again agreeing with Hannah), they deserve to have these needs and wants met.  Girls get vampires and faeries and girl drama, boys deserve explosions, fart jokes, and science fiction.

Another point I'd like to make is that boys don't often get to choose what they read.  For school they are required to read certain materials and even when they have assignments that allow them to choose, they still do not get a choice.  One of my favorite summer assignments offered students an actual choice.  They were to read two books from three lists: Newbery Award and Honor books from 2006-2010, Coretta Scott King Award 2000-2010, and the Sunshine State Reading list for 2010-2011.  The boy flipped through out lists and found two books he wanted to read:one was about an African American baseball player, and the second was a picture book adaptation of a Langston Hughes poes.  By allowing students to chooce from such lists, they get the opportunity to decide what speaks to them and choose something they feel good about reading (i.e. they can choose stuff on their level).  Oh yeah, and by using these lists, you guarantee they get good books.

The final point I'd like to make is that it's wrong to tell boys they are not reading when they are.  Graphic novels and comics are legitimate reading.  Listening to audiobooks is legitimate reading.  Magazines and newspapers are legitimate reading.  Blogs, fan sites, and other digital media is legitimate reading.  Whatever the form, either old-school print or digital, whether the material is for learning or enjoyment, reading is reading.

I understand that Hannah was discussing boys who do like to read and consider themselves readers, but I always think of those that don't read as well.  Hence the slight transition in the above paragraphs.  The fact that boys (teens in general really) are told that comics, magazines, and digital material doesn't count as reading is, frankly, really annoying.  At the library we want to help tweens and teens expand beyond what they know, but when both the tween/teen and the parent are stuck on the novel because it's the only "legitimate reading" according to a teacher, their opportunities and choices are fewer and our materials go unused.

In a nutshell: 1) It's time for boys to have a wider selection of young adult books just for them; 2) It's time to legitimize forms of reading beyond the novel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Books!

On Shelves Now:


Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (June 29)
X-Isle by  Steven Augarde (July 13)

August Releases:

The Thin Executioner I Am Number Four

The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan (Aug. 1)
I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore* (Aug. 3)

Hothouse: A NovelTimeRiders

Hothouse by Chris Lynch (Aug. 34)
TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow (Aug. 31)

*This book is already being made into a movie for release next year.   How is this possible so quickly? See the author's actual name here.  (I learned his name thanks to this)

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Last week I was remiss in my posting duties, though I did get a review out on Friday.  My only explanation is that I thought I had content prepared and ready to post and I did not.  This week things shall return to normal with reviews and a look at some upcoming books.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 2007
ISBN: 9780385746861
88 pages
3.5 out of 5

One day I was twelve years old and broke.  I set out to mow some lawns with Grandpa's old riding mower.  One client was Arnold the stockbroker, who offered to teach me about: the beauty of capitalism.  Supply and demand.  Diversifying labor.  Distributing wealth.  "It's groovy man," Arnold said.

The grass grew, and so did the business. Arnold invested my money in many things.  One of them was a prizefighter.  All of a sudden I was the sponsor of my very own fighter, Joey Pow.  That's when my twelfth summer got really interesting.

Gary Paulsen's comic story about a summer job becomes a slapstick lesson in business as one boy turns a mountain of grass into a mountain of cash.
 This description is from the hardcover edition.

The first line of this book really got my attention: "It all began at nine in the morning on my twelfth birthday when my grandmother gave me an old riding lawn mower."  That was the most interesting part.

I like the first person perspective.  It's done very well and sounds enough like a kid that readers could relate.  My main problem is that some of the monetary details go pretty far before he says he was confused.  My brain turned to snooze when this was going on.  The most surprising part is what Lawn Boy does, actually doesn't do, when he has the sudden rush of cash.

Also the action is kind of like a Disney movie.  There's just enough danger or interest to get you to think something big(ger) is about to happen, but before you have a chance to really enjoy it a resolution is found. 

Overall it was a short, enjoyable book. I'm used to longer novels, and this is perhaps why I feel on the fence about this book.  There is a sequel, Lawn Boy Returns, so perhaps that will satiate my desire for more story.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Instructions for Life

by Derek Fagerstrom, Lauren Smith & The Show Me Team
Collins Design, 2008
ISBN: 9780061662577
500 + pages

Life Explained.  One Step at a Time.

Simple, step-by-step instructions on how to do 492 things practically everyone need to know.*

*And 8 that no sensible person would ever do.

I love this book. Some how to's will not interest guys (like how to press pretty flowers and how to apply makeup) but there is so much information in this book that the girly stuff won't matter.  When they say "step-by-step" they mean it.  There's a picture for each step and short descriptions (short, as in a sentence) for clarification. Simply perfect!

Some how to's from a few categories:
Make: assemble a super slingshot, make a playing card wallet
Style: spike up a mohawk, create an oozing fake wound
Nest:  boost my wi-fi with a strainer, create the ultimate tree house
Go: do a killer duck dive, leap from a cliff
Wow: give the illusion of levitation, land an old-school 180 kickflip
Other categories: eat, drink, love, grow, thrive and survive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diamond in the Rough

Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney
Delacorte Press, 2007
ISBN: 9780385732611
228 pages
4.5 of 5

The Finch family doesn't know that five refugees have landed from Africa on the day they do to the airport to welcome the family sponsored by their church.  The Finch family only knows about the four refugees they're meeting: Andrew, Celestine, Mattu, and Alake--father, mother, teenage song and daughter.

Jared Finch was horrified and angry when he learned from his minister that his parents had agreed to take in this African refugee family.  Jared is not amused that he'll have to share his home with a family who have never used a phone, driven a car, or seen a supermarket full of food.  Jared's annoying younger sister, Mopsy, immature as usual, is so thrilled to share her room with an unknown girl that she's jumping up and down.

The Amabo family, who have suffered unimaginable horrors, begin to adjust to a life of plenty in the Finches' suburban Connecticut home.  And the Finches begin to realize that what they have understood about charity has been very little indeed.  Still, life seems good.

The fifth refugee does not believe in good.  This lawless rebel has managed to enter American undetected.  And the Amabo family has something of his--something that they agreed to carry into the country for him.

When Jared realizes that the good guys are not always innocent, he must make a decision that could change the fates of both the Finches and the Amabos.  In this uncommonly penetrating story, Caroline B. Cooney presents many points of view and a fresh perspective on doing the right thing. (From the book jacket)

Completely enraptured.  I spent most of a day just reading this book.  I actually left work late just so I didn't have to stop reading it.  One of the most intriguing lines comes early in the novel: "In a civil war," Crick said, "there are no good guys.  They're all guilty of something.  You are probably not saving the innocent, because in a civil war, nobody is innocent."  It seems a terrible way to introduce a community to an incoming refugee family, but the way this small piece (from an auxiliary character) plays out through the novel is absolutely wonderful.

The characters of both families each have their own personalities and their own secrets and fears.  I won't say that all the characters are fully developed, because some are definitely more important than others.  But even the characters that are neglected are given alibis of sorts; it's just a perfectly crafted novel. 

So with the glowing review above, why the 4.5 and not a 5?  Even though I was hooked by the end of the novel, it takes some time to gear up.  Also, even though I understood where Jared was coming from, I didn't like the introduction to him.  He struck me as superficial and selfish and when I started the book I wasn't in the mood for that type of narrator.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Zombie Mayhem

The Enemy by Charlie Higson
Hyperion, 2010
ISBN: 9781423131755
448 pages

I can't wait to read this!  The book trailer for this new Zombie book was recently released and it's pretty great. There are two versions: the extended "epic" version and the condensed version.  Both are posted for your viewing pleasure.  A word of warning: the epic version can get a bit gross.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Smiles to Go

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli
Joanna Cotler Books, 2008
ISBN: 9780060281335
272 pages
Rating: 3 of 5

Everything changes the day ninth-grade Will Tuppence learns one startling fact: protons--those tiny atomic particles, the building-blocks to the building-blocks of life--can die.  The one thing that was so certain in this world to Will has an expiration date. 

And Will's carefully planned-out life?

Not so certain, either.

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli tips Will's world on its side to show that the beauty and wonder of life is in not knowing what comes next.

I'll start off saying that it took me two tries to get going with this book.  Part of it could be that after starting it, I went on vacation for a week and lost the mood. The other part is the book itself.  Even the second time, it took a bit for me to get interested in it.  It's leisurely paced and calculated, like the main character Will Tuppence, who has a scientific mind and enjoys breaking life into measurable parts. 

Will is obsessed with the proton; all his life he has believed that somethings existed that was indestructible.  One morning he learns otherwise and it turns his world upside down.  This event is the catalyst for all other events in the book.  The death of the proton changes Will's view of his world. This provides a different backdrop for the typical teen experience of experiencing love for the first time, coming to terms with other people's choices and dealing with a bratty younger sister.

It took some time but toward the end of the book I decided I liked it.  It's not going on my top ten list, but it was worth the read.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunshine State Readers!

The Sunshine State Readers were announced over a month ago, but I'm finally starting to get them in.  There are quite a few here that will undoubtedly grab the attention of boys.  The ones in bold are ones I will come back to once I've read them.  (The ones with the * are interesting but I'm not sure about them yet; so these are ones I might come back to.)  In the meantime, enjoy the list and Happy Independence Day!

Taken by Edward Bloor*

Diamonds in the Shadows by Caroline B. Cooney*

Football Hero by Tim Green

Great Wide Sea by M.L. Herlong

Do Not Pass Go by Kirkpatrick Hill

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter

Lost Time by Susan Maupin Schmid

The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer*

Changeling by Delia Sherman

I.Q.: Independence Hall by Roland Smith

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli