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.
Another 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.