Boys read books

I’m back on the island this morning after ten days in Melbourne. Presented family members with their copies of my book, Mum cried, and I blushed a lot as it got shown to everyone of our known acquaintance (and probably a few strangers on the train or innocent passers-by down the shops).
While I was away, I got my first review: from Erik Steller, aged 10, who reviewed the book for the Chatterbooks Kids’ Bookclub, said it was “a great read” and gave it a ten out of ten. I’m chuffed.
I’m particularly pleased that a boy reviewed it and liked it, as general publishing wisdom tells us that boys don’t read books about girl protagonists.
Then my young friend Liam read it, was beside himself with excitement, and had to ring up to ask a million questions and posit a few very interesting theories about the various incomplete plotlines (he can’t believe he has to wait for book 2).
So hopefully, if the boys can get beyond the purposely androgynous cover illustration and the blurb which tells them it’s a book about a girl, they may enjoy it. They ought to – it’s got as much sword-fighting and sailing and swearing as any “boy’s book”.
Emily Bazalon provides her take on the issue, as a mother of two sons, on Slate this week: “The conventional educational wisdom holds that boys don’t like to read about girls. If a book has a girl on the cover, it’s toast, no matter how adventure-filled or well written.” Interestingly, she argues against “boy-friendly” books as suggested by teachers and librarians:

To my relief, I’ve found that most advocates of boy reading aren’t so narrow-minded. They are not trying to direct boys toward a list of masculine titles – in fact, they’re refreshingly skeptical about assigned reading in the first place. Instead, their aim is to enliven the standard fare for both genders. What they have discovered is that many boys like so-called “girl” books, but for different reasons than girls do.
Ever since Nancy Drew outperformed the Hardy Boys in the 1930s, it’s been clear that boys will read some stories about girls. Publishers have marketed titles to take advantage of this fact.

Well, sure. It’s one of those “my experience is the exception that proves the rule is false” articles – a common style of argument, particularly on the web, but not the kind of logic likely to really prove anything.
The research is fairly solid on boys’ reading, and I think it’s reasonable to argue that more boy-friendly books are going to make for more male readers.
While I was away I finally caught up with Catherine Jinks’ brilliant Pagan’s Crusade – or rather, it caught me, because I then got hooked and had to read the next two in the series. That’s what boy-friendly writing ought to be: a street-wise, fluently abusive young male voice who just happens to be a street Arab (literally) in Crusader Jerusalem.
It’s a controversial approach, but it works for me, and I hope Emily Bazalon’s boys get to read it one day.

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