September 26, 2012
By Deborah B. Ford
Years ago, the stereotype notion was that only the nerdy guys read books. Even then, they were more likely to read manuals, nonfiction, encyclopedias. Today’s guys have an advantage over those guys from years ago. Choices. Lots of choices. Before the days of Harry Potter, fantasy books were shorter. Books didn’t grow in threes nearly as often and books with orphaned twelve-year-old boys were the exception rather than the rule.
Today’s guys can read books based on their favorite movie, sport, or electronic game. They can find a series that they like and wait for the annual sequel. The stigma of reading is no longer what it was for the male person. “Really? You haven’t read Harry Potter?” is the cry of shame rather than the mark of an oddball.
If anything, boy choices continue to expand. Publishers are paying attention. Writers are prolific. Jon Scieszka developed Guys Read and continues to encourage boys to read. Educators are reading the research of Smith and Wilhelm and changing the way they teach and assign reading. “You don’t like it? Put it down. Choose something else. There are so many more choices to make” is the cry of their salvation rather than one more step down the hall of this-is-why-we-hate-to-read.
With Teen Read Week just around the corner, let’s take a look at some of the new scary, gross, and enlightening things that boys like to read.
STRAND, Jeff. A Bad Day for Voodoo. Sourcebooks Fire, 2012. ISBN 9781402266805. JLG Level: PBH : Paperbacks High School (Grades 10 & up)
“I do NOT recommend reading A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand in a quiet room with other people. The reason? Your frequent laughter is likely to make you feel self-conscious,” wrote Susan Marston, our Editorial Director, on the JLG blog. So, of course, I read it in a restaurant during dinner. I should add that you will not be able to non-verbally editorialize while you read either. “What? No way. That did not just happen.”
As the story begins, Tyler is upset with a teacher over a bad grade. In an effort to help him, best friend Adam buys a voodoo doll of their teacher. During class, Tyler sticks the pin in the doll’s leg, which causes the teacher’s leg to fly off his body and slide across the room with blood spurting everywhere. Enter voodoo doll number two: a doll of Tyler, which is left in the trunk when they are carjacked on the way to stop the magic in the teacher doll. The insanity never stops: robbers who murder each other, zombie teachers, a family of religious zealots, and a crazy cab driver will keep you in stitches and shaking your head in disbelief. It’s a wild and crazy ride that will eliminate your need for a spine label as the book will never be on the shelf.
Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Roaring Brook Press, 2012. ISBN 9781596434875. JLG Level: HH : History – High School (Grades 10 & up)
Books on war, especially WWII, are hot hits with boys―from as early as grade 4. This upper-level nonfiction book is just the ticket to replace some of those basement-smelling books you have on your shelves. Not your boring textbook information (which is ironic, considering the author used to write textbooks), Bomb begins with Harry Gold’s admission to the FBI that he was a spy. In addition to being a gripping spy story, Sheinkin concludes the text with quotes, letters, and photographs of the period and, a powerful statement: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.”
COLFER, Eoin and Andrew Donkin. The Supernaturalist: The Graphic Novel. Disney-Hyperion, 2012. ISBN 9780786848799. JLG Level: GM : Graphic Novels Middle (Grades 5-8)
In 2004, Colfer released the science-fiction novel, The Supernaturalist. One of the current trends in children’s publishing is to take a popular novel and redo it as a graphic novel. With the original author working on the project, readers will continue to get the flavor they expect but see the story enhanced in a visual medium.
Orphaned boys seldom live past age fifteen when they are sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys where highly dangerous products are tested. Cosmo is fourteen and knows he must escape in order to survive. After a product testing gone badly, Cosmo is able to see the Parasites, which aids him in his adventures with the Supernaturalists. Fans of the original novel and graphic novel fans will keep this book circulating. And it comes in paperback too!
LUBAR, David. Beware the Ninja Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales. Starscape, 2012. ISBN 9780765332134. JLG Level: HIM : High Interest Middle School (Grades 5-8)
The Weenies are back with 33 more warped and creepy tales. As most of the stories are short (an average of three pages each), Lubar brings another sure-to-please collection that will keep your reluctant readers technology-less, for a short time at least. Also great for reading aloud, readers will pause to think in Playing Solo-“game over forever” or laugh out loud at the nothing-is-off-limits plot lines in this made-for-kids book.
KORMAN, Gordon. Ungifted. HarperCollins/Balzar & Bray. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9780061742682. JLG Level: HIM: High Interest Middle School (Grades 5-8)
You know an author is a perennial pick when his name is in a larger font than the book’s title. Korman is back with another crowd-pleaser. “I want a refund from ancestry.com . . . there’s nobody like me,” says Donovan, our act-first-think-later protagonist begins. When his harmless pranks go awry, he remarks, “I hit the statue with a branch, but I didn’t think the world would come off.” Korman’s classic wit and humor hook the reader. Donovan’s prank accidentally gets him enrolled in a school for the gifted. Though he may be “ungifted,” there is much we can learn from the boy and his new classmates. The movie rights, by the way, have already been picked up by Walden Media. You’d better buy more than one copy.
Scieszka, Jon. Guys Read: The Sports Pages. Walden Pond, 2012. ISBN 9780061963780. JLG Level: SM : Sports Middle & HS (Grades 7-11)
Following Funny Business and Thriller, Volume 3: The Sports Pages, continues the formula in the Guys Read series of introducing ten authors and illustrators by genre. Ten short stories are included in this volume covering baseball, basketball, hockey, football, racers, and more. Guys Read favorites like Gordon Korman and Mike Lupica appear with real athletes like Dustin Brown and James Brown. Another winner for editor, Jon Scieszka―and for all the guys (and girls) who get to read this work.
Coben, Harlan. Seconds Away: A Mickey Bolitar Novel. Putnam, 2012. ISBN 9780399256516. JLG Level: MM : Mystery/Adventure Middle & HS (Grades 7-11)
Having a good series to offer has many bonuses for its readers. They know the characters, setting, and back story. They are comfortable with the author’s style of writing. So when you find a good guys-read thriller/mystery/adventure series, you have a double bonus. In this sequel to Shelter, Mickey and his friends find themselves trying to solve the mystery of the murder of their friend, Rachel. For those who have read the first novel, it will hardly feel like a commercial break, as the action in book two picks up the same conversation.
Using these books will give you a leg up on keeping your teen boys reading. Because they do, you know. Guys read. Just give them choices. Buy paperback, hi-interest, and graphic novels. Patiently help them find the right book. Watch my blog posts on JLG Shelf Life for more ideas to get them to read.
Deborah B. Ford is the author of Scary, Gross, and Enlightening: Books for Boys, published by Linworth, 2009, and is Junior Library Guild’s new Director of Library Outreach. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.