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Making young bookworms: looking to the future

Today’s post comes out of a librarian acquaintance commenting on the new YA and MG list he had to buy from, and this post on YA from David Farland. Now, David Farland is one of the mildest and politest people in the entire writing world. He makes a genuine effort to be supportive of other writers, and he goes out of his way to be nice and kind – even to those who really are behaving like their up-bringing was done in a sty. You can read his post here,  and you might want to consider rewarding a decent man by buying the YA book he mentions at the end.

I spent a fair amount of my life trying not to offend people who were just desperate to start delightedly shrieking: ‘Help help I’m being repressed’ for as little as a typo (See Boggy Whatsisname gender freak-out). Eventually, I got sick of it. Honestly, you get precious little thanks for the effort, and are as likely to get called sexist, racist, misogynist etc. whether you are or not, or there is any evidence at all. So: I’ve kind of given up trying to avoid conflict with these types. I haven’t changed my behavior, my writing, my views, my way of thinking or anything else – and the accusations are as frequent and as much drivel as ever. I’ve just stopped wasting much time attempting to answer what amounts to hysterical name calling from people who have nothing else.  As the ‘typical Nazi’ I’ve been repeatedly accused of being, I used Clara Immerwahr as the breakpoint for my alternate history. It’s just the sort of person your average misogynist would pick. And my hero in CUTTLEFISH plainly shows the sort of Aryan characteristics your typical white racist would make a hero of.

So if you can bear reading the sort of racist sexist misogynist oh and anti-semite who would make someone like… Immerwahr an icon in his books, do read on. You must be a ‘typical Nazi’ too. I was going to write about the intersection between David Farland’s comments and the comments from the librarian – who was citing some of the appalling books he had been given to choose among… and yes, lamenting the fact that while there ample gay/lesbian/feminist choices – there was basically nothing an ordinary heterosexual boy, with typical boy outlooks and interests might be tempted to read.

This brings us full loop back to David’s comments. YA for boys, chosen by people who know and understand their interests is nearly as rare as Hugo winner who is a white heterosexual conservative or centrist male. It’s been a problem (and in fact one librarians and educators back in South Africa were aware of back in 1995 or so, when my WITHOUT A TRACE was a shortlisted finalist in a competition for school reading books. They saw the problem, were going to use my book… got scared and decided to publish a PC one about a gay boy instead… which was utterly hated by kids. It was tragic and actionless, a typical SJW guilt-fest (I talked to a lot of kids at school with my kids trying to assess my own direction at the time. It was loathed – particularly by the young black boys who largely came from cultures where homosexuality was very much out of favor – to put it mildly. And then the Education Dept. solved the problem buy just not buying any books the next year.) WITHOUT A TRACE has the unusual distinction of being accepted by two – not one – publisher – and each time them woosing out, because despite being described as just the sort of book to get young boys reading… it’s not politically correct , just honest and fair. It’s quite specifically targeted for a South African audience, and while I did bring it out as an e-book, I’m still sad it didn’t reach the target audience.

Now, in general, given the fact that independent publishing has opened up and given writers a route past the gate-keepers, David Farland is right. You should look on the absence of books that you might like to read as a possible golden opportunity – especially if that unserved niche is large and real. Let me explain ‘real’ – You go to Jerusalem and discover that no-one there is selling pulled pork rolls. There is a market, but it is limited by other factors.  It’s not the same as going to US town finding the absence. You have to understand your possible audience and what it wants. That said – there are lots of badly underserved markets, many of which are fairly large and existent. The problem is merely to reach them, not always easy thing to solve.

It gets still a bit more complicated in MG and YA, because the theoretical target audience (boys and girls from say 10-17) are very often not the people making the decisions about which books get bought. Think of it as your 10 year-old buying you music or vice versa. Yeah, often not going to end well! As Farland points out, often the choices come from the tastes of middle-aged women living in New York (and, I may add, as professionals who have often put career before family – people who have almost no contact with the target audience, and while they might, possibly, have been teenagers once – that was twenty to thirty years ago. I know it is tempting to assume they sprung into existence fully formed, or emerged from the primordial slime of the black lagoon shaped by the mind of Cthulhu… but there is no actual evidence of this. Well. None the FBI will release that is not so heavily redacted as to make actual content unintelligible.

The world has changed. So have they. They’re pretty bad at choosing for their own sex and social background. When it comes to ‘What would a boy of thirteen living on a ranch in North Dakota like to read’ – they’d have more clue what Martians would like to read. This only gets made more complex by the fact that, in actual fact, a lot of YA customers… aren’t buying for their children or nieces and nephews – but for themselves. Quite a substantial part, apparently, of sales go to people who didn’t like the trends in adult fiction, and wanted to skip the blood and gore and graphic sex for an entertaining feel good, appealing to their particular demographic subset. Hell, I’m one of them, having been a loyal Diana Wynne Jones customer for years.

Now, this part of the market will choose your book off Amazon. BUT the big, major-keep-publishers-afloat part of the market is the library orders – once again, library services are heavily female dominated, and while some are excellent – quite possibly not that in touch with some of their audience. I have come across a few librarians determined to inject their socio-political agenda into the children’s reading. I just hope they’re rare. But – they still work off a list:  which, by and large, excludes indies, and draws entirely from the choices of the middle-aged women editors from a New York – a very narrow insular group in their social, political and educational background. It’s elevated on that list by the choice for literary awards (which once again are controlled by that same narrow group).

So: despite there being no pizza available in the town, and the fact that around 50-75% of the possible readers would buy it, it is a much harder sell than adult fiction. Somehow one need to penetrate that system: get your book into the face of people buying for their children, get into the library system, get into the recommended reading lists for home-schoolers… get the book seen and read.

You know, perhaps I am too much of an idealist, or too long-sighted, but this is one of those pieces of gender-bigotry that really is in no-one’s interest.  You’re a rabid feminasty and want women of you social and political class to triumph to get all the publishing slots, all the awards, all the library purchases, all the shelf space.  Boys can like it or lump it, they must learn their place, and it is women’s turn now. Payback time!…

For whom and achieving what?  The boys weren’t even born when there last a gender imbalance in the favor of men in YA/middle grade publishing. Hell, good odds their parents weren’t born. And, well… even if you want to advantage young women over young men – do you want your daughter/niece/younger female generation growing up in an environment where 95% of the people they look to as future mates… don’t read? Because it’s not ‘they’ll read what is good for them and get educated/indoctrinated into my way of seeing things.’

They just won’t read.

What always strikes me about these situations is that the editors and authors and their supporters seem totally incapable of putting the boot on the other foot. I have two bookworm sons – I worked hard to find books they’d love to make them that way. They’ve married two bookworm women. I’m looking forward to bookworm grandchildren.  I would have been saddened and worried if my kids had found partners who didn’t read, and I’d know my chances of non-reader grandchildren were much higher.  I feel this way their happiness is far greater, their worldview is far wider… If there were no books for young women (books they’d love, not books I’d love), I’d be campaigning and working furiously to change the situation.

Rock-climbing – long a male dominated sport, was one where I personally put in a lot of effort to get women to at least try it.  I was far from the only one doing so – most climbers love their sport and want EVERYONE to climb. There are rare individuals who want to exclude people, who fear for their status or are just bigots – but the general consensus is ‘If you’ll try climbing we’ll make a plan to help you.’ Over the years I’ve had people of most races, several handicaps, various orientations and sexes and from every social, religious and political niche I can talk into it on the end of a rope.  Over the years, similarly, I’ve invested in anyone who wants to write, also across the spectrum. If they succeed… I win.

So: what the hell is wrong with the kind of people who CELEBRATE that sf/fantasy, that YA/MG are the territory of a narrow demographic clique?  Who will literally try to destroy reputations and livelihoods, let alone not allow entry into ‘their’ bastions?  It takes short-sighted to ‘blind beyond one micrometer’, as well as mind-numbingly stupid.

But it is: which kind of leaves us making pizza in a town that is run by a mayor who detests Italians and their food and culture, and whose councilors own all the other fast food places in town.

Firstly – make that damn Pizza! I am putting my money and time where my mouth is on this. Quite a lot of what I write is YA (there are even a couple of MG efforts -PADDAVISSIE). CUTTLEFISH, STEAM MOLE, CHANGELINGS ISLAND, WITHOUT A TRACE were written principally for either a mixed audience of younger readers, or really, young males. Quite a lot of my other work – the Karres books and TOM are ones I’d happily have any 12 year old read.

I’m busy with HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE CRAZY UNCLE? at the moment.

Every one of them has hit ‘resistance’ because I was trying to sell Pizza in a hamburger town. My success has been… moderate with getting in, great with readers. Such success as I’ve had largely owes itself to having an adult readership already. Overwhelmingly, they seem to like my YA as much, if not more than my adult books. Hey, if it’s good enough for kids it better be good enough for adults. Bookstore sales have been pretty much a failue – largely because neither Baen nor Pyr were much good at getting them into they YA system. My sales have been overwhelmingly through Amazon.

My library success has been dreadful. I donated a lot of books to a lot of libraries. Don’t. Or don’t unless you have an agreement that it will go onto the shelf. Otherwise donations simply get sold.  The correct answer is to get as many people as possible to request books at their local libraries. (and if possible to take them out, maybe even a few times).

I really think we need to build and encourage the use of YA lists to give home schoolers and parents who want their children enjoy reading – but don’t want the only choice to be the latest PC indoctrination to find.

So why not tell us about a YA/MG that fits that bill?

And why not buy a book of the kind you’d like that God-child, niece, nephew, son, daughter, grandchild to read as a gift? After all, that’s a long-sighted intelligent thing to do.

 

 

 

63 Comments
  1. 23 skidoo

    August 20, 2018
  2. TRX #

    The YA industry fell into a trap long ago. The “just like me!” trap.

    Kids don’t necessarily want to read about other kids.

    The scope for kids to do things is severely limited; while I acknowledge the writers who managed to handle that well, even kids know that it’s much easier for adults to go places and do things.

    When I was in the second grade, the school library had a lot of Andre Norton on the shelf. Norton’s protagonists were anywhere from early teens on up. I don’t remember that I ever really noticed or cared how old they were; I was riveted by the stories. And nearly fifty years later, it still doesn’t make any difference.

    But the protagonist’s age has become the defining characteristic of the genre; it would probably be very hard to get anything else onto the shelf.

    August 20, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      a) I didn’t have a problem reading about adults going on adventures. I really did not, at all.
      b) When I was ten, I was cheerily reading about young adults.
      c) I also enjoyed reading about children in my society.
      d) I enjoyed reading about children in what were, objectively, fairly horrible alien societies.

      August 20, 2018
    • Synova #

      I think we used to assume that kids wanted to grow up. So even if a story for kids was about a kid, the kid was often taking responsibility. Say, Boxcar Children… or solving a crime, or somehow helping their family or even saving someone.

      But yes, even often reading stories about kids who were older, looking forward to greater independence, seeing examples of how to *be* a little more grown up.

      Or even adults having adventures. I’m sure that I’m like most people here in that I went from picture books, through whatever counted as YA or Juveniles back then, certainly all the “horse” books and a few of the “babysitter” books (but not the sports books) but then realizing that I didn’t have to read about teen angst when the school library had Ian Flemming.

      August 20, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        I once wrote a fan letter for the Babysitter Club books. I’d forgotten that, but lately found some evidence. I’m a man, and nurturing/care-taking/social stuff has never been much of an interest. Those girls were functioning on a much higher level than I was. That may have been my interest, I’m not sure. As a series/property, they were very well managed, and sold fairly well.

        August 20, 2018
        • I think the framework has a lot to do with that. You have a fixed setting, and the problems are going to be realistic and “bite-sized,” but still have to be dealt with by the protagonists. Readers don’t have to work quite as hard in some ways.

          Like the people who use Hank the Cowdog books as part of homeschooling, because the characters and opening and closing are predictable, and kids can build their skills knowing that the story is going to start and end the same way. Apparently that’s a big draw with kids on the spectrum.

          August 20, 2018
      • Zsuzsa #

        The trend in my years was mostly that the kids liked to read about one demographic “up” from their own. In elementary school, we read The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books about middle school, in middle school we read Sweet Valley High and the Christopher Pike and R.L. Stein teen thrillers, and by high school, we’d mostly moved on to adult books (with the occasional peek at Sweet Valley University when no one was looking).

        August 20, 2018
      • Hans Niemand #

        Or C.S. Forester, Edgar Rice Burroughs…..

        August 21, 2018
  3. I’ve written books that are technically YA, and don’t market them that way, other than saying that they are suitable for readers age 13 and up. Why 13? Because of the sheltered state of kids these days (shakes cane) and a main character almost getting eaten by a rather nasty predator (nasty as far as the humans are concerned). No kissing, no real swearing, but there are blood and guts.

    Why not market as YA? Everything you said, Dave. My teen characters are pretty happy, healthy, have loving and complete families, get into spats with siblings, and tend to be well adjusted for Odd values of adjusted. So much for the current YA commercial market.

    Which stinks like a pig farm’s waste lagoon in August.

    August 20, 2018
    • Oh, Dave? I just bought two copies of Changling’s Island and one of Dragons’ Ring, since I now have a classroom and can have a little library. Come for the fiction, stay for the history…

      August 20, 2018
  4. Aimee Morgan #

    I tried to get the Dragonette to read YA books, but she’s going to end up a lot like me, I’m afraid – reading well above the interest level of her peers, and drifting into YA and children’s’ literature when she’s older. She was actually appalled when she realized that every one of her Middle School teachers has a complete set of the Twilight books for kids to borrow, and not a single Star Wars book.

    August 20, 2018
  5. I have not titles to offer but I just wanted to say God Bless Neal Anderson, may he rest in peace. In his time as a 5th Grade teacher at Burbank Elementary in Merced, he turned more kids into avid readers than any other teacher I knew. Including older brother who, unbeknownst until then, was mildly dyslexic.

    While we had the genes (Dad was a reader) having a teacher who sat down every single day and read to his class for an hour, and had a small library in the class room, helped immensely. He had books that he had bought or were given to him by parents that he knew kids liked to read. Middle school classes that gave prizes for reading only work if you already like to read.

    August 20, 2018
  6. I’ve read all your YA, Dave. But I need to find this Paddavisie.

    August 20, 2018
    • Ori Pomerantz #

      I can’t find it on Amazon. What’s up with that?

      August 20, 2018
  7. Harry Russell #

    The other things teachers/schools do to put young readers off, IMAO, is insist that everything can/should be analyzed.
    When my teachers eventually gave up on getting me to read the designated works for “English” (they had a real problem with this idea, since I was enough of a bookworm I used to earn “detention” punishments for reading in class), they insisted I should write essays analyzing the messages in what I was reading (& this was before I actually realized there were messages to be found in Heinlein’s work), to which my responses were “I’m reading this for fun, not to be preached at” & “You do realize the best mark you’ve ever given me for an essay was 18%, right?” (27 years later, & I still don’t know the formal structures of any writing which is supposed to have a specified structure).

    August 20, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      Haiku: 5/7/5, ideally with a nature reference. Which reminds me, I haven’t had a haiku day (write all email in haiku) in a while.

      It is a rare treat
      my colleagues find interesting
      if somewhat opaque

      August 20, 2018
    • rightasusual2003gmailcom #

      Oh, Lord! That’s my most hated memory from high school. Over-analyzing the text of our required reading.
      What’s worse is that more than 1/2 the class was slow to ‘get it’ – and this was an accelerated group, what we would today call Honors class. The pace of the class was mind-numbing. I would take out a paperback book during class just to relieve the tedium. Every now and then, the teacher would catch me at it, and ask me a question.
      Drove her nuts when I clearly had read the book, and could intelligently answer the question.
      It completely turned me off literary analysis for life.
      Which, is now a problem, as I have to work out how and where stories fail or work, as part of my understanding how my writing could be improved.

      August 21, 2018
  8. Dave said: “So: what the hell is wrong with the kind of people who CELEBRATE that sf/fantasy, that YA/MG are the territory of a narrow demographic clique?”

    These are the same people who are celebrating today because the ANC decided to seize farms from White owners in South Africa. The inevitable starvation that will follow, they welcome it.

    Its about time people realize that Leftists are what Thanos is modeled after. Having half the population die is a feature with them, not a bug.

    If every boy in America grows up ignorant and unlettered, that is a -win-, Dave.

    August 20, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      Off-Topic.

      Considering Hollywood’s general Leftish positions, I found it interesting that they gave the Villain (Thanos) a Left-Wing Motive.

      In the comics, Thanos was shown as wanting to destroy all of the universe to gain the love of Death. 👿

      August 20, 2018
      • Somebody at Marvel, somebody instrumental at the core of that movie business, had the sense to see that one more Lefty movie was going to disappear into the ocean of grey goo without a trace. They stepped outside the Hollywood box and made the comic book villains come to life.

        What is a comic book villain? A guy with immense powers who wants to rule the world. He’s a totalitarian dictator. A guy who is happy to kill anyone who steps out of line.

        What’s a Communist/Nazi? Same thing.

        Marvel superhero movies are the most politically transgressive art there is right now.

        August 20, 2018
      • And Thanos isn’t the only recent Marvel villain whose motive belonged to the bug-nuts left. Whassisface from Black Panther was, too (although the naivety of relying on the UN for anything was laughable…).

        August 20, 2018
        • Matthew #

          Killmonger – who made a BLM speech to a bunch of Africans who laughed in his face about it.

          August 20, 2018
          • Aimee Morgan #

            That was one of the worst parts of the movie – not the speech, but that the audience was nodding their heads and agreeing. It’s only the the “racist” Western countries where you see people banding together based on nothing but skin color. As I recall, the Hutus and Tutsis were the same color. Wakandan weapons in the hands of most African nations 150 years ago would have just resulted in fewer Africans overall.

            August 20, 2018
          • That’s the one. 😀 And let’s not forget the villain in the first Kingsman movie (very similar motive to Thanos, actually). There is a subversive element in Hollywood that pops up every now and then.

            August 20, 2018
  9. adventuresfantastic #

    C4C

    August 20, 2018
  10. When I started skulling the notion of doing a version of the classic Lone Ranger, it was my daughter to pointed out that there was so little for tween and teen boys available, once JK Rowling finished off the Harry Potter epic. It was her notion that I do my Lone Ranger version and aim it specifically, deliberately at teen and tween boys who craved adventure on the frontier, righting wrongs and solving puzzles. I’ve hand-sold a lot of copies of Lone Star Sons and Lone Star Glory, just by buttonholing 5th-to 10th grade boys at market and book events, putting a copy in their hands and saying, “Take a look at this — I wrote these stories just for kids like you!
    It’s a tragically underserved audience; thank god for independent publishing! (and that I own a Teeny Publishing Bidness.)

    August 20, 2018
    • Christopher Chupik #

      So, it’s about how the Lone Ranger ruthlessly oppresses a Noble Native into vigilante actions based on perpetrating Eurocentric, cismale, hegemonic “justice”, right?

      August 20, 2018
      • *snicker*
        No, it’s pretty much two young guys in frontier Texas – blood-brothers and agents of what passed for the government of the Republic of Texas: looking for buried treasure, missing people, rescuing babies and orphans. Pretty much what I wanted to read about when I was that age. I hated the girl-appropriate books that dodgethebullet mentioned; the dating and babysitting stories were tedious in the extreme to me, although horses were marginally OK. I wanted adventure, treasure, righting wrongs and even more adventure.

        August 20, 2018
        • Christopher Chupik #

          But Celia, that sounds like it’s worth reading. Can’t have that.

          August 20, 2018
          • *shuush*
            That’s my secret super power! Writing stuff that people actually want to read!
            Not the doofi in New York publishing, of course — but real people, out in flyover country!

            August 20, 2018
            • *scribbles notes maddly* My boy is almost 4. I need to start gathering books NOW.

              August 21, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      The “Usagi Yojimbo” graphic novel series by Stan Sakai is the best modern Lone Ranger series. (Ignore the fact that it stars a humanoid rabbit in a fantastical version of 16th century Japan.) It’s great! Akira Kurosawa by way of Carl Barks.

      August 26, 2018
  11. I remember my third grade birthday and Christmas presents pretty well, because I still have all the books. Jules Verne and Mark Twain for the ‘classics’, and several Hardy Boys books for more ‘contemporary’ (even though it was obvious that most took place in the 50’s/60’s). Most of the rest of the stuff I read in grade school was fantasy (lots of anthropomorphic animal stories similar to The Wind In the Willows) or the Choose Your Own Adventure books (I don’t know that I’ve read any second person point of view since). By the time I was in junior high my personal reading list was SF/F (Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, Brooks, Wynne Jones), mystery (Christie, Sayers), adventure (MacLean, Ludlum) or western (L’Amour). And it’s stayed pretty much the same since junior high. I’ve add some more authors to the genres, but outside of Baen, indie and some deals I’ve gotten as eBooks, most of what I read now is stuff written back when I was growing up or before.

    The books I’m reading with my daughter (just turned 8 and entering 2nd Grade) are either anthropomorphic animal stories (she’s really into the Humphrey stories right now) or classics I try to throw in every so often (but still about animals usually). My wife teaches 5th grade now (4th grade for the past 14 years, 3rd before that) and what she has on her classroom library shelves I generally would have expected on my 2nd/3rd grade shelves. But most of the kids coming through are really weak readers. Back when the movies were still coming out Harry Potter was a pretty popular series, even for the weaker readers. But now she says they hardly ever get checked out.

    August 20, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      The REDWALL books totally helped me endure Junior High School.

      August 26, 2018
      • Del Varner #

        My daughter loved these. I read them too, so we could talk about them.

        August 26, 2018
  12. I’ve been making lists for YA, and actually have been contemplating another one soon. Now, how far they are propogating? That’s another question. I also have my heart in a YA for boys and tomboys. Like I was at that age! But time is short for now.

    August 20, 2018
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      FWIW, I recommend Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath series to MG boys. (“Danny Dragonbreath had a vivid imagination, to the dismay of his parents, friends, teachers, lunch lady, and the occasional ambulance.”) They’re vaguely anthro, done in the Wimpy Kid half-comic style, and howlingly funny. The protagonist is an underdeveloped dragon in a middle school for mundane reptiles, and he gets into gleefully over-the-top scrapes. Sometimes with ninjas.

      August 20, 2018
      • Anything by Ursula is awesome!

        August 20, 2018
        • SheSellsSeashells #

          I agree. My signed copy of “Digger” is one of my more happy-making possessions. 🙂

          August 20, 2018
          • Mine isn’t signed. But I still love it.

            August 20, 2018
            • SheSellsSeashells #

              She absolutely lit up when I dragged it along to a bookstore event where she was promoting the first Hamster Princess book, with words to the effect of “I’m really proud of this series, but Digger is my BABY.” Was fun. 🙂 (Bought Hamster Princess too, no worries.)

              August 21, 2018
    • Start a “ask for recommendations” page on FB, and let us populate the list?

      August 21, 2018
      • Yes, with some parameters- we’ve hit the classics, so I want recent suggestions. Also, I have to have time: collating those lists take hours.

        August 21, 2018
    • *tail wags* I have a 3 year old boy and a 1 year old girl. Different worries for each. (Vulcan’s Kittens is already on the short list for the girl… and the boy if he wants it.)

      August 21, 2018
  13. Matthew #

    c4c

    August 20, 2018
  14. So glad to see this problem articulated so well.

    I had the advantage of growing up in a small town, with a small town library, with the budget of a small town library, which meant we had a lot of older books from the Seventies and earlier. Later, after an injection of cash, they began to ‘invest’ in new books and divest themselves from the older. I don’t think they purposefully bought what they bought in order to inject politics into their choices but because they were sold those books as the new hotness that the ‘kids today’ were just dying to read. Not high literature but milquetoast nothings of books meant to reflect what some publisher thought of as reality.

    That was for the boys, and for ‘everyone’ (books for ‘everyone’ are so infrequently written in a way that appeals to boys that I assume they must be written for girls and given a token pass at making them acceptable to boy’s moms). But an interesting thing was pretty obvious if you looked for it. The books for girls weren’t like that. They had fun, bright covers, they had simple, understandable plots with some adventure, they were about subjects girls of that age actually seemed to like (horses, babysitting, dating) and there were a lot of them.

    This is going by memory, but I’d say the books meant for boys numbered less than ten, the books for ‘everyone’ was less than twenty and the books for girls started off somewhere around fifty (the new books were all on one rack) and soon numbered over a hundred. To be fair a lot of that was the books for boys were one-offs and the books for girls were often part of those series that had a new book every month or so.

    When I say I ran out of books to read as a kid I mean it literally.

    The library today is cognizant of that problem and clearly tries to tackle it but they are limited in what they can do because of who they are (mostly middle-aged women) and what is available.

    And I’d say what is available is actually the larger part of the problem. Publishers don’t seem to ‘get’ boys or do ‘get’ boys and purposefully publish books written in a way that is antithetical to what boys actually like. Hot girls, violence, jokes, and heroism as a start. But instead; plain or dowdy girls that are smarter and stronger than the main character, violence happening to the main character and when perpetrated by the MC shown to be horrific and awful, jokes that are in no way funny or even meant to be funny. As for heroism? Not even once. Sometimes accidentally at best. Yes, I’m simplifying it, yes, I’m only talking about the general trends, but when you read a lot of YA for boys you can’t help but see it (I have a boy who will be reading those books soonish and I wanted to see if they’d improved so I read a large sampling. Not every book, obviously, but enough to get a reasonably representative sampling).

    I was talking to an agent at a writing convention last weekend and accidentally pitched him my book (I made a sweet Dragon Assassins t-shirt and got asked about it), then apologized after the fact when I realized he was an agent because I had no intention of selling it to anyone and should not have wasted his time with my pitch. Not out of indie-cred or independence or anything like that, but because it is written to be the kind of novel I wanted to read at the age I ran out of books (13-18) and publishers just don’t publish novels like that. Don’t want to plain down the women, sand off the rough edges, tone down the violence and occasional callousness, don’t want to nerf up the jokes, and I sure as hell don’t want to take away the lesson on honoring your word and becoming a hero. I’d hate myself as a writer if I did that. (Also being a public conservative in a liberal publishing house looks to be a bad way to live when you’re relying on someone to push and polish your novels).

    When I explained off-hand that I didn’t think it could get published traditionally he just nodded and we moved on. No harm, no foul, nice guy, it was a good experience over all since I have a hard time sometimes putting myself out there and doing it accidentally meant the pitch was pretty slick. Like when I used to hit on girls, not doing it on purpose worked way more often than the planned approaches.

    But the libraries aren’t looking for my kind of book, the publishers aren’t publishing my kind of book, agents aren’t looking for my kind of book, but I believe an audience exists that is looking for that kind of book.

    I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t unique. Many other boys found themselves in the same place at the same age. And now the trick is to find a way to hook up with that audience and get them something that I think they well enjoy.

    Steve

    August 20, 2018
  15. Kord #

    John Flanagan. The Ranger’s apprentice and Brotherband. The first series actually get a lot better as the fantastic part of fantasy are toned down from book three or so. The second series is strong from the first book. All of them read a bit like Eddings for younger kids.

    I’d argue that Eddings can be read quite well from an early age.

    I was brought up on Sergeant Bigglesworth. Probably linguistically dated today, but with proper old-fashioned values. They were all taken off the library shelves when I was a kid so I bought around eighty or so of them. There is a clear message of Rule Britannia, but it does not in any way interfere with the often very linear story. Receive mission, encounter bad guys, brave mortal peril, participate in deadly battle, maybe a short interlude, and on to killing the bad guys. Like 200 pages of girl-free quest fantasy.

    Harlan Coben has a nice youth line connected to the Bolitar series.

    August 20, 2018
  16. Azure&Green #

    My wife and I are homeschoolers for academic reasons–the schools in our area are not the best. I think the list you suggested for MG and YA is a great idea. I can think of a number of sites that would probably link to you if you put it up. And my son, a precocious eight, would thank you in the months and years to come.

    I wrote a MG novella called “Geckos Lost” that my kids loved, but I feel it needs a developmental edit. It has a lot of Australia in it, and I’m worried that some of that would not be transitive to someone, let alone a child, who hasn’t been here. Do you have any advice on how you to learn to write MG? I had tabled it to focus on adult fiction first, but your article is inspiring.

    August 20, 2018
    • MG. Now this is not my field of remotely anything like expertise, but I would say the following are very important – it has to move faster than YA and that faster Adult. Language (vocabulary and usage) must be comprehensible to the kids without explanation. Sentences should be short, grammatically correct (which matters LESS as you go older) (Flesch index under 60, IMO) and with clear subjects and objects. I would stick one point of view – head hopping is confusing even for older readers, and single point of view is the natural form for you writers – so therefore for young readers. Oh and no kissing 🙂 I forget which cartoonist described a young audience’s perfect movie – A cowboy film with NO kissing. 🙂

      August 20, 2018
      • Azure&Green #

        Hum… There’s no kissing, but Phil, the MC, does have a terrible crush on Juli, a cute, tomboy gecko…

        Thank you for the benchmarks. I was afraid that my prose might target the wrong reading level. When I read the story to my kids, they loved it, but then they weren’t reading it.

        August 20, 2018
  17. TonyT #

    Some data from my monsters. My daughter loves to read: anything, anywhere, anytime. My son reads when a book catches his attention.

    His most recent longer book was Clockwork Charlie: The Kidnap Plot. Once he started, he spent all his spare time reading until he finished. My daughter also liked it. And while she loves horses, she’s NOT interested in romance, vampires, or such. She seems to like Kipling’s Kim better than my son (BTW, her school library has Kim, yay!). Neither one cares about if the characters are “like them”.

    Especially considering the publishing trends mentioned, I think any good list of YA books (including appropriate adult books) would include many older books – I know I read many good books growing up, and most weren’t gender-specific (OK, maybe Ann of Green Gables counts, but I wouldn’t count it as chick-lit. I skipped Little Women).

    August 20, 2018
  18. Seawriter #

    I review books. (Dave knows that.) My reviews appear originally in the Galveston paper, and are then republished on two web forums. Last week’s book was SF. On one of the forums I was asked if the book I reviewed was suitable for a nine-year-old reading on grammar-school level.

    It really wasn’t – not due to the guns, but other factors. (The central character was a horndog -nothing directly onstage, but . . .) I recommended H. Beam Piper (available on Gutenberg,.org), Heinlein, and almost anything by Dave Freer.

    August 21, 2018
    • Thank you 🙂 You might want to put in a link to your non-fiction – as I think it might interest quite a lot of the readers here

      August 21, 2018
  19. Del Varner #

    How about some of the Romantic era Classics by Robert Louis Stevenson, or Alexandre Dumas? High Adventure! I submit that these are excellent books to read to your kids. ON of the books that turned my son into a reader was reading The Hobbit to him at bedtime (I used my stock of funny/accented voices to add some life to it). He still treasures that time.

    August 21, 2018
  20. rightasusual2003gmailcom #

    I’ve uploaded an excerpt from a kid’s book that I’ve been working on in my spare time.

    http://3littlefoxes.com/

    August 21, 2018
  21. snelson134 #

    “Otherwise donations simply get sold. ”

    Or tossed. Nowadays, bet on tossed. It’s very much the same phenomenon involved in insisting that cops destroy their “surplus” weapons rather than sell them.

    August 21, 2018
  22. David #

    Last YAs I read were Weber’s Stephanie Harrington trilogy and another by Dean Ing. I bought them all through B&N specifically to let them known there is interest. Mostly that’s an exception to my own reading but there is this novel by Anderson & Hoyt in my to read pile.

    August 21, 2018
  23. I do not get the attitude of “all books for girls must be about girls” and similar. Granted, I’m not saying that boys should lump it and enjoy books about girls. That’s not it at all. The problem is that those ‘girl’ books are *boring.*

    I was a kid in the 80s, and even then most of the books were by women. Some of them had boys as protagonists (and some of those are my favorites to this day, like the Dark is Rising), but most of the ones I recall reading (and liking) were mixed groups. Of course, having reread some of my favorites, I also now realize that most had also been published in the 60s or 70s originally (like the Egypt Game). And one that I recall really liking that had a boy as the protagoinst–There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom–I recently reread and found to be…well, a bit too feminized, and I don’t think it would have appealed to boys in the least. So yeah. This female-dominated trend has been going on for quite some time.

    Some of my favorite popcorn reads in high school were books by Alistair Maclean. Unabashed testosterone-fueled pulpy action/spy novels. They’re a blast. I never once found myself disgruntled because the protagonists were manly men who loved beautiful women–I just cared that they were fun and light reads, and a different flavor to my usual preference of epic fantasy (which at that point–in the mid to late 90s–I was finding hard to find good examples of, both in the library AND the bookstores). I had not yet discovered Bujold, and had grown weary of McCaffrey, and so picked up a book with ‘splosions on the cover on a whim.

    But seriously, how can these people ignore Harry Potter? Yes, written by a woman–but the protagonist is male. (Though arguably, it falls under that ‘mixed group’ heading–but the POV character is male.)

    I suppose it isn’t surprising that this narrow group of publishers/librarians is also narrow minded, but honestly, how can they be that blind? Because I see them all over the internets wailing about how libraries are ‘dying.’ Well, no duh. There’s nothing there anyone wants to read, and I’m not about to let my kids (hypothetical kids) hang out there when you let dudes watch porn on the computers.

    August 21, 2018
  24. Mary #

    Agree with you and am hoping the grip that NY has on the children/teen market is starting to loosen. As a retired homeschooler of 20 years I know I always welcomed recommendations for well-written books without the PC. My family belonged to a literature club for years (book club with a lit structure) and our moms/dads scoured so many books looking for authors we could trust and that would engage the non-readers (usually boys). The interest *is* there in the homeschooling community. Also a writer of chapter book series (another area closed to most indies), I would enjoy more access to the market.

    My only complaint about this article is the lack of links. Why am I having to work so hard to buy your books? 🙂

    August 21, 2018
    • (hangs head in shame) Guilty ma’am. I just thought it a bit pushy

      August 22, 2018
  25. mrsizer #

    chapter book series What’s that?

    I’m reading something now (Space Force) that’s bundled in four book volumes. The four together read like a novel (in time and structure), so I’m assuming they were released as very short books as they were being written. That sort of thing?

    August 21, 2018
  26. william penfield #

    This is not a new problem. When I was a YA (1970), we were forced to read some boring western (for the boys) and Carson McCullers (for the girls). Outside of class, the boys were reading Kurt Vonnegut, and the girls were reading Hermann Hesse. Adults are always clueless about the interests of the young.

    August 21, 2018

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