With the right type of story, boys—yes, boys—will get into reading, challenging the stereotype: YA author Pam Withers tells how

By Melanie Jackson

The boy sits, a book in his lap. His gaze is turned away. He’s daydreaming.

He’s a sculpture by Giulio Monteverde (1837–1917), in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Monteverde named him Young Columbus, the implication being that the dry text of books couldn’t begin to capture the imagination of a future explorer.

For some good reasons Columbus is out of popular favour right now. But I think the sculpture—one of my favourites—transcends its name. The boy is any boy. You feel his impatience. He’s stuck with that darn book. He’d rather be outside, climbing trees, wandering through fields and woods, getting into all kinds of fun trouble.

But suppose the book weren’t dull? Suppose it contained a lively, un-put-downable adventure story? Even better, suppose the story had information cleverly tucked in, so that while he read, the boy would be learning without realizing it.

Contrary to the stereotype, these days such books are drawing boys in. Enter Vancouver author and CWILL member Pam Withers, who makes it her mission to bring that traditional oil-and-water duo, books and boys, together.

Pam’s the founder of www.YAdudebooks.ca, a website that she keeps updating with the latest news and reviews about, well, young-adult books for dudes. Pam is also the award-winning author of Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life, as well as more than 20 YA outdoor-adventure novels popular with teen boys.

Recently on behalf of CWILL, I interviewed Pam about boys and reading, the YA Dude Books site, and her own writing.

What inspired you to create YA Dude Books? 

The majority of young-adult and middle-grade books are girl-oriented, and we just want to make it easier for parents, librarians and teens to find books with appeal to boys. We’d simply like to see more boys connect with reading as a result of discovering books they like. 

What qualities does a YA book for boys have that makes it successful, i.e., appealing to boys?

In fiction, we look for male lead characters (or where there is more than one lead character, one is male). With nonfiction, it’s more subjective, but we have teen males selecting from lists of forthcoming books and let’s just say they’re more likely to choose a history book on World War II than they are a book on applying makeup. I’ve also noticed they like sci-fi, fantasy, graphic novels, sports, thrillers and high-tech stuff more than I might. We also feature non-binary authors and main characters too, of course.

What is the challenge for authors in creating stories for boys?

Eighty-five percent of authors for teens and children are female, and they’re more likely to write on topics and in a style that appeal to females. In other words, they’re more likely to produce The Babysitters’ Club than a series on extreme sports. Guys tend to like snappy dialogue, humour, less relationship-dominated and less touchy-feely emotional stuff than girls.

We’re certainly open to girls finding books through our website, and boys finding books through other websites. We’re just adding one more resource into the mix, and teachers, parents and teens are responding positively. Note, too, that the vast majority of teachers and librarians are female, so they appreciate what we’re doing.

As an example of this, with your most recent YA novel, Drone Chase, how did you create it with boys in mind?

The main character is a boy, as with almost all my books, and it’s an outdoor sport, as with all my books. Hopefully, readers will like the dialogue-heavy, emo-light, humor-effused style. Of course, girls like my books too, and there is always a strong-girl secondary character in my novels. 

Given that girls read more, I’m guessing they too enjoy YA Dude-type books. Is there some misconception around girls not reading them that you’d like to talk about?

I certainly hope girls will find our site useful too. It’s all about getting teens reading, and connecting authors and publishers with readers.

Thanks so much, Pam! And anything else you’d like to add?

We’re delighted to interview two authors per month on our site, mostly but not all male, many of them Canadian.

***

From our website: “Pam is well aware that some people will say there’s no such thing as a ‘boy book’ or ‘girl book,’ and she half agrees, but still feels this site may fill a gap, and be useful to some. Due to current societal norms we still live in a time where those who identify as boys tend to read less, and perhaps differently, than their peers.”

A 2018 CCBC-TD Book Week author, Melanie Jackson has written several books for YA readers, including Tick Tock TerrorMedusa’s Scream and Death Drop (Orca) and The Fifth Beethoven (Crwth Press).

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Announcing the passing of James Heneghan

It’s with a sad and heavy heart that CWILL shares the news that writer James Heneghan died peacefully last Friday, April 23.

James was a long-time member of CWILL BC, and one of Canada’s foremost authors of historical and realistic fiction for young readers, winning many prizes including the Sheila Egoff Award for children’s literature three times, and was honoured to be the recipient of the Phoenix Award in 2017 for his novel, Wish Me Luck.

Norma Charles, who co-authored 2009’s Bank Job with James, describe him as a wise, witty, and humble man who was a joy and privilege to work with. To quote him, “I enjoy writing for children…but one thing I have discovered is that children are tough critics. They know what they like, and only your best will do.”

You can find out more information about James Heneghan in this article in Quill & Quire.

Our condolences to his family and friends.

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Writing Kids’ Books: The Inside Story

Did you miss CWILL BC’s big event about breaking into the kidlit industry? Well, fret no further! The event, hosted with the Vancouver Public Library, is now available for viewing!

Just click HERE.

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Announcing the 2021 shortlist for The Joan Betty Stuchner — Oy Vey— Funniest Children Book award

It’s April 1, but this is no joke!

The Joan Betty Stuchner — Oy Vey! — Funniest Children’s Book Award committee has a very serious announcement to make: our jury has finally stopped laughing long enough to tell us which books they have chosen for our shortlist!  Many funny books were entered for consideration, but these are the ones that had our jury the most buckled over with guffaws, incapacitated with giggles, and/or rib-ticklingly, side-splittingly, thigh-slappingly entertained.

The shortlisted books in the picture or board book category are:

Farm Crimes: Cracking the Case of the Missing Egg – written and illustrated by Sandra Dumais (Owlkids)

How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps – written by Nicola Winstanley, illustrated by John Martz (Penguin Random House)

Aaalligator! – written by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier (Kids Can Press)

Princess Puffybottom and Darryl – written by Susin Nielsen, illustrated by Olivia Mueller Chin (Penguin Random House)

Not Me – written and illustrated by Elise Gravel (Scholastic)

The shortlisted books in the chapter book category are:

The Unteachables – written by Gordon Korman (Scholastic)

Kiddo – written and illustrated by Cynthia Nugent (Tradewind Books)

Sophie Trophy – written by Eileen Holland, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan (Crwth Press)

Mya’s Strategy to Save the World – written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Penguin Random House)

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life – written by Beverley Brenna, illustrated by Tara Anderson (Pajama Press)


Congratulations to all who are short-listed and thanks to our wonderful judges for doing the difficult work of deciding between so many funny books:

Sharon Freeman

Alan Woo

Ellen Schwartz

Winners will be announced at our Zoom extravaganza on Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May 15, 2021) at 11am PST. If you would like to join us, please email Cindy Heinrichs  to reserve your spot.

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Join us at our Free Event — Writing and Illustrating Kids’ Books: The Inside Story

CWILL BC’s annual panel on becoming a children’s author / illustrator is coming up—and is free to attend.

When: Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Where: Hosted by the Vancouver Public Library via Zoom.

Who: Panelists include Karen AutioDarren GrothMelanie JacksonSara LeachSue Macartney and Lois Peterson. The panel will be moderated by Ellen Schwartz, author of 17 books for children, including picture books, chapter books, teen novels, and non-fiction.

Join us—professional children’s authors and illustrators—to find out how we broke into this exciting and competitive field and built our careers. Ask questions and get practical information on topics such as how to improve your writing, how to find a publisher and submit your work, what agents do, what to look for in a book contract, and what the financial rewards are.

For more information, including the link to access the event, visit the VPL website.

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If you love BC creators, we’ve got you covered!

CWILL BC is pleased to announce our new and shiny newsletter, which will offer subscribers a round-up of all the latest publications being released by BC children’s authors and illustrators each season.

You can view our inaugural issue here, to learn about fall releases, and featuring artwork by our talented member, Russ Wilms.

And you can sign up for future issues here! We’ll be releasing our news round-ups two to three times a year.

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