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 Terror, Medusa’s Scream and Death Drop (Orca) and The Fifth Beethoven (Crwth Press).