Ty Roth wrote a blog post yesterday about the lack of YA “boy books” and male authors who write them. I started to write a comment, but it got so long that I’ve turned it into a post.
There was a time when a lot of books for boys were being published. I know this, because when I was young, my big brother’s room was closer than the local library and I was lazy, so I used to raid his bookcase. I was rewarded with finds like My Side of the Mountain, Gull Number 737, The Mad Scientists Club, and a lot of other good “boy books” that were popular those days.
At school, the books we had to read were also “boy books” (Shane, The Call of the Wild, Johnny Tremain, etc.). When we girls complained, the teachers would say it was because girls would read “boy books” but boys didn’t like “girl books.” I knew this to be true from personal experience, and when the trend continued in high school with A Separate Peace, The Great Gatsby and The Old Man and the Sea, I didn’t think too much about it. The books were good, and if I needed a “girl book” fix, I could just go to the library.
Times have changed. My going-into-sixth-grade son has had to read Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Tall, Alice in Wonderland, and a host of other “girl books” at school. Consequently, he has become so turned off by what he perceives as fiction that I’ve had to bribe him with computer time to get him to read it at all. When I take him to the library, there are virtually no good modern “boy books,” and all but the classics have been sold off at library sales, so he’s been borrowing Jules Verne.
I’ve had the gut feeling that if he just read the right book, he would see that reading can be fun as well as informative. After a lot of thought, and one failed attempt with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (another “girl book”), I have finally hooked him with one of the titles from my brother’s bookcase, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. He read it on his own, and actually asked me if I would buy the sequel for him.
I suspect that the well-meaning movement to empower girls in the 1980’s and 90’s spawned an inadvertent backlash against boy titles as the girls of my generation became agents, editors and teachers. It’s nice that girls are able to read things in school now that interest them, but the boys should at least be able to find something that they like at the library.