Where the Boys Are

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.

Gull Number 737My Side of the Mountain

The Mad Scientists' Club (Mad Scientist Club)Wonderful Flight To the Mushroom Planet


Filed under Critical Thinking, Miscellaneous, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing

6 responses to “Where the Boys Are

  1. I always try to be very careful when choosing the books I read aloud to the class. We don’t do whole class book studies here – each child reads their books independently – we are required to have differentiated instruction, so everyone reads at their own levels and to their own interests. It works well.

    For my read alouds, I often choose a book with a male MC. And I make sure the book has a fair amount of action. It’s really important for me to suck the boys into books right away. This year I read Maniac Magee first. They loved it.


    • Read-alouds are a great way to hook readers. When I was in third grade, my teacher would always read to us after lunch and I still remember the stories – Paul Bunyan, Billy Goat’s Gruff, etc. I hadn’t thought about it before, but all of those were boy stories, too. 🙂


  2. Wow, I’d forgotten about The Mad Scientist’s Club!

    Try Homer Price. Edward Eager. The Borrowers (They’re not just about Arrietty but the whole family, including Pod, and the later books feature the wonderful independent hermit, Spiller.) Paddington. All of these have been my son’s favorites at one time or another.

    He’s 12—almost 13—now, and for the past six years I’ve written books for him myself. They’re chock full of chaos and nonsense, things falling apart and blowing up, non sequiturs, dinosaurs, robots, trains, bizarre inventions, and both male and female characters rampaging wildly, joyously, and with great affection for each other through their world.

    Give your son a typewriter. Sit around telling stories and making each other laugh out loud.

    He’ll learn to love fiction.


    • My son bought a Paddington book at a school sale when he was in first grade, and gave it to me for my birthday so that I could read it to him at bedtime (that was before the big turn-off.) Homer Price is great, and Half Magic was one of my favorites. I also enjoyed The Borrowers, but my son didn’t click with it for some reason.

      I wrote a book for my son, too (YA), but have made the mistake of trying to get it published. 🙂


  3. Thanks for giving me the link to this post! Really liked it–also, I’m surprised Mixed-up Files didn’t cut it for him.


    • I was surprised, too, but the protag was a girl, and her brother was a little two dimensional, so perhaps that is why. He didn’t hate it, he just didn’t love it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s