It’s in the air.
Everywhere I turn these days I keep stumbling into discussions about boys and books and reading and literacy. Either this is one of those situations where the universe is suddenly focused a sharp light in one direction and everyone is looking, or I’m seeing what’s always been there with the eyes of the newly awakened.
Just yesterday I got the go-ahead on my lecture topic for my January residency. As part of fulfilling my graduation requirements I need to give a 45 minute lecture on the topic of my choosing to my fellow students and faculty at Vermont College. This has caused me no end of anxiety because while most people are willing, content, and even excited to craft lectures from their Critical Theses, am not one of those people. As much as I learned and can share about the topic of accuracy in picture book biographies, the thesis was a personal exploration for me, a way of picking apart the sub-genre in order to not only understand it but to one day, eventually, write a few of my own. One day.
But then one of my classmates asked a pretty basic question and it hit me like a tonne of soggy peat: what are you passionate about?
Before I entered the program, while I was still mulling over unformed ideas about children’s literature, I considered pursuing a radical idea I had about non-linear non-fiction. It was founded on the idea that boys are naturally drawn to non-fiction and the idea of a recombined narrative that came from a snippet of and article in the New York Times explaining how one can read and re/mis/interpret the Koran. Yeah, I know, a little out there. But it really came down to boys and reading.
And since then everything seems to circle back around to boys and reading. Whenever people asked what sort of books I wrote the answer would generally be middle grade and young adult. After a while that wasn’t good enough. At residency a couple July’s back Louise Hawes had us do an exercise where our adult selves had a conversation with our younger selves, and in that exercise I was torn between wanting to talk to the 11 year old me and the 17 year old me.
And that, it turned out, was my audience.
So now when people ask I’m just as likely to say I write middle grade and YA books for boys, because that is ultimately who I envision as my audience when I write. But how does one write for a boy? Are their types and tropes and plotlines specific to boys? Is it all action and no feeling? What exactly is a boy boy book, and what can we as writers do to retain and encourage boys to read and keep reading?
And thus my lecture topic was born.
Four months. That’s the amount of time I have to work this thing out. I am finding new information and resources every day, but if you have a particular piece of wisdom, insight, or research to share, please, or if you know a professional who could be of assistance – teacher, librarian, bookseller, scholar –by all means, get in touch.
Boys, boy books, and boy-friendly reading. Boys. We’re gonna represent come Jaunary.