Reading for Preteen Boys
Preteen boys can be whirling dervishes of nonstop activity, and when they do relax, it's most often in front of a video game. But there is another activity claiming the attention of our young men, and it's one that parents can fully encourage – reading. Thanks to Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, boys have discovered that reading is cool, and publishers, authors and parents are racing to fill that newfound appetite.
Jeff Stone is the author of the Five Ancestor Series (Random House), an action-adventure series about five orphaned warrior monks in ancient China. The fourth in the series, CRANE, comes out at the end of February 2007.
Stone says there are more preteen boys reading than ever before. "I'm certain more kids are reading now than when I was young, and it seems like more preteens have been reading since Harry Potter started shattering records," he says. "I think Harry's impact on the marketplace led to more novels being published for younger readers, and more novels make for more choices. People of all ages like choices."
What does Stone love best about writing for the preteen audience? Remembering what it was like to be 12 and becoming that age again. "When I was 12, I could conquer the world," he says. "I could be anything ... do anything. I do my best to put that same energy into each one of my books in hopes that it will keep a kid reading. Not only reading my books, but other books as well. Lots of books."
Involvement Is Key
Stone has found the best way to get your son to enjoy reading is to get involved. That is what he does with his own children. "Read with your son at home, and if your son is 'too old for that', consider starting a mother/son or father/son reading group," he says. "I met with one mother/son reading group that meets at a bookstore in Malibu, Calif. It was awesome. Another thing you can do is listen to books on CD in the car. Most of them are very well done. If your son enjoys one, get him an actual book by that same author. Odds are, he'll give reading it a shot – especially if you pick a book with lots of action."
Stone says that boys in general are no different from men in general. Men usually prefer action in their books, movies, etc. They're also very visual and enjoy words that create a vivid scene in their mind.
What Boys Like
Elizabeth Haydon is the author of a series called The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, which includes The Floating Island (Starscape, 2006). Haydon is passionate about encouraging preteens, especially boys, to read and says that part of getting them to read is choosing books with them in mind.
"Themes that are appreciated by boys this age are action, the more detailed the better, some sort of struggle, threat or fighting, particularly of the heroic sort – whether it's epic or in the schoolyard – suspense, puzzles, horror and humor, often of the crass kind," Haydon says. "Flatulence and other toilet jokes, as much as I hate to admit it, are very popular and intriguing to preteen boys, as evidenced in the success of books from Walter the Farting Dog (North Atlantic Books, 2001) and Captain Underpants (The Blue Sky Press, 2002) to David Lubar's Weenies books and Artemis Fowl, though that series contains a lot of violence that may be too intense for kids of this age. While it doesn't do much to contribute to polite society, my feeling is that anything interesting enough to get boys of this age to read happily and without pressure is a good objective, within reason, of course."
While your son might not be able to put into words the style of writing he enjoys most, chances are it's universal at this age. "Boys also appreciate books that are written very visually, where they can see the action easily in their own minds," Haydon says. "Concrete plots rather than abstract ones appeal more to them. I suggest that parents establish regular but limited reading times, usually at the end of the day rather than when a young boy is full of energy."
Encouraging Boys to Read
Wendy Lamb is vice president and publishing director of Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House. As an editor for authors such as Gary Paulson and Graham Salisbury, Lamb is as close as you can be to being an expert on what boys like. She believes boys are looking for authenticity.
"They look for honesty, real characters they can relate to, strong, clear story lines and high action," she says. "There may be a message, but it can't be overt. The author must stay off the page – the style must be natural and plain, not self-conscious or 'writery'. The storyteller must have authority in how he or she sets out the story. All of this is so the reader can trust the book and be willing to enter its world."
Lamb says it's important that parents send a message that reading is fun and cool, and that it's something they value and want to share.
"Set the example of reading for pleasure at home, and reading together as a family," she says. "Connect books to sharing and enjoying time together. If a child resists a book, find another approach and attach reading to something important to the child. For example, if your son loves reptiles but hates to read about them, if you visit a zoo or museum he might be intrigued enough to read the signs on the exhibits. Or if he has a pet, he might want to read about how to take care of it. A sports fan might persevere with the sports pages. One attractive thing about reading for many kids is that it's a way to get a parent's time and attention. Help your child see reading as a conduit to all sorts of useful and pleasurable things."