At the SCBWI-LA Conference a few weeks ago, several agents and editors discussed middle grade boy books fueling the fire in publishing houses. After the explosion of Young Adult fiction, thanks to a few werewolves, vampires, and a book called Twilight, it's clear that some publishers have refocused on the golden years. Eight to twelve year-olds. Girls have always read. And they will always outread boys. But the discussion goes on. How do we get boys to read more?
Today's post at Kidlit does not delve too far into answering that question. Nor should it. But it does bring up several key points about current middle grade boys and their reading habits. Action. Adventure. Quick scenes. Snappy dialogue. End-of-the-world scenarios. These elements pull boys into stories.
Or do they?
For the most part, boys have shorter attention spans and are more immature than their counterparts. And now that we (writers) have video games, iPods, iPads, and texting to compete with, maybe we're only left with writing twelve year-old James Bond characters who save the world one school year at a time.
But I disagree.
Boys are humans. Arguably. And humans have been telling stories for generations. Through symbols, drawings, oral tradition, and finally, words. I was once a boy reader. And I was riveted when it came to finding out if Johnny Twelve Year-Old hit a homerun to win the big game, or if he survived Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, or outsmarted the bratty girl to prove his sleuth skills. But as I grew into teenagedom, those things didn't matter as much.
Consider today's twelve year-old boys. For various reasons, they're growing up faster than ever. Really, they're teenagers. But those previously mentioned stories, the ones I used to read, are still relevant to boy readers. But the age range has changed. Think 8-10 ten year-olds, and some 11 year-olds. Of course there's the boy who reads every Harry Potter book before third grade, because Mom thinks he's a genius and he comprehends six years above his grade level. There will always be that boy.
But for the rest of the eight, nine, and ten year-olds (and eleven year-olds) quieter stories still have a place on their bookshelves. Stories with voice and character. Stories that end with hope for a better understanding of life and not save-the-world scenarios. Stories that dive into character and not the Grand Canyon. Stories set in boys' everyday worlds and not militaristic camps where recruits are brainwashed and given jobs to assassinate foreign spies (I admit, that sounds cool).
My point is that character and voice are still relevant to boy readers. But the age range for that category has changed. The boy who reads that book still kisses his mom good-bye before opening the car door and venturing into his classroom.