There is a lot of talk among writers and publishing professionals about how to get boys to read. Apparently, boys don’t read as much as girls. Since the only family member in our home who is a girl (besides me) is in actuality a two-year-old Newfoundland dog, I have to say it is the opposite in our household, but perhaps we are just weird. Many say that while girls will read a book from the POV of a boy, boys will not read books from the POV of a girl. As a mother of 3 boys who are all ravenous readers I was curious and began watching their reading habits.
I buy books for them every month (as prizes for general awesomeness when I happen upon it) and I just decided to get books that I thought they would like, whether it had a boy protagonist or a girl protagonist. It is the story that makes the decision to purchase or not for me.
Guess what? It appears to be the story that makes the decision for them too. Recently my youngest (9) loved When the Sea Turned to Silver. My middle boy (11) had a concussion (runner sled meets rogue stick meets the sky and then the ice) and he devoured audio book after audio book for a week since he could do nothing else while he waited for his poor brain to heal. His favorite was Sweet Home Alaska, with a girl protagonist and he also loved the How to Train Your Dragon books with almost no female characters at all and The Unstoppable Octobia May with a girl protagonist and of course the Hank The Cowdog books who have (you guessed it) a dog protagonist. My oldest just zipped through The Hunger Games books from Katniss Everdeen’s perspective and thought they were amazing, though slightly scandalous.
I am starting to think that the question we should ask is not “Is the hero a boy or a girl?” I think perhaps a more important question about engaging boy readers is “Is the hero heroic?”
Now, observing the reading habits of three boy readers who devour books and audio books like rampaging T-Rexes for a couple of years is not a study in any way shape or form, but it can give us some insights.
- Boys love bravery–Whether it is Percy Jackson whose big mouth and arrogant snark are always getting him in trouble or Katniss Everdeen who essentially pits herself against her entire world and then some to protect her little sis, boys long to be a hero and love to read about characters who discover the hero within. Even a quiet character like Pinmei in When the Sea Turned to Silver is immediately thrown into circumstances where she must be bold and brave despite her desire to fade into the background. My guys love a true hero or heroine.
- Boys love action–What did all of those characters, boy and girl, have in common? They were all doing something, something important. Is there a vampire in the boardinghouse Octobia loves? Will Trip’s family make it homesteading in Alaska? Will Hiccup save the dragons? What about Katniss’s little sister? Big stuff better be going on. When the stakes are high, my boys are right there in the story.
- Boys love slapstick–Now, what Hank The Cowdog might lack in ultimate stakes (sometimes the story question is as simple as “Will Hank eat the steaks off the table or not?”) he more than makes up for in the slapstick department. My boys love it when there are falls and gags, humorous predicaments and dreadful mistakes. When Toothless poos in the helmet of Stoic the Vast, that is just the best. Some stories lend themselves better to slapstick than others, but if at all possible, bring on the funny!
- Boys love survival and skills–Why did they enjoy Sweet Home Alaska and even portions of Little House on the Prairie? Survival information just totally fascinates them. How do you build a chicken coop that will protect hens at 50 degrees below zero? How did Pa make the cabin door when they didn’t have any doorknobs? A balloon out of a pig bladder, sign them up! Boys love to learn things that they just might use someday. Provide those interesting tidbits to keep your boy readers happy.
- Boys love the “Oh Wow” factor–My guys enjoy sharing strange tidbits of information, science, or snappy dialogue with us when they come upon it. Is there an image of a knight riding a giant spider on the cover, they want to tell you all about it. Do the dragons have a special way of breathing fire that boggles the mind? Did Prince Charming gain his phobia of cat fur in a strange and hilarious manner (The Heroes Guide to Saving Your Kingdom) … (which incidentally is full of brave heroines and bumbling Princes and the occasional well-mannered giant)? What animal can eat more pounds of raw meat per second than any other? In general, boys love non-fiction and the stories that are sprinkled with fun and amazing facts or detailed maps of the land or drawings of huge robots are much more likely to thrill and delight.
So there you have it, 5 tips for writing for boys from a mom of boys. Set your pen to paper and let the fun begin!