Of all my posts so far, Books for boys has attracted the most eyeballs. Getting boys to pick up a book, open it, begin reading (often slowly and grudgingly) and then persevere right through to the finish, can be a real challenge. As a result, there are countless parents and teachers out there on a Holy Grail-style quest for titles that can engage and entertain.
I’m no literacy expert. But I was a compulsive reader when young. Still am, really. I read to my son every night, select books for him from the local library, chat to him and his mates about what they’re reading (if they read at all), visit schools to talk about being an author and journalist, and consume a lot of books myself – many in the Young Adult category. I reckon that gives me a pretty good spider sense for what will snare male readers and what won’t.
While I reckon almost all the titles in my earlier Books for boys post are winners, those listed below are also well worth a look. And if you want to delve even deeper, here are some themes I reckon you should watch for:
Competition: This doesn’t have to mean sport. It could mean who farts the loudest. But boys are inherently competitive and once they get sucked into a competition, they’re more likely to stick around for the medal presentation.
Action: This doesn’t have to mean guns and blood. It does require interesting developments every few pages. Boys are impatient. They don’t want to wait for stuff to happen. I recently read a really well written junior fiction book about two girls whose friendship was on the wane. They talked about it a lot and eventually made up BUT NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. I guess that’s why the cover was pink.
Short chapters: Yes, I know, this rule is broken by Tolkien and many others. But if you have a seven-year-old who is only beginning to read, they want to feel like they’re getting somewhere, not bogged in a chapter that never ends. Short chapters let them pause, take a break, absorb what they have read and, cue parent voice, turn the light out before midnight.
Humour: Hard to write, great fun to read. Lots of boys like reading gross-out material about bums, snot and slime generally. I actually think the key to this stuff isn’t how sticky or stinky it is. I reckon it’s the story and the slapstick. Boys want to laugh at weird and wonderful things happening – mainly to adults.
Interests: If your boy has an interest or obsession, play to it. Buy books that detail the boots worn by Beckham or the sword swung by Sir Lancelot. If you can’t find a bookstore carrying Japanese manga card game characters, look for them online. Where there’s a market, there’s a publisher.
Comics: Don’t shy away from graphic novels – but do check the suitability for your boy’s age group. There are some fantastic graphic novel series available and, reading is reading, whether there are pictures or not.
I’ve gone on too long and haven’t listed any books yet. I’m not great at pumping my own tyres but I’d note that my own debut novel, Game as Ned has been popular with male (and female) readers aged 13 and up. Judging by the letters I’ve received, the boys like that there’s lots of action (after a slow start), occasional humour, short chapters and a tense finish. When a 15-year-old writes to say “I don’t like reading but your book is the best book I’ve read”, it’s a mighty compliment.
Anyway, here are some more Books for boys that are well worth a look, with suggested reader ages in brackets:
Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy (a bit trippy and obtuse in places but funny and sassy and most boys look at the cover illustration and go “whooooa – I want to read that.”) (10+)
Contest – Matthew Reilly (Most Reilly titles are great for boys but, of those I’ve read, this is my favourite.) (12+)
Kill the Possum – James Moloney (Covers some heavy terrain but teen males will identify with the narrator’s emotions) (15+)
Looking for Alaska – John Green (15+)
Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy (14+)
For younger readers, check out:
The Tangshan Tigers series – Dan Lee (my son found these by himself, read them and loved them) (7+)
The Captain Underpants series and The Dumb Bunnies – Dave Pilkey (6+)
The OK Team – Nick Place (7+)
Just about anything with Andy Griffiths’ name on the cover (6+)
Ditto for Paul Jennings (7+)
Star Wars graphic novels (7+)
I’ll keep adding to this list as I keep on reading. To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag so you can search titles I believe boys will enjoy.