Tag Archives: books for boys

Winning middle fiction

By popular demand, here’s a list of fiction suitable for keen upper primary and lower secondary school readers.

My caveat is that no list caters to all tastes or abilities. I’m also a firm believer that the right book finds its perfect reader; please explore libraries and bookstores (slowly) and see what catches the eye.

This list is skewed so that it starts with titles suitable for younger readers and progresses to more mature books – YA fiction suitable for younger readers.

I know of numerous other middle fiction novels that come highly recommended – John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series is a good example. That said, I’m confining this catalogue to books/series I’ve read all or part of. Feedback is welcome. I hope the young reader in your life finds hours of escapism here.

Film tie-in Coraline cover
Film tie-in Coraline cover

Novels:

Star Wars Academy (series) – Jeffrey Brown
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) – Jeff Kinney
Staying Alive in Year 5 – John Marsden
The Samurai Kids (series) – Sandy Fussell
The Greatest Blogger in the World – Andrew McDonald
Nicholas (series) – Rene Goscinny
Chess Nuts – Julia Lawrinson
The Detachable Boy – Scot Gardner
The OK Team (series) – Nick Place
Odd & the Frost Giants – Neil Gaiman
Wildwood – Colin Meloy
Sadako & the Thousand Paper Cranes – Eleanor Coerr
Matilda – Roald Dahl (and James & the Giant Peach, etc.)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
The Billionaire’s Curse (series) – Richard Newsome
Percy Jackson (series) – Rick Riordan
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
The Lab – Jack Heath
A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) – Lemony Snicket
The Spiderwick Chronicles (series) – Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Wonder – RJ Palacio
Tomorrow When the War Began (series) – John Marsden
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter (series) – JK Rowling
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – JRR Tolkien
Skulduggery Pleasant (series) – Derek Landy
Two Wolves – Tristan Bancks
Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan
Taronga – Victor Kelleher
Blaze of Glory (series) – Michael Pryor
Zeroes (new series) – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti
Skellig – David Almond
I am Number Four (series) – Pittacus Lore
Vulture’s Gate – Kirsty Murray
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
The Spook’s Apprentice (series) – Joseph Delaney
Contest – Matthew Reilly
The Rider – Tim Krabbe
Alex Rider (series) – Anthony Horowitz
The Hunger Games (series) – Suzanne Collins
So Much to Tell You – John Marsden
Blood Ninja – Nick Lake
The Underdog (series) – Markus Zusak
Cherub (series) – Robert Muchamore
Every Breathe (series) – Ellie Marney
Illuminae (new series) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Graphic novels and comics:

Tintin (series) – Herge
Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon Hale
Calamity Jack – Shannon Hale
Asterix (series) – Goscinny & Uderzo
Calvin & Hobbes (series) – Bill Watterson
Drama – Raina Telgemeier
Sisters – Raina Telgemeier
Artemis Fowl (series) – Eoin Colfer (also available as novels)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga) – Hayao Miyazaki
Joe the Barbarian – Grant Morrison
Yowamushi Pedal (manga series) – Watanabe Wataru
Guardians of the Galaxy (series) – Brian Michael Bendis
Marvel Civil War (series) – Mark Millar

Rust free

I’m embarrassed by how neglected this blog has been lately. Apologies to anyone who has tuned in and failed to find anything new.

The truth is that my work status has changed and, with new responsibilities and deadlines, I’ve had to cut back on non-essential tasks. Blogging and tweeting are among those. As for writing, sigh, let’s just say you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Book 3. I have the ingredients, characters and a good chunk of the plot – but no time to knead and bake.

Indeed, this post is being tapped out in a lull between cooking dinner, doing dishes and wrangling the kids towards their beds. Storytime beckons and I’ll soon be plunged into fictional worlds of noisy new babies and lusty vampire ninjas.

So, please find below a bulleted list of things that have consumed the first quarter of 2011:

  • I’ve had a week’s residence at a secondary school where the Yr 10 English students studied Five Parts Dead. That was impressive on several levels. 5PD is a novel that’s less than a year old but the staff found it somehow and felt it would connect with their students, including reluctant readers. The feedback has been incredibly positive and the college is looking at studying the book in 2012 with a fresh batch of Yr 10s. I’m indebted to a group of teachers and teacher-librarians who were willing to think outside the usual bunch of school texts. As for the students, they certainly came up with probing questions about character and plot. I reckon I understand my own work better, thanks to their dissection.
  • I have sold three short stories, two of which will be used in literacy tests. The third will feature in a school textbook for Grade 5 to Year 8 students. I haven’t had any junior fiction published before so I’m quietly chuffed about this.
  • I attended my first interstate speaking engagement, joining the smorgasbord of storytellers at the Newington College Literature Festival in Sydney. I applaud Newington for generating so much enthusiasm and interest in words and writing from their students and staff. And it really was fun to meet and spend time with other speakers.
  • My family booked tickets for Japan – and then watched in horror at the devastation wrought by the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear contamination. Our holiday plans are on ice but this is inconsequential. My heart goes out to the generous people of Japan as they grapple with a social, environmental and economic toll we Australians can’t possibly comprehend. I heard a father interviewed last week who lost two children to the tsunami. Every day after work he returns to the wreckage to search for even the smallest sign of their bodies. There must be thousands of other heart-breaking stories like this.
  • I spoke to a group of 250 Yr 12 students just off the buses at their first day of study camp, in Week 1 of term. Chances of them remembering my words? Slim if not nil. Apologies to the student that asked for tips on writing short stories that I haven’t posted yet. (I haven’t forgotten though – and will do so ASAP.)
  • I’ve spoken to Yr 7 and Yr 8 students about finding and reading great books – and launched the Premiers’ Reading Challenge at two schools.
  • I spoke to a large group of fathers and their Yr 7 sons about Books for Boys and how to get their sons reading.
  • At my editing job, which is basically full time now, I’ve hired four new staff and begun an intense six-month project.
  • I’m now booked to speak at (in chronological order) the Emerging Writers’ Festival, an exciting Booktalkers event, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, the Ballarat Writers’ Festival and the 1000 Words Festival. There’s also a guest lecture at RMIT, another at NMIT and sundry other luncheons and chats. Please come along to one or several of the public events and say g’day.
  • While work on Book 3 has been rare or non-existant, I started a short story that seems to be begging to be something bigger. That’s kind of exciting.
  • I’ve cycled in excess of 850 km and have actually come to appreciate the beauty of dawn, dammit.
  • And I’m slowly rebuilding our front fence in my “spare” time.

As my grandmother used to say, it’s better to wear out than rust out.

Books for Boys 3

I’ve had a few invitations lately to talk about books for boys. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and all too pleased to tackle. Hey, I’ve been reading for a long time now and I truly believe certain books have made me the person I am. That’s how important finding the right books can be.

On Tuesday night (International Women’s Day) I spoke to approximately 40 fathers and Year 7 sons, at St Bernard’s College in Essendon, on this exact topic. It was a great turnout, given the guys could have been home watching Top Gear on tele. I probably rambled on too long but that’s the risk when I’m recommending books to read.

Several of the father’s present asked me to publish the list of books that I spoke about so here it is. As time permits, I’ll add synopses for the stories as well. Those marked GN are graphic novels.

For primary age readers:

The Dumb Bunnies series, the Captain Underpants series, Dogzilla all by Dav Pikey.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

For upper primary – lower secondary:

The Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell

The OK Team series by Nick Place

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Rapunzel and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale (GN)

Chess Nuts by Julia Lawrinson

The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection by various authors including Stan Lee (GN)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Vulture’s Gate by Kirsty Murray

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden

The Spook’s Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

For mid to upper secondary readers:

Boys of Blood & Bone by David Metzenthen

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The Cave by Susanne Gervay

Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming by Scot Gardner, not to mention Gravity and all Scot’s other books

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller (GN)

Fighting Ruben Wolf; The Underdog; The Messenger – all by Markus Zusak who is better known for The Book Thief

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska by John Green

Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin

The Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn (book 1 Across the Nightingale Floor)

Kill the Possum by James Moloney

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

The Beginner’s Guide to Living by Lia Hills

Bladerunner by Philip K Dick (alternate title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

And can I throw in Game as Ned and Five Parts Dead by me?

A few quick comments:

– Most of these are great books for female readers, too. Some have tough and inspiring female protagonists. They just happen to be books that I think will work with male reader for some of the reasons I explain in this post.

– I’m biased toward fiction but if your son prefers non-fiction, find what interests him and go with that. I’ll post more on this in future as several people asked how to get their sons reading fiction.

– Graphic novels are a great way to suck people into reading stories because they feel more like TV. My favourite iPad app comes from Comixology and lets me select from a massive range of graphic novels, with many samples for free. For example, Bladerunner, cited above, has been serialised as a graphic novel, under the original title. I’m also looking at some of Frank Miller’s earlier work on Wolverine. Comics on offer include age ratings in case you’re concerned your offspring might select something too edgy.

– There are other highly recommended books I could include, such as Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series. I haven’t read these yet so, until I do, they don’t make the cut.

Hopefully you’ll find something on the list you and your sons can agree on and enjoy. After all, if you both read a book, there’s common ground for a conversation.

Tackling the hot topic of autism

My lovely wife recently stumbled across this School Library Journal article which looks at depictions of autism spectrum disorders in fiction. The catalyst for the well argued piece was the tagging of a book with “current cool disability” on the very handy LibraryThing site.

Now, for those with no clue as to what the previous convoluted sentence means, here’s the skinny. LibraryThing is a website for anyone who wants to keep a record of books in their collection or titles they’ve been reading. Whenever you add a book to your online collection you can tag it to help other site users looking for similar tomes. For instance, I tag books in my collection with ‘books for boys’ if I think they will work for reluctant male readers. That makes them easier for me to find – and anyone else who might be interested.

So, someone read a book which features an autistic character and tagged it as “current cool disability.” Hmmmmm, wonder what the previous trendy disability was…

It’s a cheap shot. The fact that there are growing numbers of novels that explore autism doesn’t mean that this disorder is cool. It might mean that with rising numbers of autism diagnoses there’s a market for stories that shed new light on what can be a very challenging condition. I doubt that many families directly affected by autism would consider it cool. Heart-breaking, perhaps. Testing, yes. Inspiring. Instructive. Many other adjectives could be used. But not cool.

In my first novel, Game as Ned, the title character has a form of autism. I didn’t have autism in mind when I began writing. Apart from Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in Rain Man, I knew very little about it. But I could visualise my character acting in a particular way and needed to research why and how this behaviour might manifest. Many hours of research later, I found that autism could explain what I wanted to describe.

This was a start point, not an end to my research. I read books by authors with autism (especially Dr Temple Grandin and Donna Williams). I attended exhibitions by artists with autism. I spoke to families dealing with autism and interviewed disability professionals. All this work showed me autism spectrum disorders involve a vast range of behaviours, difficulties and abilities. It helped me understand a character in my story could express himself in a way that most of us would never consider. It was liberating and intimidating.

When I heard about Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time I was devastated. I didn’t think anyone else would want to read about an autistic teenager, given that CI had been so successful. A publisher assured me that yes, there was a market for novels relating to autism. Game as Ned was eventually launched by a very generous lady with extensive and personal experience of autism.

My book is now one of several novels that explore this condition. I believe this is a good thing. We all see the world in unique ways and if more of us understand this, fewer might judge, dismiss or belittle folk because they’re different. Sure, we could argue that a rash of books on vampires renders bloodsuckers hip. That doesn’t mean a handful of novels tackling autism makes for a groovy disability.

For references on autism spectrum disorders, scroll down my Teachers’ Notes page.