Tag Archives: Cory Doctorow

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.

Leaking lists

Newspaper editors around Australia must be besides themselves with joy that the WikiLeaks story has broken during the silly season when news can be hard to come by. We do have the Poms belting us black and blue at cricket but that can only fill so many pages. Other perennial summer yarns include the road toll (tick) and wild weather (tick, tick, tick). In the bygone era of aggro industrial relations you could usually count on a beer and/or postal strike to liven up the pre-Christmas period, too.

Without such staples, newspapers, magazines and current affairs shows fill up with Top 10s and Best Ofs. Many blogs do, too.

Before I conducted my 2010 autopsy, I delved a little to see what influences have lingered. Here are the 2009 and 2008 entries. Hey, at least I can show I listened to Angus & Julia Stone before they became mainstream cool.

Ms Adele at Persnickety Snark suggested 11 Top 5s to countdown to 2011 but I’m going to have to settle for this mutated selection from her list, because I clearly haven’t read as quickly or widely:

5 Great Covers: Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness, Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Karen Tayleur’s Six and, dare I say, my Five Parts Dead (thanks to Chong at Text Publishing).

5 Great Series: Based on reading these with my son, Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kids series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Based on my own reading of the first book in the series – Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice.

5 Great Re-Reads (books you’ve LOVED so much you went back for more): These aren’t YA fiction but this year I found myself re-reading Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore, Neil Gaiman’s Instructions, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies and lots of Dr Seuss with my daughter. I am planning to re-read Markus Zusak’s The Messenger real soon, though.

Most Anticipated (2011 titles): Sheesh, I’m still working my way through a backlog of titles. Books I can’t wait to consume come from 2010 and even further back and include Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Scot Gardner’s Happy As Larry, Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Lian Hearn’s Heaven’s Net is Wide, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Kate Constable & Penni Russon’s Dear Swoozie, Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things, Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy and Kevin Keefe’s Paddy’s Road: Life Stories of Patrick Dodson. Sally Rippin’s Angel Creek is a genuine 2011 title I’m keen to read.

But that’s just the tip of the bedside table stack. One of the apps on the iPad that makes me feel 11 all over again is the ComiXology store where I have already downloaded enough graphic novels to keep me going until next summer.

5 Great YA Bloggers
Authors – Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Simmone Howell. Passionate book people – Book Gryffin, InkCrush, Miffy, Persnickety Snark, ReadPlus. There are countless others – but these snare me most frequently.

5 Books I Thoroughly Enjoyed in 2010 (but could have been published any time): Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Joel Deane’s The Norseman’s Song and Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful.

The funniest thing I’ve read all year was a chapter in Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas about a teacher doing yard duty at a boys’ school after several days of wet-day timetable. Absolute gold.

Favourite Films from 2010: Up In The Air, The Social Network, Animal Kingdom, Toy Story 3, The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. (Runners up: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, The Hurt Locker, HP7, Inception.)

On Regular Rotation in 2010: Clare Bowditch, The Jezabels, Angus & Julia Stone, Arcade Fire, Whitley, Ben Folds and (still) Bon Iver.

On The Idiot Box: This year I bought a box set of The Wire and became a wirehead whenever free-to-air failed to grab me. Great stuff.

One show that entertained, upset, challenged and inspired me was The United States of Tara. The most recent series of Skins faltered somewhat but I’m still stunned it’s getting re-made in the US. Cue wail of anguish. Nooooooooo! Australian Story is consistently good. Channel 9 desecrated Top Gear.

Thanks list: In a year when I’ve had a new book released, I am acutely aware of the support I need from booksellers, reviewers, Text Publishing, speakers’ agency Booked Out, teachers, librarians, fellow authors, friends and family. Thank you all for being in my corner. I appreciate it.

Have a safe, jolly Christmas and may 2011 see your dreams come to fruition.

UPDATE: Whoops, I’ve added some titles that slipped my foggy mind first time around. And FYI, here’s the New York Times list of Notable Children’s Books of 2010.

Missing in action: adults in YA fiction

I was chatting to someone recently about how the adult characters are often absent in YA fiction. That’s absent as in deceased, missing, always working/on holidays … and generally of minor relevance to the plot lines.

As a case in point, take John Marsden’s fantastic Tomorrow When the War Began series. In the post-invasion Australia inhabited by Ellie and her mates, adults are few and far between. Those that do survive the invaders are often imprisoned or in chains metaphorically – stuck in inflexible jobs such as banking and real estate. With the adults out of the way, it’s the teenager characters that have the power to make decisions, take risks and shake up the world.

If you’re an adult, think back to your teen years. What would you have done differently if you didn’t have to contend with grown-ups cramping your style or imposing their will and rules? Now that’s fertile ground for story-telling.

When I wrote Game as Ned I wanted to get across a sense of the isolation someone with a disability can feel. Having Ned’s mother run away and his father killed at war when he was still a baby was designed to emphasise and compound this crippling loneliness. Ned’s grandfather is a loving character but limited by frailty in the support he can offer his grandson.

Five Parts Dead describes a family on holidays. The parents essentially deposit the teen protagonists in a remote setting and then disappear from the story. I did this so the young adult characters could be in full command of the adventures that follow – limited only by their own fears.

Funnily enough, one of the things I realised when reading over an early draft of 5PD was that the parents weren’t sufficiently credible characters and needed rewriting. I needed to flesh out their motivation for willingly leaving the young adults in the middle of nowhere. As I did so, I realised the parents needed more real estate for other reasons – and rewrote the conclusion to accommodate them. Even with this extra presence, they remain absent for much of the novel.

My point is that with adults missing, young adults run the show. The consequences of their choices determine the story. It’s exciting and a tad unpredictable. Adults wouldn’t act the same way.

The super-savvy sci-fi author Cory Doctorow says in a July 2008 column in Locus Magazine that this is one of the reasons he writes YA fiction:

“Writing for young people is really exciting. As one YA writer told me, “Adolescence is a series of brave, irreversible decisions.” One day, you’re someone who’s never told a lie of consequence; the next day you have, and you can never go back. One day, you’re someone who’s never done anything noble for a friend, the next day you have, and you can never go back. Is it any wonder that young people experience a camaraderie as intense as combat-buddies? Is it any wonder that the parts of our brain that govern risk-assessment don’t fully develop until adulthood? Who would take such brave chances, such existential risks, if she or he had a fully functional risk-assessment system?

So young people live in a world characterized by intense drama, by choices wise and foolish and always brave. This is a book-plotter’s dream. Once you realize that your characters are living in this state of heightened consequence, every plot-point acquires moment and import that keeps the pages turning.”

So true.

Listing

Coming up to Christmas the media fills up with list articles. Top Tens of this and that. Bests and Worsts. Most memorable. The Season/Year/Decade/Century in Review and so on. It will be even more rife this year as we’re ending a decade.

Why do so many of these get published? Because they’re easy to write. Because people like them and argue over them. And because they’re usually a great filler at a time of year when less newsworthy stuff happens.

I indulged in lists here last year. This year I’m so befuddled I’m listing sideways myself. Better to be listing than listless, I guess. Here be some recommendations from me:

Favourite things I read in 2009, (old or new)

A Beginner’s Guide to Living – Lia Hills
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Faceless Ones – Derek Landy
Henrietta – Martine Murray
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow
Paper Towns – John Green
Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy
Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin

Picture books:
Mannie & The Long Brave Day – Martine Murray & Sally Rippin
Isabella’s Garden – Glenda Millard

2009 favourite listens

It’s been an odd year for my iPod. Normally I buy albums. This year I purchased individual tracks and largely sat with favourite albums from 2008 – or delved into the past to discover Tom Waits, John Coltrane and retro Wilco.

Of the few new albums that have had regular rotations, my favourites have been Smoking Gun from Lady of the Sunshine, Wilco from Wilco and White Lies for Dark Times from Ben Harper & Relentless7.

2009 favourite films

Man, there were so many flicks I wanted to see this year but didn’t get to in time (District 9, Samson & Delilah, Balibo, Blessed, The Changeling, Coraline). I’ll catch some of these on video over the silly season. Of those I did get to, I really enjoyed Ponyo, Watchmen, The Reader and The Hangover. I saw the latter with a bunch of mates on a boys’ night out. Laughed until my jaw hurt.

Given my aforementioned befuddlement, I know there will be things I’ve forgotten.

Personal highlights from the year have included finding a passionate publisher for Five Parts Dead, some of the workshops I conducted with students around the state and getting to know several other authors … and then realising we all struggle with the same stuff.

Every year has its tough times too. My thoughts are with those whose lives were altered forever by the February 7 inferno, along with those confronted by cancer or mental illness. Hang tough.