Tag Archives: Jenny Downham

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.

Books for Boys update

I’ve managed to attach a website traffic monitor doo-hickey to this site so I know the posts here that are attracting the most eyeballs.

Books for Boys and Books for Boys 2 are the most-read posts on this site by a country mile. Judging by the search keywords, there are parents and teachers out there desperate for titles that might tempt young males to turn off the PlayStation and turn over some pages.

So, I’ll keep posting lists of books I reckon boys will enjoy. Here are a few titles I’ve read recently that I think boys might tackle willing – and hopefully get hooked by.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow (15+) – An exciting, contemporary spin on surveillance, hacking and George Orwell’s 1984. Can get a bit mired in techno-babble at times but otherwise this is a gripping, alarming yarn. One for the web-heads and X-Boxers in your household.

The Story of Tom Brennan – JC Burke (15+) – Rugby, testosterone, drink driving and living with guilt and grief. Should be compulsory reading for every teen male who ever wants to drive. There’s a reason why car insurance is so expensive for blokes under 30.

Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin (14+) – Homeless boys trying to survive in New York. There’s a constant sense of dread about what might happen to these kids next.

Jackdaw Summer – David Almond (14+) – This story, about resisting growing up and entering a seemingly crappy adult world, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s violence, bullying, running away and an enigmatic girl. I found it utterly persuasive.

Breath – Tim Winton (17+) – This is a story about the addictive, adrenaline-charging nature of risk. It’s a ripsnorter … but might need a “don’t try this at home” label.

Before I Die – Jenny Downham (15+) – A knockout. Yes, I know, the narrator is a teenage girl but trust me and keep on reading guys. I couldn’t put this down.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire – Derek Landy (10+) – Funnier and bloodier than the first book. Currently reading this to my 8.5 yo son for a bedtime story and he is completely entranced.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (12+) – Growing up with ghosts. Literally.

For the record, I haven’t read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer but noted these titles on the desks of Year 7 (13 yo) boys at some workshops I did earlier this year. That was at a boys’ school. At a co-ed school more recently, the Year 9 lads (15 yo) said there was no way they’d be seen dead reading this phenomenally successful series. (Just about every girl had though.) Not sure what to read into that observation but I won’t recommend a book unless I’ve read it. And for some reason, (professional jealousy?) I’m reluctant to go there.

Anyway, if you click on the Books for Boys tag in the left hand column on this page, you’ll get all the articles I’ve tagged as being relevant to boys and reading. Have fun turning those pages.

The sharp edge of inspiration

Sometimes when I’m reading another author’s work I find a phrase or sentence or paragraph that’s so good I have to re-read it immediately to savour the way the words fit together. I guess it’s similar to what went through my mind gazing at the Taj Mahal – an awe that a mere human could get something so right.

Reading such inspiring writing can be a double-edged sword for me. I’ve had moments when consuming work from master craftsmen such as Tim Winton or Ian McEwan that I’ve wondered if I should bother writing at all. My thought process is something like “Wow. Double wow. What an image! Damn. I’d be happy to come up with a sentence that good, let along a paragraph … or an entire novel.”

Indeed, for a long period I was so gob-smacked by the writing of authors such as Winton and McEwan that I believed I’d never create anything that met my own quality-assurance checks, let alone match the lofty standards set by others. And so I didn’t write.

What changed? I guess I got older and the urge to create stories didn’t go away. I found myself briefly unemployed in 2001 and it seemed as good a time as any to have another try. I also realised I didn’t have to match others’ talents – just do the best I could with my own.

Besides, there are lots of readers and infinite reading tastes. Hopefully someone would connect with the stories I wrote.

Fast forward to 2008. It was fantastic to have Game as Ned made a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. It was just as good to get a load of letters from students who said they generally didn’t like reading but loved GAN (even though they were made to read it at school.)

Anyway the reason for this post is I’ve just finished Before I Die by UK author Jenny Downham. It’s a prize-winning debut novel for young adults about a 16-year old dying of leukaemia. It’s brilliant. I reckon every human being aged 15-16 and up should read it.

Why? Because the narrator, Tessa, is so full of life, so appreciative of the beauty and tragedy she witnesses in every waking moment, so desperate to experience and learn and grow. Tessa is an inspiration. A reminder to us all not to take things for granted. To live well and leave the planet a better place for our existence.

I’ll be thinking of Tessa the next time I try to create a character that’s worth reading about. It’s a big ask but we should always aim high.

Wishing you a jolly Christmas

My brain has gone into summer shutdown mode so I’m not sure I’ll have any meaningful insights into the writing life today. However, I would like to thank everyone who has purchased Game as Ned, borrowed it from a library or even borrowed it from a friend to read. If you liked it, please spread the word.

Thanks too, to those fearless folk who have been willing to read drafts of my current manuscript, to those who invited me to speak at your school and to anyone who has come along and checked out this blog or my book trailer. I wish you all a laughter-soaked Christmas and adventurous, fun-filled 2009.

Here are a few random musings on the year that is fading into memory:

Music 08
Album of the year as far as my ears go, was Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’. Others I’ve listened to a lot include Angus & Julia Stone’s ‘A Book Like This’, Goldfrapp’s ‘Seventh Tree’, the John Butler Trio’s ‘Grand National’, Josh Pyke’s ‘Chimney’s Afire’ and Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’. At present I’m chortling to CW Stoneking’s ‘Jungle Blues’ and about to dive into the highly acclaimed Fleet Foxes.

Movies 08
Not a great year for cinema in my opinion. I enjoyed ‘Juno’ and ‘Iron Man’, but ‘The Dark Knight’ is the only flick that stands tall in my memory. I had high hopes for the new Indiana Jones but it couldn’t live up to my teen memories.

Books 08
I’ve just finished Maureen McCarthy’s ‘Somebody’s Crying’, which I really enjoyed. It’s not often these days that I dream about book characters but the lead trio in this murder mystery clearly made a big impression on me. I’m now plunging into the much-praised ‘Before I Die’ by Jenny Downham … not very festive, I know.

As to other favourite YA books I read in 08, I’d pick John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’, James Moloney’s ‘Kill the Possum’, and ‘Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight’ by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow. My son and I are also loving the junior fiction ‘Samurai Kids’ series by Sandy Fussell.

Titles I want to get to over the break are Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’, Richard Flanagan’s ‘The Unknown Terrorist’ and Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’.

And the rest

  • My writing year didn’t quite go to plan but 09 looks promising.
  • I’m blessed to have a healthy, happy family and fantastic friends who prop me up when I’m doubting myself. Thank you all.
  • I’d never have believed the election of a new US president could fill me with so much hope for our tiny planet.
  • I am head over heels besotted with South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, which basically provides the setting for my current manuscript. Because my narrator is in a dark place, he talks about the island in less than glowing terms at times. Hope the locals see beyond this if they read it!
  • I’ve covered a (personal) record number of kilometres on my trusty pushbikes and enjoyed … most of them. That included a 120km trek through the (big) hills north-east of Melbourne, after-dark rides with my buddies at Bike Club and many a Sunday morning panting along Beach Road. To all my fellow pedal-pushers, stay safe and upright and may the wind be at your back.