Tag Archives: John Marsden

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.

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.

Seen in schools 2

I’m always rabbiting on about how stories should be easy to find. My school visits would suggests classrooms are a very rich vein to tap into.

Over the past two years I’ve witnessed:

– a senior student dissolving into tears because her homework was late due to sport-, drama- and music-related commitments
– a Yr 12 boy asking his teacher what he’d missed while he’d been “unavailable” due to interstate athletics carnivals
– Yr 7 students nodding off during final period, apparently because they’re in swim/rowing squads and up before dawn
– a Yr 10 student swear at her teacher, apparently without sanction
– students being told on the last day of the school year that they’ll be expected to apply the knowledge from that lesson in the first week of the new school year (yeah, right)
– a gentle kid with a violent, angry edge to his stories (far from unusual in secondary school boys but still…)
– teachers who seemed to have lost the will to live, let alone teach
– parents cataloguing all the things they want their children to be better at and then demanding a school address these ‘failings’.

There are also the ‘good news stories’, of course. I’m reassured that the motivated and dedicated teachers greatly outnumber those who appear to just be going through the motions.

For any would-be novelists working in classrooms, my gut feeling is that’s there’s probably 20 stories sprawled in front of you. I’m not saying write the true stories of your own students as there are pesky issues such as confidentiality and ethics to consider. I am saying that there are archetypes that you can add flesh to, maybe by carefully merging six students into one.

Need convincing it can be done? Check out teacher-authors such as Kate McCaffrey and John Marsden. Proof.

Favourite children’s books

My daughter, the Little Monkey, has just started school. So far, so good. Her feedback consists of “great” and “all you do is play in Prep”. On the down side, she thinks attending school necessitates accelerated maturation. On a recent visit to the library she announced that she was too big for picture books and only interested in chapter books now. Then she armed herself with bundles of pink stuff about fairies and ballet dancers.

Much as I admire her ambition and determination (she doesn’t read yet), I was sad to hear this. I love picture books and I read to one or both of my children every night. As a result, I’m fairly familiar with the children’s bookshelves at the local libraries. We also have an extensive collection at home. Personally, I plan never to grow out of picture books.

Here are 25 books for little people that this big person never gets sick of reading and the kids don’t tire of hearing:

    1. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson, illustrated Axel Scheffler (Small conquers big with smarts. A deserved award winner)
    2. Dogzilla – Dav Pilkey (Punster heaven)
    3. I am Not Sleepy & I Will Not Go To Bed – Lauren Child (Delicious use of language with house-faves Charlie & Lola)
    4. The Kiss That Missed – David Melling (Fantastic illos and a fun story focused on a lost goodnight kiss)
    5. Applesauce & the Christmas Miracle – Glenda Millard, illustrated Stephen Michael King (Beautiful. Hard to read without getting teary, esp. since the Victorian bushfires)
    6. Vegetable Glue – Susan Chandler, illustrated Elena Odriozola (Healthy message made fun)
    7. Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child – Bob Graham (Be kind)
    8. Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten – Bob Graham (Light overpowers darkness)
    9. Bim Bam Boom – Margaret Wild, illustrated Wayne Harris (Counting fun with great sound effects for the kids to do)
    10. Ruby Makes A Friend – Tina Burke (Imaginary friends are cool)
    11. Wombat Divine – Mem Fox, illustrated Kerry Argent (Finding your place at Christmas)
    12. Amy & Louis – Libby Gleeson, illustrated Freya Blackwood (Friendship defies distance)
    13. Rosie Sips Spiders – Alison Lester (Fave foods, games, jobs, beds, lists, gorgeous pix)
    14. Splat: Explosive Adventures of a Fish Left Home Alone (series) – Terry Denton (Anarchic tales full of twists)
    15. The Giant Jam Sandwich – John Vernon Lord (Co-operation saves a town. Zany pix)
    16. Blue Hat, Green Hat – Sandra Boynton (Colours & humour. The kids used to laugh themselves silly.)
    17. Dumb Bunnies Collection – Dav Pilkey (Every boy I know loves these.)
    18. Yuk – Kes Gray, illustrated Nick Sharratt (Tomboy Daisy dresses herself for a wedding)
    19. Where is the Green Sheep? – Mem Fox, illustrated Judy Horacek (Opposites and simple rhymes for toddlers)
    20. The Waterhole – Graeme Base (Lush, mysterious illustrations and an environmental warning)
    21. Millie – John Marsden, illustrated Sally Rippin (Love knows no limits)
    22. Mannie & The Long Brave Day – Martine Murray, illustrated Sally Rippin (Courage and creativity)
    23. We’re Going on A Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen (Fun to chant aloud)
    24. Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa – Margaret Wild, illustrated Kerry Argent (Friendship, loneliness and the horrors of a guilty conscience)
    25. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak (Classic adventure starring a boy with a temper and a wild imagination)

That’s just a taste. Get into a good children’s bookstore or library and you’ll find there’s hours of fun to be had.

Newsflash: The Little Monkey has decided she still likes picture books. Most excellent news!