Tag Archives: LibraryThing

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.

My online library

My attempts to post a little bookshelf at the right of screen (to show what I’ve been reading) have failed so I have opted for Plan B – Blogroll links to LibraryThing.

For those who have asked what I read and recommend, please click WHAT I’VE BEEN READING in the Blogroll box in the right-hand column. I will tag all Young Adult, Junior Fiction and Children’s Books so that you can search these categories. I’ve now also added a Books for Boys tag in response to queries from parents and schools I have spoken to.

NB: I’ve opted to use LibraryThing rather than some of the more commercial-focused, social or book networking sites. Why? Because I love libraries and can see the benefits of this site for librarians around the globe.

Books for boys 2

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.