Tag Archives: Markus Zusak

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.

Book Week questions

Here’s a belated sample of the questions I answered during Book Week – and my answers, as best as I can recall.

Q: Who are my heroes?
A: Corny as it will sound, my heroes are the folks out there helping people, not for fame or money, but because they can and want to.

There are many authors I admire (generally influenced by what I’m reading) but a stand-out in recent years is Markus Zusak who uses words and tells stories in such unexpected ways (and sells oodles of books doing so).

I also admire His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embraced the role assigned to him as an infant and became a true world leader, emphasising the importance of tolerance, empathy, compassion and arguing for the independence of the Tibetan people.

My Dad deserves a shout-out here, too. He’s a selfless man of peace who has followed his beliefs for a lifetime.

Q: Which superhero do you think would be funniest to write a spoof story about?
A: Now that’s my kind of question. I’d have to say the Hulk because he’s green and only has superpowers when he’s chucking a tantrum.

Q: How can I improve my vocabulary?
A: Wow. Read widely, then read some more. Use a dictionary when you find a word you don’t recognise or understand. And listen to people, too. Listening to how people speak is a great way of learning A) new words* and B) how to write dialogue. (*You probably won’t need everything you hear.)

Q: How do I make a short story longer?
A: For starters, short isn’t necessarily bad. I don’t believe in ‘padding’ – writing extra words just to meet a word count. Your story should determine the number of words you require. If you’ve written something that isn’t important to the story, define and delete it. If in doubt, cut it out.

However, if you want to enhance your story, rather than pad it, think about the characters? What do they want? What’s stopping them getting what they want? This should open up new ideas to explore.

Q: Do I ever feel embarrassed writing about myself/putting my own life into stories?
A: (Smiling) I’ve never deliberately set out to write about myself although bits of me and my life do creep into stories. In Game as Ned the story settings were based on places I had lived, worked or visited on holiday.

In Five Parts Dead the lighthouse setting was inspired by a family holiday and the five near-death experiences were built from things that actually happened to me. I think authors are like bowerbirds. We shamelessly take/borrow/pilfer bright and shiny ideas from all around us and use them in stories. Some of those things might just be from our own lives.

Q: Do I believe in ghosts?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do believe in places where a sense of history lingers close to the present, so we can almost feel the people that lived before us. I’ve also had people tell me ghostly tales of things they have seen, things I can’t explain. I used a couple of these spooky stories in Five Parts Dead.

Pretty good questions, all of them. Thanks to the students who were brave enough to pick my brain or approach me for a chat.

Gobbling up goshness

Click on this link for a sweet piece from acclaimed poet and author Cate Kennedy on the oddities and inconsistencies of language through the eyes of a child.

Cate’s point is well made. By stiffly following convention we stifle creativity. We miss out on unexpected and fresh combinations of words-ideas-sounds-images that have the power of new. I’ve never forgotten a poem from a fellow second year creative writing student (way back when) who wrote of the “goshness” of a kitten exploring its world. It’s not a word you’ll find in a dictionary but we all know what it means.

Delivering goshness is one reason I admire Markus Zusak’s work so much. It’s why I will sit through a car review from Jeremy Clarkson knowing I’ll never drive the vehicle he describes but I can still savour the language he employs to explain his motoring experience.

A few years back John Marsden wrote an article arguing that we shouldn’t tell children that cows moo, ducks quack and so on. Why? Because we might be implanting conventions when a child might find its own altogether better way to depict those sounds. A new way of describing something isn’t a wrong way.

As Cate says, it’s a parenting conundrum. We want to equip our children for the world they live in. But sometimes it’s better if they colour outside the lines.