I've been having fun reading the comments about my post earlier in the week. As I mentioned then, I have the beginnings of an idea. It's months from being ready for implementation but I wanted to talk about it now because in order to make it work I'm going to need help.
First let me describe the problem: Simply put, literacy among boys is abysmal. There is anecdotal evidence that boys are still engaged in reading during middle school but that that drops off in their teens. Teen boys are criminally underrepresented in YA. Publishers don't see any money in that segment of the market and they devote only a small portion of their resources to it. Which causes teen boys to be even further alienated.
Now, teen boys are out there. They're interested in entertainment. They drive entire segments of the entertainment industry. Without them we wouldn't have movies like G.I. Joe or Transformers or Final Destination. They also drive video game sales and music sales. But they make up such a small portion of the book market that one has to wonder: why?
The only answer I can think of is that we're simply not giving them books they're interested in.
Now I'm not saying that there are no books for teen boys, but for every Spanking Shakespeare or The Maze Runner, there are fifteen books for teenage girls. Every time I go to my local Barnes & Noble, I look for books that would jump out and grab teen boys. But all the tables and face-outs and displays are decidedly geared toward the segment of the population that's doing the majority of the book buying, and that's not boys.
Before it looks like I'm being down on books aimed at girls, let me say that I'm not. I read widely and I think that everyone should read widely. I think that there are books marketed as girl books that would appeal to boys. However, it must be kept in mind that boys might be more sensitive to reading something that looks like it might get them made fun of. When I was in middle and high school, I sometimes tore the covers off of the fantasy books I was reading because I was afraid someone would see the cover and I'd be tormented.
Even books with male protagonists that would appeal to boys are marketed with covers that might be embarrassing to a teenage boy.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I want to bring boys back to the table. I want them to read. I want them to be involved in shaping the literature that's being created, because right now is an amazing time for YA. But how?
What is it? I'm not even fully sure yet. And that's where I need help. My goal is to create a program that harnesses the internet, word of mouth, the wonderful librarians and teachers of the world, to help boys find books that speak to them. Because those books are out there. And once publishers see that boys ARE reading, that they DO have opinions, then they'll be more inclined to take chances. Just look at all the fantastic books that publishers took a chance on because of the Twilight phenomenon. You can't fault them for going where the money is, and we just have to prove that boys are just as important to their bottom line.
My idea is really grass roots. I'd like for there to be a tracking system similar to Book Crossing. Say I read a book that I think a boy would really dig, I can go onto a website, review it based on criteria that boys would find appealing, and then pass the book along to a boy who I think would enjoy it. Inside that book is a Give This Book to a Boy You Know sticker, so that the boy to get the book can log-in and review it, and so we can see how it's faring. This website would become a tool for librarians and teachers and parents to help reluctant boys find books that appeal to them. And it would also help boys show other boys what books they're reading and find books for themselves.
Are there already other sites out there that review boy-oriented books? Yes. And they're great. But I want to take it further. I want reviews by boys for boys. I want to get adults invested in getting books into the hands of every boy they know. Because I think that once we show boys that there are great books that speak directly to them and the time of life they're in, they'll rejoin the conversation.
And there's another aspect to what I want to accomplish. Because it's not just about helping boys find books they want to read. I'm not sure how this aspect will work, but I'd like to begin finding ways to get books into the hands of those who just can't get them. Boys in juvenile detention centers, foster care, shelters, schools with little or no budget money for books. Wherever there's need, I'd like to try to fill it.
So, is this ambitious? Heck yeah. But no one ever got anywhere good by aiming low. Have I got any idea how to go about doing this? Heck no. But I have knowledgeable friends and a lot of passion.
How can you help? Well, right now I'm trying to figure out how all this is going to work. Over the next couple of months I'll be talking to librarians and teachers and parents and kids. I'll be trying to find out the best way to accomplish my goal. And if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them as well. Because it's going to be people like you all who help this plan succeed.
Sometimes it feels like people have given up when it comes to boys and literacy. But I don't buy that. I just think we have to give them a reason to want to read again.