Books for Boys

Ever since I started writing children's books and joined SCBWI in 2008, I've been hearing/reading the editors and agents lament that they want boy books.

Well, here's the interesting part--so do teachers and librarians. This last week I talked to my sister, who has a double Master's degree and works as a teacher and librarian at a military base in Germany, about this issue. She gave me an earful about the topic.

But, you wonder, aren't there a ton of boy-centric children's books out there?

For example: Mary Pope Osborn (Magic Treehouse), Henry and Mudge books, J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, R. L. Stine, Lemony Snicket, Eoin Coulter, Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants), Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid) etc.

Yes, but we have some problems with these books. 
  1. Many of these are middle grade books (Rowling, Riordan, Snicket, Kinney, Coulter), which means there are no pictures, text heavy, longer chapters, etc. This book is aimed at the confident reader, who could be 8-14 years old
  2. The younger crowd (5-7 years)might read Henry and Mudge, but aren't ready to read the middle grade books.
  3. Captain Underpants might be big with boys, but not with teachers. They aren't fond of the overly illustrated pages and 'potty' language in which giggling ensues from reading about noises that come out of various orifices.
  4. If the kid doesn't read or like horror, R. L. Stine is out.
So here's the thing as this writer sees it--

When young children start to read, they will read the picture books their parents read to them. Then they advance to early readers like Henry and Mudge.

The next step is chapter books, which are around 4,000-6,000 words, short chapters, some illustrations, lots of white space. This level of reading is targeted to the 5-8 year old--Magic Treehouse fills this gap nicely. But Magic Treehouse is only one series of books that boys would read. There are co-protagonists, brother and sister, who take the kids on an adventure.

Girls have a variety of books in this level of reading, Junie B and Fancy Nancy are the first to leap to mind without even thinking about it. Though I must admit that my daughter wasn't interested in either of these books. She liked the Magic Treehouse books, especially the fact-tracking ones, where she learned about the ocean, earthquakes, etc.

So if a boy can't get into the Magic Treehouse books, then there is no "bridge" book for them to become readers able to attack the longer and more intense middle grade books.

Then there becomes an issue of virtually zero YA books for boys, but at this age and reading level, many boys will start reading Sci-Fi, mysteries, thrillers, etc. as they are to the level of handling adult genre novels, and many of the YA books are thinly veiled romances.

After putting all these facts together, plus my interpretation, the "boy" books editors, agents, and teachers are wanting are 'bridging' chapter books.
  • between 4,000-6,000 words--Magic Treehouse book, Dinosaurs Before Dark was right around 5,000 words
  • short chapters 400-600 words--at this age, kids are exited to tell mom that, "I read three chapters today!" Encourage this.
  • protagonist must be male, but co-protagonists are fine as long as the girl is more gender neutral.
  • lots of white space--don't make it paragraph heavy
  • every chapter MUST have a cliffhanger to encourage advancing to the next chapter
  • Do NOT have a cliffhanger ending. Each book must have a final resolution.
  • targeting a slightly younger crowd, 6-8 years old
So with this in mind, I thought I'd give a try to writing a boy chapter book, using Rory Leafhopper from my Goblin's Apprentice series. I just started it. I know how it starts and how it ends, but I have no idea of the adventures in between.

Actually writing this length won't be that tough as A MAZE OF MONSTER MIX-UPS, LOST LEPRECHAUN LOOT, and SUGAR PLUM DISASTER are all around this length, even though each chapter slightly longer, coming in around 800 words.

I just have to figure out what kind of messes Rory will be getting into!

Later, Peeps!


Jan Hurst-Nicholson said...

When I was a member of the Childrens' Book Forum the teachers also lamented the same problem and writers were asked to write an action adventure for 'reluctant boy readers'. I wrote a Hardy Boys type story, but it was rejected by a publisher as being 'too much like a Hardy Boys story.'. I then e-published it on Amazon as Mystery at Ocean Drive and it has been selling steadily..

Margaret Golla said...

Sounds like you found a niche in the YA department, Jan. I'd be curious if your audience is male or female though.

Edie Ramer said...

Good for Jan! A very informative post, Margaret. I'll send my grandson the link!

Margaret Golla said...

Thanks, Edie!

cyndifaria said...

Thank you for sharing, Margaret. Great information as I have a boy story in the works. Now I'm even more excited to finish and publish.

Margaret Golla said...

Good luck, Cyndi!