Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thinking like a leader

I couldn't attend BEA this year, but one report from Publishers Weekly caught my eye. It was about a panel of booksellers on "Thought Leadership" and how important it is to the children's book market. 

I like to think of myself as a thought leader. Everyone I know who brings up the subject of books for boys gets my leading thoughts on the subject. Sometimes they're overwhelmed, sometimes I get nods of agreement, but I often see a sense of surprise at the depth of the subject. Many many people -- especially those of us who have raised or taught boys -- have felt the frustration and disappointment of trying to "get him to read." This doesn't count for every boy, of course. I recognize that there are lots of well-read boys out there. But the main current is one of effort and dismay. 

So, people often connect with my message of why boys don't read. If you haven't heard or read it before, I think the main issue with boys and books is CONTENT. I believe that there are two main issues: 

1. Most of the people (adults) in the chain of choice for young readers' books -- from authors to agents to editors to librarians and teachers and even the parent most typically responsible for a boy's education -- are women. Don't get me wrong moms, don't point that finger at me Mrs. Bandemere (my 3rd Grade teacher), please continue to consider my books Ms. Editor. We love you. You're doing great work for us. We appreciate it. (One of the most influential people in my life was Mrs. Jepeson, the librarian at my elementary school.) But when it comes to choosing books for boys, you have one MAJOR DISADVANTAGE -- you've never been a 12-year-old boy! It's not your fault, I know. But often, the chain of choice picks books with content they THINK boys SHOULD read (based on other-than-masculine tastes). Uninteresting content = disinterested readers.

2. Boys are often steered away from reading materials that they find interesting -- video game/tech magazines, comics, technical manuals -- and told that it's not "real reading." A study by two literacy professors in Maine found that while boys' literacy test scores are as low as the perception, boys do, in fact, have quite a capacity for being literate on the materials that they're motivated to read. Wouldn't you be discouraged if someone walked by while you were reading your favorite anything and said, "Oh, yeah, THAT. That's not real reading. Get back to Shakespeare or something else I find valuable." So, we tend to gently punish boys for their tastes and steer them away from reading that interests them. 

The article in Publishers Weekly quotes booksellers as saying that "we need to be a resource." I agree. The motto of our developing bookstore is "Boy read. Guaranteed." While it's not fully developed yet, we'll be including guides and articles that parents, teachers and librarians can use to enhance boys' reading experiences. We're developing thought leadership with every choice we make. We want to inspire boys to read and give them the tools and materials they need to do it. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Read all about how terrorism strikes the city of Seaside and what 4 teens do about it. 

My graphic novels RECON ACADEMY are available at . This is the early online store that will become, where Boys read. Guaranteed.

RECON ACADEMY is about 4 teens who run a counterterrorism unit out of a secret headquarters hidden deep inside their high school. They battle their archenemy Shadow Cell to keep the high-tech town of Seaside safe for the citizens. 

Nuclear Distraction: Matthew (aka Hazmat) races to stop Shadow Cell's secret attack on Seaside's nuclear power plant and finish in time for a hot date. 

Prep Squadron: Jay is sent on a Recon training mission at the Navy base, not knowing that he's being tricked by Shadow Cell into infiltrating a high-tech weapon hangar. 

Shadow Cell Scam: Emmi has to save each Recon member from the new computers given them for free, which are actually gas time bombs, set to knock out the team while Shadow Cell prepares to shoot down a Navy rocket.

The Hidden Face of Fren-Z: The team responds to a bank robbery call and Ryker uses his super programming skills to stem an attack on the Federal Reserve by Shadow Cell's top hacker Fren-Z.

Also available at is my illustrated chapter book SUPERMAN: TOYS OF TERROR 

Superman fights the wicked devices of Toy Man to stop the evil ever-child stealing a Metropolis Christmas Parade float full of innocent children. 

All these books are great summer reading for boys and girls alike. They really fit my mission of getting boys to read. They have lots of action and techno-thrills. Buy them for your young readers and - please - let me know what they think of them. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wrap Up

Man, it's hard to get back once signed off. Things have been so crazy (in a good way) that I'm just now getting a chance to sit down and finish my IRA story. 

So, I went back to the IRA conference on Wednesday, just pumped up on the reading buzz. Getting exposed to 4,000(?) people all in the same place for the purpose of reading gave me an intellectual contact high. I still feel brainy from it. 

I remembered my camera this time too! First thing, I stopped by the Red Brick Learning booth, where my signing for Stone Arch Books was held on Tuesday. First person I saw was my friend and Stone Arch Acquisitions Editor Michael Dahl. He's the guy wearing the great tie in the picture below. Michael is a terrific guy whom I love discussing boys reading with because he's enormously knowledgeable and very dedicated. 

We don't often get a chance to catch up so I tricked him into going to lunch with me a little later. In the meantime, I kicked around and found that there was a graphic novels for young readers workshop going on and I ran upstairs to jump in at the middle. That's where I met Matthew Holm, c0-creators (along with his sister Jennifer) of Babymouse, a very fun graphic novel series for young readers, which, frankly looks like anyone of any age would enjoy. Very fun presentation of the trials and tribulations of an artist, a writer and a mouse, PLUS a great discussion of kids and reading. One insight Matthew shared was that a researcher told him that kids make no distinction between the multiple communications channels open to them, that a text message is a call is an email. Very interesting. Here's Matthew, making like we're old friends (thanks, Matt):

After that engaging discussion, I ran back downstairs to meet John Scieszka, who was around and signing books somewhere. Lo and behold, he was just feet away from the Red Brick booth, signing TruckTown books at the Simon & Schuster AND.....

Meeting a hero is so much fun. Hope we get a chance to meet again soon. So, International Reading Association is a great organization and the Minneapolis conference was a great event. I can't wait for next year's, which I hear is in Chicago. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Me in the IRA

Remember a couple weeks ago, I told everyone that I joined the International Reading Association (IRA)? 

I was wishing at the same time that I could go to one of their conferences because they sounded so in-depth and fun. What I didn't realize at the time was that a) one of the IRA conferences was scheduled for Minneapolis (where I live) and b) my publisher Stone Arch Books had already booked me to sign copies of my Recon Academy books at the conference. 

I was thrilled, jazzed and psyched all at the same time. So I asked my partner Mike to get a splash page posted for our boys reading site, got some cards printed up, forgot my camera at home and headed over a couple hours early on Tuesday. 

I visited a few booths. At the Scholastic booth I met Michelle Kemp, who is an amazingly bright and knowledgable Implementation Specialist. We had a great talk about boys reading and she shared a ton of research materialsat in on a couple workshops - one with John Rocco of Moon Powder and Shrek (he art directed the movie) fame. I heard that John Scieszka of Guys Read was around. John is one of my heroes in the boys reading movement and meeting him would have been a highlight. But I heard the I'd missed him -- bummer. 

I stopped by the Scholastic booth and saw that my Minneapolis writer friend Pete Hautman was signing his new book "How to Steal a Car," I give Pete so much guff when I see him that I don't think he knows he's one of my writing heroes. I admire him so much that even thought I was cutting the clock close, I stood in line (no perks for Pete's buddies) and got a book signed, then RAN the 25 yards to the Red Brick Learning booth (Capstone and Stone Arch partners) where they were sweating my arrival. 

I didn't even notice the LONG line waiting for my signing. I signed 75 books in about 20 minutes, accompanied by the lovely duo Krista Monyhan, Marketing Coordinator and Joan Coughlan Berge, President of Stone Arch Books. What a blast! I think I had a conversation with EVERYONE who dropped by. I love people and that was lots of fun. We were giving away a copy of Recon Academy to each person and I hope we sold or inspired the sale of tons of these books for boys. I know boys will love them. I'm proud to work with Stone Arch. 

Before I left for the day, I was hanging around wondering if there was just one more thing to do before I left for the day. So I left the doorway and walked back into the exhibit hall to the Pearson booth where TA DA John Scieszka was talking about his TruckTown books. I was thrilled, jazzed and psyched all over again. He talked about reading to kids, showed us pictures of his TruckTown creative team's studio at Simon & Schuster then READ one of his new books SMASH CRASH to a group of adults who hadn't had so much fun all day!

I went up and got a book signed and told John about our project and my initiative to personally inspire 1 million boys to read. He said he would link to us through when we're ready! I also told him that I forgot my camera and would come back tomorrow for a photo. 

Come back tomorrow for my report (AND PHOTOS) of my Wednesday visit to the IRA conference. That's what we call a setup.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


It's happening! The secret underground factory is flinging open the doors and letting the sunshine in! The powerful product we've been working night and day on?
You know I'm dedicated to boys reading I believe that THE biggest issue with why boys don't read is CONTENT. will be a boys-only online bookstore, with resources for parents and lists of books that boys WANT to read. 

We got our splash page up over the weekend and everything is under construction. Our plan is a full launch with working bookstore on June 1. 

In the meantime, go to and sign in so we can keep you up to date as our launch approaches. We'll also send you "READ LIKE A HERO: The boys' guide to turning a book into an adventure." HERO is our own boys' easy-reading guide that clearly describes to boys the elements of a story, offers 10 easy things they can do to improve their reading and has a book report template they can "steal" and use. 

We'll see you at

Tomorrow, look for my report on my trip to the International Reading Association's conference in Minneapolis. It's been a blast!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ban the Internet - Keep the libraries open

One of my favorite films of recent years is i, Robot. Will Smith plays a Chicago police detective named Spooner, living in a world where service robots are as common as dogs. Spurred by his distrust of the "can openers," as he calls them, he follows the trail of clues in a robot engineer's death right to the heart of the technology and information infrastructure. 

In an early scene, Spooner confronts the CEO of the robot company who easily sniffs out his "prejudice" against robots. The CEO says, "I suppose you would have banned the Internet just to keep the libraries open!"

Lucky for us, it looks like we're learning that the Internet and libraries can safely exist side-by-side. In fact, every time I hit the library (at least 3 times a week) there's not an internet computer left unoccupied - and by people of every age, gender, nationality, language. 

Oh, and there are tons of books too. 

What's all this got to do with boys' reading? Well, someone has to keep the libraries open! We have lots of people to thank for that. One of them is the American Library Association (ALA). 

Ever wonder what the ALA is and what they do? In their words“To provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”

Take a minute and click through to their website. Dive in an bask in the information. 

Especially check out the Association for Library Service to Children. They deliver research and programs that help create excellent libraries for kids. They're also the ones who give out the Caldecott and Newbery medals (especially important to us children's/YA writers!). 

I, for one, credit pretty much all of my accomplishments to my ability to read and comprehend what's on the page. At a library, you can learn just about anything. Even boys can find interesting things to read! 

I'm glad to be a member of the ALA and hope you and your community (and your boys) find lots of support and information there. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Heard you missed me!

It's been a long time but I have only happy things to talk about. Why am I reactivating the Million Boys Read blog? Lots of reasons: I'm fired up; I've read some things lately that are inspiring me to actively promote this passion of boys' reading; and the secret underground factory is up and running again (what are we building? Stick around and see.).

Why the long hiatus? I put way too much pressure on blogging at one time and found it was not fun -- what a surprise! It was basically writer's block (which I swear I don't believe in). I realize that there are tons and tons of stuff to talk about in the area of boys' and youth reading. I'll be bringing a little of it to you each week. I stand by everything I wrote in my first post January 14, 2008. I've done a lot in the meantime (including having my first 5 books published -- more on those later) and am still passionately dedicated to the Million Boys Read initiative. 

I'm back and revitalized, fired up to inspire one million boys to read and finding channels to do it. 

Here's today's news: 

In their own words: 

Since 1956, IRA has been a nonprofit, global network of individuals and institutions committed to worldwide literacy.  More than 85,000 members strong, the Association supports literacy professionals through a wide range of resources, advocacy efforts, volunteerism, and professional development activities.  Our members promote high levels of literacy for all by:

  • Improving the quality of reading instruction

  • Disseminating research and information about reading

  • Encouraging the lifetime reading habit
I can get behind all of that. Plus they publish 4 really good journals. One that interests me the most is The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. I'm looking forward to diving further into the topic and techniques of helping boys read. 
You can also check me out at my author page