Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the Trenches

Hello again. There's so much great stuff going on that I haven't found a spare minute to blog to you! It's been awhile and we're overdue for an update.

I have to say it's a little harder than I thought it would be to get a reading group going. Calls have gone unanswered and I'm still hoping to get ahold of someone in a local middle school who's interested in getting a boys' reading group going. Unfortunately, due to my schedule, I'm unable to attend the once-a-month Saturday Guys Read group at a local library. So, it's taking more time than I thought. One thing I'm concerned about now is the end of the school year approaching. We're 10 weekds out and I'm not sure what kind of response I'll get trying to start a group in the spring. Might be a better summer project to rev up for the fall. Many decisions, but important work, so I'll keep at it.

Factory Update

I met with my boys Jared and Gen last Friday. They are going to town on the secret project. They are surveying boys at their school and finding designs and development tools for the project. They're excited about the idea of helping other teen boys read more, which is the enthusiasm this project needs. We're learning a lot and doing a lot. Glad to have them on my team.

Thanks to those of you who send links and info. I really appreciate it. I'm not a news-hound, so most of my news comes through other people. You are my window on the world. Keep it up.

It feels good to be back! Catch you next week.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Factory's A-rockin'

Last week, I was prepping for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in New York. I left early Friday morning and returned late Sunday night. As always, I return humbled by the work others are doing in the arena of young people's literature and feel spurred to do more. Sorry I didn't have time to post, but I'm back.
A few days before I left, I was called out by my friend Laura's 16-year-old son, Jared, for trying to overcomplicate a project to encourage boys to read. This is the secret project I mentioned in my first post. I'm very excited because Jared knows just what to do with the idea and how to get it done without spending the massive amounts of money and ridiculous amount of planning time that I was trying to shove into a small, compact shell of an idea. Jared also is a student at a magnet school in the Minneapolis area and needs a project to work on, so he's the factory supervisor. He and a friend of his are working on the project and I expect to see some interesting progress later this week. More to come. Sorry I can't tell you what it is yet, but I know it'll be huge when we roll it out. I just don't want to blow the horn before it's ready for testing and release.
In other news, I got a comment from Amy at the Hennepin County Library (the county that Minneapolis is in). She says to contact her if I'm interested in being a Guys Read facilitator this summer at the library, which of course I am. I'll be emailing her tomorrow for further info and hope to have an update for you next week.
In the meantime, keep reading, keep looking for books boys WANT to read (not what we think they SHOULD read). You're the gatekeepers -- make it a wide gate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Waiting by the Phone

Wow, Tuesday got away from me too! I forgot to post yesterday, but here we are again.
On Monday, I put in a call to my local Junior High School, saying I wanted to talk to somone about starting a reading mentorship group for boys. The receptionist was very nice and said she would find someone to call me back. Crickets. It's only been two days and I assume someone will call with interest -- a teacher or a librarian. So we'll see where that goes.
In the meantime, I found out that the Hennepin County Library holds a Guys Read (see John Sciezska's site Guys Read) group once a month on Saturday. But I'm busy every Saturday afternoon, so that's a no-go for me. I'll keep making calls and see what shakes loose.
My goal for next Tuesday is to check with the library about starting another club. Then I'll take it from there.
Blog at you next Tuesday!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Moving to Tuesdays

Howdy and thanks for checking in. I originally said I would post every Monday, but day one is pretty busy. Plus I need the extra day to catch up on the goal I set the week before. So, effective this week, I'll post every TUESDAY afternoon.

In the meantime, check out the super-boss link that Carl from Boys Rock Boys Read! sent me. Boys Blogging Books is 3 boys ages 11-14 giving their thoughts on books. They are more in the age range I'm trying to reach, so have a look. I'm very impressed their blog and their insights. Great job, guys.

See you all tomorrow with news of a reading mentorship program.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Time Hauls A@#

Wow, does a week go fast! I have to say that I'm glad to be SO busy. There was a time in my life when it was hard to get anything going, now the days are FULL. Last week, I set a goal to link at least 5 other sites/blog/resources related to boys' reading and here they are!


These are not necessarily in order of importance. Each has their own plusses.

#1. Guys Read: Jon Scieszka was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress on January 3. When LOC decided to revive this honorary position, Jon was the logical first choice. He has done a lot for boys' literature and literacy. When I grow up, I want to be like him.

#2. This is a slick site that's full of info about boys' books. I think they're on the right track. The homepage looks like a video game menu and the books are there. Check it out if you're looking for the real thing. .

#3. BookHive: This site trends a little younger than my target, but it's still a fun site with a nice catalog. Younger middle-grade boys will find lots here to read, plus additional info on books -- including audio.

#4. Books for Boys is a blog by author Max Eliot Anderson, former reluctant reader turned storyteller/writer (like me). Max illustrates nicely the thoughts, feelings and reactions of the reluctant/struggling reader. It's a look inside the mind of that kid you're trying to get through to.

#5. Boys Rule! Boys Read!: A fun site about books by a couple guys who obviously have no intention of growing up. They relate to a boy reader at the boy level. They talk about books, have contests and post readers comments. They're dedicated and fun.

These are some early choices. While I didn't find the time for the one hour of research each day in the last week, I'm glad I set the goal and put out here for you to see. Feel free to hold me accountable. I'm dedicated to inspiring boys to read and I intend to keep it front and center -- just the fact that I'm back here on Monday blogging says a lot.

I'll continue to comb throught the resources and post worthy ones here. In the meantime, I'm setting my next goal.

By next week I plan to contact a local school about starting a reading mentorship program. My intention is to work with boys who are reluctant or struggling and introduce them to some fun resources with themes they'll like. Next Monday, I'll report on my results.

See you then!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let's light this candle

There, I did it. A few weeks ago at a meeting with some friends I announced my initiative to personally inspire one million boys to read. As soon as I said it, I wanted to gather the words and stuff them back into my mouth. But I said it and I'm sticking by it. Why did I make this decision?

We now call them "Reluctant Readers." When I was a kid, though, I wasn't "reluctant," I was called unruly, slow and lazy. I felt terrible about myself as a student. I got little or no support at home. I wanted to learn but reading was as difficult as digging myself out of a hole. When I needed to read, I was handed a Hardy Boys book -- give me a break! I made no progress. TV and movies were my main story influences. This went on until I was about 16 and started reading adult fiction and non-fiction. I'd made it to the other side and was happy to find books waiting for me. But the gap -- the Grand Canyon between grade school reading books and adult literature -- was huge.

Luckily for me, I never completely grew up. When I started writing my first book in the Fall of 2000, I discovered that all the characteristics that caused me trouble in grade school and junior high -- short attention span, daydreaming, rambunctousness (is that a word?) -- were now assets. I could now quickly learn a lot about certain subjects, write about them and move on. I could take some of those stories I made up in my head, put them on paper and look like a genius (or at least someone who was doing something uncommon). And I could throw my lust for destruction, blood, bullets and intrigue into a story and people would actually say, "Wow, that's really good!"

That first book was an adult thriller -- good, but still in the drawer. It never got the necessary traction with agents and publishers. In Spring of 2005, however, a writer friend told me about a kids' publisher who accepted unsolicited manuscripts for boys. I was so excited I ran home, cranked out a 5,000-word chapter book in two days and sent it in. I got a great response and eventually got paying work out of it -- starting a series of action/adventure graphic novels.

That experience left me saying, "Why am I spending so much time trying to break into the adult thriller market when publishers are looking for kids' stories -- especially BOYS' stories?" So I cracked open the vault of story ideas (every writer should have one) and started asking, "How can I put a boy protagonist into this story and make it a YA?" I've since written two manuscripts with young male protagonists that are under consideration by publishers.

All the while at book conferences and in the news I'm hearing doom & gloom about boys not reading enough, falling farther and father behind girls, failing starndardized tests. I'm a skeptic when it comes to prevailing wisdom -- I don't assume that it's a science/evolution/TV/video game/mercury-in-the-water problem. I go to the bookstore and look at the Teen/YA section. What do I see? PINK books -- wandering jeans, girls gossipping, teen angst, coming-of-age. The girls books crowd out the boys books by, I swear, 5-1.

My point? There aren't enough boys' books out there. I've got nothing against girls' books, except that I don't want to read them -- and neither do boys. Boys want destruction, blood, bullets and intrigue (or at least more destruction). They want heroes saving girls and dogs from burning buildings. They want characters their own age getting shot at, blown up, captured and tortured. They want the raw action/adventure experience without TLPs hanging around, telling them what they're reading or watching is "garbage." The problem isn't that boys don't want to read -- it's that there's not enough out there for them to read.

So, my mission is to connect boys with the books they WANT to read, rather than what teachers, librarians and parents (TLPs) are telling them they SHOULD read.

Now for the HOW:
This blog is going to be about my week-to-week experiences developing and executing the Million Boys Read initiative.
I will connect with other dedicated people who are already discussing, addressing and effecting the boys reading issue. (There are a lot of you out there doing a great job.)
I will work with boys (12-16) one-on-one and in groups to introduce them to books they'll be interested in.
I will develop online resources that focus on boys reading (I have one in the secret underground factory that I can't talk about yet -- but it'll be a good one).
I plan to elevate myself to Expert status in the publishing, education, parenting and news media fields so I can get the message out that boys need stuff that they WANT to read.

My first mission is to start a daily habit of spending one hour per day visiting blogs, reviewing existing resources and reading news articles about boys' literacy. By next week, I plan to have at least five like-minded blogs linked here. Shout out if you want a link.

I'll be blogging every Monday about my progress. Tune in.

Thanks. You're the best. I mean that.