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.

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