I always feel ambivalent about concentrating on books for boys. I'm an ardent feminist, and it took a long time for women to get the tenuous quasi-parity we have. Studies have shown that there are far more books with boys as the main character.
But boys still struggle to find books they will read, and their reading scores are not as high. A significant number of the teachers and librarians they meet are women.
Girls will read books with boys as the main character without blinking, but boys are more reluctant to read books with girls as the main character. Interestingly enough, when I tell the boys that they are encouraged to do this, they have a look of relief on their faces, and check out all manner of books with great gusto.They are less likely in the future to turn down suggestions just because they don't have a boy and an explosion on the cover. So, while this may be a flawed plan, it seems to be working at my school.
Our celebrity sponsor for this month is Alexander Vance, who wrote the fabulous The Heartbreak Messenger. Here's what he has to say to kick off this celebration of gender diversity!
|Photo from http://www.alexandervance.com/|
In my book, The Heartbreak Messenger, 13-year-old Quentin wishes for a Rosetta Stone for understanding girls. You know, something that would bridge the sociological gap between boys and girls and make it possible to translate from one language to another. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t exist—I’ve searched the Internet there and back again, but nothing. I did find one for $19.95 plus shipping and handling from this fellow in Namibia, but I’ve long since given up hope of it ever arriving.
Quentin’s not alone—every boy has wished for that kind of translator at some point. What did that girl really mean when she smiled at me in the hallway? Why did she walk away when I gave her a friendly slug in the shoulder? Why didn’t she laugh at my body humor joke when all the other guys did? Man…as if middle school wasn’t tough enough without those unreadable female creatures wandering around.
Well, as usual, the answer is found on the shelves of the library. Yes, I suppose you could point them to a few popular relationship books, but I don’t place much stock in those. (Come on, men aren’t really from Mars—there’s no oxygen there! Duh.) But even better is to introduce those confused young men to comparative literature: the idea that one of the best methods for learning about a foreign culture is to study its literature. You want to understand girls? Read what they read. Experience what they experience.
And it’s not just the humanities that support that idea. Science recently published a study about how reading fiction can improve your social skills. Admittedly, it’s talking about literary fiction, but The Dork Diaries almost falls into that category.
So whether you believe that culture influences art or art influences culture, either way, reading “pink” books will provide boys with both conscious and unconscious insights into the girls that surround them. And, more importantly, it will nearly double the amount of good books they can pull off the library shelf. We all know that in the end, a good story is a good story, regardless of how the publisher colors the cover.
Next week, Ms. Yingling will post the list of “pink” books I read as a kid. In the meantime, get the word out to the boys in your life. Read pink this month. And I, the chest-thumping, testosteroney, Tarzan of a man that I am, will do the same.