Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Secret Evil Plan, Year 4!

In February of 2010, hard up for entertainment, I decided to encourage boys to read books with girls as the main character. The next year, I did this again, creating a logo. Last year, we had Charlie Joe Jackson as our "celebrity sponsor". This has become a yearly tradition in our school, and the boys seem to enjoy the fact that they "have" to read books about girls. There's some middle school psyche at work there that I'm not getting, but don't ask me to explain. The highlight of this initiative was getting mentioned by Geek Dad, but I'd love to hear of more libraries trying to get guys to read "girl" books and vice versa-- the more we do that, the closer we are to not having "guy" and "girl" books.

This year, Sneed Collard, the author of Governor's Dog is Missing, Double Eagle and Cartwheel, as well as a ton of nonfiction books, agreed to step up as our celebrity endorser. He's a great person to pitch this, because his books, while popular with guys, have great girl characters as well, and are enjoyed by both genders. He also has middle grade children of his own.

What books with girls as main characters do you remember reading? Does your son have any favorites?
Growing up, I recall reading almost NO books with female lead characters--except perhaps Charlotte's Web. Then again, other than the Hardy Boys and books by Roald Dahl, very few middle-grade/YA books existed for readers like me. As soon as I read The Lord of the Rings in fourth grade, that was it. Adult books for the rest of my teenage years--and almost all with male leads. Think The Godfather, Battle Cry, Hiroshima, etc…
In the past 15 years, however, I've been fortunate to read quite a few middle-grade and YA books with great female leads. The Hunger Games stick out strongly, of course, but so do books by Adrian Fogelin, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Richard Peck, and Donna Jo Napoli.
I asked my son which books he liked with strong girl characters, and the first thing he thought of were The Seekers series by Erin Hunter (which I also enjoyed). He also mentioned Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books, Annie in the Magic Tree House series, Ella and Meghan in The Secret Zoo, and Hermione in Harry Potter. It's interesting that he doesn't have a strong preference for boy characters. He'll read anything that's a good book!

Do you feel it's important for your books to have interesting female characters?
Some stories demand interesting female characters and some do not. In my book Dog Sense, the mother is a vital character in the story, but she's much less important than the two main characters, Guy and Luke, and really, there's no need for any other major female characters in the story. In my mysteries The Governor's Dog is Missing and Hangman's Gold, however, I wanted to create a female "co-star" that is just as important as the narrator. I had several reasons for this:
1) Girls are just great and should be in the story unless there's a reason to omit them.
2) The girls I've known have strengths that boys don't have, and it makes a much more effective "detective squad" to have both male and female elements solving a case.
3) There's always that romance thing!
4) Again, girls are great.
Boys and girls also have a great capacity to learn from each other, and because characters need to grow throughout a story, having both genders often helps facilitate this character growth.

Do you feel that nonfiction has any gender bias?
Not nearly as much as fiction. Books about science, history, and to a lesser extent, sports, are filled with wonderful female characters. The best middle-grade science series, the Scientists in the Field series (Houghton Mifflin), features inspiring female scientists who serve as wonderful role models for ALL readers. In fact, I've more often written about women scientists than about men. 

What are some of your best Super Secret Evil Plans? 
I'm very interested in dystopic novels, and have already worked on one for several years. I have a new Top Secret plot in mind, however, that is brewing as I write this. Another of my Super Secret Evil Plans is to get people interested in plants! (Insert evil laugh). Although we'd all be dead in a week without plants, it is VERY difficult to get people interested in these amazing organisms. I've just finished a really cool mystery about a teenager who is obsessed with orchids. One day, while waiting to see the world's rarest orchid at the United States Botanical Gardens, a giant crane comes crashing through the glass roof and crushes the woman in front of him. in the ensuing chaos, the rare orchid gets stolen. Will the main character find it? Will I be able to sell this book to a publisher? Stay tuned!
Another of my Super Secret Evil Plans is to visit schools in ALL FIFTY states. I'm up to about 40, but Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Arkansas have really fallen down on the job. If you have Top Secret connections or can sneak me across the borders of these states, email me at

I want to add a few words about strong girl characters. In GENERAL, it is very difficult for a person of one gender to write effectively about the opposite sex. Some writers pull this off beautifully (Richard Peck and Lois Lowry pop to mind). Others, however, end up writing very annoying characters when they cross gender lines. As an author, it helps to know what your limitations are. For instance, one reason I am able to create strong female characters in my Slate Stephens mysteries is that I am viewing Daphne through Slate's eyes. I probably would never attempt to get inside Daphne's head and write her in First Person. This is also true for my novel Cartwheel, which features Annie, a strong, independent 13 year-old. 
Other authors get around this by casting their characters as animals. Others create an ensemble of male and female characters. Both of these methods work pretty well.
I do wish, however, that most authors would quit trying to write in First Person from the opposite sex perspective, because it usually doesn't work. Several times, I've finished 3 or 4 chapters of a book thinking that the narrator is a girl--only to find that the author has made him a boy! I know why authors do this. Women writers especially think they will attract more boy readers if they write about boys--and maybe they're correct. Still, I like to think boy readers will enjoy a well-written girl character more than a poorly-written boy character. I hope that more boys out there will give girl characters a chance. If you don't, you'll be missing out on a lot of incredible books!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:58 PM EST

    What an awesome idea. I hope you keep us updated on how your Boys Read Pink project goes!