Monday, May 28, 2007

Boys and girls and books

Earlier this week, I read Tanya Lee Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, which I'd heard a lot about. I admit I was a little uncomfortable with it at first. I assumed it was because of the subject matter (3 girls who get involved with the same jerky guy who's only after one thing), but I realized it was also because I didn't relate to it. I wasn't in a position where I needed to fight off the guys in high school, so I couldn't easily imagine being a high school girl attractive enough to get hit on by one of the most popular guys in school or to imagine I could wield any power over one, nor could I understand why any of the girls were interested in this guy at all, having never been attracted to that sort of jock for a moment of my life, and generally only liking guys I was friends with first. But I still read the whole thing through in about 45 minutes (it was a quick read because it's written in free verse), and had the realization, for the first time ever, that it might be a good thing not to be one of the more attractive girls in school. No, I wouldn't have liked a guy like this, but girls who have guys falling all over them must be faced with a lot of jerks, and must have to spend a lot of time sorting the jerks from the nice guys.

And speaking of boys, and girls, and books, I was suddenly slightly bummed last Saturday to find myself with a family of 3 boys and no girl, when we went to the public library together and it dawned on me that I had no daughters to share my interest in "girl" books or "feeling" books in general. Up to now, their interests in fiction have been pretty unisex. They've liked Magic Tree House, and mysteries like Cam Jansen or Nate the Great, and adventure stories like Narnia, or Time Warp Trio which is pretty boyish but also throws in a few girls (especially in the TV series). I've always been glad they haven't cared if the protagonists in their books were boys or girls. But last week I realized--they don't mind girl characters in adventure books. Or mystery books. But as they're getting older and there are more books for kids their ages that have emotional themes...they have no interest in those. Not with girl characters, not with boy characters. I tried to interest my nearly-9-year-old who has a baby brother in a book about a 9-year-old boy having to adjust to a baby brother while having wacky adventures with pets, and he wouldn't even vaguely consider it. He wanted Star Wars books. And maybe a Pokémon book, and he took a Time Warp Trio book mainly to make me happy (he likes them but was definitely in a Star Wars mindset), and threw in a series mystery, but he mainly only likes series books, and things about science fiction or time travel. Or heavy, hard non-fiction science books. And he only took Encyclopedia Brown under duress, even though I thought he would love it. My younger son likes some of those things, but also non-fiction about snakes or sharks or dinosaurs. In short, nothing at all like I read at their age or imagined sharing with my children.

Maybe I can eventually get them to read something like Running Out of Time (mystery/thriller), The City of Ember (same), or even Ella Enchanted (funny/fantasy), even though they aren't series books, but who will read something like Harriet the Spy or Because of Winn-Dixie with me? No one. A Wrinkle in Time? Sure. A Ring of Endless Light? No. Boo hoo. Maybe I'm wrong... maybe my second or third son will surprise me. So far my second isn't nearly as all-science-all-the-time as my first, and he's also more emotional and social. But he's also a lot more likely to say "That's a girl thing! Yuck!" (Then gain, at a school party this week when a mom gave little plastic maze things for boys or fairy princess wands for boys--he picked the wand!) I can see them reading these books as assigned school reading, and even enjoying them, but for leisure time reading I have a hard time getting them to read even boyish books if they're not exactly what they already had in mind.

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