Writing Books for Boys
I was a special education teacher for fifteen years outside of Rochester, New York.
Jack’s Tales is written for reluctant readers at the critical third and fourth-grade ages. Most teachers would agree these ages tend to be the shifting point. Readers that generally don’t have reading issues choose longer and increasingly difficult texts or avoid independent reading in the future altogether.
There are many factors that intermediate readers (3rd-6th grades) turn away from reading independently. I hope my writing and the resources included on this site will help teachers and parents struggling to help reluctant readers discover the joy and value of reading, especially fiction.
What I’ve Learned About Writing Fiction for Reluctant Readers
Reluctant Readers, especially boys, will devour fiction with these elements:
- Humor never fails.
- Plots that have a goal: competing, uncovering, solving, saving, facing then receding from danger or conflict only to face these elements again in some way.
- Plots that are slow to develop, and are detail-heavy instead of action based are killers.
- Once instantly hooked the writing needs to have a break-neck pace without letting the reader up for air.
- They need to be hooked instantly.
- Snarky humor is a good thing: Boys diss each other. They do this. They put each other down, tease each other, get under each others skin, and often on purpose! This doesn’t necessarily mean this behavior is damaging. This is a way of relating!
- Themes/Messages that Involve: making tough choices, doing the right thing, overcoming, not giving up on beliefs despite challenges, sticking up for others – especially friends, defeating badness in some way, competition, sacrifice for larger causes: all while displaying and developing individual skills- these could be mental or physical.
Boy readers, even younger boys, are deeper than sometimes given credit for. They like characters they can identify with and admire, want to be like, want to root for, and want to face triumphs and fears alongside with.
– How I approach writing for reluctant readers, especially boys
“I try my best to have a style that is fast and funny and contains some male-introspection. I should probably mention that my writing doesn’t contain much farting and burping.
Don’t get me wrong, we males (including myself) do enjoy a good fart or burp once in a while, or better yet The Furp, the allusive, simultaneous fart and burp (just made that up). Just that I use these elements sparingly.
Writing that also explores what boys may think and feel at specific developmental levels is very important to me, what boys want from life and what life actually serves them, how they view themselves, how they feel about their abilities and weaknesses, their insecurities, and their triumphs. This is what I try my best to show in my books for boys. Whether it is a book with controlled vocabulary and word usage or a book at a higher level, it doesn’t matter.”
I try my best to incorporate the elements I listed above in my books for boys or reluctant readers. They aren’t synonyms even though they often appear to be.
Truthfully, they couldn’t be better boys, truly. All three are respectful, funny, make the high honor roll and are heavily involved in sports. I’m close to Daniel and Brandon as my wife and I have known them and their families since they were in first grade or so.
I’ve had some deeper conversations with Jack’s buddies, starting at around 8 years old or so. Trust me, these boys and many boys like them are quite deep, they just need the right situations and the right conversations to bring their deeper sides to the surface:)
I believe great books have this power as well! And not to mention, boys need these situations and conversations more than ever. Many of them become lost and frustrated at very early ages. I’ve read plenty of research that shows this.
My Jack’s Tales Series
Click on the cover of Jack’s Tales and arrive at the Splashing Cow Books (my awesome Indie Publisher) site to learn more about them, their other amazing books, and of course, purchase a copy of Jack’s Tales for your son or daughter, your classroom, your library, or as a gift for a birthday.
The book is three character-centered, fast, action-oriented, and quirky stories. Readers receive a sense of accomplishment by finishing the first two stories before they reach the end. Jack’s Tales can’t be more character-centered. These elements provide a high degree of reader engagement.
Readers root for Jack as he faces his fears and grows stronger. With each story, the reader becomes more entrenched in Jack’s life, experiencing his fears and triumphs along with him. The stories take place over a period of three years. I’ve had strong readers in fourth and fifth grades come up to me at school visits and tell me that Jack’s Tales is the best book they’ve ever read despite its lower reading level and short length.
The feedback I’ve received from my readers has been overwhelmingly positive! This tells me I did a decent job addressing some serious themes without being preachy or writing a book that is an obvious ”life-lesson book.”
I wanted to write a high-interest chapter book that wasn’t just high-interest, though. I wanted to hook even the most reluctant of readers right away and not let them go. But, I wanted it to be more.
I wanted Jack’s Tales to have a unique structure and style that also has narrative depth and a unique protagonist. So, I did my best to invite readers inside Jack’s head, to laugh with him, to learn from him, to know the forces that are shaping him, what he may or may not become, and how this can be set at such a young age.
I especially hoped that readers look up Jack and root for him. As I wrote this book I wanted readers to see a little or maybe more of Jack in themselves by reading Jack’s Tales.
Also, if I could frame a highly character centered fictional chapter book around three interesting topics (one for each story) and deliver fast, descriptive, high tension, action-centered scenes, somewhat humorous at times, that also shows my main character’s inner-voice, feelings, and thinking, I’d have a book worthy for young readers.
Maybe even worthy of a book for the growing number of young people who haven’t discovered what it feels like to finish a book by choice or to learn something new and real about themselves or the world they live in, a book worthy of reading by choice, by choice over video games, tablets, and phones. A book that will get finished. A book that may change a young person’s opinion about books altogether, or at least show a path.
Bibliographic Information: Just the Facts
- Released January 2015 ISBN: 978-0-9882599-6-6
- Publisher: SplashingCowBooks Retail Price: 5.99
Yes, these stories are action-packed and are based on boy interests-fishing, ghosts, pizza, and soccer, however, they place the reader inside Jack’s head, entrenched in his fear, his rationalizing irrational vaporous fears. The narrative also shows the progression of Jack’s growing inner strength. The three story narrative structure shows his growth from the first to the third story by placing the reader alongside and within his thoughts, his decisions, and ultimately the choices he makes that force him to grow stronger emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically.
An Excerpt-Jack’s Monster
Jack attached a bright orange bobber to his line about two feet above his hook and swirled his fingers in the bucket until he had one unlucky minnow in the palm of his hand.
“I know how you feel,” Jack whispered as he put the hook through the minnow’s tail. He cast his line out, watching the bobber follow the minnow as it broke the water’s surface. The bobber stilled and Jack’s mind sped up, tossing out questions and answers again.
Do sea monsters sleep during the day and hunt at
night, like vampires?
You heard Brandon. He saw it in daytime!
Do sea monsters sense fear, like bears and bees do?
If they do, Dad and I are monster bait!
Jack’s reel screeched and brought him back to Earth. The sun felt like a dragon’s breath on his face. The bay water smelled stronger than ever. Somehow the bobber had disappeared! His legs trembled. When he was able to steady himself against the side of the boat, he tried to turn his reel but he could barely move the handle.
For an eight-year-old who was almost nine, Jack was awesome at fishing, but suddenly he forgot what to do! Before he knew what was happening, his arms stretched over the side of the boat like they were string cheese.
Whatever was on the other end of his line had taken his minnow and his hook and now it wanted his line and his bobber and his pole and maybe even their boat and then Jack and his dad would be next! I should have told Dad about the monster! he thought.
“MONSTER! MONSTER!” he heard himself yelling.