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Cher-y-lynne {sher-uhl-lin} –noun 1. One who formerly sold and recommended children’s books at a bookstore; a specialist in young adult, middle grade, and picture books. 2. A para-educator at a middle school. 3. A struggling young adult writer. 4. A lover of chocolate and popcorn. Archaic: An Audiology and Speech Language Pathology major at Brigham Young University. Questions? Suggestions? Books you'd like me to review? E-mail me at cherylynne1 (at) gmail (dot) com.
This is a blog for my ranting, raving, and occasionally brilliant opinions. You have been warned. Enter at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Room on the Shelf: Tween Books

This post is also featured on Throwing Up Words blog.

I have heard recently from three different editors that they are not looking for, nor accepting, “tween” books…If your protagonist is 13, they advise either making him or her 12, and therefore middle grade, or 15, and therefore young adult.

I’m here to tell you that I think the editors are wrong.

We all know that kids read up. So for a true middle grade child, someone who’s around nine or ten, they want to read about a 12-year-old. And for a young teen, someone who’s 14 or 15, they’ll want to read about someone who’s 16 and up.

I hate to break it to you, but there is such a thing as a 11, 12, and 13-year old tween. And they like to read. And they’d love it if there were books for them.

Believe me, I know more than anyone what the problem is. There isn’t a place to shelve these kinds of books. And libraries and bookstores aren’t going to build a section for them…at least not until a huge blockbuster comes along that forces them to do so.

But in the meantime, half of the books are in the middle grade section and half of them are in young adult. The trend I’ve seen is that normally, the tween boy books are kept in middle grade (Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Bartimaeous Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud) while the tween girl books are shelved in young adult (Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter, Frog Princess by E.D. Baker, Once Upon a Time series by various authors.)

The root of this discrepancy, I think, is what I discussed in my last post: The fact that there are plenty of older middle grade books for boys, but a shocking lack of choices in young adult. The reverse is also true. There are not very many books available for older middle grade girls, but an incredible oversaturation of girly young adult books.

I think it’s time to change this. What will it take? A new S.E. Hinton (who is usually credited with creating the young adult genre.) We need an author that will take the tween world by storm.

Now the hard part is just writing it. Here are some pointers for what tweens are looking for:

1) Content: The content must still be just as squeaky clean as middle grade. These parents do not want their kids exposed to the “teen” world just yet. I recommend no swearing (no, not even a little!) and no mention of sex. If it’s a girly book, a few chaste kisses are fine.

2) Subplots: Include them. Normally there is a main plot and one subplot in middle grade, and there can be up to four subplots in teen (though four is really pushing it.) I would have two or three in a tween book. These kids are smart. They can handle it.

3) Character arcs: This is an essential. Most of middle grade has nice, friendly characters that tend to accomplish a life goal rather than change their actual personality. It works, because younger kids need to like the characters right away. In young adult, however, you often have characters that change so drastically that you can barely tell it’s the same voice. This works too, considering that teens change their personalities as often as they change clothes. But tweens? They’re still figuring out who they are, even more than teens. They don’t even know which “clique” they belong to yet. A character that reflects that uncertainty—and finds a way to resolve it—will find the respect of that crowd.

4) Humor: Quite frankly, I would not try to do anything edgy with this group. Someday, somewhere, I’m sure someone will pull it off. But for right now, I would try to steer clear and instead try to make them laugh. Tweens love sarcasm. That’s why the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are still popular with them, even though that series is on a third grade reading level. I think appealing to their funny bone is a brilliant marketing move.

5) Action: And let me say it again: ACTION. This is not the place to get bogged down with pretty descriptions and detailed theme analyses. You are competing with the internet (which they probably just recently gained access to) and video games (many are now allowed to start buying the games rated “Teen.”) Your story has to be more compelling than either of those.

Now, does this give you an excuse to call your editor and tell her she’s an idiot for making you change than age of your protagonist? NO. Unfortunately, they probably still can’t sell your tween manuscript. But here’s hoping that someday soon someone will figure out a brilliant marketing move that will make Tween a legitimate genre.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Other Views: Boys Reading YA

Now you’ve heard my opinion…want to know what other people are saying about boys reading? Here’s a few links.

When did YA books become YAwns for Boys?
Great article about how publishers are only publishing teen books for girls.

Guys Read by Jon Scieszka
A site put together by Jon Scieszka, tackling this issue head-on. However, on the recommend list, there are very few books for teens.

Boys and Reading: Tips for Making Reading “Boy-Friendly”
Even though this is more for younger boys, it still has useful tips (boys are visual learners, that’s why they like comics and manga…I never thought of that.)

Reading is for the boys (and girls)!
An in-depth, scientific look at why boys don’t read, and what teachers can do about it.

YA Novels Teen Boys Will Like
A look at some lesser-known titles that boys would read if they just knew about them from the Children’s Literature Network.

Library Thing: Do boys read?
If you want to join in a discussion about boys reading, here’s a good one.

Changing the Cover of YA books for Boys
A post about how boys won’t pick up covers with girls on them…Thank goodness they didn’t put Katniss on the front of Hunger Games, huh?

Keep Boys Reading
This has an excellent list, reading levels included, for boys (though again, mostly for the middle grade group.)

Gender and Reading Habits Part One: Let’s Hear it For the Boys
Fascinating article comparing boys and YA with girls and comic books: boys don't read YA books, so YA books aren't created for them; girls don't read comics, so comics aren't created for them.

What Is It With YA Book Covers?
Another blog post bringing up the fact that no boys would be caught dead buying the girly covers seen on most teen books.

Thanks for participating in the discussion this week! Let me know if there are any great articles that I missed!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

In keeping with the week's theme, I thought I'd post a review of my favorite teen boy series, Alex Rider.

Horowitz, Anthony. Stormbreaker. New York: Penguin, 2000.

"The police said he wasn't wearing his seat belt." Alex turned to look at Jack.

She nodded. "Yeah. That's what they said."

"Doesn't that seem strange to you? You know how careful he was. He always wore his seat belt. He wouldn't even drive me around the corner without making me put mine on."

Jack thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Yeah, it is strange," she said. "But that must have been the way it was. Why would the police have lied?"

Alex's uncle Ian was killed in a freak car accident. Or at least that's what he's been told.

But if it was a car accident, why are there bulletholes on the side of the car?

Before he knows it, Alex is swept up in his uncle's world of secrets and espionage.

This series defines the term "action-packed." The pages just fly by. By the third chapter, you're trapped in a car that's about to be crushed into a cube. Phenomenal. It's sort of like a teenage James Bond.

Now, probably some of you are thinking, "Yeah, I saw the movie...not impressed." This is a perfect example of when the book is better than the movie. Don't let the movie stop you from reading this incredible, incredible book.

This is perfect for every single teenage boy out there. Reluctant readers, voracious readers, all of them. There are eight books in all, so it's a fantastic series to get them started on.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Room on the Shelf: YA Books for Boys

Every few days, I have the exact same conversation. A teenage boy comes in looking for recommendations. He’s read Percy Jackson, Fablehaven, and Harry Potter.

My first suggestions are always novels in the same genre, things like Suzanne Collin’s Underland Chronicles, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, or Rick Riordan’s new Kane Chronicles.

Then I get this response: “Yeah…you know, Percy Jackson was great when I was twelve, but I’m actually sixteen now. Do you have anything…older?”

Short answer? Not really.

Here’s a quick list of the YA books that boys are buying:
1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. Maze Runner by James Dashner
3. Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
4. Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
5. Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan
6. Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer

And that’s it. Really.

Now, I’ve heard a number of people say that teenage boys aren’t reading. I don’t think that’s true. They’re just not reading YA, because there aren’t enough books for them. They go straight from Brandon Mull to Michael Crichton, James Patterson, John Grisham and Robert Ludlum.

YA, on the other hand, is oversaturated with books for girls, particularly paranormal romance. And even the books that boy should like (Uglies, anyone?) have covers that look so ridiculously girly that no boy would be caught dead reading it.

What we’ve got to remember is that teenagers are all about appearance. Their entire existence revolves around “looking cool.” This is where I think e-readers can come in handy. No girlish cover, no dog-eared paperback, just the newest gadget. But that’s a discussion for another time.

What am I trying to say? Authors, editors, agents, we need books for teenage boys. Not just any books, but fantasy packed with action. Think about what someone would want to read after finishing Percy Jackson. Eragon used to fit the bill, but Christopher Paolini has taken so long between books that his audience has grown up.

In short, there’s room on the shelf. So get writing!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference 2010

Some of you may be wondering where I've been for the past week, and why the blog has suddenly gotten a facelift. Here's your answer!

Hint: You may or may not be able to see me sitting next to the brilliant Alane Ferguson, as her assistant, and you may or may not be able to see me demonstrating my hidden (and rightly so) talent of ribbon dancing.