Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Boys and reading

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During the early part of my career I wrote solely for adults but a fascinating kayaking trip to a ghost town on an island off the coast of Newfoundland a number of years ago changed that, stimulating my first book for kids. When "The Mystery of Ireland's Eye" appeared the following year perhaps the thing that surprised me most about its reception was the fact that I kept receiving congratulations for writing a "great novel for boys."

I hadn't tried to do that, in fact, I never write for either gender, or for any defined audience, I simply try to create a good story, one that has meaning, primarily, for me. But teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents, and even boys themselves kept telling me that not just that first book but every subsequent one I wrote appealed to young males and, sometimes, even changed a few guy's entire outlook on reading.

Unfortunately, boys fall far behind girls as readers. Almost any teacher can attest to that. My experience as a YA writer has told me that one of the main reasons for that is that boys often can't find the novels they'd really like to read. Right or wrong, they won't read a novel with a girl on the cover, nuzzling up to her favourite horse ... though girls will often read books about boy protagonists embarking on adventures. We all want our kids, regardless of sex, to be interested in relationships, be sensitive human beings, and consider the beauty of the world around them ... but boys, for the most part, aren't drawn to reading about such things, at least, they don't want those things to be at the core of the stories they explore. We can try to force them to be intrigued, we can hope they are, but they usually, simply, aren't.

I once heard a psychologist say that boys/men are interested in "objects moving through space." Get a puck, a baseball, a bullet, a football, or even a boy himself hurtling somewhere or at something, and boys perk up. Girls might be interested, but in many ways, they are more well rounded. That difference carries, to some degree, into adulthood - think of which adult sex is interested in so-called "chick flicks," and who likes "action films." Even the hugely popular books can't escape this - The Twilight Series, despite its mammoth success, is primarily read by girls. No matter how many action-packed vampire scenes are included, the boys understand that Twilight is about a girl whose life revolves around a deeply romantic relationship (or two) ... and they turn away. My son, a big reader, was forced to go to the latest Twilight film with his family (including two excited sisters) ... and almost fell asleep, several times.

I write books that appeal to both boys and girls. I layer my stories and certainly have relationships, ideas, and hopefully some art in what I do. But I am a boy, and when I write, for example, the novels in "The Boy Sherlock Holmes" series, I become that adventurous, action-seeking young man as I sit at my computer. And I've figured out that THAT is why boys like my books. I am them. I know, without having to think about it, what they like. If you want to write for guys ... BE the boy. If you want them to read, find the things they REALLY like. Don't force them to try something else. As they get older, they will learn to expand their reading repertoire. But when they are kids ... let them be boys. It's really very simple.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page