There are countless websites devoted to discussing boys and books. There are numerous reasons for this (which I will discuss another day, as it is a very interesting discussion), but today I want to focus on an author who appreciates and understands boys. He writes intelligently about their motivations, ideas, creativity, and experiences because he lived them himself, growing up in a traditional family in the 50's and 60's.
I love Clements' books not only because they appeal to boys, but also because they are not too edgy. If today's "boy books" don't have poop and fart jokes or bad language and budding sexuality or fantasy-laden futurism, then authors seem to think boys won't want to read them. Yes, boys like all those things, and I'm glad they do and that there are books that appeal to those interests. But Andrew Clements seems to have found a way of communicating that isn't banal but still includes humor, technology, and hormones. His genre of choice is usually realistic fiction, which means boys are reading about things that could really happen to them.
Clements' first and most popular novel is Frindle, about a boy who provokes his teacher by creating a new word for "pen." He encourages all of his classmates to join him in this mini-rebellion. Boys love this book because it has some mutiny and a budding leader . . . but he's not too bad--just experimental.
Allow me to share a personal story. When I was working in a cognitive training center last year, I was developing a curriculum for teaching reading comprehension to children who struggled academically. Most of our students, no surprise, were boys. One mom asked me for some suggested titles for her reluctant reader son, who "hated reading." I gave her a short list (including Frindle) that he would work on at home and during his sessions with his trainer.
One day I was sitting at my desk, and a little whirlwind ran through the front door, past my desk, and to his trainer who was going through the program with him. "Joe! Joe! Guess what? I LOVE READING!" I had tears in my eyes, and Joe had a hard time keeping it together. He asked this student, "What changed? What has happened since last week?" "This book," he announced, waving his copy of Frindle. By then, his mom had met me at my desk. She said, "I just ordered everything Andrew Clements has written. I've never heard my son care about a book before." That's what it takes with reluctant readers--finding THE book--the one that will draw them into the world of books.
So, Frindle saved this student's life, if you dont mind me being a little melodramatic.
My personal favorite of Clements' is Things Not Seen. A 15-yr old boy awakes one day to discover that he is invisible. It has elements of science fiction, but it is a beautiful relationship book, as the boy befriends a blind girl (who has no way of knowing he is invisible). This book was very meaningful to one of my sons, who read it when he was 15. There are a couple of sequels to this storyline (Things Hoped For and Things That Are). These are great books for early teen boys who don't necessarily crave manga or futuristic technology.
As realistic fiction, these books are ones that boys can relate to. Most of Clements' books star boys, which is an appealing element to boy readers. They are clever and enjoy typical boy things. Clements' boys are "everyboy," in a good sense. They are relatable and enjoyable, but they are not perfect. Most of the stories take place in a school setting, also relatable to most boys.
If you have or know of a reluctant reader boy, or if you just want an entertaining story to read to your kids or for them to add to their summer reading list, add Andrew Clements' titles to your list. (Hint: The Clements' books that are early readers--ages 9-12--all have the same cover illustrator. They are done by Brian Selznick--remember him? The Invention of Hugo Cabret? [see entry on 6/6].) Here's a sampling:
Middle Grade Readers Frindle The Landry News The Janitor's Boy The Jacket A Week in the Woods The Report Card The Last Holiday Concert Lunch Money Extra Credit Trouble-Maker
Teen Readers Things Not Seen Things Hoped For Things That Are