Today I had the last meetings with both Guys Read groups, a book club sponsored by the local library system in conjunction with Jon Scieszca’s brain child. As Jon points out on his site, boys lag behind girls as readers because of for cultural and physiological reasons. Guys Read promotes reading as a guy-ish activity, giving boys a chance to read the kind of books guys like and talk about it with other guys.
I’d seen the book “Guys Write for Guys Read,” and initially questioned the concept–I feel like children’s books are too “gendered” as it is, with books being written and marketed one way or the other, and Guys Read seemed to play right into that gender stratification. Once I learned more about Sciescza’s reasoning behind the mission, it made a lot more sense to me, and I was excited to lead a couple of groups.
The middle-age group went very well. We had about 10 kids, and they seemed to enjoy the books and the discussion. I learned right off that these were not the “reluctant readers” I expected. I asked them to introduce themselves by naming their favorite books, and most of them answered “Lord of the Rings” or “Eragon,” with one kid saying “Watership Down.” Those are longish books with specialized vocabularies and rich, nuanced worlds. I was pretty impressed. I was an avid reader as a child, but didn’t take on anything that tough until junior high. Our reading list tended toward the Newbery-type author, with books by Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, Gary Paulsen, and Richard Peck.
I learned that kids like to read and have a really good memory for what they read, but it’s tough to get them talking about what they’ve read… or maybe I just didn’t shut up enough, I don’t know. If the group went on longer, I’d hope to see the kids being more outspoken. I hope to go back next summer and see some of the same kids again, with new favorite books and another year under their belts.
The teen group didn’t go as well… our biggest attendance was two, and the last group had nobody. I think a group like that just needs a critical mass of other kids to succeed. I still enjoyed meeting the two kids I met in that group, and one said something I’ll remember for a long time. The conversation had turned to the required books kids read for school, and I asked them what one book they would want everyone to read, if it was their decision. He answered, “Either the Bible, or Artemis Fowl.” That’s a pretty big compliment to the Bible, being on a short list with Eoin Colfer! 😉
Since I also write books for kids, I tried to get a sense of what they liked and disliked in books. I think I left with mixed signals… kids will definitely point out that any passage without a monster or a pratfall is boring, but at the same time, they plug on and read a book even if it does bore then from time to time. And while several admit to skipping prologues and afterwords, a lot of them do read that stuff, and even comment on it. A favorite moment from the program was when a kid opened the discussion on Bud, Not Buddy by talking about the Afterword, in which Christopher Paul Curtis describes the family members who inspired the book and includes pictures of them. He couldn’t wait to talk about it. I thought that was wonderful. It was a great way to start talking about the book, and he knew it.