Yesterday we closed the books (heh) on another Guys Read. I learned that fourth grade boys don’t get Dianna Wynn Jones, like Will Hobbs and Gary Paulsen OK, and would rather talk about movies than books anyway.
If I learned anything else from this round, it’s that kids read over their head. When groups promote reading, they generally talk about gaining academic skills, as if reading is only a ladder to get somewhere else. I would trade that image for one of a mountain climber tossing a grappling hook up to a new peak and then slowly inching up the sheer side of a cliff. When kids who squirm in the chair and wander off topic in seconds tell me they’ve read and enjoyed Jules Verne, Brian Jacques, Christopher Paolini, and other big thick books with strange worlds and new vocabularies, I remember I was the same way as a kid. I read way over my head, and slowly spent the rest of my life trying to reach the intellectual and emotional maturity to speak and behave like the person I was when I was reading.
I had a mildly covert purpose when I started doing Guys Read, which was to hear boys talk about books and get a better grasp of what they wanted to read. I wondered if it would make me simplify my prose and pack in more action scenes. It’s been the opposite. Kids don’t mind connecting with a character emotionally in a quiet scene. They don’t mind learning new words, and they like it sometimes. The biggest complaint about The Legend of Bass Reeves is that there wasn’t more of it; we didn’t get to see the character at every year of his life, and gradual shifts in his personal growth and American history. Kids are as curious as they ever were, at least if the kids in reading groups are a good measure.
Because I have a wonderful editor, I had a batch of review copies of Mudville to dole out. One kid said the next time, “I liked it. It was good.” That was about it. Not “it changed my life,” but I’ll take compliments where I get them. I was happy to learn that another boy hadn’t read it–because a female cousin had started reading it, and took it home because she wanted to finish it. My book is filled with boys doing boy things (and a few girls doing boy things), so I’m glad girls can enjoy it too (of course, girls have always been better sports, more willing to read about boys than boys are willing to read about girls.)
I asked yesterday what they wanted to read next time, and mixed in with some good suggestions were a lot of jokes: from Noah’s Ark Baby Book (which is what they called it) to Introductory Spanish. I told them they better come next year if those books end up on the list. That should be interesting….