Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maybe it's just a phase

One of those why-boys-don't-read theories that circulates pretty widely is that boys prefer books that awards committees, librarians, and parents (possibly publishers) consider trashy. Books with less character development and more explosions and toilets.

So these books with crazy boy appeal are actually harder for boys to get their hands on, because awards committees, librarians, and parents (who shall henceforth be referred to as literary gatekeepers) are all like, "Oh no, dear, you don't want that nasty book about exploding flatulence, you want this nice book about making friends."

Boys come to the library looking for Captain Underpants and face a wall of Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody books.

But I just read an article that makes a good, related point: it's not really that girls like more sophisticated books. It's just that the literary gatekeepers of America have embraced trashy girl books while still looking down on trashy boy books.

What are trashy girl books? How about Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club (both of which are being reissued as we speak) and Gossip Girl (which is a household-name TV show). Oh yeah, and Twilight. Do parents just die when they see kids checking those out?

And this isn't just a literary phenomenon: can you think of a male equivalent to Hannah Montana or Taylor Swift*?

This idea is one of many raised in "Sweet Valley High: The Great Retweening and Why Boys Won't Read." The article came out at the beginning of the month, hot on the heels of that New York Times article about boys falling behind in school, but I just discovered it via Roger's blog.

It's a super sweet article about the ascendancy of adolescent girl culture, and as a bonus, it has data from the kind of study I would like to do for my phD: the researchers have Korean English-language learners read Sweet Valley High books and then test their vocabulary gain.

And there's some potential good news here: if trashy girl books have been accepted, could trashy boy books eventually weasel their way in? Could Diary of a Wimpy Kid be a sign?

*Actually, I've got one: wrestling. That's what tween boys talk to me about. Cena, Edge, Triple H. It's like Hannah Montana for boys. There are overacted melodramatic plots, crazy costumes, and instead of singing, there's brawling.

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