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Guys Read

by Miriam Downey 13. February 2014 08:22

My 14-year-old grandson is a reader. Always has been. You never see him without a book at his side. He likes science fiction, fantasy, and the dystopian novels that were featured on the last blog posting. On the other hand my 16-year-old grandson, who is far more visual, only likes to read graphic novels and anime. You might have noticed a similar phenomenon with the boys that you know. Boys tend to read differently than girls, and there is significant research that shows that boys are reading less all the time. Test scores in reading are echoing the research. On a brighter note, current research also shows that boys will read if they can find reading materials that interest them.

The research shows that most boys like practical, useful information. Girls are much more likely to read stories. There is an excellent guide to improving boys' literacy skills published by the Ontario Department of Education. You can find it here. The guide has a lot of practical advice for educators and parents. Here is another summary of the research in education that has a lot of good information as well as good advice for parents and others who encourage boys to read.


Most of you know the author Jon Scieszka because you and your kids have read The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and Math Curse. Currently he is serving as the National Ambassador of Young People's Literature. He is the sponsor of a webpage about books for boys called Guys Read. It is a web-based literacy program, and it has a wealth of information and huge lists of books that boys will want to read. For instance, the featured book is called Locomotive by Brian Floca, which is the Caldecott Medal winner for 2014. Floca also wrote another guy-friendly book called Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.

I am not going to make a list of books this week. You will find plenty of book suggestions on the Guys Read website. I will close by referring you to some postings from past months that have lists of books that boys like.

Dystopian Novels for Teens

Great Sports Biographies

To Infinity and Beyond: Books about Space and Astronomy

Graphic Novels for Middle and High School Students

Take Me Out to the Ball Game



Dystopian Novels for Teens

by Miriam Downey 1. February 2014 09:35

 Most teens like dystopian novels but they don't know the term dystopian. Dystopia is just the opposite of Utopia. In utopian fiction, society is ideal, or the way the writer visualizes that society would be ideal. In dystopian fiction, things have gone very bad--there is at least one major reason why things aren't good. Most people would classify dystopian fiction as science fiction, but the fact that the culture is oppressive is what makes the difference. One writer suggests that a novel is dystopian when the government or the governing social institution is dysfunctional. Usually dystopian fiction is set in the "near" future.

Firction has always been full of dystopian literature, most likely beginning with Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, written in the 1700s, which really was a combination of utopian and dystopian literature. The most current example of dystopian fiction is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Most parents had to read 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm when they were in school, and these books remain the classic dystopian novels.

One children's book expert believes that teens are drawn to dystopian fiction because it's an exciting genre but also because the books are generally set in either chaotic or strictly controlled societies--which tends to mimic a teenager's life. The books also are hero or heroine journeys, much more like fairy tales than they are like science fiction. The teenaged hero/heroine will be tested and challenged. Often the adults are the oppressors and the children are the liberators. Easy to see why these books are loved by teens.

I have included in this rather short list the books that I can recommend to most young people. Let's begin with the classics, most of which are available online. Although there are some objections to the Hunger Games series, I did include it on the list.

Classic Dystopian Novels

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Written in 1726, it has never been out of print. (grades 6-12)

Animal Farm by George Orwell. The farm animals stage an uprising and overcome an oppressive regime. (grades 6-12)

1984 by George Orwell. The "party" controls everything in Oceania, and everywhere Winston goes, he sees the face of the party. (grades 10-12)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. 451 Fahrenheit, by the way, is the temperature that books burn and the government is out to burn all the books. (grades 9-12)

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. This is a short story that may have been influential in the creation of the Hunger Games. (grades 10-12)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. A group of boys are lost on an island and try to create a government. (grades 7-12)

Recent Dystopian Fiction

The Giver by Lois Lowry. The society depicted in this novel eliminates pain and problems by promoting "sameness." Winner of the Newbery Prize. (grades 6-8)

Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. When you are 16 in Uglytown, you turn pretty because of required surgery. (grades 7-9)

Feed by M. T. Anderson. Describes a world where everyone's mind is hardwired to resemble the Internet. (grades 7-12)

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Three books about a dystopian society called Panem. There is some violence in the books, but they are remarkably well plotted. (grades 7-12)

Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Tris is born into a caste-based society where there is only one chance to move ahead. (grades 9-12)


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