Packaging Boyhood Interview

I absolutely loved the interview with the author’s of Packaging Boyhood.* So often when people write or talk about boys and their needs in newspaper articles and the like, it’s written in a very adverserial way that buys into the myths that Tappan, Brown, and Lamb are trying to dismantle. Which, needless to say, only makes the problem that much harder to tackle. Sadly, the other two articles have some stellar examples of this. I think the part that stood out most to me** was the way that this response from the Packaging Boyhood authors:

If Harry Potter told us anything, it’s that boys do read and they read long books with complex storylines if the books interest them. Harry Potter’s great — it doesn’t play into what boys are “supposed to like.” They’re supposed to like farts, burps, yucky things, explosions, violence, and action action action.

Is in direct opposition to the way the article in The Awl ends:

I can remember boys herding like that, snickering furtively and elbowing ribs. The book was the dictionary, and the passage in question was the definition of “mount.” Boys were then boys, as they ever will be, and it turns out we really ought to have been praising them: not only were they reading, they were kind of discussing relationships too.

Ok, story time: When I was younger, I used to draw all the time. One day I drew a kid in a karate uniform (Karate Kid had come out maybe a year or two before). All nice and shiny and ready for pictures. And then I drew him again. After a fight. Beat up, cast on, bruises on his face, hobbling on crutches. But still smiling. My mother was not pleased. I dunno if she ever reacted that way to my brother’s drawings, but in any case a mother’s displeasure often feels different when you are a girl, yes? Unlike my brother, the only karate uniforms I drew from then on were worn by koalas.

I think, when talking about gross, weird, and nasty books – as well as violent, scary, and terror-inducing stories – we focus a lot on the fact that boys will like them, and forget that girls might like them too. And that a lot of girls may be afraid to admit it because they think they aren’t supposed to. (Trust me, I get plenty of girls asking for Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).

I think that the same thing happens with boys and the types of books we figure girls like – books about characters’ social and inner lives – their emotional lives. When I think of all the shows that do feature boys, shows like Zeke and Luther, Drake and Josh – the shows that “The Great Retweening” doesn’t think exists (and even many that have boys as secondary characters, like Sonny With a Chance) the most striking characteristic is that the boys on them always clearly have rather rich emotional lives. It’s often mocked, but it’s also always still there. Boys on television are almost never without a best friend, whether they be 5 or 55. But at the same time, that friendship and the emotional turmoil that boys want to explore is so often undermined on those same shows – as if the only way that boys can feel comfortable watching such shows is if they don’t admit why.

This same topic came up a few years ago at a really fascinating panel discussion at the LA Times Festival of Books. It was made of up their 2006 YA Book prize winner, Coe Booth, and the finalists, M. T. Anderson, Nancy Werlin, John Green, and Meg Rosoff. At one point someone asked the panelists if they thought there was a lack of books for and featuring boys. It was pretty unanimous that that meme was bullshit. (having shelves books for years at both a library and bookstore, I agree.) The one not quite dissenting opinion (Green) – which also got nods from practically everyone after he made it – was that there aren’t enough quality books for boys.*** That the books with teen male protagonists tended to be pretty stereotypical, and their plots tended to avoid the emotional. Green didn’t say this specifically, but the overall argument seemed to be that there were hundreds of Eragons, but very few Colins or Octavians.

I remember thinking at the time that I wished all discussions about literature for boys – and boys reading habits – could be that nuanced and grounded in reality. They still aren’t, generally, but Packaging Boyhood looks like it should be a positive voice for change in literature for boys.

*yes, it’s already on my to-read shelf

**ok, not really, but the parts that really stuck with me the most are prompting responses not appropriate for homework.

*** I don’t think that this is in opposition with the idea than kids shouldn’t be ashamed to be reading genre books and the like, because really the issue is more about variety of protagonists’ characteristics than the quality of writing, although quality writing tends to go hand in hand with more flexibility and nuance.

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