When I wrote my first novel in the young-adult "Red Racecar" book series, I was on a mission. After years of working with "Yoot"," who turned out through circumstance to be mostly boys, I wanted to write something they might actually WANT to read.
All the experts in education and publishing agree that getting boys to read is an important mission. In the age of the internet as almost everyone's primary source of information, it's more important than ever. Yet when I see the books supposedly targeted at boys, I understand why many of them think of reading as an evil foisted upon them by adults who can't be trusted. These kids associate reading with the lame-o stuff these books highlight. I wouldn't want to read these books either, even now that I'm supposed to be mature.
Yes, the teenage years are a minefield of poor choices, confusing conflicts and unforeseen consequences. The experts will tell you our young-adult novels need to deal with this stuff. But this is not the stuff my students want to deal with. These are hands-on kids. They're into taking stuff apart to see how it works; bicycles, skateboards, motorcycles, stuff like that. They don't want lessons. They want opportunities.
I make a simple promise to my readers. These are the adventures of racers. Any lessons here are lessons about racing, or cars, or motorcycles. Read my books and learn what it's like to build a racer and race it. That's it. You want to know what it's like to campaign a midget on dirt tracks? You wonder what it's like to fly off a giant jump on a dirt bike? Read my books and find out. Want to find out how to deal with a personal crisis? No? Good. Let's have some fun.
I've kept trying to find the experts on this subject because I want them to talk me out of this (if they're so smart!), but I've come to realize it isn't going to happen. The attitudes I site are bigger than just a response to the lack of reading by boys. I contend that a prejudice exists - a negative attitude among supposed "professionals" that is hurting more than just some students' reading skills. This attitude permeates education in general.
College is a great path for some, the perfect goal to inspire the highest level of performance in high school. But the kids who don't choose college or clearly aren't academic material aren't provided with their own path. It's as if the professionals in education see only one path, college and a successful career. No college means no future, or only one as an academic reject filling coffee cups or emptying trash. Its an abject rejection of the kids I'm trying to reach.
You think you don't need good reading skills as an electrician, a mechanic, or a landscaper? Do you see those careers as simply jobs for lugs? Do you care that these jobs get done well?
And isn't there stuff that's fun to read? Reading all by itself has value, and school not only is about making good citizens, it's about those citizens making good lives, every one of them, not just the ones who got to wear the funny boards on their heads for two graduations.
My books are proving popular with the kids I meet at racetracks and car shows. They don't care about fantasy-worlds. They don't want to read about vampires. They know drugs are bad and some kids are trouble. And love stories? Get them a break!
They don't want to talk about their minefield of poor choices, confusing conflicts and unforseen consequences. And they don't want to be doctors, or lawyers, or teachers. They want to build things. They want to know how. They want to sound as if they know what they're talking about. They want to get dirty and get paid to be. They want in on the action. My books put them there.
Once they start reading them. Why wouldn't these "experts" want to help make that happen?