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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where Did All the Hardy Boys Go?

Back when my friends were reading Nancy Drew I picked up a copy of the Hardy Boys (from a friend's older brother). I recall reading a Tom Swift novel once, when I was about seven.

Yesterday I read the interesting article Sell the Girls. This morning I read about six-year-old girls being forced into a hyper-sexualized situations by media and advertisements.

Color me annoyed.

On one hand we have Disney pushing super-sexy Tinkerbell in her ever-shrinking-skirt to little girls in the hopes that this Halloween some pedophile will be very happy to give your daughter candy.

Looked at from the perspective of a mother of two girls, I love Maureen's article! Give me strong female protagonists! Give me fiction for girls! Show my daughters that they can be more than automaton boot polishers!

I do agree with Maureen here:
Perhaps we still need to consider the fact that female stories are consistently undervalued, labeled as “commercial,” “light,” “fluffy,” and “breezy,” even if they are about the very same topics that a man might write about. If we sell more, it is simply because we produce candy—and who doesn’t like candy? We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same. It’s okay to sell the girls as long as we have some men to provide protein.

I have exhausted the nutritional metaphor.

I’ve benefited from some of these strange misapprehensions, even if they drive me insane. I’m not claiming I’m starving. I’m awfully lucky to make a living doing what I do. But as a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I object to the idea that there is a crisis in terms of boy books. And maybe we should do boys the favor we girls received—a reading diet featuring books by and about the opposite sex. Clearly, it must work.

She's right. I grew up on a variety of male-written stories. I survived.

But I have son now. And I look at the bookshelves and I see... what? His choices are between Twilight and The Hulk?

Should I want my son to grow up to be a sparklepire like Edward?

Maybe I could get him to read some Ally Carter. Zac Goode and W.W. Hale the Fifth are nice boys, but they're pretty two-dimensional stock characters. No drama. No real emotion. No real arc. Just Hot Boys Here To Rescue You.

I've read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles to me girls. Princess Cimorene is intelligent, brave, clever, and adventurous. The perfect role-model for my girls.

But there's a void for boys.

We've taken the 1990's Grrl Power! to such an extreme that there aren't good role models left for the boys.

A quick scan of the leading boy-oriented stories give you this list of role-models: misogynistic man-whore, alcoholic psychotic, socially inept neurotic, orphan with authority issues, angsty emo-kid, future wetwork artist, a thief, a known assassin, and the brainless wonder (Iron Man, Wolverine, Spiderman, Harry Potter, Edward Cullen, Zac Goode, Hale, Jason Bourne, Jacob the Werewolf and five billion other cardboard characters just like him).

Gosh. What's a mother to say?

Maybe: Over My Dead Body.

When the best role-models for boys are an ogre and Jimmy Neutron, there is a problem.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong stores. Maybe I'm the one who can't see past the advertising for boys that pushes them toward aggressive neanderthal behavior.

All I want is an updated version of the Hardy Boys.

I want books about Boy Scouts, not Bad Boys. Give me a book about Prince Charming that my son can relate to. Give me some good YA sci-fi where the boys aren't shown as either brutal killers (Ender's Game) or mindless peons meant to be trashed by the girls.

You tell me: Where are the good books for growing boys? What do I need on my shelf for my son?


  1. Please note: I'm not saying Wolverine and Jason Bourne are bad. I love them both. But they aren't the kind of role models I want for a young boy. Think ages 5-12.

    Note Too: The Twilight Series is not now, nor will it ever be, acceptable reading. If my daughter wants a vampire book, she's getting Dracula. If she wants a movie, I'll get her the original Buffy. ;o)

  2. I haven't even thought about what literature might be out there when our son gets older, we're still wading through what cartoons we should allow him to watch.
    Although I do like Harry Potter, there does need to be an updated type Hardy Boys out there for boys to read.

  3. My daughter's grown up so I haven't looked at books for young children in several years. Mostly she read from my collection and anything she could get from Scholastic and our visits to the bookstore (conveniently placed inside the mall so I'd stop and browse unlike now where it's on the other side of the parking lot and I won't browse unless I have the money for new books).

    I had the complete collections of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tixie Beldon, the Three Investigators, and the Bobbsey Twins. I also had Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. I had a few books from the We Are There series - The Boston Tea Party, Opening of the Atomic Era, and Launching of the Nautilaus - as well as some biographies on Louisa May Alcott, Marie Curie, Andrew Jackson, and a couple more. I had Hemingway's Islands in the Stream, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, tons of Agatha Christie novels and several more. My collection at that time stood at nearly 300 books.

    She read all of them. She also liked the Animorphs series, Myth Adventures, Xanth, and has gotten a few more collections over the years which I've also borrowed to read. A good mix of male and female authors.

    When I had Canadian Lit in high school, most of the authors happened to be female but nothing was mentioned about that fact.

    I never thought of any book as a boy's book or a girl's book. Neither does my daughter.

    Looking at the books I currently have on my shelves, it's almost evenly split between male and female authors.

    I also find certain series of books unacceptable reading but more for how the authors are changing what should be truly horrific stories into romantic fantasy. Twilight, Anne Rice's vampires, those are a couple of series I will never be caught dead near. The original Dracula or Buffy are fine with me. :)

    My husband suggest that the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwall would be a good series to get your son interested in. The main character, Richard Sharpe, is a soldier during the Napoleanic wars but he's more of a Rennaisance man than any other. He treats women with respect even though he's a bit of a womanizer and convinces his men to also treat them well. He says Sharpe is a character that shows honesty, morality, honor, courage, and leadership. From a male's perspective this is a good character for a role model.

    Your husband would probably like the series too. I also like it and I'm not a big fan of military history. I don't think it's a series for really young boys unless someone else is reading and discusses what they read with him but as he moves into preteen and teen years I think it'd be an excellent series for him to read.

  4. I agree with you, to a point. The industry has decided that girls read more than boys and pandered to them with the cakiest, gooiest books possible. They're printing the Swiss Cake Rolls of literature because they're easy sales.

    However, I have found decent boy books for my kiddo. There might might not be half a store-full, but what there is seems to be of the non-Swiss Cake Roll variety. Percy Jackson, Charlie Bone, Septimus Heap--all great series. 39 Clues has both a boy and a girl protag, and they're pretty clever and strong. Artemis Fowl, Leven Thumps. Roland Smith writes great boy books.

    It would be great, though, to see an updated Hardy Boys...complete with over-the-top technology. My boy would love that!

  5. Hi,

    as a mother to a 5 year old girl and 7 year old boy this is a hot topic for me. I certainly intend sharing my childhood books with them as they grow - The Three Investigators (hardy boy-esque), Robin Hood, Greek Myths, Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, Three Musketeers, E Nesbitt books all spring to mind as good boy books. Also the Narnia Chronicles, Tolkien etc.

    More recently published ones which we've already loved together include Mary Pope Osborne's popular Magic Tree House books (boy and girl leads - good adventures in historical times), Dr Seuss, and the brilliant Roald Dahl books. The Horrid Henry series is also popular, although I don't enjoy them much myself.

    But as a girl who grew up reading girls boarding house books, Dickens, Agatha Christie whodunnits, and Alistair Maclean thrillers in pretty equal measure - I don't really believe in "boy books" per se or "girl books".

    I read anything I could lay my hands upon and developed my own taste that way. I do remember noticing at one point (about age 11) that I liked male writers of action stories the best, but I had no problem identifying with male leads.

    Also, anyone at the stage of getting a boy to read solo - my son loved the DK early readers as they covered topics like Indiana Jones and Star Wars (all 6 movies plus Clone Wars cartoon) which already interested him. He does a great impersonation of C3PO and Yoda.

    Hope that helps, Grace

  6. My twelve year old son has grown up reading my old books - the same stuff I read at his age. Sometimes, being a packrat pays off. :) Tom Swift, Tolkien, Narnia, etc. He's also a fan of 39 clues and the Eragon books.

  7. I'd forgotten the Animorphs! My little sister had almost the entire series stuffed under her bed when she was 10. I wonder if she still has them?

    I've never heard of 39 Clues, but that seems to be a popular one. I'll have to look it up.

    Thank you for the list of suggestions! I'm glad to hear there are good books out there The Boy. :o)