Saturday, May 08, 2004

Book club's a blast

I've been moderating a sixth-grade book club group at my daughter's school this year (though not one with my daughter in it, of course; the only thing more traumatic for her than doing extra reading would be having to interact with her mother at school), and it's given me a really good perspective on the reading habits of girls vs. boys. Mine was one of the few groups in the club that was more or less even -- three boys and two girls, out of a club that had maybe five boys in it altogether -- and if you think that sixth-grade boys who would consent to be in a book club are somehow more sensitive or poetic or in touch with their feminine side than the normal run of rowdy preadolescents, well, think again.

Let me offer but one small illustration: When I asked the kids, in a recent discussion, what they would change about the classic "Black Beauty," the girls wished there had been a fairy godmother to sprinkle magic dust on the horse and free him from bad people. The boys wished there had been more bloodshed, preferably a person or two killed every chapter. They then proceeded to act out their plot changes with maximum booms and bangs. I think they ended up with The Terminator in there.

Said one boy, somewhat admiringly, of his friend, "He watches too many cartoons!"

Indeed. The boys were openly disdainful of most of the books chosen, which were in fact picked by women and not surprisingly appealed to girls. "Ella Enchanted," for example, while certainly a spirited read, is not a big draw for male readers. Ditto "Sing Down the Moon." All the kids liked "Because of Winn-Dixie" (amazingly, since it had a female narrator and low body count), and the boys tolerated "Skinnybones," which at least was about a boy. But although "Black Beauty" was intended as a change from girly fare, it was not sufficiently action packed for the cartoon fans. Perhaps it was because the author was a woman, and chose to make her points through gentle and reasoned dialog and not, say, the business end of a .45.

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