As a voracious reader, I’ve always looked forward to the day when my two kids would be old enough to discuss books with me. Now that they are both teenagers, that time has come. But with one child (my daughter) who reads a wide variety of literature quickly and another who’d rather hang with his buddies virtually on his Xbox, I find myself wondering if there’s a happy medium.
I grew up an only child and have struggled to figure out appropriate literature to steer my 14-year-old toward. In seventh grade, the year after he learned about the Holocaust in school, I loaned him a copy of Alan Gratz’s middle grade novel Prisoner B-3087, which was based on the true story of survivor Jack Gruener. It helped him to about this historical tragedy through the eyes of a boy who was almost his age, and better yet, the author is based in our home state.
This past year, as I stood in front of the bookshelf in my office, a copy of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton caught my eye. As he was looking for a new book to read for his language arts class, I recommended it to him. He read the back of it and wrinkled his forehead in confusion.
“Just try it out,” I said. “See what you think. The characters are interesting and when you’re finished, we’ll watch the movie together.”
During the time he was reading it, I made sure to ask him questions about the plot and characters in case he had any questions. He found the whole class divide between the “Socs” and the “Greasers” interesting and he was surprised when I shared with him that S.E. was a female author, and wrote the book before she even graduated high school.
When the shelter-at-home orders started and both kids found themselves with way more downtime, I looked up the recommended list of books for rising 9th graders and gave him a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It took him awhile to get through it, and I could tell he was confused by certain historical events, so I read it along with him so we could discuss race relations in 1940s Alabama at the time. (He was shocked at the first instance of the "n-word.") This was also a good opportunity for him to learn new vocabulary words, as there are plenty to look up in that novel. He just finished Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It's a little below his reading level, but given the Black Lives Matter movement, I found it relevant to current social justice initiatives and he thought it was well written. I read middle grade books myself so I have no problem with my kids reading them either.
I’m fortunate he’s willing to take my book suggestions, but I feel so strongly that kids should read a variety of books. I want them to be able to have conversations with teachers, other adults and classmates about the literature, and to learn about different historical events, current events and time periods through the written word. It hasn’t always been easy finding books for my sports-obsessed, video game loving boy to read, but we’re working on it. There's more to life than sports biographies, although those are good, too! All I ask is that he read 20-30 minutes each day, which I think is a fair compromise.
Do you have any good book recommendations for teen boys?
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com.