How to Get Your Tween Boy Interested in Reading

August 20, 2010 at 12:41 am , by

How can you get your tween boy interested in reading? Well, how do you get any boy interested in anything? The answer is pretty consistent: Scare ‘em or gross ‘em out! (Preferably both.)

My friend Sally is the kind of “auntie” that kids adore and mothers cringe over. (That’s her on the right, in the middle of a pillow fight with my 4-year-old son, Scott.) Young boys worship her, because she’s super fun and engages them on exactly the kinds of topics they’re most interested in, like poop. Thanks to Sally, Scott has learned all about coyote poop and has spent time on an educational website that helps him differentiate between ostrich poop, zebra poop and giraffe poop.  Poop, poop, poop, poop, poop. Fascination, peals of laughter, you get the idea. She also juggles and plays a mean game of sidewalk hide & seek. When the three of us are together I may as well not exist, as far as Scott is concerned.

When Sally is not leading my young son astray, she’s drawing cool pictures. And last week, her first two children’s books hit bookstores: The Rat-Brain Fiasco and Curse of the Bizarro Beetle, #1 and #2 in an illustrated children’s book series called Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys, aimed at ages 9-12. She produced it with her sister Julie, a writer who, as it happens, is mom to four such boys.

The sisters are currently hard at work on the latest book in the series about a boarding school where the teachers are really monsters. Sally (Sally Faye Gardner) draws the pictures and Julie (Julie Gardner Berry) writes the words, but I’m sure both of them are a bit to blame for all of it. They took a break to visit the Ladies’ Lounge. Read our interview after the jump.

What was it like working with your sister?

Sally Faye Gardner: Collaborating with Julie was the best part of this project. Because we are litter-mates, we already think the same things are funny. Having someone snort and giggle with you at every step made the work fun, and I hope it made the books funnier. At least we made each other laugh, so that’s something.

Julie Gardner Berry: We never had to waste time on politeness or manage each other’s feelings. That made us very efficient. Sally would call me on any given afternoon, and I might be chauffeuring kids, and she’d say, “On page 57 we need to shorten the dialogue so it fits in a speech bubble, and we need a better excuse for so-and-so’s disappearance.” I’d say, “Hold on,” pause to pay for my drive-through takeout, suggest some shorter dialogue, and say, “How about … oh, body snatchers?” “Perfect,” Sally’d say. “Oh, I’m getting a call. Talk to you later.”

Can you give us a snippet from the weirdest work conversation you had about Splurch Academy?

SFG: Hmm, it’s hard to choose.

“This Were-squid transformation just ain’t working. Let’s lose the moon.”

“Quick, I need some humorous names for an old vampire’s bathroom products!”

“What happens if our real middle school teachers recognize themselves in this?”

Sally, you’re a favorite, bad-influence kind of aunt. Do you secretly like disruptive boys?

SFG: It’s no secret; I PREFER disruptive boys. Disruptive kids are more creative, playful, funny, and adventurous than mild mannered obedient kids. I wish I were more like them.

What about you, Julie? Is Splurch Academy fiction, really, or is there an element of memoir?

JGB: These books bear no resemblance to my own angel boys. Honest. I swear.

Seriously, as the mom to my sons, I’m forced to play teacher and lawgiver and disciplinarian, but I think I can empathize and imagine enough to picture what it must be like to be a young boy, full of energy and curiosity and mischief, with all these dragonlike authority figures telling you to hold still, be quiet, and suffer boredom patiently.  In some sense I see these books as letters to my own boys. Maybe someday they’ll read them and know that Mom was on their side, too, at least more than they probably think.

What do you hope your young readers will take away from these books?

SFG: We mostly just want these books to be fun for the all the disruptive little guys we know. We also hope that reluctant readers will be motivated to keep reading because they’ll like the comic-hybrid format.

Final question to Sally: Scott loved playing with the model rats when you were working on the Rat-Brain Fiasco. What gross toys will he have access to when you’re working on book #4?

SFG: That’s proprietary information, I’m afraid. You don’t have the appropriate clearance level. Have Scott call me directly.

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