Jon Scieszka has created a monster—a joyful, galumphing juggernaut called Guys Read. Ever since he launched his website, Scieszka has inspired teachers and librarians across the country to start their own Guys Read programs. On March 25th I was able to attend an all-day workshop on Scieszka’s brainchild, hosted by the Hennepin County Libraries and Stone Arch Books as part of the PLA preconference. The workshop couldn’t have been better organized. After Scieszka gave the opening remarks, we heard from public policy makers, politicians, lawyers, public librarians, mentors, fund-raisers, and parents of Guys Read programs from around the US. Their message was clear, focused, and overwhelming: Guys Read is a success. Boys want to read and will read if given the right material.
Scieszka warned us that we need to learn the language of boys. Boys think differently than the majority of librarians (whom he characterized as predominantly female and mostly middle-aged). One female librarian echoed Scieszka from her own experience, saying she had learned what not to say to a boys’ reading club. “Never ask them how they felt about the story,” she cautioned. “A lot of young boys don’t know how they feel about anything. Instead, ask them what they would have done if they had been in the story.” Boys prefer the hands-on, feet-on, jump-on approach. One librarian said his boys’ group created rituals to start and end each meeting. They have a march and a chant, and carry a flag created by one of the boys’ moms. Another club leader said he sometimes spends half the time playing football with his readers. The point is to make a Guys Read group fun, to teach boys to associate books and reading with pleasure and excitement. “This is not school,” says Scieszka. “There are no quizzes, no questions, no grades.” We also heard the responses from parents and grandparents, how reading had changed the lives of their boys.
During one of the breaks from the workshop, I wandered over to the chaotic PLA exhibit hall where the booths were being assembled, including ours. I visited with Heather Kindseth, Stone Arch Books’s creative director. As we talked, Jon Scieszka walked down our aisle. I stopped him and told him how much I enjoyed his books. Just an hour earlier he had mentioned that when thinking about books for boys, he paid attention to two things: the spine couldn’t be too thick, and the cover had to be eye-grabbing. He said he could tell, just by looking at the Stone Arch books, that we were on to something. “This is exactly what boys will want to pick up and read,” he said. Then he asked for one of our catalogs.
Scieszka has been made the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Spend a minute with him and you’ll know why. He’s approachable, he’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s passionate about getting kids to read. And Guys Read is an idea that anyone with an interest in boys and books can get behind. You can’t stop it. As Dr. Frankenstein said about another literary monster: “It’s alive!”
Editorial Director, Stone Arch Books