Recently when I was researching lists of fiction novels that appeal to middle-grade boys, I found that the librarians’ recommendations have several criteria in common. They are:
1. humorous books - usually
2. romance novels - almost never
3. stories with boy main characters – pretty much always
The first two didn’t surprise me so much, but number three made me stop and wonder. Is it true that boys usually prefer to read about boy heroes?
Greg R. Fishbone is the author of The Penguins of Doom and the upcoming Galaxy Games: The Challengers (see more about this series below). He says, “Traditional wisdom is that, as a general rule of thumb, boys won’t read a book with a girl protagonist while girls will read a book with either a boy or girl protagonist. I don’t know how accurate this is or how much of an overgeneralization it might be, and I suspect there’s some self-perpetuation involved, but it’s why most publishing houses market girl-protagonist books mainly to girls while strongly preferring boy POVs for any book with cross-gender appeal.”
According to my research and my observations, there’s a lot of truth to Greg Fishbone’s statement. At the elementary school where I work, boys and girls are seen with books from the Wimpy Kid and Percy Jackson series, but I’ve never spotted a boy carrying around Dork Diaries. I’m sure it happens but I feel safe to say it is rare. There are a lot of theories as to why boys highly prefer to read books with male protagonists, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. For now, I’d like to create a list for any reader who for whatever reason is looking for a middle-grade novel with a male hero.
The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books) In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.
For other heavily illustrated MG books, look for titles by Alan Silberberg and Jeff Kinney.
The Last Apprentice: Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney (Greenwillow) Thomas Ward has served as the Spook’s apprentice for three years. He has battled boggarts, witches, demons, and even the devil himself. Tom has enemies: The Fiend stalks him, waiting for a moment of weakness. The terrifying Morrigan, goddess of witches, warned him never to step foot on her homeland, Ireland. But now war has consumed their own country, and Tom, his friend Alice, and the Spook must flee to Ireland. The dark rages strongly there. No one can be trusted. Can Tom defeat the creatures that hunt him most fiercely?
For other fantasy/adventure books, look for titles by Rick Riordan, John Flanagan, James Patterson, and Chris Paolini.
Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta (Knopf) Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed—right in the middle of their big baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring. Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch.
For other sports books, look for titles by Mike Lupica, Matt Christopher, Tim Green, and Dan Gutman.
Galaxy Games: The Challengers, by Greg R. Fishbone (Tu Books/Lee & Low) Things are looking up for Tyler Sato (literally!) as he and his friends scan the night sky for a star named for him by his Tokyo cousins in honor of his eleventh birthday. Ordinary stars tend to stay in one place, but Ty’s seems to be streaking directly toward Earth at an alarming rate. Soon the whole world is talking about TY SATO, the doomsday asteroid, and life is turned upside down for Ty Sato, the boy, who would rather be playing hoops in his best friend’s driveway. Meanwhile, aboard a silver spaceship heading for Earth, M’Frozza, a girl with three eyes and five nose holes, is on a secret mission. M’Frozza is the captain of planet Mrendaria’s Galaxy Games team, and she is desperate to save her world from a dishonorable performance in the biggest sporting event in the universe. What will happen when Ty meets M’Frozza? Get ready for the most important event in human history—it’s off the backboard, around the rim, and out of this world!
For other Science Fiction novels, look for titles by Suzanne Collins, Nathan Bransford, and Tony Abbott.
The Day My Butt Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths (Scholastic Paperbacks) Zack Freeman is ready to tell his story…the story of a brave boy and his crazy runaway butt. The story of a crack butt-fighting unit called the B-team, a legendary Butt Hunter’s formidable daughter, and some of the ugliest and meanest butts ever to roam the face of the Earth. A story of endurance that takes Zack on an epic journey across the Great Windy Desert, through the Brown Forest, and over the Sea of Butts before descending into the heart of an explosive buttcano to confront the biggest, ugliest, and meanest butt of them all!It’s a story you and your butt will never forget!
For other gross-out books, look for titles by Kevin Bolger, Raymond Bean, and Dav Pilkey.
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander (Walden Pond Press) Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It’s what he does—he and his
best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys’ bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming. Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in need of protection. And before this ordeal is over, it’s going to involve a legendary high school crime boss named Staples, an intramural gambling ring, a graffiti ninja, the nine most dangerous bullies in school, and the first Chicago Cubs World Series game in almost seventy years. And that’s just the beginning. Mac and Vince soon realize that the trouble with solving everyone else’s problems is that there’s no one left to solve yours.
For other contemporary fiction, look for titles by Jack Gantos, Jerry Spinelli, and Louis Sachar.
Do you have a favorite book that features a boy as the main character? We’d love to hear your recommendations.
Jennifer Duddy Gill is currently writing a humorous middle-grade novel with a boy hero. She is represented by Wendy Schmalz.