Role Remodeling
ROLE REMODELING: Three recent volumes of advice and support
that address issues of growing up male.

Puberty. Peer pressure. Pimples. Adolescence deals kids some tough stuff, and over the years numerous authors have penned books to help kids through this often trying time. Though in the past the bulk of these guides have been aimed at girls, publishers of several new books are reaching out to the ever-elusive boy reader -- or to their parents. Aimed at the latter audience are such recently released tomes as Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson (Ballantine), Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William S. Pollack (Owl), James Garbarino's Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (Free Press) and A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Men by Michael Gurian (Tarcher).

This trend has clearly crossed over to the children's marketplace, with a trio of recent titles aimed at adolescent boys themselves: Gurian's From Boys to Men: All About Adolescence and You (Price Stern Sloan), The Teenage Guy's Survival Guide: The Real Deal on Girls, Growing Up, and Other Guy Stuff by Jeremy Daldry (Little, Brown) and Boys Know It All: Wise Thoughts and Wacky Ideas from Guys Like You (Beyond Words). Various explanations for the current focus on boys' issues surfaced in conversations with these authors, their editors and retailers.

For Gurian, a family therapist who visits more than 50 cities a year to speak to groups of adults as well as children, From Boys to Men, as well as a simultaneously published title, Understanding Guys: A Guide for Teenage Girls (Price Stern Sloan), was a logical next step to achieve what he terms "my threefold goal: to address parents, teachers and young adults on the subject of emotional, moral and interior male development."

The sales figures of two of his adult titles indicate that Gurian is well on his way to accomplishing his mission: The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men, a 1997 release from Tarcher, has sold 250,000 copies; and this publisher has sold more than 100,000 copies of A Fine Young Man since its June '98 pub date.

Unfortunately, gruesome newspaper headlines in recent times have been at least partially responsible for the success of his books, Gurian noted. "I would have to surmise that the school violence that struck Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1998 and Littleton, Colorado, this year boosted sales of my books and absolutely feeds into the trend toward publishing books on male development."

"People are starting to care more about what happens to make a boy violent," he continued. "We as a culture do not understand the needs or worth of our males -- or in fact what to do with them. A few hundred years ago, we put males in a role, as we did females. Our women have decided they don't want to live that way any more and have broken out of their role. But we haven't figured out a new role for our men and boys," Gurian said. "Through no malicious intent, our culture has dropped the ball in terms of identifying and understanding a male's role, while Girl Power has soared."

Filling a Void on Bookshelves

The shortage of available information for kids on the topic of male development attracted Gurian's editor, Jane O'Connor, president of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers' mass merchandise group, which includes PSS, to the idea of having this author write for a young audience. "There has been so much attention paid to the social implications of adolescence for girls, but very little on the psychological and social development of boys," O'Connor remarked. "From Boys to Men is not a book about when and where you get hair or the wonder of wet dreams, but about why boys behave in certain ways and why they are the way they are."

Like O'Connor, Megan Tingley, executive editor of children's books at Little, Brown, recently observed that there was a need for more books about boys for boys. She recalled phoning booksellers and visiting stores when she was considering acquiring Jeremy Daldry's Boys Behaving Badly, released in the U.K. by Piccadilly Press, for U.S. publication. "What I saw on bookstore shelves were largely dated, textbook-like books about changes in a boy's body during adolescence," she noted. "I saw nothing that would say to a boy, 'Open me, read me!' So I concluded there was certainly room in the U.S. market for Jeremy's book."

After replacing the guide's British slang with its American counterpart, redesigning its cover and changing the title, Little, Brown published Daldry's book as The Teenage Boy's Survival Guide in May. Since Tingley and her colleagues couldn't decide which they preferred of the designer's two color options for the book's cover, they opted to go with both: half of the copies have blue-green covers and half have orange.

Daldry, a producer of children's programs for the BBC in London, decided to write his book after creating a TV show for teenagers that he described as "dealing with the subjects of love, sex and romance." In his words, "It struck me that this was an area not well served by books aimed at boys, so I decided to write one in a style that is lighthearted and personal, but universal as well. I wanted to write in the voice of an older brother and to offer a realistic, guy's perspective on some of the things that happen in adolescence."

"Where's Our Book?"

This was a question repeated in a number of letters that boys sent to the editors at Beyond Words after this Hillsboro, Ore., publisher released its first Girls Know Best title in 1997. This paperback series collects writings by girls who were the winners of a writing contest sponsored by the publisher. Now with three volumes, the series has sold almost 240,000 copies. In response to the boys' outcry, Beyond Words held a similar contest for them, and the 32 contributors to Boys Know It All were selected from the 400 respondents.

"We hoped that we wouldn't receive hundreds of entries just on sports," said managing editor Marianne Monson, "and we didn't. Kids submitted an incredible variety of writing and we realized that there is a whole generation of boys feeling neglected as they watch girls experience a renaissance and celebrate Girl Power. They are saying, 'What about us?' If it has been tough for girls, it has been equally tough for boys."

In the Stores

Booksellers polled reported steady if not brisk sales for all three of these boy-targeted titles. At Powell's Books in Beaverton, Ore., children's buyer Colleen Conway said that she displays these titles in a recently created subsection of the store's "teen-issue section," which is separate from the area in which parenting books are shelved. "We now shelve these child-geared titles in both sections, since we've found that kids feel more comfortable looking at these books in a YA section," she observed.

Conway added that, more often than not, parents are the purchasers of the advice books for boys, whereas girls are more likely to buy girl-directed guides themselves. "So far, these books for boys have had slower turnover rates than similar books for girls, but I definitely will keep them in stock," she said.

Leslie Reiner, children's buyer at Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla., also welcomes the new wave of titles for adolescent boys. In her words, "Soon after the spate of advice books for girls came out, we had numerous parents ask why publishers weren't doing books like these for boys. We were very happy to see these books appear, and we shelve them in a separate area for books that parents are likely to read with their kids. For us, these are a parent buy rather than a child buy."

Regardless of which generation is actually doing the purchasing of such titles, those involved in all aspects of creating and selling these books agreed that this is a worthwhile -- and overdue -- trend. And, as Jeremy Daldry suggested, perhaps there is a surprising timelessness to these tomes. "As I wrote my book, it occurred to me that the things I was talking about are the same subjects of the conversations I have with my 30-year-old peers," he said. "We talked about girls constantly when we were 13 and we still spend a lot of time talking about women." At the very least, one hopes these books will help adolescent boys to become more enlightened conversationalists.