Andy Sherrod on Teen, Male Aliteracy, Part Two

If you’re new to the conversation, today’s post is the second half of an interview I conducted with Andy Sherrod via email. Andy’s an expert on the related topics of teen, male aliteracy and male oriented children’s literature, or boy books. Click here to read Part One.

Here’s the end of our exchange:

BPW: I recently had a ten minute one-on-one with a literary agent at a conference who told me he couldn’t sell my WIP because he didn’t think it would interest girls. Putting aside the obvious conclusion that he simply hated my pitch and was trying to find a more generic reason to reject me, he’s a pro, a smart guy who sells manuscripts for a living. And he’s basically saying there’s no point in even trying to publish books for boys because they won’t read them. How would you answer him?

AS: I think you nail it by saying he’s a smart guy who sells manuscripts for a living.  The key phrase here is “for a living”. You know, the book business is fiercely competitive. It’s no secret that girls are more engaged in active literacy than boys so marketing books to the wider audience makes sense if you are trying to feed your family. But where does that leave our boys? In 2007 the National Endowment for the Arts published an in-depth report on the reading habits of Americans. The report states that:

“As Americans, especially younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement… With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less well in the job market.”

What better reason do we need to encourage all our children toward active literacy? Just because it’s a challenge doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

[Here’s a link to the NEA’s most recent meta-study on American reading habits. It builds on the study Andy quotes.]

BPW: When I took your seminar last year I had no idea my then WIP was a boy book. I soon I found out I was wrong. Can you give ten reading recommendations for any writers out there who aren’t sure if they’re writing boy books or girl books?

AS: Web sites:

Guys Read (

Jon Scieszka was the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. His web site,, is for parents, teachers, and kids. It contains lots of book titles that boys themselves say they like to read.

Michael Sullivan (

Michael is a teacher and librarian who reviews lots of books. Take your pick.

Andy Sherrod’s Big Boy Book Blog (

This is my own blog with observations and information for adults who want to better understand aliteracy.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (and other books in the Brian series)

This book is on many school reading lists already. Once a kid is hooked on Paulsen he will be reading for a very long time. Paulsen has published over 100 books. I love this guy.

Voyage series by Michele Torrey

Who says women can’t write for boys? Michelle Torrey has nailed all the literary components of a good boy book in this three-book series of historical fiction for middle grade readers. She also has a science detective series for early readers.



Crispin series by Avi

This three-book series is a little more literary but still captivating for middle grade readers. Set in fourteenth century England, there is intrigue and threat of death for young Crispin.




A Long Way From Chicago

A Year Down Yonder

Here Lies The Librarian

All three of these reads are by Richard Peck. They are funny and will keep boys (and girls) laughing all the way through.


Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong

This thrilling tale of survival is the account of Earnest Shackleton’s failed attempt to reach the South Pole. With his ship crushed by ice, Shackleton led his crew back to safety without losing a single man.



Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

This book has lots of pictures and tells how 400,000 people played a role in landing Apollo 11 on the moon. This is not just a list of facts. It has a definite story arc with a thrilling conclusion.

BPW: To wrap up, how is your book on teen male aliteracy going? What else have you been writing/publishing?

AS: Thank you for asking. My book on aliteracy is coming along well. I expect to be finished with it by spring of 2014. I have three other works in progress that I flit back and forth to. Perhaps by the time I get finished flitting they will all be finished about the same time.

Thanks again to Andy Sherrod for sharing his thoughts on teen, male aliteracy. Since I’ve gotten a bit fixated on the subject, this series will march on. Next up, look for my interview with YA author Brian Yanskywhose latest bookHomicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments (yes, it’s a boy book) is available now in hard back.