Thursday, July 22, 2010

Must we be gross to attract boy readers?

Note! Bloggers and web site owners are welcome to republish this column.

Must we be gross to attract boy readers?

By Max Elliot Anderson

     A few articles are circulating on the Internet that ask how gross we have to be, in our writing, in order to attract boy readers. I won’t quote the titles out of respect for the readers of this blog and children who might also be visiting it today.

    In recent months, a number of books have been published that make use of toilet humor, gross words or situations, and certain sounds. Are dirty or questionable words funny? Of course they are. Are certain body parts, sounds, and functions funny? No question. But that is no excuse to use them in our writing, especially when children are the intended audience.

     There are two kinds of comedians. One can tell a side-splitting joke, or set up a situation and deliver a line so funny that it hurts our stomachs and makes our eyes run, all without reaching down into the gutter. Others come out on the stage with crutches. Their crutches are nasty situations, dirty words, swearing, and a gross use of humor. Just because it’s funny is no excuse for us to say it or write it.

     As writers we have a responsibility, especially to the next generation, to set positive examples in the language we use. Our daughter teaches 2nd grade, in a public school, in the Orlando area. “Dad,” she’ll say, “you can not believe what these kids say to each other, to me, and to other teachers.”

     Where does this come from? Truth is, they see it on TV, listen to it in their music, hear it in their own homes or from friends, and read it in some of their books.

     We can do better. And we owe it to them.

     The Internet articles I mentioned take the position that the more gross we can be in our writing, the more likely we are to attract boys back to reading. While the premise might be true, I reject the concept. Even though one might be able to point to skyrocketing sales figures, what is the long term effect going to be. Am I just a prude? Please! I spent two years in the army.

     My favorite styles of humor are either sight humor, where something is visually funny, humor where something that is said or seen earlier, gets a funny punch line later, and humor you can see in your head.

     You might ask, “Okay, so you’re saying we can write for kids, and clean humor will attract boys to reading?” That’s been my experience so far. Not only can we, I believe it’s our responsibility.

     Humor is an important component of all my books for boys. Over the next six months or so, nine of my books should be published. I grew up hating to read, so I write for readers 8 –13, especially boys. And girls enjoy reading them just as much. Here’s a list of those titles:

Lost Island Smugglers

Sam, Tony, and Tyler took scuba lessons together. Tony’s father owned a marina, so Tony got them in for free. After the boys completed the course, they decided to try their new skills in the ocean. The only problem was, none of them had permission to go, or to take one of the sailboats out for their diving adventure. Everything went well until the biggest storm the boys had ever seen, blew up from out of nowhere, and they found themselves stranded on Lost Island. But, if they thought the worst had happened, they were wrong. What about those high-powered speedboats that mysteriously disappeared? And what were they going to tell their parents, even if they did get off the island?

Barney and the Runaway

Summer had no appeal to Mike Ellis. But neither did homework, or class assignments, or self-discipline. He especially disliked his parents always telling him what to do and punishing him when hew didn’t. Wanting to teach his parents a lesson, he decides to pretend to run away from home for a day with his dog Barney. His plans go terribly wrong when a day later he finds himself halfway across the country and very lost. Meeting an old clown who also ran away as a child teaches Mike the importance of home, family, and doing what’s right. But can Mike and Barney save the circus in time?

Newspaper Caper

Tom Stevens was a super salesman. He and his friends delivered newspapers early every morning. Along their route, the boys often saw some pretty strange things. Then one day they actually became the story. Readers will like the humor, attack dogs, car thieves, and the chop shop Tom and the others uncover. This story reminds us of how important friendship is. It also teaches God isn't just for emergencies. He wants to guide our lives every day.

Terror at Wolf Lake

Eddy Thompson was known for one thing and one thing only. Eddy was a cheater. He cheated on anything, anytime, anywhere, until something happened up at Wolf Lake. It wasn’t the brutal cold. It wasn’t when he fell through the ice. It wasn’t even when two scary men arrived at their remote cabin. What happened would change Eddy’s life…forever.

North Woods Poachers

The Washburn families have been coming to the same cabins, on the same lake, catching the same fish, for about as long as Andy can remember. And he's sick of it. This summer would be different he decided. Only he never imagined how different. The story is filled with excitement, danger, humor, and drama. In the end, Andy learns the concepts of family tradition, justice, and it is important to follow the rules. Readers will enjoy the gigantic, jet-powered floatplane, computers, home made radio transmitter, and naturally, no one will ever forget Big Wally. He’s a fish of course.

Mountain Cabin Mystery

Scott and his friends had dreamed and prepared for their first wilderness camping adventure. When they become separated from their group in a mountain fog, trouble begins. There was that bear, the decrepit suspension bridge over a bottomless gorge, the sheer cliff in the dark, those terrorists in the remote cabin, the Army, the helicopter ride, and…

Big-Rig Rustlers

Todd and Amanda live with their parents in a Midwestern city. The family doesn’t go to church. The children are invited to visit their uncle, aunt, and cousin Drew, on their Wyoming ranch over spring break. Todd learns, in a unique way, why stealing is wrong. He decides to choose a new path for his life because of his uncle’s positive example. A band of high-tech cattle rustlers are caught, revealing that Todd was also wrong about Travis, a shadowy character. Read about the round up, rattlesnake, and rustlers.

The Secret of Abbott’s Cave

A detective, a police scanner, and a cave offered possibilities for danger and excitement. Who are the real heroes in America? Randy and his friends pooled their resources to go cave exploring, discovered the hidden loot from a bank robbery, and learned they weren't heroes at all.

Legend of the White Wolf

They didn’t call him a liar; they just couldn’t believe his story. Brian Fisher was determined to prove it was true even though it involved the risk to his own safety. His rescue of a wolf pup from a steel trap results in a mysterious relationship with surprising results. The story is set in the lower elevations near Yellowstone

     Let's close the lid on toilet humor. When it comes to our writing, we’re talking about the next generation. And shouldn’t we try to leave this world a better place than the way we found it? As the adults in the room, we should be looking for ways to raise the bar, not lower it.

Your comments are welcome.

Note! Bloggers and web site owners are welcome to republish this column.

Please visit my Author Web Site at


MarshaMarshaMarsha said...

I appreciate that my boys are truly engaged by your books without having to resort to crude humor. I'm sure they have a book or two on the shelves that has some of that kind of humor, but that chuckle only lasts for a second. Those are not the books that tell a story so captivating that they will pick that book back up again to read it for the fifth time.

ElshaHawk said...

I attached a link to this bog at the end of my "Spongebob Banned" post that still gets comments over a year later. We are talking about the same topic, potty humor. I feel strongly that it needs limited.

ElshaHawk said...

ha! here's the link!

Kathleen Rouser said...

I agree with you, Max. Besides, what kind of books are
boys being enticed to read in the long run, if crude humor is used to attract them? Are such writers doing anyone a favor? It's more work to write clever humor, but it's worth it. I wish your books had been around when my youngest son was in the age bracket you're targeting.I appreciate your dedication to writing for boys, especially reluctant readers.

Llama Momma said...

As the mother of three boys, I can only say amen. And THANK YOU. :-)

aspiemom said...

I understand what you mean about crude humor and disrespect to adults. I do not like that either.

However, I guess I will be in the minority here when I say that I personally love some of humorous potty books. Specifically, the Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Captain Underpants is extremely funny, silly humor. Our kids still laugh about them. I could see where parents and educators would want kids to read other things beside that series.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is humorous with a lot of truth. The main character and his friends are picked on and have real life problems but the author has portrayed them with a lot of humor, which is sorely needed for all the wimpy kids.

Yes, of course, I want me children to read good books with Christian principles. But I don't know if I'm ready to take away every book with potty humor. Like everything else, it's up to me to know what they're reading.

Shirley said...

I will be looking for your books! I completely agree that we should be raising the bar, not lowering it. Keep up the great work!

Messy mommy said...

Laughter is good like a medicine (or something like that). I would hope that boys are attracted to books not just because they are funny and the type of humor used, but also because of excitement, danger, mystery and adventure. Look at Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer--and from the looks of the summaries, your books too Max.

I know I'm hoping to attract boy readers without potty humor but with intergalactic space travel, discovering new worlds, and apply Biblical principles to everyday situations.

Ian @ Tidy Books said...

I think I am more 'base' than you, and vulgarity is something that I do enjoy. That being typed, I think it is a moderation thing, especially with children. If it's the only way to go, then go. But hopefully it can lead to an appreciation of the subtle.

Brenna said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Our boys deserve only the best! Thank you for raising the bar!

max said...

I've been appreciating each comment. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts and opinions.

Very helpful!
Author Web Site

max said...


Thank you for adding my link to the post on your blog.

Vonda Skelton said...

Amen, brother!

Sandra Stiles said...

I teach in a middle school and hear what comes out of kids mouths. They are products of MTV and "R" rated movies and literature that have desensitized them to the world around them. They don't underestand why it is wrong to emulate what they see and hear. We have only to listen to the way girls talk to boys or react to them and the way boys talk to girls to know that the old saying "garbage in, garbage out" is alive. I have seen students just as thrilled to read a book that didn't have all of the garbage in it.

max said...

Excellent points, Sandra.