I’m riding on the metro, writing up my syllabus for a graduate course that I’ll be teaching (Fiction for Young Readers) at Johns Hopkins University; and I’m working on my lesson called “Audience: Age and Gender” when two boys hop on. Their moms quickly take a seat and chat. Although plenty of seats are free, the boys (ages 8 or 9) stand on either side of a pole and engage in an epic, slow-motion battle.
“My finger weighs 45 pounds,” one boy says as he sets his finger on top of the other boy’s head.
Obligingly, the victim acts as if his head is being crushed, but he is not going down without a fight. “My finger is as sharp as the sharpest sword,” he exclaims and menacingly moves toward his opponent’s face.
“But my face is the thickest thing in the world!” the first boy replies.
A series of slow-motion jabs, punches, and wrestling moves come next.
“Sit down and be quiet,” one of the mother’s says.
While all types of behaviors can be seen across gender lines, I have no problem identifying typical boy behavior when I see it.
So, when I write, do I consciously write for boys or for girls? I think the answer is tied to character. The character drives the story and will ultimately speak to the audience. My Riot Brother series is about two inventive and fun-loving boys, and those books are filled with non-stop action and humor. They definitely appeal to your typical boy, but girls are in the Riot Bros fan club, too. And my new book is about a poetry-loving boy named Edgar Allan who is radically different from Orville and Wilbur Riot.
The important thing is to be a constant and conscious witness to the wide range of behaviors that kids exhibit. Bring your observations to your writing and you’ll achieve authenticity.