Friday, May 29, 2009

David Michael Slater's SELFLESS

SELFLESS is a comic-drama about identity and the many factors that shape it: family, friends; race; religion; social class; and the myriad fears and fascinations that afflict us all as we try to discover who we are. Jonathan Schwartz is the main character, and we spend a great deal of time with him and his three best friends (all boys) as they navigate through high school and college in the 1980's. The book depicts adolescent boys in a hysterically graphic but true-to-life way as they focus most of their time and energy on things like filling out charts for rating the girls at school (categories include, "Face, Chest, Butt, Legs, Eyes, Hair, Clothes, Sports Ability, and, lastly, for tie-breaking purposes, Personality"), or ticking items off on “The Purity Test,” a list of 100 questions that determined what was called one’s “Purity Rating” ("the point of a decent score was to confirm an adventurous nature, not to be disgusting.")

But in the midst of the boys' hilarious single-mindedness, we see and begin to worry about the fundamental lack of authenticity in their relationships, obviously with  girls, but also with each other. It takes the intrusions of family crises for all of them—most especially for Jon, whose family is positively overflowing with dysfunction—for them even to begin to rise above these limitations.

Folks who've read the book often remark that, as a long-time 7th grade teacher (nearly fifteen years), I am clearly in touch with the teenage boy. The truth is I remember my own teen years all too clearly (not that I did any of the things Jon, Jake, Cory and Milo do—I swear! Okay, not that I did most of them. Fine, not that I did some of them.). But, from what I see as a teacher, things are much the same among boys all these years later (I'm 39 now). In the larger picture, they always will be: we will all have to blunder our way down the perilous path that is growing up. All the characters in the book, including Jon's two challenging sisters, struggle to find a place in the world. For one of them, the struggle is a war.

Because of the graphic nature of the boys' language and some of the off-color scenarios they engineer, the book is appropriate only for older teens. Feedback as been very interesting in terms of gender. I’ve been told the book was “hilarious” and “addicting” by both boys and girls. Girls, though, report having shaken their heads continually as they read, muttering, “Boys,” the whole time (maybe with the word 'pathetic' thrown in every so often—okay, very often. Fine, pretty much every page). Boys report that they see themselves in Jon and his friends, often only too well. It's a book they say that did a rare thing: it made them laugh and think at the same time.

As an author, I can't hope for anything more.

David Michael Slater is the author of nine picture books, including CHEESE LOUISE; THE RING BEAR (an SSLI Honor Book); JACQUES & SPOCK (a Children's Book-of-the-Month Alternative Selection); and FLOUR GIRL (a 2008 Mom's Choice Award winner). Seven more titles are scheduled for '09; Slater's teen series, SACRED BOOKS, recently launched with THE BOOK OF NONSENSE (a finalist for the Associaion of Booksellers for Children's Best of 2008 list and Cybil Award nominee); Finally, he has a film in development, MOCHA COLA HIGH, with Right Angle Pictures.

Click here for SELFLESS 

Bull Rider - Speaking Out About the Consequences of War

Boys Read Blog:

Bull Rider - Speaking Out About the Consequences of War –

I started writing Bull Rider in 2004. It was a story for very young kids and in outlining Cam O’Mara’s family, I imagined his older brother in the Marines. That fit the setting and the situation. I didn’t have any intention to write about the Iraq War. But as the book changed to one for older readers and as the wars in the Middle East ground on, it seemed only honest for Ben O’Mara, the Marine, to be deployed to Iraq. And if he were deployed, he could be hurt. Badly. That’s a fact of war and that’s what moms and dads, sisters and brothers, and children think about when it gets dark and quiet at night. Lying in bed praying for someone you love to wake up again in the morning, that’s scary stuff. And I felt like someone needed to just say it out loud.

Personally, I didn’t want to go there. It’s easier to pretend that the war isn’t happening. And as a writer, it seemed invasive to ask people who already had enough problems – like life threatening injuries to themselves or their family – how they felt. I didn’t want to learn about war injuries. But that’s the story I had in my head and I was compelled to share it, honestly, with kids. So I did the research. I approached people who work with the war injured and interviewed them. I read injured soldiers blogs and blogs from their families. I visited the Palo Alto VA Hospital’s Polytrauma Unit (although the patients happened to be elsewhere that day.) I learned a lot. And I was overwhelmed with the nature and gravity of the sacrifice that some of our military men and women have made. Regardless of my own feelings about these wars and war in general, I was moved by the honor of what they did because they were asked. It was humbling and I wanted to share that too.

And then there was the question of politics. I have some definite opinions and they may not be the same as the O’Maras’. But I wanted to tell the brothers’ story about what can really happen when you go to war. It didn’t matter what their politics were and it certainly didn’t matter what mine are. The story would be the same. The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books said about Bull Rider, “The book isn’t overtly anti- or pro-war so much as pro the people who are struggling with this difficult change in their lives. This is therefore a gripping read for fans of family dramas, and it’s certainly high time that this aspect of the war’s consequences received a sensitive and compelling exploration.“ This is exactly the response I had hoped for. I hoped my book would help kids think about the consequences of war, and I believed dwelling on politics would stand in the way of that.

So Bull Rider became the story of Cam and Ben O’Mara, two regular brothers who competed with each other and bugged each other, until their relationship was changed permanently when Ben suffered a traumatic brain injury, the loss of an arm, and post traumatic stress disorder following an explosion in Iraq. Cam is a fourteen year old guy, so when his world is rocked, he acts out – takes his skateboard to the Grange parking lot, rides a bull, goofs off in school. That’s how he handles the emotions – until his brother needs more from him and in a move that is both dangerous and loyal, Cam risks a ride on the monster bull Ugly to help Ben.

Bull Rider is engaging boy readers. Book sellers say it is a nice alternative to the fantasy that is out there. Librarians and teachers tell me that boys who don’t read much at all are picking up Bull Rider. Initially skaters and rodeo fans are interested. But once they start reading, I believe it’s the openness about war captures their attention. . The circumstances are not white washed or skipped over. There is a real problem – one that any of the readers might face. Right now. Today. And last, I think boy readers are drawn in by the relationship between the brothers. It’s competitive, supportive, and loyal. No matter how much they annoy each other, Cam and Ben O’Mara have each others’ back. I think that’s what a lot of boys long for and in Bull Rider, that’s what they get.

Click here for, Bull Rider.

 Thank you Suzanne Morgan Williams for your wonderful book!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Emma's Picks

Below is wonderful feedback I received from a very astute reader, Emma.  Thank you Emma for your comments.  I'm adding a disclaimer to our Best Books page on your behalf.
Dear John, 
I am a girl and I have read all of these books:
Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl)
Anthony Horowitz (public enemy number two)
Harry Potter
series of unfortunate events
Roland Smith (elephant run)
C.S lewis (narnia)
Christopher Paiolini Eragon
Jules verne (journey to center of the earth)
gary pulsen 
diary of wimpy kid
thirtynine clues 
the homework machine 
 Norah Mcclintock  
jack london
rick  riordan again 
hardy boys
and some. I also read teen books (since 3rd grade)
and now I am ten. Do you say these are boys books, I like most of them except the reading level is very low for me? My friend reads some too. Some say they are grades 7 and up, I read them...... they aren't just for boys though.
I don't read romance books or pony books or high school musical books.... I read boys books. Great.
E. G
PS: please write at the top of the page: books for boys and good for girls too " or something.
Thank you!