question I’m often asked is why I write for
kids and not adults. Given my life of world travel and working on so
many different kinds of film and video productions, why write for kids?
Why not write about those countries and the people I’ve met? I could
tell some wild stories.
Like the film I shot in New
Guinea. New Guinea isn’t far from
Australia by distance, but people in the area where we went practically
live in the Stone Age. We traveled by truck until the road ended at a
riverbank. From there we journeyed by large canoes with motors on the
back. I was sure the camera and all my equipment were going into the
drink any second because the water came right up to the edge of the
boat. But I was more concerned about crocodiles, which are known to
drag people right out of their canoes in New Guinea.
Men took our crew up river for
several hours until we reached a
mission outpost that was only fifty miles from where cannibals still
live. After a couple of days of filming in the village, a tropical
storm blew in, swelling the muddy river over its banks. Now it made
sense why all the huts were built up on stilts. In the middle of the
night we had to escape to higher ground in the jungle. And don’t forget
about snakes, those cannibals, and all the wild animals in the dark. So
why not write books about stories like that?
I chose to write middle grade
fiction for a number of reasons. It is
clear that some of the most critical patterns for a lifetime are
decided during the tween years. This is that awkward time between still
trying to be a “little kid” while doing your best to convince your
parents you’re all grown up.
a child, I hated to read. In a family of seven children, I wasn’t
especially pushed to read, so I never formed good reading habits. The
funny thing is, my father published over seventy books during his
lifetime. A number of these were written for children, but I never read
any of them. I was more interested in going outside to find any
adventure I could. I’d rather be doing something than reading about it
in a book.
A few years ago I decided to
look into some of the reasons why I
didn’t like to read. My findings lead me to begin writing
action-adventure and mystery books for readers aged 8–13, especially
for boys, the kind of stories I would have read when I was a boy. These
books are highly visual, and contain lots of humor, dialogue, and
plenty of heart-pounding action. Much of the content is influenced by
my years of dramatic film production.
During my study into
why I didn’t like to read as a child, I discovered books with large
blocks of copy, making it easy for a reluctant reader to lose his place
on the page. Books tended to be produced on a brown shade of rough
paper with small type. A reluctant boy reader is not going to be
interested in endless details and descriptions. He wants something
happening on every page, fast action, and humor. Most of the books I
found in my research were written for girls as the primary audience.
The books for boys tended to include dragons, wizards, or the dark
taking a page from my film experience,
I patterned my books after previous film marketing experience. We had
learned that girls would watch adventure and mystery films whose main
character was a boy, but that boys were not interested in films where
the main character was a girl. We were able to measure this
by the popularity of various titles. I used that same pattern to create
stories that boys would like, but that girls could enjoy reading just
As a result, my books are larger
than many, the paper is brighter,
and the type is also bigger. Sentences and paragraphs are short.
Readers won’t find huge blocks of type containing seemingly endless
description and details. Most chapters end in a cliffhanger, nearly
forcing the reader to start the next chapter.
The biggest surprise, outside of
the fact that reluctant reader boys
enjoy these books, is that avid boy readers, girls, and even adults
also enjoy them. Stories cover character, moral, and spiritual subjects
that even secular reviewers report are not “preachy.” Several books are
already published, and I’ve completed thirty-six manuscripts.
One of my concerns has been that
boys may think reading is dull or
boring. Who wouldn’t rather play a video game, right? So I put together
a forty-five-second video. If somebody tries to give you a hard time
because you like reading, click on the link. I guarantee they’ll be
impressed by the fire and smashing TV. They could even decide that
reading might be cool after all
Sometimes I wonder how my life
might have been different if I’d
grown up as an avid reader, like some of my brothers and sisters. But
I’ve come to understand that I’m able to write books that will get boys
reading, and the very reasons for that are found in why I write for