If you spent your childhood reading about the adventures of a spunky girl from America's past and longing for an overpriced doll, there's a good chance you're familiar with Valerie Tripp's work. The prolific American Girl writer penned all of the books in the Molly, Felicity, Josefina, and Kitt series, and half of the Samantha books. Now she's working with two D.C-area moms on a series that they hope boys will find just as engaging.
According to the Washington Post, the project started when Ann Jenkins and Peggy Thomas started hunting for books their boys would read as voraciously as their girls went through the American Girl series. When Thomas asked the clerk at her local bookstore if there was anything like the American Girl books for boys, he said, "If I had a nickel for every time someone wanted that . . . " The women tracked down Valerie Tripp, who happened to live nearby, and together they came up with the idea for Boys Camp.
The series, which currently has no publisher, will follow the adventures of six boys who meet at a modern-day summer camp. Tripp says that they "want to say that it's as okay for boys to be into design or dance" as they are into bugs or bicycles. She adds, "No interest or passion is the sole property of any one person or gender." However, they also hope to challenge conventional ideas of masculinity with the series by creating books that are less focused on boogers and fart-based humor, and even feature male protagonists who cry on occasion. Per The Post:
The characters are all loosely related cabin mates. The volume written by Tripp features an Indian American tennis phenom named Vik, who feels pressured to succeed in a sport he's no longer sure he loves. His new friends teach him to play basketball instead, and Vik's story becomes about the balance between finding success at something and finding joy in it. Other planned books feature a city slicker who hopes his book learning will compensate for real-world inexperience and a cutup who's afraid that people won't like the shy kid inside.
The women's intentions seem admirable and I loved American Girl so much as a kid (and now) that I have to give Tripp the benefit of the doubt. However, the article's conceit that there aren't enough engaging books for young boys is perplexing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, boys are significantly behind girls when it comes to reading, but it's not clear that a dearth of children's and YA books with male protagonists is the problem. Those books are out there; the piece notes that the Dear America series, Captain Underpants, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are all popular among boys (though the author fails to mention the bespeckled, highly-emotional elephant in the room: Harry Potter).
The article's definition of what constitutes a "boy book" also seems a little off, but I'm probably biased. My mother read aloud to me and my younger brother until we were technically way too old for storytime, and there were plenty of girly reads in our repertoire. In reference to the Little House on the Prarie series, a male teacher remarks to the Post, "Yecch. No 7-year-old boy is going to want to read that." My brother actually loved the entire series, and there's no reason schools couldn't assign Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. Similarly, we both couldn't get enough of John Bellairs' books, and his (surprisingly macabre) stories feature mainly male protagonists. While I'm happy to see another series for boys that doesn't focus on gross-out humor (not that farts aren't hilarious), it seems like the way we classify acceptable reading material for boys — and even reading itself — may be the bigger issue. We have plenty of great children's books, we just need to show boys that reading is as much a masculine activity as hitting a baseball and playing in dirt.
‘American Girl' Author Creating Series For Boys [Washington Post]