What is it that kids want to learn more than anything else when they first start school? Of course, we all know kids want to learn how to read and write. I remember from my own schooling, and from watching my own kids, that there is such a sense of accomplishment in reading those first simple storybooks; and making legible words -- a name (usually just the first name and a last initial with a period) -- out of those nervous and squiggly lines.
And, if you ask any kid, boy or girl, in first or second grade if they love to read... they will all tell you they LOVE reading and writing.
So... WHY do more than 50% of boys surveyed consider themselves to be "non-readers" by the time they get in to high school? And why do boys entering high school in grade 9 typically lag behind girls by 3 to 4 grade levels in reading and writing? It didn't used to be like this, and we can't blame TV and video games.
I had an opportunity to make a couple school visits over the summer to classes being held at Hart High School and Golden Valley High School in Southern California. These were specially-created all-boy literacy classes aimed at making boys better readers and writers, and they had read Ghost Medicine as part of the course.
The boys were absolutely terrific, and asked some great questions about characters, plot elements, and how to interpret parts of the book. They were also very emphatic about how much they liked the book, which, of course, made me feel very good. The teacher had expected I would come in and read the book to them (they were right at the very end), and I did read a few paragraphs, but it was more important to me to turn the class over to the kids, so I could hear from them and talk to them about what they wanted to know.
I had a great time, and before I knew it, two hours had gone by and I was almost late to another appointment (I was only supposed to be there for one hour). We talked about guy things: the importance of having a "tribe" that works together -- in the case of the characters and conflicts in Ghost Medicine, and, in my case, my agent, editor, and publisher; why certain things need to be ambiguous, or not get completely answered (which is a major element in Ghost Medicine); we talked about dealing with fear, as it related to the book, and also as it related to my own getting over the fear of people reading my stuff.
Best of all, at the end, I had one teacher tell me that he didn't know whether I'd noticed it or not, but there were boys lining up to talk to me about books they'd read and authors they liked. And the teacher said to me that was what he'd been trying to do all year... get boys to talk about reading and get them fired up about it.
I know we've got some future authors in that group.