Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Boy vs. Book: The Joseph Evans Story

Joseph Evans’ childhood in Cardiff, South Wales, was typical of most boys: video games, anime -- and reading?  Noooot so much.  Like most adolescent boys, reading languished near the bottom of Joseph’s “To Do” list -- if it made the list at all.   No big deal, right?  Well, at last check, guys like Joseph are scoring increasingly worse than girls every year on standardized reading tests.  They’re more likely to be held back and/or placed in special education classes, and they’re less likely than girls to go to college.

So how, exactly, did Joseph go from statistically predictable “adolescent male non-reader” to published author of two well-received science fiction novels?  What sparked the metamorphosis? The Sustained Reader decided to hop online and make a virtual pest of herself at Waterstones, the Cardiff bookstore where our hero toils to support his reading and writing habit.
Joseph and his proud mum

The Sustained Reader (TSR):  Joseph, once the school year begins, Language Arts teachers will face their yearly struggle with non-reading boys.  We need help!  Can you recall a particular event that sparked your change from reluctant reader to lifelong reader, novelist, and purveyor of books for young people?

Joseph Evans (JE):  Yes, I can pinpoint a very specific event!  As you mentioned, most of my childhood was spent addicted to videogames and anime.  Books just didn’t keep my attention. My mum, our school librarian at the time, was constantly on the lookout for something to interest me. 

One day, she saw a YA series called Broken Sky, by Chris Wooding, and immediately bought me the first book.  Why?  Because the cover illustrations were in a manga style.

This definitely got my interest.  Books I’d previously attempted to read had just felt old-fashioned, outdated, and irrelevant to me.  The authors always seemed to be preaching or teaching -- way too much like school!

Broken Sky blew me away:  immediate action, fast-paced plot, and characters I could relate to.  It felt so much like watching anime, I forgot I was reading a book!  For the first time, a book entertained rather than lectured, and I really appreciated that.  I wanted to be immersed in another world, and that’s exactly what happened.

Book Two of the series was the first book I ever bought with my own money.  In just a few weeks, I plowed through seven available books and found myself waiting impatiently for the release of books eight and nine.

After that, I was officially bitten by the reading bug and began devouring all of the popular children’s and teen books of the time: His Dark Materials, The Wind on Fire, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Artemis Fowl.  You name it, and if I hadn’t read it, I was about to.

It only takes that one book to show reluctant readers the light.  My lifelong love of books began with that initial experience.

TSR:  So what advice do you have for the parents and teachers of reluctant readers?  What can WE do to light their fire for literacy?

JE:  My advice, from the perspective of a once reluctant boy, is to encourage them to read non-literary, non-classic books.  While working in the bookstore, I constantly see parents telling their kids off for picking up the latest Beast Quest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Minecraft book because they consider them to be trash. This is the single most effective way of killing a child’s interest in reading.  Just yesterday, in Waterstones, a young girl picked up the biography of Markus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, and was thoroughly interested in it until her mother ripped it out of her hands and, much to the girl’s dismay, dragged her to our children’s classics table.  This parental
hatred of “trash” destroys a passion for reading in many boys and girls. 

Fortunately, my mum didn’t have that prejudice against manga or anime, so here I am today with my love of books.

Parents, if your son is riveted by Diary of a Wimpy Kid, please encourage him to read the entire series, illustrations and all.  And whatever you do, don’t take it out of his hands and replace it with a copy of The Railway Children or The Wind in the Willows. If your child wants to read the biography of Markus Persson, please let her!

TSR:  Although many boys eventually grow into avid readers, very few can lay claim to the title of published author as well.  But in 2011, Joseph Evans published his first book, a science fiction novel titled City of the Falling Sky, which was followed in 2013 with The Trinity Awakening, the second in what is now called The Seckry Sequence.  Both books were written by Joseph for kids like Joseph, boys who just need to find that one book that hooks ‘em!  Maybe they're just the bait you need to reel in a few resistant readers this year.

city_of_the_falling_sky_cover_medium.jpg   the_trinity_awakening_nook.jpg

City of the Falling Sky: