Hillary Tubin Author Interview
by Shaun Griffiths
Hillary Tubin, M.S.Ed | NBCT, is an educator with 20+ years of experience in the field of literacy and a lifelong lover of books, reading, and fiction writing. She wrote 'Boys and Books' because she believes the daily reading habit is fundamental to thrive and that it’s not too late for non-reading 9- to 14-year-old boys to read for pleasure. Her passion and specialty is helping discouraged parents feel confident to re-shape reading at home so boys will read.
For an author writing Children's / Middle Grade / Young Adult fiction, from your experience, what are the main demographics of readers?
In my experience as both an educator and someone writing a Middle Grade’s realistic fiction book, for children’s and Middle Grade fiction, it’s not about the demographics of the readers, but who will be purchasing the book for the reader or recommending books to the reader. Typically writing for children and kids’ ages 6 – 12 means also writing with parents, educators and librarians in mind for this reason. They tend to be the gatekeepers, and if they aren’t interested in your book, it is very difficult to get it into the hands of kids.
YA fiction is a bit different because the demographics are different. The reader is older, more self-reliant, and makes their own decisions about what they want to read. Most YA readers are girls, with a handful of boys reading. Interestingly, according to Scholastic’s 2015 Kids and Family Reading Report (which I highly suggest self-published/Indie authors take a look at to learn more about these demographics), one of the most powerful predictors that makes kids ages 12-17 frequent readers is having parents who help them find books and encourage reading for fun in specific ways.
So for an author writing Children’s/MG/YA fiction, it’s important to understand the intertwined relationship between them and the adult purchaser/recommender of books in their lives.
What are the main problems holding back our younger men from reading?
First and foremost is that for many boys/younger men reading equals pain not pleasure (and who in their right mind wants to do things that are perceived as painful- not me and definitely not boys when it comes to reading).
One of the biggest pains they have goes back to my answer in question 1: adults being in charge of what they read and many not appreciating their choice of reading material (comic books, graphic novels, video game related texts, etc.).
Over the years, through talking to 350+ boys, I discovered 6 other what I call, “reading distractors” that keep boys from reading. I break them down into two categories: visible and invisible.
The visible distractors are the ones that people can see as obvious. They are:
a) Competing Demands (activities, hobbies and commitments he either wants to do or is expected to do)
c) Technology/Media (video games, television, music, cell phone, social media)
But there are also the invisible distractors that people can’t see but fester underneath the surface with the pain. They are:
a) Standardized Testing (pressure and belief that reading is just a score on a test)
b) Stereotyping (belief that only girls and nerds read)
c) Multi-tasking (belief that reading is an activity that they can do while they are doing many other things at the same time)
If our main readers are young ladies do you feel it's right to target this group in our writing?
Here’s what I learned: most girls will read books with a male protagonist and still enjoy it, boys, on the other hand, are not interested in reading a book with a female protagonist (no matter how many other male characters are in the book), unless they are already reading frequently and voraciously.
That means that unless you are specifically writing a book with boys in mind, most likely your main readers will be girls/young ladies. Currently, only 20% of 9-to 17-year-old boys read every day and enjoy reading, so that leaves 80% of boys passing over books written with young ladies as the target.
I leave whether it’s right or not up to the individual authors.
What are the elements of a book that you feel are particularly attractive to young boys? Artwork, recommendations etc.
The cover. The cover. The cover. Boys of all ages judge all books by its cover. Mainly, if they see a girl or something girl-like (certain colors, hearts, rainbows, etc.) they skip it. For example, there is this really great book for 10- to 13-year-old boys called Schooled, by Gordon Korman. The cover is yellow and there’s a small image of a school bus on the cover with a rather large peace symbol behind it. When I noticed none of my boys were choosing this book from my classroom library, I asked them why. Every single one of them said, “The peace symbol on the front means it’s a girl book.”
This goes back to one of the biggest invisible distractors driving boys: stereotyping something as “girly.”
How important is it to involve parents in getting our younger people to read?
I can’t stress enough just how important it is to get parents involved with getting kids to read. So much so, I’m writing a series called Boys Will Read | Parent Series. Their involvement is the keystone to both boys and girls reading.
Are you happy with the current trends in fiction novels available, or the age group they are targeted at, or do you have concerns? I'm thinking of the trends in Vampire, Dystopian -bleak future etc.
My biggest concern is how authors/publishers are overlooking what’s appropriate for and appealing to 9-to 12-year-old boys and girls because this age group doesn’t bring in as much money as Children’s and YA. MG books are harder to market and find a fan-base. I met with a literary agent of a very popular fantasy series after she read the first 40 pages of my MG realistic fiction written in first person from the perspective of a fifth-grade boy. She asked me if I was trying to be the Judy Blume of the 21st century and didn’t I know that “1990 problem” books are no longer in vogue. She said that whole trend needs to stay in the past.
I disagreed with her so much, that I put my “1990 problem” book on the back burner, and instead decided to write my parent series first and become an advocate for getting all types of books into kids hands.
Are you happy with the way technology is taking books out of libraries but at the same time making them more accessible to people, do you see any trends back toward the pleasure of holding a booking in your hand?
I wrote a blog article for FractusLearning.Com on this exact topic. The key for me is that people are reading. Bottom line. How they feel the most comfortable holding their reading material doesn’t matter at all. For me, I love reading all fiction on my Kindle and any non-fiction that’s just for fun. On the other hand, if I’m reading a non-fiction book for research and need to learn the information and want to refer back to things easily, I prefer the print version. That’s why I’m happy that libraries are now supporting digital reading and making both print and ebook versions available.
Who are your favorite fiction writers, what genre do you like to sit and relax with?
I love authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Philippa Gregory and Amy Tan. To relax, I enjoy reading historical fiction and epic generational sagas.
From your research, can you explain the true value to people of reading fiction?
Below are all the researched benefits of reading for pleasure every day:
● Higher all-around academic achievement and test scores
● Strong reading skills
● Strong verbal cognitive skills and cognitive stamina (mental effort)
● Improved writing/spelling/language and math skills
More fully-developed vocabulary, essential for increased communication skills
● More expansive background/general knowledge
● More fully developed empathy, essential for improving people skills
● More fully developed imagination and intellectual curiosity
● Reduced stress and reduced or delayed onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia
Reading fiction (especially literary fiction) is the best type of reading to develop empathy, imagination and vocabulary.
Boys and Books: What You Need to Know and Do So Your 9- to 14-Year-Old Son Will Read (Boys Will Read | Parent Series Book 1)
Give Boys the Gift of Reading
Have youbeggedyour son to read a book, but he insists that he hates reading and won't?
Are you concerned that his video game/ watching television/ computer surfing habit(s) are turning his brain to mush?