We continue our popular Happy Young Readers series with David Hill's five recommended reads for shy boys. For further reading tips for the young readers in your life, see Maria Gill's Top 5 illustrated non-fiction books for boys and girls and the Reading Doctor's regular reading advice column.
Is there anything more tentative and turbulent than the young male? Especially, I suggest, the shy young male, whose geeky exterior is often complemented by a yearning, questing, throbbing (you get the picture) interior.
Books can do a wonderful job in reassuring and extending such guys. They give shape, direction, comradeship. They take boys down deep into themselves; offer an inner dialogue which is increasingly scarce and increasingly valuable in an age of electronic distraction. For the quiet young male in your life, you might consider the following books:
1. Project Huia, or The Phantom of Terawhiti by Des Hunt. Both these stories see kids seeking a creature of mythical dimensions, in vividly-realised New Zealand settings. There's heaps of the factual info that boys gobble, there's nearly always an engaging awareness of that other exotic life-form, the young female human, and Hunt gets the level tone-perfect.
2. The Boy on The Wooden Box by Leon Lyson. An enviable idea: the story of the youngest kid on the list of Jews and others whom Schindler – he of The List – helped save from Nazi death camps. We're going to get torrents of World War I books this year; here's a World War 2 memoir of fear, loyalty and survival that will resonate with any boy.
3. Dunger by Joy Cowley. Like Des Hunt, Cowley takes utterly authentic New Zealand geography, adds equally real kids and credible adults – urban grandchildren staying with ex-hippy Grandma/Grandpa for a Marlborough Sounds holiday in this case – includes a mission, a work ethic, a soupçon of peril, and comes up with a sunny, guffaw-out-loud narrative. Dunger also recently won the junior fiction category in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
4. Ice War by Brian Falkner. The latest of now-Queensland-based (but we'll forgive him for that) Falkner's adrenalin-fizzing novels of Recon Team Angel, in which the multinational teenage search-and-strike force speeds to the Bering Strait, where they face scouts from a nasty alien invasion. Great pace, great technology, great settings. Be prepared to face instant demands for the rest of the series.
5. Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. Georges with a silent ‘s’ moves with parents to a New York apartment where there lives a weird kid and an even weirder Mr X. Elaborate surveillance schemes, break-ins, multiple deceptions, an eccentric small sister, bullying, an absolutely heart-shaking denouement of revelations and stoic love. I'd give a finger to write this well.
David Hill is a journalist, reviewer, fiction writer, playwright and children’s writer who is perhaps best known for his award-winning writing for young adults. His novel My Brother's War (Penguin Books, 2012) was awarded Best Junior Fiction in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. It also won the LIANZA Librarians’ Choice Award 2013. His latest novel, The Deadly Sky, will be published this month.