In the very beginning GLW started with a mission to bring great books to the attention of teenage boys. We had read the data on boys reading less, heard stories from all over the internet of boys saying they just couldn't find good books to read and as reviewers many of us had ample evidence that more books are published aimed at teenage girls rather than boys. Our goal was to look both at new books and old and write about books we thought boys might like but could have missed. As our group of bloggers is so big (more than two dozen) and so eclectic, we aimed to write about all kinds of books for all kinds of boys and on that front, based on response to that blog, I think we are doing a pretty good job.
But in the grand scheme of things, we just don't think that's enough.
We are moving today into the second phase of GLW, where we put our money where our mouth is and physically act on getting books into the hands of boys that otherwise have none. Today we start the first two week Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys to help the teens incarcerated in the LA County Juvenile Justice System. They have no books - at all - and they need them; they need them desperately.
Time magazine had an article on the juvenile justice system in March which discussed not only recent scandals in juvenile court but also how little attention is being given to recidivism. Here's a bit:
"Many advocates and academics argue that juveniles are not being given enough of a chance to turn their lives around after committing minor offenses. And officials at both the state and federal levels seem to be getting the message. Last summer, after reviewing a large swath of research literature, the Department of Justice concluded that "to best achieve reduction in recidivism, the overall number of juvenile offenders transferred to the criminal-justice system should be minimized." That came three years after the U.S. stopped executing minors, following a Supreme Court decision, Roper v. Simmons, that was largely based on new brain research showing that the full development of the frontal lobe, where rational judgments are made, does not occur until the early- to mid-20s. At the state level, Missouri is leading the country by phasing out its large juvenile-detention institutions in favor of smaller facilities, closer to kids' homes, that offer more specialized services, like mental-health and drug counseling and education. In the process, the state claims to have reduced recidivism rates for juvenile offenders to 10%, compared with a national rate of 40% to 50%. "We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem of juvenile crime," says Shay Bilchik, director of Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, who served as Clinton's point person on juvenile issues at the Justice Department."
There are currently about 50,000 incarcerated juveniles in the U.S. (About another 200,000 juveniles are incarcerated as adults.) In LA County (in 2007) there approximately 2,700 juveniles incarcerated. They are held in three jails: Central Juvenile Hall, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall. About 300 of those kids (between the age of 12 and 18) are enrolled in voluntary classes through the InsideOut Writers Program. InsideOut is the GLW partner in the Book Fair for Boys.
"In a classroom environment free of judgment, students are encouraged to write with clarity and authenticity without worrying about sophistication or grammar. Before each session ends, students are offered the opportunity to read their work aloud. As students’ ability to express themselves grows, so does their self-confidence and motivation to improve other aspects of their lives.
Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation for the L.A. Probation Department have shown that IOW students are less violent than the general population of incarcerated youth. (This finding is not because only non-violent youth are allowed to attend the classes. In fact, the opposite is true. Probation staff often hand-pick the most violent and emotionally distressed youth to take the classes, in hopes that the environment will provide an effective outlet for expressing sadness, depression and anger.) Probation staff and the court school system teachers add that IOW helps youth express their negative feelings through writing, rather than through violence, and that IOW students are better prepared to pass high school exit exams."
IOW is committed to reducing recidivism; it is their primary objective. One of the ways to accomplish that is by getting the boys interested in other things and helping them form goals for after they leave the system. As book lovers, we at GLW believe that books can go a big way towards helping achieve the goal of keeping the boys from returning to prison. In LA County there is no library for the teens held in the juvenile system. The boys can read as many books as they want - but someone has to give them those books. According to IOW they are desperate for books on all kinds of subjects and so, that is what we at GLW are going to try and give them.
The Book Fair for Boys is built around a wish list at Powells Books. We chose Powells because the GLW crew was very determined to use an independent bookstore for this endeavor (another example of putting our money where our mouth is). Everyone gave their ideas of books that teenage boys would love and so we have a wishlist of all kinds of titles. Some of the boys in LA County are reading at the adult level, others are new readers at the picture book level; some are very interested in nonfiction while others hope for novels. What we have built at Powells is a list that is, quite simply, all things for all boys. We've got science fiction and fantasy, history, biography, graphic novels, short stories, war stories, poetry, animal stories and on and on and on. We have put together what we think is the beginning of a library that will be available for any teens using the classrooms in the LA County system. We have, we hope, given them a larger piece of the world that is waiting for them to return to.
And this is just the beginning.
GLW intends to build a longterm relationship with IOW and run book fairs on a semi annual basis. We also have invited IOW to assist the boys in submitting book reviews to our site. We hope in this way to show them that their opinions are valued and to also give them a bit of writing and publishing experience. The book reviews are a way to show that this is not a vanity project - it's a long haul endeavor that hopefully will tie Guys Lit Wire, InsideOut Writers and the boys of LA County for a long long time.
The library will grow as we return to it, and as it grows so will the power of books for boys who have never experienced how magical and transformative books can be.
Going through Powells makes the wish list a little more complicated - they do not operate with a gift registry system yet (although I understand they are working on it). This means that everyone who wants to purchase books for the fair will need to enter the mailing address individually. We hope that the fact that we are buying books from a real independent bricks and mortar store will make up for the inconvenience. Please adhere to the list - the books MUST be paperback - no exceptions. If you want to buy a Standard Used copy that would be fine and hopefully, because of the great sale and used prices at Powells, we will sellout the entire list of 125 books.
You access the Book Fair for Boys list through the main wish list page. Enter our email: firstname.lastname@example.org From there you can survey the list on one page and after you have made your selections, here is the mailing address:
ADDRESS REMOVED AS FAIR IS NOW OVER! THANKS FOR ALL THE BOOKS!!!!
Eve is one of the volunteer teachers for IOW and while their offices move she has graciously agreed to use her home address for the fair. Please make sure that when you are prompted by Powells, you agree that the books are being bought for the wish list - this way they will tag the books as purchased on the main list.
The Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys will run for two weeks and we invite everyone who buys a book to please comment on our site or send us an email and let us know your first name, where you are from and what you bought so we can run a list of how the Fair is going. We hope to be a sellout, but honestly any number of books will be most welcome. I am a big believer in changing the world in small steps by great masses of people and after seeing how effective Guys Lit Wire can be through the work of many bloggers, I am certain that a group effort can help the boys incarcerated in LA County in a big way. A book can be a small thing in some ways but in others, as so many of us know, it can be everything. We don't think it is enough to just talk about books we love; we want to do something more and we hope that our readers will help us help some boys that really don't know what they are missing.
Hit the wishlist, buy a book and please, let us know what you think of the Book Fair for Boys.
[Post pic at top from Time magazine; all book covers are on the Book Fair for Boys list.]