The Internet by Everyone

I haven't been reading lately (too much Pokemon), so I was struggling to figure out something to recommend.  I was scouring blogs and the internet, digging for something to talk about when it occurred to me that I was reading.  Blogs, comment sections, chats, info pages, wikipedia.  It's all words, and it's all reading, so I figured, why not remind people that that is reading too.  Of course, keeping a teenaged boy focused while on the internet could be an issue.  After all, there's plenty of distractions.  There's the always-popular cat videos.

I spend a lot of time online on my computer, phone and iPad, just mucking about, not really looking for anything in particular.  Cat video distractions aside, I usually just go where the links take me, usually using some sort of reader or news aggregator like Flipboard or Google Reader Play.  I read a whole lot of articles about whatever.  It's almost like it's a magazine or newspaper, and that's the point. So how is this useful for getting teen boys to read?  There's a good chance they're already doing it.  Just because they aren't reading dead trees doesn't mean they aren't reading at all.  So what can they read?  Obviously there is a lot out there that is totally not appropriate and a lot that is borderline, especially for the younger set.

I have recommend a number of times material from cracked.com.  The language is occasionally salty and some of the articles are upper-PG-13, but it's nothing most kids haven't already heard.  They are usually lists about science and history with weird facts, myths and oddities thrown in.

Yahoo has some fine sports blogs that go beyond straight reporting and go into opinion, analysis and straight-up comedy as they see fit, and that's only the beginning.  Most major sports teams have both official and fan-created blogs that cover minor stories that don't make the major news outlets.

If guys have any obsessive interests (games, tv series, movies, comics, etc.), there's a wiki for it.  If they are interested enough, they might even contribute.  Try just about anything on wikia.com.

There are, of course, millions of other options.  These are just three that I look at regularly.
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Ripper by Stefan Petrucha

Carver can't believe his luck when he's adopted by Mr. Hawking of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. He's always wanted to be a detective and now he has his chance. The agency is currently investigating a series of grisly murders and Carver can't wait to be involved in solving the case. On top of all of this, Carver's first training assignment is to find out about his birth father -- something he's been wondering about for a long time. His only clue is an unsigned, handwritten letter sent years ago to his orphanage.

However, Carver's excitement about his new life soon turns to confusion and uneasiness. Mr. Hawking  lives in a mental assylum where he claims he studies patients to understand how criminals think -- but his bizarre and sometimes frightening behaviour makes Carver wonder if he should actually be one of the patients. The head of the Pinkerton Agency is hiding information about the murder investigation from the police. And it seems as though the letter from Carver's father may have some kind of connection to the recent murders.

It isn't long before Carver gets his wish to be a part of the murder investigation -- but now that he's hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper, it's turning out to be far more dangerous and personal that he'd expected.

I'm always on the lookout for mysteries that follow the classic "whodunit" formulas. This one sounded like it had good potential -- especially with the connection to Jack the Ripper. And yep, I enjoyed it as Carver looked for and figured out the clues and I loved all the intrigue surrounding the character of Jack the Ripper. Petrucha includes some of the real letters written by the Ripper, as well as the names of his real murder victims. While some of the plot is pretty predictable (a former bully becomes friends with Carver and helps him with solving the case, Carver falls in love with an old friend from his orphanage) I think he did a pretty good job with developing the characters. Carver's thoughts and actions are believable and the mysterious Mr. Hawking puts enough suspense into the story so that you question his true motives and identity until the end. Things did drag a bit near the middle of the book but there's some good action and surprises in the latter half of the book.

All in all, it's a good, clean mystery (no sex and minimal violence) and yes, there is a sequel.
Check out his website for the trailer for Ripper, as well as excerpts from his other books and comics. I didn't realize he'd written so many parodies and I'm definitely going to check out Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring...

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Matthew Meets the Man by Travis Nicholas

"You know what your problem is? Your problem is that you let The Man rule your life." 
Matthew's heart belongs to the drums, but somehow his dad talked him into playing the trumpet, the musical instrument of choice for the Swanbeck family. Oh, and some argument about by the time you pack up your drum set the trumpet player would have left with all the good looking women.
No big deal, Matthew thought, he can still pursue the dreams on his own, and "on his own" is how The Man wants to keep it.
Who is The Man, you ask? Matthew's parents, who refuse to raise his allowance but opt for building character instead. Uncle Kyle, who finds a way to deduct money from Matthew's hard-earned paycheque. Mr. Murphy, who doesn't understand marching band uniform is not summer clothing.  The Man is everywhere, and Matthew is not going to let The Man run his life anymore.
There's some great humour in this light read, which is a welcoming change from all the dystopian books out there. Love the expression on Matthew's face on the book cover, though the youngish look, and the illustrations peppered inside, awesome as they are, may deter older teens. That's too bad, 'cause they will get a kick out of the little guy coming out on top. The authentic teenage voice is captured well without being overly sarcastic or obnoxious, and Matthew's parents are a riot. Will appeal to those who grew up on Wimpy Kid. Check out more of Travis Nichols' doodles on his website ilikeapplejuice.com.
Who is The Man in your life, and what are you going to do about it?
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Grammar Police (really! fun ones!)

There is a certain type of person out there that gets really worked up when grammatical rules are broken or bent.  Years back, Lynne Truss had a breakout hit with Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, a book that demonized bad grammar, poor punctuation, and general awkward phrasing.  Those Grammar Avengers ate it up, but they weren't all adults: these people start young.  Heck, when I was in high school, me and my buddies were very much like this, and some might say I still am.

For a certain type of boy, language books like this are actually a lot of fun.  A recent example stands out as a fascinating tale of grammar-hunting gone mad:  The Great Typo Hunt, by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson.  In a trip across the US and a brief sojourn into Canada, the authors and friends seek out and attempt to correct grammar errors in signs, posters, and billboards.  They explore shopping malls, restaurants, government offices and national monuments, making whatever corrections they can, and not all changes are welcome.

Other books on grammar and poor application of language are the novelty book series "Signspotting".  These are collections of signs from around the world that are, misspelled, badly translated, or just weird.  engrish.com and failblog.org also feature such uses and abuses of language.  These are along the same lines as F in Exams.

There's plenty more out there, too.  Just check out any facebook post.

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Vodnik by Bryce Moore

Tomas and his family are moving back to Slovakia, a home they've left since he's five years old, after he almost drowned and burned to death at the same time. The first thing Tomas sees when he gets back: a ghost. Not a good start, but that's not all. A few otherworldly beings, and some past acquaintances, have their eyes on Tomas. He is hoping it's just sleep deprivation and jet lag, but when Tomas found out from Death herself that his cousin Katka is going to die, he will have to admit he can see things others can't, and try to figure out who is friend and who is foe to save his cousin.

Pitting humans against powerful figures from myths a la Percy Jackson seems to be the thing to do still, and Bryce Moore did a fine job introducing us to the folklore of Slovakia, and giving us another reluctant hero to cheer for. Good and evil are somewhat ambiguous when it comes to these mythical creatures, especially the trickster Vodnik, so you never quite know who you should like. The book touches on racism and bullying, but those elements become a bit of a distraction from the main plot. Nonetheless, it's a fresh and engaging read.

For extra fun, check out the publisher's blog posts on how the design of the book cover came to be. I prefer some of the other illustrated designs so the book doesn't get dated easily. How about you?
Lee & Low Books: Design 101: How a book cover gets made Part I  Part II

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