Boys and Books

Betty - posted on 12/15/2010 ( 9 moms have responded )




The statistics are consistent: Young male readers lag behind their female counterparts in literacy skills. This article looks at the social, psychological, and developmental reasons why, and suggests solutions — including the need for more men to become role models for reading.

In this article:
Searching for "why"
Serious subject, sensible solutions
Males needed as role models for reading
It's a chilly, rainy day with a wind that rattles the windows. The reader settles deeper into the cushions of the sofa, smiling with satisfaction. What a perfect day to read. "I really can't wait to tell my friend about this book," the reader thinks.

Now the question is, as you imagine the above scenario, what sex is the reader? Is it almost automatic to envision a female? In today's culture, is the image of an enthusiastic reader often a feminine one? Certainly there are many committed male readers, but where are they in the popular culture? And, perhaps more important, what images exist that encourage young boys to read?

The statistics are consistent: Young male readers lag behind their female counterparts. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) in 2001, fourth-grade girls in all of the 30-plus participating countries scored higher in reading literacy than fourth-grade boys by a statistically significant amount. Similar findings show up in the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, as well as in studies in New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Boys and Books
Boys read less fiction than girls
Boys tend to enjoy escapism and humor, and some boys are passionate about science fiction or fantasy
On his Guys Read website, Jon Scieszka concurs with this research, saying that adults need to "let boys know that nonfiction reading is reading. Magazines, newspapers, websites, biographies, science books, comic books, graphic novels are all reading material."

According to Wendy Schwartz in the ERIC Digest entry Helping Underachieving Boys Read Well and Often, the male perspective needs to be considered in the selection of reading material. "Reading choices made for boys frequently do not reflect their preferences, since girls are clearer and more vocal about what books they want, elementary school teachers are predominantly women, and mothers rather than fathers select reading materials for their children," Schwartz says.

"Further, boys, like all children, want to see characters like themselves sometimes," Schwartz adds. "Therefore, materials should feature people of different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds who live in a variety of types of homes and communities."

According to Schwartz, the boy who reads the sports page or instruction manual needs to be applauded. "The reading that boys do should not be dismissed as inconsequential even though it often does not include the novels and other traditional materials usually read by girls," Schwartz says. "The genres preferred by boys can be equally helpful in their development of reading, thinking, and problem- solving skills, and should be considered key resources in their education."

Teachers who allow boys to see the rich variety of forms that the written word can take may help to create more enthusiastic readers. Librarians also can play a key role in providing male-enticing reading materials.

According to Patrick Jones and Dawn Cartwright Fiorelli in "Overcoming the Obstacle Course: Teenage Boys and Reading," an article in the February 2003 issue of Teacher Librarian magazine, there are immediate steps that librarians can take to improve attitudes toward reading among boys. These include:

planning programs aimed just at boys
doing book talks in the classroom that include a lot of nonfiction
buying American Library Association Read posters that feature males
encouraging coaches of boys' sports teams to participate in a Guys Read program such as having athletes read to younger children
increasing the number of periodicals, magazines, comic books, and newspapers in the library
actively recruiting boys to work in the library
surveying boys about their reading
buying books that boys recommend
putting books where the boys are: next to the computers, copy machines, and study tables
Allowing boys to find reflections of who they are and what they like in a library may encourage a return visit.

Males needed as role models for reading
An additional issue that comes up in virtually all resources on male literacy is the shortage of male reader role models. As Jan Greer of New Brunswick, Canada, says in one of her "The Literacy Post" columns, "Research states that young males see reading as a feminine activity and therefore steer away from it. There is only one way to change this perception and that is for men both at home and in the community to read aloud to boys and to show that reading is an activity of value."

"It would also help if men's organizations made literacy one of their primary aims by following the example of Wayne Gretzky, who publicly supports literacy and lifelong learning. A boy will follow the lead of his male role model, usually his father or other significant man in his life. If that man values reading, the boy will too."

To promote that view, the province began Family Literacy Day, encouraging fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, and uncles to become reading role models.

In Ireland the Duleek Library introduced a "Dads and Lads" project to encourage reading among young boys. More than 250 new books that focus on sports were purchased, and boys and their fathers shared a reading program that is also tracked by their teachers.

Another Irish initiative, Boys 'N' Books, pairs the St. Patrick's Primary School with the Newry Library; both are located in an area that was identified as having the worst literacy levels in Northern Ireland. A special feature of this program is to promote performances by storytellers as well as to bring students books that have proven to be popular with boys.

This program makes an interesting distinction: "Teaching boys how to read did not necessarily make them readers. Reading was often viewed as a task to be done, rather than something to be enjoyed." The storytellers, including males, helped the boys to actively enjoy and discuss stories, develop their listening and concentration skills, and build a foundation for enjoying reading.

In England the reading campaign of the National Literacy Trust includes the recruitment of Reading Champions — any man or boy who inspires others with his enthusiasm for reading. The program "believes it is vital to provide boys with positive examples of reading men who they can identify with and relate to, and support families, carers, and practitioners in creating an environment where every boy has access to a positive male reading role model."

These may be male students or teachers, dads, granddads, brothers, family friends, tutors, reading buddies, storytellers, or performers. The program seeks to provide boys with advocates for reading on a national level.

Families play a critical role in promoting male literacy, and the impact is especially powerful if the father is involved to help boys see reading as something that males do. According to Wendy Schwartz, some possibilities include:

parents modeling reading, sharing what they have learned, recommending good books, and mentioning what they want to learn from reading in the future
parents and sons reading together, moving into increasingly difficult materials
parents and sons looking up information together to show the value of reading and the development of problem-solving skills
taking books along on long trips or to places where waiting is anticipated to help boys see reading as recreation
keeping a reading log with sons to show what, when, and how much boys are reading
No part of society — parents, teachers, librarians, community members — wants to see boys begin a lifetime of reading deficits, especially as more and more jobs require higher levels of literacy. Perhaps it is time for father–son reading time to become just as customary as that catch in the backyard or television viewing. The Harry Potter phenomenon has proven that boys will embrace books that tap into their interests and imagination; now


Joan - posted on 12/16/2010




Great article! As a mother of 4 boys and a middle school teacher, I would like to recommend that parents consider offering their sons non-fiction books rather than fiction. Non-fiction has always trumped fiction books in our home.

Also, here are 2 sites that could offer some additional assistance to parents of sons who are reluctant readers: created by author James Patterson

Thanks again, Betty, for the good blog post here.

Happy Holidays to all!


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Sarah - posted on 05/13/2011




I taught in a school that tried to get as many men in to read to the children during Book Week. They asked the mininster, crossing guard, community policeman and any dads they could to come in an give a good reading example to the children. Something that all schools could do.

Annie - posted on 05/08/2011




This is such an interesting topic. Have you seen the recent study about gender disparity in children's book characters and titles? The vast majority, it turns out, have male characters, especially when the characters are animals. I've linked to the study in a blog post here:

So how to reconcile this with the experience of parents who find it harder to get their sons to read? There's another good blog about reading to boys here:

Michele - posted on 04/26/2011




I just wanted to add. My daughter became behind in reading at school because her reading books were mostly aimed at boys, she is quite a girly girl, so trucks, non-fiction, astronauts, fishing, etc, were NOT her thing at all! (She preferred fairies, ice-skating, ballet, etc) She hated her reading books! So I think schools need to be careful not to put girls off reading in the process of encouraging boys to read.
I started to home school my daughter 3 years ago (due to bullying and her being behind in her class) and her reading has really taken off, she loves romance novels, emotional novels, classic novels, and anything about dogs and horses (non-fiction or fiction), and she can read ALOT for an 11 year old!

Michele - posted on 04/25/2011




Great post!
My son did start mainly on non-fiction but he loved rhyming books especially with humour like the woman who swallowed a fly...perhaps she'll die (I found it awful, but my son loved it and has a similar choice in books as my husband, is that the key? Dads should be more involved in helping sons pick books?) , but I found when he was young humourous fiction had him asking for more ( books by Roddy Doyle and Roald Dahl), then as he got older he loved the Diamond brothers detective agency short novels (by Antony Horowitz) then long spy novels like Alex Rider (by Antony Horowitz) and Harry Potter novels (by JK Rowling), now he loves thriller/horror detective book novels Skulduggery Pleasant (by Derek Landy). My son recommended that my husband read Skulduggery Pleasant, and my husband did, and he loves the books too, and the two of them often make private jokes or comments connecting real life to the books, which me and my daughter don't understand, I think that's what makes it extra special for my son, having that connection just between him and Dad through the book. My son is 13 and is ahead the norm in reading.

Carina - posted on 12/30/2010




Awesome article. As a Mum of a 5 year old Maori boy, this is an area I too have looked at for engaging my child in literacy.
We need more authors and writers of stories that engage and reflect our children's lives & experiences. Yes, non-fiction always wins the battle... but there is space for fiction too... just how can we hook them in?? As i've always said' All children are different' just make sure you give them all the tools, then all the options to make choices... not just two options!

Leah - posted on 12/28/2010




My classroom library is very boy-centric...from Gary Paulsen, Jon Sciezcka, Rick Riordan, and others, I make sure to have these books front and center, and I talk them up big time. I also pay attention to the boys interests and make sure I have non-fiction to match. ( and Scholastic love me for that.) And it really works! The boys are reading consistently and constantly! Often when a new book comes in they vie for it enthusiastically...which has allowed me to teach persuasive writing...I will get 8-10 letters explaining why they want to read the book! It's truly a win-win.

Shannon - posted on 12/21/2010




I started reading nonfiction books to my son when he was younger and he loves to read now. Many of the books we have are national geographic kids books and he knows facts about all kinds of animals and reptiles!
When I read to him I read the fiction so that we have a balance. Now we are reading Harry Potter and he loves it. He even says, "Mom, did you hear how I used expression when I read?"

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