Saturday, September 27, 2008

Turning Little Boys into Readers

My wife and I raised two daughters, both of whom are now schoolteachers, so until I had a couple of grandsons of my own, I never thought a lot about the differences between boys and girls when it comes to learning such a basic skill as reading. Our oldest grandchild is a nine-year-old little girl who absolutely loves reading, someone who usually carries a book with her whenever she leaves home just in case she is forced to endure some boring downtime along the way. The two boys, who are six and seven, don't seem to care much one way or the other about reading. They are happy enough to have their favorite stories read to them, but they show little desire to crack the code for themselves.

Both the boys, though, absolutely love action heroes and all the movies, toys and comic books associated with those characters. And that fascination seems to be inching them ever closer into the category of people who read for pleasure because both have a great desire to know what is being said inside their comic books now. They have finally outgrown the stage at which little boys are happy enough to just look at the pictures and create their own stories inside their heads. Now, they want to know the real scoop and they have a new incentive to read on their own and for themselves.

Stacy Garfinkle, of the Washington Post, has noticed the same thing: that when it comes to boys, the reading material available to them makes more difference than anything else that a parent or teacher can offer.
When it comes to instilling a love of reading, husband and I have done everything right -- or so we thought. We read together with the boys during the day and at bedtime. We go to the library regularly as a family. And through the years, the boys have shown their love of books by falling asleep with piles of children's page turners on their beds.

But when it comes to getting 6-year-old to actually read by himself, well, that's another matter entirely. Early reading books simply aren't engaging him.
According to Jon Scieszka, I'm not alone in having a boy who is not finding reading material that truly engages him. Scieszka, who spent years teaching, is the author of "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales" and is the Library of Congress' first national ambassador for children's books. He'll be in Washington this Saturday for the National Book Festival on the mall from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"We've had this problem with boys not achieving and reading for a long time," Scieszka says, noting that although we're generalizing about boys, there are always exceptions.
The biggest change we can all make in giving boys a love of reading is to expand our definition of reading beyond fiction, Scieszka says. Research shows that boys will read with their friends and want to be readers, but they want it on their terms. "They'd rather read nonfiction or humor, graphic novels, science fiction, action adventure, audio books, or online reading and magazines," Scieszka says. Much of this reading, boys don't even think of as reading, he notes. Also key: Include boys in choosing their reading material. Often books that were favorites of mom or teachers (who are mostly female) and librarians (also, mostly female) will feel like "going to the dentist" for boys, Scieszka asserts.
Take a look at the article, especially if you have young boys in the family, for a few suggestions of books that should create some reading enthusiasm in little boy readers.

Jon Scieszka has a good website of his own that offers more thoughts about young readers, especially as it all pertains to boys. You might want to take a look there, too. Click on the "Guys Read" tab for some great source material and follow the links from there.


  1. I live what you have written about here every day as an elementary school librarian and a mother of an eight year old boy. Last year, I started a Scieszka based Guys Read book club that has been a great success. Sometimes we forget that educators are predominantly women and the curriculum taught in most schools as well the the testing standards are also set by women. The sensibilities and tastes of many little boys are brushed aside as unacceptable and often crass. This is unfortunate. If you have a moment, please read a post from my blog this week about a robots book certain to please the wee men?

  2. My husband and I also raised two girls, and I have been fascinated with the different way my grandson approached everything. The comments on the article were interesting as well.

  3. Frances, what you say is similar to what my daughters tell me. One teaches fourth grade,the other teaches first grade, and they have noticed the differences in reading habits and attitudes between boys and girls of those ages. I'm glad to hear that the Scieszka program works so well. It's new to me but I'm going to recommend it to both my daughters as something that might help them in the classroom.

    I'll be sure to visit your blog - thanks for the reference.

  4. Jenclair, the differences are pretty amazing, aren't they? Boys seem to be getting the short end of the stick in early education these days. I honestly think that the pendulum swung to for in an effort to make girls feel "equal" and good about themselves. Now it's the little boys who are often made to feel like little villains because they have different tastes in reading, games, movies, etc.

  5. My two sons responded to Jon Scieszka's work, so I would take his advice! I found with both boys that it took them longer to get into reading because for such a long time their interests were far more sophisticated than their abilities. Then we found Captain Underpants, and Scieszka's work, as well as other "gross-out" books like...wait for it..."Zombie Butts from Uranus". Yes, boys have different reading interests than girls!

    As my boys got older, it evened out a little bit between the boys and girls, as there are many fantasy and adventure stories out there for boys. I've had luck with Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief and its sequels, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, the Alex Ryder books by Anthony Horowitz...

  6. Zombie Butts from Uranus - wow, that sounds like something I need to get hold of...for me and the grandsons, both. :-)

    I was talking with someone in the office this afternoon who mentioned how the Captain Underpants books were one of two series that her son will read, so I'll look at those also.