Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Do We Get Boys to Read?

Twice a month I get BookPage XTRA in my inbox, which features previews of upcoming releases, reviews and author interviews. This morning an interview with Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, caught my eye. Called "Connecting Boys With Books," the article detailed how Scieska has started a website called Guys Read  to address the literacy issue in young boys and
"help guys become readers by helping them find texts they want to read." He argues that "the key to getting boys to read...is to 'show them a reason to want to be a reader, and support them in their interests.'
Another obstacle in getting boys to read is the instantly accessible entertainment available online and on television. That entertainment is more reachable than ever as younger kids have cell phones or even iPads, which Scieszka calls 'just like crack or candy—some combination of both.'"

I was reminded of a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this fall, called "How to Raise Boys That Read." Though I don't have kids, I definitely think about how I will make reading a priority for them when and if I do. The author, Thomas Pence, argues that "meeting boys where they are" by offering them books about farts or Captain Underpants doesn't serve them well now or for their future. Like Scieszka, he believes the phenomenon of boys not reading is in large part due to their exposure to video games (I know there are exceptions, but how many girls do you see huddled around an XBox playing Halo for hours on end?)

"People who think that a book—even R.L. Stine's grossest masterpiece—can compete with the powerful stimulation of an electronic screen are kidding themselves. But on the level playing field of a quiet den or bedroom, a good book like "Treasure Island" will hold a boy's attention quite as well as "Zombie Butts from Uranus." Who knows—a boy deprived of electronic stimulation might even become desperate enough to read Jane Austen.
Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter's husband—Raymond Bean [author of the SweetFarts series] or Robert Louis Stevenson?"

Yes, boys and girls are created differently and have different learning styles. But when we limit boys to reading graphic novels and potty humor we're doing them a disservice and underestimating their capacity to read and enjoy actual literature. As Pence says, "if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far."

What do you think? Does what boys are reading matter or is it just important that they are reading, period?

Read the interview with Scieszka here.
Read "How to Raise Boys Who Read" here


  1. Boys' literacy is a huge issue that teachers face. What they read matters, otherwise they won't read at all. Teachers are encouraged to provide a variety of nonfiction on topics of interest, male reader role models (volunteers, such as dads or community members), and graphic novels. From that starting point, boys can gradually become more attracted to novels, usually action/adventure, fantasy & sci-fi, and then the doors open to even more possibilities.

  2. Thanks for the comment! It's really interesting to get a teacher's perspective on the topic :)

  3. I'm a teacher and a mother of sons. I have a hard time getting my boys to read, so I encourage them to find books that they enjoy. They seem to like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books right now. They like going to Barnes and Noble and sitting in the store looking at books. I agree that no book can compete with video games. We don't allow them to play video games during the week for that reason.

  4. Thanks for the comment Joy! It seems like y'all have a really good strategy for encouraging your boys to read.