Boys Reading

24 09 2010

There is an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about getting boys to read, which is an important issue because in most cases, boys are lagging seriously behind girls by their teenage years. The only way, of course, to improve reading skills is to actually do it and the author of this article, Thomas Spence, tries to make a connection between bribery with video games and reluctant readers. I think it’s a very valid point, overall, but misses the mark in a few rather significant ways. I do agree with the general premise, however, that if you want a kid to read, then bribing him with a video game is at best merely a distraction and at worst completely counterproductive.

About a month ago there was an article that came across the Associated Press in which librarians maintained that parents should worry first that kids are reading at all and worry about what they’re reading later. Hence, you have Captain Underpants and Sir Fartsalot. I’ve got to admit, I’m with Mr. Spence on this for three reasons: First, I think they’re gross myself and I don’t want to see them; Second, I don’t think every boy is really intrigued by boogers and farts that much anyway-at least not enough to read books about it; Third, I think the idea simply throws all boys into the same mold without any sense of individuality.

My daughter has only recently really caught on to reading and what did it was not the American Girl series. It was Zombiekins. She found a couple semi-scary books that catered to her interest. She also read the first couple Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. She now says she loves reading and reads everything in sight. So, it may be pandering to their interests, but I’m not sure that’s ultimately a bad thing. What isn’t usual is that you can’t assume that all girls will read X and all boys will read Y. That equation just doesn’t work out and reinforces stupid stereotypes (which is one of the things we’re trying to overcome anyway, right?) Let’s instead treat boys and girls as individuals, shall we?

I’d agree with the author that video games need to be kept under watch, but there’s no need to be a prude, either. Video games were no more and no less available to my daughter once reading caught on with her. What happened was she just matured to a point where reading was attractive, available, interesting and always encouraged. I think the key is not to go all crazy on TV and video games. Think, after all, of all the things you might’ve been denied in your life. Have you ever wanted anything more than the forbidden fruit? Yeah, me neither, so let’s not create an artificial lack thinking we’ll change kids’ ideas about games. This is the part of the argument where I think Mr. Spence gets off track. If you create a video game free environment, you don’t need Captain Underpants anymore. Your 13 year old son will read Robinson Crusoe instead, just like magic. I don’t think that’s surprising. I’m pretty sure I could get a 7 year old to take Sartre out for a spin if I locked him in a room with no other stimulation. We could withhold food and get them to dive into Wittgenstein even, maybe. I can guarantee one thing by that approach: You might get them reading, but they’re going to resent it. And, despite what Mr. Spense says, I’m not sure anyone could devise an adequate torture device to get a pre-teen boy to read Jane Austen. It won’t be happening.

I’d argue if boys aren’t reading as much as girls, it’s because they’re encouraged more to engage in different pursuits than girls that exclude reading (and sitting still for that matter). Before we had my son, I thought my daughter was active. They’re not even close. So, yes, I can understand that most boys are very different than most girls and getting them to stop moving long enough to look at a book is a challenge unto itself, not to mention that we parents want them to burn some of that excess energy off. That’s just something we have to overcome.

Instead, here’s what I’d propose: Throw books at your kids every chance you get. Not literally, but if it works, go for it. Take them to the library once a week. Talk about books. Read in front of them. Read to them. Buy them books. Let them pick out books they want and if they judge it just by the cover, so be it. Don’t judge too harshly what they choose. Try to expose them to other things, but don’t take it too hard when they balk at it. Just keep trying until something sticks. Insist on at least 20 minutes of reading a day as soon as they can manage it and scale that up as they improve and age.




74 responses

24 09 2010

Great post. I was distracted enough by video games 20 years ago. I can’t imagine now. One thing I found effective is listening to audio books while driving around with my boys. I started with some Goosebumps on CD from a discount bin. They liked it so much they wanted to go to the library to pick out their next one. Car rides became more peaceful, we began discussing the books elsewhere, and they wanted to pick up print versions for the rest of the series.

24 09 2010

We’re taking a road trip today to visit my parents in Arkansas for the weekend and we picked out _Something Wicked This Way Comes_ for the same reasons. We’re also trying to quietly raise the bar a little. But I’m right there with you. I was constantly distracted by video games and that was nothing compared to how they are now.

27 09 2010

When I was younger my parents had a stash of audio books on cassette tape for long car trips, I remember loving them and they made the whole trip much less painful for all of us.

27 09 2010
Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson

Fancy meeting YOU here, Clay! Of course, you are preaching to the choir as so many of us blogger LOVE books, too. They are what inspired us to love words, right?

My son has loved books like THE BIG BOOK OF BOY STUFF (and I believe there is a girls’ equivalent) and EVERYTHING YOU CAN DO WITH DUCT TAPE – books of that nature. He eats books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And for this I am grateful. I will say that the behavior is largely modeled. I am an English teacher and my husband reads for pleasure, so he has seen us “drop everything and read” for his entire life. It’s just what we do.

Folks who bemoan that their kids don’t read probably aren’t reading themselves and aren’t visiting the local library, as you suggested. There are so many fabulous choices there. We had to create the 10 book cut-off so we would remember how many we needed to bring back each trip!

I hope you’ll check out my blog, Lessons From Teachers and Twits. Today’s material is kinda heavy. Be forewarned – but I’d love to read your words.

Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed”!


24 09 2010

Currently reading A Storm of Swords? I just got hooked on that book series in Mid-August and have finished all four published books. The anticipation for the fifth is killing me! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I know my husband spent most of the time wiping drool off my face since I couldn’t pull my nose out of there for very long.

24 09 2010

Well, I’m trying to get through it. I read the first two in the series 2009 and then stopped to read something else. By the time I got around to starting Storm of Swords, I had forgotten where many of the characters were, who’s still alive, what’s going on, etc. For that reason, it’s been a bunch of stops and starts, but it’ll catch on again, I’m sure.

I do love the first two, though and can’t wait for the HBO show.

24 09 2010

I enjoyed your article. I agree, it is important for children to read, and finding the right books can make all the difference. For me authors like Louis Sachar and C.S. Lewis turned me on to reading. Now, as an adult collecting and reading books is a hobby of mine.

24 09 2010

This is so important. Thanks for posting. As a mom, a former teacher, and an avid reader, there is nothing more important than this in a child’s education. I was lucky when I raised my kids. Books never had to compete with computers (and lose) for their attention. But, even so, I had to be patient with two of my three. My daughter read a lot, but didn’t choose “adult” books until she was older. My younger son didn’t start reading at all until he was in college, and I would entice him with books that I knew were about subject matter he cared about. Now all three are great, avid readers. It’s a joy.

24 09 2010

I’ll confess that I didn’t really read much until about the eighth grade or so when I got hooked on the Dragonlance series. From there, I went on to major in language and literature. Go figure!

24 09 2010

Oh dear – Captain Underpants is a big hit on our house. So is Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer and Charlie Brooker (Young Bond). We fit in a bit of Robert Louis Stephenson and the Boy in Striped Pyjamas too.

24 09 2010

Getting boys to read is hard, especially when they can run around with friends or perform daring-doo on their bikes or skateboards or what have you. Not all boys are the same. I have one voracious reader and one who would rather read Roald Dahl or nothing. Congrats on getting freshly pressed.

24 09 2010

Thanks! And the point you raise is something I think is important, too. We could do with a lot less lumping all boys together in one mold and consider them more as individuals. What works for one might not work for another.

24 09 2010

I agree with letting kids read what they want to, with a gentle push into a new direction when they need it. I’m reading ‘Treasure Island’ with a low-literacy, boy heavy year eight group at the moment and they love it! They all have a ‘pirate name’, we’re making treasure maps at the moment and will go on to making pirate flags. It’s just a matter of grabbing their interest in the same way a computer game would; through interaction with the material mostly. Interesting post, thanks!

24 09 2010

It’s good that they have someone to guide them through it. Sometimes works like that can be less approachable without a guide, but I totally dig giving them an interactive way to get into it. I can imagine they must really be enjoying it. Thanks for your comment!

24 09 2010

We put our four children – 2 boys/2 girls – to bed every night for about a decade with this routine: family dinner, bath, read aloud, songs & bed.

We brainwashed them into loving reading.
I don’t buy the BS that boys are harder to get to read. It’s all about exposure.

24 09 2010

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think establishing some kind of routine is key and actually having the discipline to do so makes it easier for them. Good point.

24 09 2010
Christina Tinglof

Captain Underpants saved the day in our house for one son who was a reluctant reader. Now in 9th grade, he devours several books a month. My youngest, however, is still a challenge. Right now he’s reading the Halo series based on the video game. Hey, whatever works, right?

24 09 2010

Absolutely, if the shoe fits, although I’m still questionable on Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger. 🙂

24 09 2010

Actually, I am far from certain that the “whom” above is incorrect. Note that cutting of the “to […]” leaves something that makes sense (“Whom would you prefer?”), while cutting out the “would you prefer” does not (“`Whom to have shaped the […]”).
This to be contrasted with e.g. “Who, in your opinion, is the better author?”.

Concerning reading, I am strongly in favour of letting children read what they want to read—and feel equally strongly that trying to force them to read something they do not like will do more harm than good. (I have even heard argued that one of the reasons boys read less than girls is just that typical reading lists are too girly.) Notably, in order to enjoy reading it is often necessary to get past a certain threshold of ability, before which the act itself is too much of a chore. Here even comics can be a great help through reducing the effort needed to read until the necessary degree of fluency has been reached.

24 09 2010

Thanks for the comment! I actually raced home about five minutes ago to redact that part because I realized that I was in the wrong on that one after all myself, but alas, you got to it before I did! My fault for publishing too quickly and here I am guilty of the very thing I was admonishing.

I think the second part of your comment is also absolutely correct and something I noticed in my daughter. She didn’t really take to reading until her speed and skill was such that she could read more than 4-5 pages without stopping. From there it took off.

24 09 2010

Read in front of them, yes! Read to them, yes! But also: read WITH them. Those 20-minutes a day of reading can be lonely and frustrating for a struggling reader, but that can be eased if someone else is sitting with them and also struggling through their own book. BTW, I’ve read Wittgenstein, and starvation seems like a more attractive option.

24 09 2010

I’ve done it both ways, both in the room with them and with them alone and I have to agree you with, it just works better. Not just for the reason you mention, though, but also because it again shows them that people can enjoy reading and not consider it a chore. It just models the right behavior.

I’ve actually avoided reading anything beyond a few passages of Wittgenstein myself, so I’m inclined to agree on that point as well. Thanks for your comment!

24 09 2010
Anna and Her Biro

This is so insightful. My husband I were chatting about this last weekend due to stats being published in the Guardian about male and female exam results.

I totally agree that it has alot to do with energy and being able to sit still, although my brother used to be captivated by computer games – and that’s not moving…

I used to have many books on the go at once, whereas my brother was happy with football and computer games. Maybe its about learning styles – boys learning in a more visual and physical way, and girls more auditory (inclusive of classes) and ‘feeling’ (which explains the love of getting into a book)

Thanks! Keep posting.

24 09 2010

It starts in the home, with the parent. If at least one parent has an interest in reading, the children are more likely to have an interest.

My parents are both avid readers when they have the opportunity, and my wife’s mother, the same. We both read quite a bit – though to be sure, given the opportunity I will and have been a couch potato or spend hours online or in a game. In the 7th grade my reading ability was pegged at a post highschool level.

When our children started coming along, our tv watching drastically dropped. We read to our boys nightly. The eldest one began showing a deep interest in reading at age 3. Now 4 1/2 he’s reading at a beginning 3rd grade level and has pretty much picked up phonics, context and comprehension from talking to us and reading. His brother, 1 1/2 old is already showing signs of interest in books.

Schools aren’t the problem. Teachers aren’t the problem. It’s the society as a whole which has moved everything into tvs and computers, and making everything fast, fast, fast. Children aren’t getting dumber, it’s parents who’re losing interest in reading and/or spending real, quality time with their children instead of watching hours of tv or letting them play hours of video games.

My elder son talks about dinosaurs, volcanoes, various animals, habitats, cooking, etc.

He may be gifted, but I suspect that more likely it’s that he’s in an environment of stimulation that encourages early development of his reading abilities. Children centuries ago were often reading by age three, and their only book was the Bible. Proof you don’t need “pizzaz”, color, lights, etc., and proof that children can learn to read earlier than our public education system leads us to believe.

The running joke in our house is that Daddy has too many books. They threaten to throw away or sell my books. But truth be told, my sons have a plethora of books themselves… and with twins on the way, I’m sure they’ll become little bookworms too.

24 09 2010

What an interesting idea that girls read more because they are less encourage to pursue other things. It saddens me to think that’s true, but at the same time, I’d love to see young boys read just as much as young girls. I wonder if there’s a way to even it out?

One great book I’ve found to get boys to read is the brand new Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World. It’s absolutely hilarious – for the same fans of the Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants series, but smarter and funnier. The 8-year-old I babysit loved it, refused to put it down for dinner, and has been practicing his evil laugh ever since. The authors have created a really fun website too:

24 09 2010

What good points you make, especially about not using video games as a bribe, or making the environment completely video game free because then the kids will just resent it.

Another issue is finding good materials for young teen girls to read. They grow out of the subjects from 3/4 grade but have not grown into the older teen books. We struggle with this with my niece all the time. One series we did find that she enjoyed is the Mysterious Benedict Society series (can’t remember the author right now) and she got through the first two before she decided they were too young. This series is adventurous, mysterious, suspenseful, and written very well. Good for girls and boys. I would recommend it for fifth/sixth graders.

My niece read Hatchet in fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. Talk about turning a kid off of reading! Finally last year, in seventh grade we relented and let her read Twilight. Still, the scenarios are a bit mature.

As for my nephew, he discovered Wimpy Kid last year in second grade. He had the first one read in two days, and this from a kid who wouldn’t sit to read hardly anything before that. The humor in the book really caught his attention.

I feel that as long as the children are reading other books along with things like Captain Underpants or Wimpy Kid then no harm, no foul. The more they practice reading skills the better readers they will become!

27 09 2010

For young girls with high reading age try Tamora Pierce (Not quite sure on the spelling) who does a series of fantasy stories that don’t focus on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships but are adventure and an exciting read that I even as an adult enjoy.

24 09 2010
Clear Possibilities

We have two children – girl 8 and boy just 4 and he has just started school. Books have been a big part of their lives since they were tiny – 2 stories at bed time and that is special time on your own. My daughter has really caught the reading bug and has discovered Harry Potter this summer. I agree that boys and girls are really different and want to do different things, however, you can still make books part of their lives….

24 09 2010

Great post! I was more active than my two sisters and spent more time outside than in. Nonetheless, I found a love for reading and have to agree; had my parents criticized or not allowed me to read what I wanted, I would have been less interested. Great advice with encouragement through reading with them and buying them books–it works! My stepson enjoys reading (when we make him sit down to read) otherwise video games are more interesting. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! LB

24 09 2010

So long as one finds the books that interests the child, either boy or girl, the child will start to read. Even if he or she struggles some, usually the desire to find out what happened will pull a child through. Only as long as the child finds it interesting. Bribery with video games as a reward for reading should not be needed. My mother quickly realized I was interested in science fiction and fantasy which was typically considered something for boys. Which is really silly since fairy tales are fantasy and yet are considered girls stories. The important thing is letting children pick the books that sound interesting to them and not trying to stear the childs choices.

24 09 2010

Great Post! For me reading is one of the essential requirements in life. And it would be wonderful for our young ones to enjoy the benefits of reading.

24 09 2010
Freshly pressed shout out « I Saw it Written…

[…] freshly pressed post “Boys Reading” got me thinking about the source of this discrepancy between the genders.  Of course, […]

24 09 2010

Books need to part of everyday family life until the child can’t imagine a day without a book being read. As you suggested, the easiest and cheapest way to do that is use the library, it’s services and materials.

Thanks for the post.

24 09 2010


I am a huge reader and a huge gamer. In my high school years I played a lot of Japanese RPGs which tend to have massive amounts of text and depending on the game, a pretty decent plot. I actually learned a bunch of SAT words from video games (gregarious, ephemeral, etc).

My brother and I both both played a lot of computer games when we were kids, but it took us awhile to convince our parents to allow a console in the home. My Mom, brother and I would work on adventure games as a group activity starting with Time Tunnel on the Commodore 64 when I was 5, going to Myst and then others.. Even today though, there are many games with much better plots than what I find on the fiction/non-fiction shelves at a bookstore.

Maybe rather than bribing a child to read with a book, we should look at creating games that inspire the player to read the text rather than click through…perhaps a simpler puzzle game like Professor Layton (or work on it together between parent and child).

I am a big fan of Lemony (spelling?) Snicket books as well as the new titles popping up in the young adult section portraying courageous, clever children rather than ignorant dolts (or obnoxious know-it alls…the Golden Compass was a perfect mix of the Wrinkle in Time type story without the characters that made me want to flush the book down the toilet).

When I tutored a 3rd grade class in high school, I was pleased to see so many kids reading Harry Potter books that were practically larger than them. I think the trick really is to find something that the specific kid would enjoy… a hook. Needing to bribe kids to read is basically saying that books suck so much now that kids don’t want to read them.

24 09 2010

good post. I lucked out with my son: he’s four and he’s dying to read on his own. he likes it when I read to him, but I can tell that he wants to do it on his own.

24 09 2010

Well said. My son and daughter discuss books and recommend them for each other. I think it has more to do with role modeling and expectations. I am so happy I raised readers!

25 09 2010

Getting my students to read would be like asking them to stab their eyes! I agree that the type of stories matter in capturing their interests. How about the mode in which the story is presented? I find that my students needs to move around as they read. They can’t seem to sit still and appeciate reading. Parents’ influence plays an important part in cultivating the reading habit.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with online books downloaded onto the iOS devices, like the iPhone. It gets them excited and swiping pages beat flipping pages hands(or fingers) down!

25 09 2010

This is fantastic! I teach a class of 25 14-year-old boys and encouraging them to read is really difficult. I think I’ll have to send this entry to all of their parents! Thanks for a great read.

25 09 2010

Great post! I don’t exactly remember, but I think that’s also how I finally fall in love to novels: stuck in boredom, with nothing much to do except more and more books. Yes, I’d say that’s very effective. 🙂

25 09 2010

I like your post! As a librarian I’ve worked hard to validate kids reading habits – especially boys because of their lag in reading. Nothing makes me cringe more than having a teacher tell a 2nd grader that they can’t read something because it’s not a real book. That 2nd grader is really struggling with reading and if they need to read the same I Spy for a few weeks, why not? Maybe a better idea is to find out what the appeal of that book is and try to match that child to another book without the humiliation. Whenever I’m at school talking about books/reading, I try to pair nonfiction with fiction because most boys prefer the nonfiction – so why reading lists always only contain fiction?

I have two very different boys and I struggled (and continue to struggle) with how to encourage reading over gaming or TV. My husband and I read and we have books in the house. I used to make a big deal trip to the bookstore at the beginning of the summer to buy the first book to read for the summer – the boys still clamor for that. Sometimes it was a Gary Larsen (not the $150 one though – I ruled that one out). When the boys were younger we would have a “no TV night” and that was a time to read. It often coincided with my need to finish a book and supper would be cereal because I couldn’t spend time cooking when there was this book to finish.

Another aspect of boys and reading (i don’t know anything about girls and reading other than I’m a girl and I read) is the power of peers. My older son (now 17) normally a good reader – just stopped reading last summer. He said it wasn’t cool for guys his age to read. I told him he wasn’t a sheep and if he wanted to read Fang to go ahead – I wasn’t reporting on his reading so how would other people know unless he told them? My younger son has friends who read. They are boys at the top of the class and also captain of the soccer team type kids. Yet one of them read Moby Dick in 5th grade and loved it. Another one got my son hooked on The Hunger Games. One summer I tried to get my younger son to read the book “Savvy” – I just thought he’d like it even though in my head I thought of it as a girl book. He ignored my suggestions all summer. He went back to school and his best friend told him about this awesome book (Savvy) that had kids with superpowers which he read and loved. I would never thought to describe it that way.

25 09 2010

Great post, and I agree with your point about lack of things for boys to read. Most young adult and children’s literature seems to be aimed at girls, so it’s hard to find something other than those titles you mentioned for boys to get into. If they aren’t into Harry Potter, the list is even further limited.

My boys really enjoyed the Wimpy Kid books, but there’s only so much of that anyone can take. There are some other good series for young boys, including the 39 Clues books and the Potato Chip Puzzles. For younger boys, just getting into chapter books, my sons enjoyed the Adam Sharp series and Alex Rider novels.

Kids don’t need to be bribed to read. They need to be able to find things they enjoy reading. And they need to see adults reading as well.

25 09 2010

My Mom had a horrible time getting me to start reading when I was a kid. The key, though, was bedtime stories – she would let me pick a book, and read it to me at bedtime a chapter or two a night. We went through all of Black Beauty that way, and several other full-length novels.

So when I balked at reading to myself, she knew it wasn’t because I didn’t like stories. Eventually, she waited for me to pick a new bedtime story book and get excited about it, then told me if I wanted to know what happened in it, I had to read it myself. I was a bit cranky about it at first, but it worked! Once I made it through that first book, she had trouble getting me to stop reading long enough to do chores. 😉

25 09 2010
Ron Baker

We all need to read more.

25 09 2010
A quick note on being “Freshly Pressed” « Pew Pew Crash Crash

[…] “Freshly Pressed” 25 09 2010 Being “freshly pressed” for my post on Boys Reading from yesterday came as a real surprise and I cannot tell you how much fun it has been having so many […]

25 09 2010

When I was teaching in an English Secondary (11-18) school, another problem I found was that parents felt that their sons had to be reading fiction for the fiction to count. In terms of increasing literacy and inference newspapers, magazines and non-fiction texts are just as useful, and I think boys ought to be encouraged with these too. My boyfriend loves computer games and isn’t a huge reader, but if you get him a book about the history of computer games etc he will sit and read it from cover to cover. He reads the technology news daily too. I really think that schools need to start harnessing these interests and encouraging reading in this respect.

25 09 2010


I’ve been reading since I was 3. I still remember the first paragraph I read.
I started talking and reading earlier than my brother. Boys take time to get engrossed, read, because for the intial years of their life, like till they’re 10 or so, their heads are filled with space ships and creepy things in the dark. Plus, their verbal ability is comparatively less, as compared to girls. They have better spatial ability.
Yes, my brother started late. But he’s catching up. My mother knew that he needed time. And not always video games are bad. I think they sometimes foster some idea of competiion within kids.
Yes, we need to read more. To grow as individuals. To form opinions. To differ with colleagues, bosses and friends alike.

And to read blog posts like this. 🙂

25 09 2010
Evie Garone

I’ve always loved to read since I was little, but so did both my parents. My husband has his whole life, too. Now fast forward to our 2 sons. They’ve always seen both of us read. I have read to them since they were both too young to know, and one son reads voraciously and one will not read unless he has to. So, I don’t know what it is. I think as in all things it depends on THE PERSON. Maybe in studies the numbers say boys as a whole don’t read as much as girls do, but do you remember also, more boys study math and science? Thus more are Engineers. Well that seems to be true as my youngest just entered College as a Freshman to ASU and not one girl is in the Engineering program he is in! So go figure.

Maybe stereotypes are hard to break! That’s a shame!

25 09 2010
Spoiled Eggs

I loved the post! Reading sure has changed since I was a child! What ever happened to the awesome days of Goosebumps or Animorphs! Those books brought alive our imagination, may have even scared us from time to time! Looking at newer children books now a days is fun to do as well!

Spoiled Egg’s Blog

25 09 2010

The problem with getting boys to read is in the material out there for them. why read stuff that is not exciting?(boys perspective). The things that guys like to read are not like that mushy twilight stuff. Guys need things that appeal to them unfortunately how do you compare with the real world topics of girls and video games? Tricky tricky problem. interesting to think about though…

25 09 2010

I actually work in a boys school… and there have been studies, the difference between boys and girls on learning is- if you set the bar for boys at 50%- they will only ever reach that level- whereas girls strive to achieve more on their own… boys need more encouragement and examples…and inspiration. Reading is so important to the development of language, imagination etc. Basically- with boys you have to lead them to the water for them to drink…

25 09 2010

I write as a student of reading habits, an ex-English teacher and someone who writes English textbooks for a living…

This all falls into the ‘fiction = good’ trap. I am surrounded by men who read – but they read information, factual books. They read for a purpose, not to ‘pass the time’. They read histories and biographies and accounts of things in which they have an interest. My step-father, an economics professor and the most ‘academic’ man I know, never reads fiction. He reads the paper every day; his library is an encyclopaedia of cricket, economics, social theory, gardening, photography. My brothers occasionally read a Lee Child book on holiday.

As a mother of a 10 year old boy, having been told he didn’t read ‘at all’ took issue with his teacher. I took him to a very famous book warehouse in Oldham and he gathered £250 of books – science, maths, languages, history, the human body, the universe, dinosaurs – and he reads all of them. Not one story.

I don’t know why this is. I just know that’s how it is. Intelligent men may not read fiction, and promoting the ‘fiction=the only reading that’s really worthwhile’ and ‘it’s okay to read non-fiction as an entrance to reading’ myths just compounds the problem. As soon as we accept some readers read different things and get over the middle-class, female perspective that they must read fiction, even Captain Underpants, rather than read a book about woodwork as they complete a project, we will soon find the problems ease between men and women. Unfortunately, in our local bookstore in England, ‘children = fiction texts’ and I have to go to a specialist educational/library supplier to get hold of non-fiction texts for our son.

Ironically, the ‘raising boys who read’ article says ‘boys don’t read well… they don’t read enough…’ but the recommendations to raise a boy who reads is to give them Captain Underpants (fiction) Goosebumps (fiction) Butt Books (fiction) Treasure Island (fiction) and ‘Literature’ – all big FAILS with the hundreds of boys I’ve taught. Yet give them Anglers’ Times, Fishing Weekly, newspapers, Top Gear magazine, Jeremy Clarkson rants, science books, non-fiction, and they eat it up.

The sooner we accept that ‘reading’ shouldn’t be exclusively limited to fiction, the better. I know few adult males under the age of 60 who read much fiction – and the fiction they read seems to be Wilbur Smith, crime fiction, thrillers… but instead of allowing people to come to realise they like fiction, forcing them to read ‘books’ rather than stuff they want to read, is making it impossible to make progress. My son says ‘I don’t read’ – but he reads all the time. He’s been taught that some reading (and most of what he does!) doesn’t count. That’s sad.

They say there’s not a gap between homeschooled boys and girls… I wonder if this is because homeschool-parents are the kind who foster their children’s reading interests, genres and so on, rather than trying to fit a very square peg into a very round hole and making everyone feel thoroughly ill-at-ease in the process!!

In France, as in Japan, I see more boys reading. But comic strips and cartoons are de rigeur. Now my son reads Asterix and Titeuf. But of course, that’s not reading according to much of the English-speaking world.

I bought my other half a Lee Child book, knowing one of my brothers enjoyed it (my other brothers read sci-fi/fantasy – a genre that seems to hook a good proportion of boys if they do read fiction) and it sat on the shelf. He’d just finished a book about the Hell’s Angels and Organised Crime in a week, so I thought I’d pick up on that fervour. Not with any success. It sat there for a month. I asked why he’d not read it. The answer? There’s not much point to it, really, is there?

However, he’s currently stuck into a book about chicken keeping, a book about electrical installation and a book about grafting grape vines. I need to accept, myself, that fiction is a route I can’t force him down!!

25 09 2010

This, I think, is a particularly astute observation. My daughter’s first real forays into reading were non-fiction as well and I remember at the time worrying why she wouldn’t absorb fiction just as easily. To be honest, it really should be the other way around. Thanks for the insightful comment.

26 09 2010

(Repost due to WordPress malfunction.)


Yours is an extremely interesting comment—but also one that caught me off-guard.

Why so? Because I had not really noticed the “fiction=the only reading that’s really
worthwhile” attitude outside small groups of insiders (authors, critics, …) and a few pseudo-intellectuals. If this attitude is spread further into the population, my perspective on the issue needs adaption.

However, in a related direction, I have noticed that there are many women who snobbily talk about how much women read and how little men read—but what do these braggers, themselves, typically read? Twilight, gossip magazines, trashy romance novels, uninsightful self-help books, and the latest Oprah-approved money-maker. The most intellectual literature they ever manage is something by Austen or the Brontes—and that is the rare exception.

As for myself (a man), I recognize a lot of myself in your description: I read far more “fact” (including Wikipedia and various other Internet sources) than I do fiction. When I do read fiction, I tend to look for psychological and philosophical insight, new perspectives on the world, development of interesting ideas, and similar—I look to learn something even when from fiction. Further, when push comes to shove, I do see fiction as the road to real reading—non-fiction. (Just like the comics and the sports section were the road to reading newspapers. Indeed, the bragger above is someone who, metaphorical speaking, is stuck in the sports section and still presumes to complain that others do not read the papers…)

BTW, you mention buying books on a dinosaurs. Based on what I have seen both in myself as a child and in other children, this might be the single best way to get a young boy to read.

27 09 2010

Michael, what you’ve said just compounds my beliefs! And yes, dinosaurs are a good way forward! Actually, a little boy I teach – a very reluctant reader – asked for ‘space’ and ‘dinosaurs’ together. I found ‘Astrosaurs’ – a space fiction series for boys about 6-10… but he didn’t like it. He wanted facts! Vikings, too.

The books he did love though, were Roald Dahl. I think they are a rare fiction text that ‘n-f’ boys love. Even the least ‘fiction-loving’ boys like Dahl’s stories, even if they never read anything else in the fiction section!

25 09 2010

I remember when I was younger and how much I hated reading. Now, I love reading. I like learning from reading.

25 09 2010

I really despised reading when I was going through school simply because I didn’t like reading what I thought were just “stupid stories” based on fictitious characters. So who cares about them – they aren’t real. It’s not that I couldn’t read, I just didn’t want to. I hated going to English class. I had no use for Shakespeare or Charles Dickens Great Expectations. It literally bored me to tears.

The icing on the cake was GRAMMAR. Who invented it and why? Dissecting sentence structures was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back at that point. Who wants to read if you have to know all the rules to appreciate a properly constructed sentence?

On the other hand, I had no issues solving math problems, doing science experiments, reading the newspaper, or flipping through magazines. In fact I loved reading when the topic was of interest to me. Today, now in my late 40’s, I love reading business books on leadership, strategy, and so on. Oddly, some of my favorite books today just happen to be business novels – fictitious characters operating in a fictitious town …

Great post and thanks for sharing.

25 09 2010

Congrats on being freshly pressed! I too was freshly pressed earlier this week and I know just how exciting it can be to suddenly be “discovered.” I’m a single mom who spent hours and hours with my son in libraries and bookstores. I agree, let him read what he gravitates to and when he was in 4th grade he was drawn to read Jurassic Park. That was the beginning of his love affair with books. He’s now 25 and still loves the written word.

26 09 2010

Great post- I advocate letting kids choose their own reading material, too, and it helps if they see their parents reading (modelling).

26 09 2010

Nowadays even boys started to gain knowledge through reading seriously as many interesting stories and new innovation are gaining momentum everyday. Due to new findings the boys are now placing themselves in a more creative atmosphere as the discussion nowadys among boys are purely on new technology, innovation, creation,sex etc. These they use themselves as self motivation. Anyway reading is good habit as the future would be more knowledgable persons around and good for any country. So encourage boy learning.

26 09 2010

My son hated reading books, so he lagged behind in reading. The only way I got him to get interested in reading was to subscribe to his favorite TV show magazine, “Dragonball Z”. That’s how I got him to learn to read. And he picked it up incredibly fast after that. I never worried about my boys playing video games, they weren’t excessive players.

I think some boys just don’t develop mentally as fast as girls. They’re always a tad behind as far as maturity goes. It’s been like that for centuries. A well known fact. I believe it’s just a matter of finding out what interests them and looking into different medias instead of books all the time.

26 09 2010

Excellent post, thanks. Glad I read it and cheers for the link to the WSJ article.

26 09 2010

Great post–
my daughter began reading at 3…with my son, it was, and continues to be, like pulling teeth. Son IS much more active than daughter, but both are bright and curious.
I WISH my son read more…every now and then we come across a book or series, and that bridges the gap for a time…but other times are dry stretches of no-man’s-land, horizon to horizon filled with…no books.
I am happy they both seem to know how to find the information they need…that is a skill that is so very important in this day and age.
Congrats on Freshly Pressed, and blessings

26 09 2010
Sarah B

Exactly right! My parents read to me all the time, and produced an absolute bibliophile. While I don’t have children myself, I teach in a K-4 school where the kids are required to choose two books from the library to take home each week. I see everything from picture books about fighter planes to massive chapter books going home with them. It’s a wonderful thing once a child is hooked, no matter how it happens.

26 09 2010

I’ve always been one to enjoy reading. Ever since I was a kid. I was even one of those boys who enjoyed reading Captain Underpants. And let me say this. If your child wants to read Captain Underpants, then let them. At Least they’re reading, and enjoying to read, and eventually they’ll get interested in other books too just like I did.

I recently started the Harry Potter series, which are amazing and have made me love reading even more than before. I’d suggest maybe getting your child to read Harry Potter, or reading it to them, and I’m sure they’ll love it.

– Christopher from

26 09 2010

For some reason our society has this idea that family entertainment can only come from something that has a screen. In fact, we act like we are depriving our children if we are witholding a video game or television from them. In our home, we have shown our children that an immense amount of entertainment can come from a well written book.

In addition to our own books, we often choose a book as a family and read a chapter from it each night together. Over the last few months we have read “Lord of the Flies”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, “The Story of Dr.Dolittle” and “The Voyages of Dr.Dolittle” . My 7 year old son was on the edge of his seat and begged to begin our family reading time earlier and earlier! They were even hurrying to finish their chores so that we could begin earlier!

Doing this together as a family has created an atmosphere where reading is something that is fun and entertaining. As a family, we have journeyed to islands, climbed mountains, battled tribes, traveled in a snails shell under the ocean…..all without leaving our living room!

26 09 2010

My wife and I found a similar solution: We mostly say “no” to tv beyond 4 hours per week, “no” to video games beyond 2 hrs per week but we don’t make them do anything else in particular when we’re saying no. We do encourage reading in the same ways outlined here, but we’ve wanted them to find reading themselves. They found “Thomas Trains” and now are hooked on Magic Tree House. It’s often hard to say “no” when we’re tired, and we’ve not been perfect (90% consistency), but they are now 6 and 8 year old avid readers who enjoy an occasional movie or video game, among other activities.

26 09 2010

great post. your proposal was the same thing my mom did (around nursery school days i believe). Not only did she gave me books but I always see her reading too and I followed her. I started out with those Garden Gang books, then eventually shifted to Children and Non-children’s Encyclopedia (yeah!! the encyclopedia), Sweet Valley, Christopher Pikes, R.L Stine,sidney Sheldon, Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, Chick Lits, Paulo Coehlo, Nicholas Sparks, etc… I realized reading has become one of my hobbies(aside from clothes and girly stuff) and I loved the thought of it. I’m doing it until now. Way back when we were still kids, My guy cousin got influenced with the reading thing too…he targets their encyclopedia more though and he’s a gamer too 😉

26 09 2010

I love this. Books were made for reading! I don’t think there is a problem with starting kids on books they are really interested in. So many kids think reading is a chore. They need to realize reading is for education and entertainment.

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26 09 2010
9:365 – Ugly Sunday « Am I There Yet?

[…] Today’s reading: Boys Reading :: Pew Pew Crash Crash […]

26 09 2010
Pragmatic Mom

You bring up a good point! I do think there is a tipping point where reading becomes as fun as anything else a kid wants to do. I do personally want to limit screen time though and I know I could do a better job at that. But I also agree that throwing books at kids, the more, the merrier, is a thing that we have to constantly do to keep books and reading front and center.

Thank you for your post. It was really helpful!

26 09 2010
More on WSJ How to Get Boys to Read from author Rob Dougherty : PragmaticMom

[…] } An interesting rebuttal to today’s WSJ post on How to Raise Boys Who Read from Rob Doughtery:There is an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about getting boys to read, […]

26 09 2010
Kendra Wagner

Thanks everyone for your astute comments. Yes, boys can be an uphill battle and not one even mentioned the arena of WRITING! But yes, non-fiction is more of a draw than fiction, I have noticed over the decades I have been in this field. As a literacy consultant in schools and tutor in private practice, I listen to parents and teachers lament and worry over the takeover of “screens” in children’s everyday lives. It is a tough competitor to printed formats, i.e. books or magazines.

I am surprised no one has mentioned the importance of growing one’s Vocabulary through reading. Captain Underpants and the like have been dissected and NO academic power words are used, whereas in many children’s picture books, there are rich and varied words used.

27 09 2010

Everyone has their own different childhood stories and experiences, that great to read you guys. Ours is a big joint family of more than 25 members with additions every year or two. Still we are together and enjoy remembering our childhood and telling those stories to our young ones. That feels real relaxing after work.

27 09 2010

I end every night reading to my little girl. She has such a great imagination and I recall myself at that age. As we get older some of us lose that but we can live through our kids and just enjoy every storytime book.

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