on boys and books …

A listserv that subscribe to had a post that asked, "Boys: Why don't they read?" Which got me thinking.  Here's my reply.  I'm too lazy to think of something else to post so, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V it is!!!

Here goes:

Hello all,

I WAS one of those boys who "didn't read." So … for what it's worth, here's my take on the issue (At the risk of insulting, like, 95% of the people that subscribe to the list …).

I was an elementary teacher for many years before taking my current job as a middle school librarian and I used to hear that boys didn't read way back then, too (we're talking second, third, and fourth grade boys).  I argued then, that boys DO like to read, but that they just didn't like reading the stuff that my colleagues (all women and all wonderful teachers, by the way) wanted them to read.  The majority of our reading texts were always fiction stories with a single non-fiction piece sprinkled in along the way.  We also taught reading lessons with trade book sets, but they were also all fiction. "GIRL STORIES!!!"  "GIRL BOOKS!!!" 

What are "girl books????"  In my experience it is not just about whether the protagonist is a boy or a girl.  It is about the nature of the story itself.  In GENERAL (for purposes of discussion this is an OVER GENERALIZATION) girls (and the English teachers who teach them) generally like stories about characters who take some wonderful inner journey and end up being changed by the experience.  Think … I don't know … 

by Maureen Johnson for example (a great read for middle and high schoolers by the way) … Or 

by Lowry … Even though the protagonist is male, the story hinges around his inner journey.  They also love beautiful language.  Think … The English Patient …  MOST BOYS DON'T CARE ABOUT THE INNER JOURNEY!!!  MOST BOYS DON'T CARE ABOUT BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE!!!  I don't care about the inner journey (most of the time)!  And I'm sorry, but the English Patient was just painful … Give me PLOT!!!  Tell me what happens next and GET ON WITH IT!!!

My middle school boy readers like narrative non-fiction/memoir/biography, fantasy, and science fiction.  Of course, some will read anything, but those genre are by far the genre of choice for my boys.  In our 7th, 8th, and 9th grade English classes, the only book that I can think of that falls into those genre is 

by Wolff.  Everything else … GIRL BOOKS!!! GIRL BOOKS!!! GIRL BOOKS!!!  I'm guessing, but I'm willing to bet that our English department (and they are great English teachers by the way) is not so different than most of yours out there across the land. English teachers LOVE character development.  I (and the guys on the maintenance crew here at school who plow through our high fantasy and scifi stuff) just want to know what happens.  Don't get me wrong, I'm hugely grateful that I can APPRECIATE a well crafted novel that is character driven (just not the English Patient), but what I usually WANT to read for fun is the book about some guy almost freezing to death on that fateful climb to the top of Mount Everest or the germ is going to mutate and make all who come into contact with it bleed to death through their eyeballs!!! 

If we want boys to become readers, at some point we have to let them see that it'll bring them joy.  Reading as FUN!  What a concept, huh?  If we want boys to become readers, let's start working on getting some respect for the STUFF that they like to read.  Why is it that so many people say things like, "My son only wants to read fantasy … <sigh>"  What's wrong with fantasy and scifi???  If we want boys to become readers, why not work on getting some good memoir/narrative non-fiction/scifi/fantasy into the English curriculum or at least book talking a decent number of pieces in those categories when the opportunity arises.  If they want to read about wrestling, why not bring in wrestling books/magazines … err .. I can hear it now … "I'm not spending my budget on wrestling magazines."  But then, the question at hand is "Why don't boys read?" Right???  Know that, of course, these stereotypes are over drawn, but know also that there ARE grains of truth to the stereotypes. 

That boy that I was that didn't read is now a big boy who reads a lot of stuff.  After graduating from college I actually went back and read a number of those assigned novels that I didn't read in high school and college.  Thankfully, I did, indeed, find out that the real thing was a LOT better than the Sparknotes (The English Patient being a notable exception IMHO) … Go figure …

I don't want to read the World Book Encyclopedia, but put

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Under the Banner of Heaven

on my night stand and I'm a happy camper. 

And no … my boss wouldn't let me subscibe to wrestling magazines so I haven't brought them in … But, to be fair, she also had doubts about Lucky: the Magazine About Shopping … I'm workin' on it though!!!  Give me time!!!

Thanks for lettin' me rant about something that I care a lot about!!!


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3 thoughts on “on boys and books …

  1. Great post. You make a good case. As the mother of two boys, I agree with so much that you said. Reading needs to appeal, it needs to entertain. The books that my kids have enjoyed would never have made it on school reading lists.

  2. I shouldn't mock some of the books at work, but I always pick up that one about Mango Street and read out loud from it…it's actually amusing when taken out of context.

    I loved reading A Walk in the Woods. It reminded me of how much I dislike camping.

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