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Five Ways To Get Boys To Read More

dangerous book for boysSometimes I feel like I can actually spot the moment when certain boys stop thinking that reading is cool. Assuming they ever loved books, which seems to be the case with most kids who are read to at home from an early age, most of them hit the wall and turn away: I usually associate it with their peers. Not always, but often.

I’ll give you an example. There was a kid in one of the branches I used to work at. I’ll call him James. James reminded me of me when I was his age, and he was 12 years old when this story occurred.

He would come in every day and quiz myself and the other librarians about what he should read next. He was insatiable and curious and I always loved to see him. He’d take a book to the desk in the corner and forget we existed. He read the way boys read before they hear that it’s a lame way to spend your time.

One day he swaggered in with two kids I’d never seen before. They each looked like they were two or three years older. When I said hi to him he didn’t even look at me, but increased his swagger by a factor of four.

He didn’t say a word to any of us that day.

The next day he came in alone and asked me if I could recommend anything with robots in it. Of course we did.

The next day he walked in with the same boys–they turned out to be his brothers–while I was out in the foyer dealing with something else. James went out of his way to bump me with his shoulder.

“Oops,” he said.

Instead of asking him what was going on, I talked to one of his brothers, just to feel it out. “Do you need help finding anything?” I asked when he was alone for a moment.

“Yeah, I need some books that aren’t all gay and sh*t. Oh wait, there aren’t any.”And he swaggered off, the swaggeriest swagger yet.

I would love to put up a sign demarcating that section of the library.

I never had a chance not to love books

My mom literally took me into the library when I was the size of a shrimp in her womb. She was always there, so I was always there. And while my dad thought fiction was a waste of time, he always read books about gruesome shark attacks and real-life adventure stories with me.

Every day. Every night. Books books books.

And then I was lucky enough that my friends were the same way, so I never really felt the pressure of needing to prove that I thought books were stupid in order to belong to any group I cared about.

So, what to do?

If you’re a librarian or a parent of a boy who you would like to reach, I have a couple of suggestions based on personal experience.

1. “Reading is not boring, boring books are boring.”

This is my go-to line whenever a boy tells me that his reason for not reading is because it bores him. Sometimes I will challenge them to let me find five books for them, and if they are bored by them all, I’ll never bug them again. (That is a lie, I keep bugging them).

Which takes us to:

2. Forget about what they “should” be reading

Graphic novel circulation is exploding in my library. If my son didn’t want to read To Kill A Mockingbird, I would rather have him anything than try to force it on him. So far, steering kids towards the graphic novels, joke books, comic books, or even Walter The Farting Dog can grab their attention for the moment.

3. Whenever possible, try to talk to each kid alone

Or if not alone, try to at least speak with them away from the peers that you suspect keep them away from the books.

4. Let them see you reading

This one is more for parents than librarians. Most kids I know copy everything their parents do. Not forever, and not at every age, but the other night I found my three year old son leafing through a copy of Plutarch’s Lives because he had seen me doing it earlier that day.

If they look up to you, productive associations may form if they associate you with reading.

5. Have books in the house

A home with books in it makes it a lot harder to pretend they don’t exist, particularly if you start filling the shelves with books that kids might like. In this instance, I do recommend hard-copies. I have an iPad that I’ve tried to read books on, and while I like the experience, I don’t finish many books on there. There are too many other options and the stupid thing is always dinging at me as emails, comments, and other messages come in, trying to lure me away from the page.

Honorable mention: The fewer electronic screens around, the better. I get distracted so easily these days by my phone, computer, and TV, and I want to read. I can’t imagine it’s easier for kids who have never known a less-wired world.

And now, over to you. Feel free to share any experiences, tips, frustrations, or ideas you would like to discuss regarding how we might get boys to read more books, and to keep them from losing the desire as they get older.

Wait. As an honorable mention option, I’m going to suggest finding some great audio books as well.

Josh

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony March 31, 2011, 10:56 am

    Under the right circumstances, forbidding them to read a book might just do the trick.

    I don’t think I have read anything as intently as “The Valley of Horses” which was the first book my mother ever told me I was too young to read. Well, every night I would sneak it out of the bookshelf and read it under the covers until I was too exhausted to go on. For all that, I was rewarded with some mild titillation which I was too young to really get much out of….. but the principle remains.

    It is a rare boy who does not immediately want to do anything he is told he is too young, or not brave enough for.

  • Heather March 31, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Two suggested web sites:

    http://guysread.com

    http://www.monsterlibrarian.com

    Ibid to what Tony said with the “you’re-too-young-for-that.” I would also vote for anything that may have been banned at some point (Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese and Fade are 2 good titles). Maybe suggesting the Kindle app for iPhones, iPods, and iPads would work. Playaways (audio books) from Follett have proven to be quite useful to a group of boys here at my high school who can “fake” an mp3 player that way, but still listen to a good book. Quick reads with male protagonists are also quite popular. Hope this helps.

  • Max Elliot Anderson March 31, 2011, 12:53 pm

    As a boy, I also grew up hating to read. Today I write for readers 8 and up, especially boys. Please see
    Video Books Trailer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uswTZ-pJLYA
    Barney and the Runaway
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0l7ZU94Ieo&feature=mfu

  • Boris March 31, 2011, 2:31 pm

    You’ve already touched on it, but showing interest and genuine enthusiasm for reading can make a difference. I’m always very pumped up when a student asks me what I’ve been reading lately (it happens once in a while).

    I’m sure many of my students think I’m a nerd and that’s okay. I wouldn’t have gotten into teaching if I wasn’t comfortable with that.

  • Rhamantus March 31, 2011, 4:18 pm

    I’m a woman, and I’m not at the stage where I have kids that I’m worried about getting them to read, but my two cents: I definitely agree with the idea that you shouldn’t worry about them reading the “right” books. If I ever have a son, I would hope he would read something a little more challenging than Archie comics or whatnot… but some graphic novels are quite sophisticated from a literary standpoint. Hell, even if they’re not, even if they’re just entertaining, they’re reading something.
    Of course, I come from a family of readers, though none of us ended up with the exact taste in books. My dad reads the least, though… I kind of wonder if I had had any brothers, if they would have followed his example and only read for information (though, admittedly, sometimes my dad reads for information that doesn’t give any tangible benefits, necessarily).
    On the other hand, my current boyfriend reads a lot, though mainly non-fiction; I don’t think he even owns any fiction books.

  • rox March 31, 2011, 11:32 pm

    Josh,

    Thanks for the tips. My boys are still young, but constantly
    beg for books and stories. Can’t get enough! My daughter
    (a nine year old) is whom I have a tough time with. She
    is too serious for “Sir Farts-A-Lot” or fantasy books.
    She wants no-nonsense. She loves to read TIME magazine
    or National Geographic.
    Do you have any more suggestions for girls?

    • Rhamantus April 1, 2011, 10:17 am

      What’s wrong with her wanting to read National Geographic? Honestly, I think it’s great that a 9-year-old girl is interested in that, and I think you should encourage that side of her, and not worry so much that she doesn’t read fiction or is so “literal”.
      However, if you want to suggest fiction… try historical fiction. It’s creative, but will probably also appeal to her obvious desire to learn more about the world around her. Or hell, get her a book of science experiments for kids! Just my two cents. Like Josh said, I don’t think you should worry too much about them reading the “right” books.

      • rox April 1, 2011, 11:06 am

        Rhamantus,

        You are so right on!
        These are the exact books my
        daughter loves! Thank you for
        reassuring me that there is nothing
        wrong with her being so serious.
        I just wish she would want to still
        wear pigtails and recite “Oh There
        Once Was a Pufffin.” Thanks
        for your help!

  • rox March 31, 2011, 11:37 pm

    Also, I meant to say I would like her to not be so
    literal. How can I get her to open her imagination
    through reading? I’m going to try the forbidden book
    thing too. Great idea!

  • Nick April 1, 2011, 5:44 am

    You give some great advice.

    “Reading is not boring, boring books are boring.”

    I think we need guide our kids into books they’ll enjoy. The is a whole other world in books many don’t even know exists.

  • hoong yee April 1, 2011, 7:10 pm

    hey, let’s hear it for boys who read!

    you know, i thought it might be a cool thing if i could ask a bunch of my thirteen year old son’s friends over, get a pizza, and get them into a web writing thing.

    “are you crazy? no way!” he shrugged and tossed me under the bus. but as i was limping back to life, he said casually, “you could do a writing thing with my teacher and my class – not me, of course.”

    i now have lots of boys – and girls who love to read, and write, and comment, critique, post poems and all kinds of great stuff at

    http://www.ghostmistress.com

    haunted? float on by and hang out with me and my boo crew! we’d love to have you visit!

    best, hoong yee