Getting Boys to Read

Paul Jennings, one of Australia’s best selling children’s authors, once had a grandmother come to him at a book-signing and she said, “Can you write something that will make my grandson read this?” Paul signed the book and wrote “When you have read this book your granny will give you $10.” Of course, it was tongue in cheek humour, but this anecdote reflects the whole issue about getting boys to read.

I am constantly asked, “How can I get my boy to read?” Like so many parenting concerns, there are no quick or easy answers. But first let’s look at the problem, and then I will mention some research I have done on why boys resist reading, and give four suggestions that I’ve found work.

The reality is that boys don’t read as much as they should. An average 10-12 year boy reads a half to one novel a week. Of course there are the boys who read two to six novels a week, depending on their commitments, but these are the exception.
Many boys are inexperienced readers. They are no less capable or intelligent, but they are under-performing academically in comparison to girls. How much a boy reads affects every area of their school performance. Readers are the winners. Reading also enhances boy’s lives in terms of developing creativity and understanding themselves, their relationships and their world.

My past research showed that boys resistance to reading had to do with their perceptions that reading is “uncool” because it is passive and more likely to be a feminine pursuit.
Boys describe participating (and watching sport) and other active outside activities as “cool” and reading as “uncool” or “nerdy.” These perceptions are often supported by female peers and unwittingly by other significant males in their lives, who they see making the same choices with their free time.

These activities represent what boys and men do. It is part of their gender identity. Reading is seen in opposition or in competition. These activities bolster the boys’ gender identity and often negatively impact on making time for reading.
Interestingly, the passivity of the sometimes excessive time spent playing computer games or in front the TV screen is acceptable! Parents have to deal with this additional competing force on a daily basis!

So what can you do to get your boy reading without having to pay him?

1. Find books that your boy will read
Find the ‘cream’ of the books, the “in” books – the ones that his peers are reading, books that make him laugh, books on gross subjects, books about his interests and books with lots of action. Books that capture the “boyishness”’ of his own experience – the ones that he wants to read.

Currently some favourite books beginning with easier ones are the Too Cool, Boyz Rule, and Zac series, and the Dragon Blood and Beast Quest series. Andy Griffiths, Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman’s books are all very popular and accessible for reluctant readers. Roald Dahl is still a favourite and his risqué humour appeals to boys.
As boys look for books with more substance, look for books such as the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series, the Lemony Snicket series, Emily Rodda’s Deltora series, John Marsden’s Tomorrow series. I can’t leave out the Harry Potter books or the Twilight series.

In my own work with boys I know I have to provide the latest and best to tempt them to get into reading. It’s all about the books!

2. Walk into the books with your boy.
Read the first few chapters and enjoy the book together. If you ask, “Can I read it after you?” often a boy will finish the book more quickly. Then you can chat about the book and build their enthusiasm with your interest in the book. Boys can handle the book as the focus, not their reading of it!

Don’t make your boy read aloud to you, unless they want to, and you can listen without constantly being “helpful”. Boys hate this. Your job is to encourage them to hang in with the book, not to show them where they are making mistakes.

3. Arrange time for reading.
The reality is that we all lead busy lives with many commitments after school and on the weekends. Time for reading won’t happen unless there is dedicated time. Last thing at night doesn’t work for reluctant readers.

4. Get significant males in your boy’s life involved in getting reading happening.
Suggest they share reading material that is important to them and take an interest in the boy’s reading life. This male influence can change a boy’s whole attitude towards books and reading.

Finally it’s about boys seeing reading as “cool” because they no longer see it as contradicting their concept of what males do, and they find books that absolutely hook them in.

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