One of my part-time jobs is working at the local library. It’s a great job for a writer in that I spend all day surrounded by books and by people who love to read. I also observe a lot of parents who are frustrated that they can’t get their boys to read—or read the books their parents want them to read.
Part of the problem is that there are lots and books for girls featuring ponies, mermaids, girl vampires and the like. These are all wonderful books if you’re a girl, but they don’t appeal much to boys.
It’s tough out there for boy readers. The selection of books isn’t the only roadblock. Culturally, reading books isn’t something that’s much encouraged. Reading is often linked to education and “classroom performance.” I would simply point out how much richer their lives would be if they formed the habit of reading.
Here are a few tips and observations I would offer parents and their boys:
Rule Number One. Read what you want. I see so many moms and dads discourage their boys—or just plain say “no”—to graphic novels or illustrated books such as the Big Nate series or Captain Underpants. If it catches their eye, let them read it.
Rule Number Two. A “book” does not always have to be fiction. A lot of boys like the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” books or “Star Wars” encyclopedias or the fascinating DK books on everything from Knights to Space Exploration. Nonfiction is just fine.
Rule Number Three. Ditch the Lexile scores. If you are not familiar with the Lexile score, it is an arbitrary measurement of a book’s “reading level” based on vocabulary and sentence structure. It does not take into account ideas, concepts or adventures. Teachers often have to assign books that meet a certain Lexile score. In other words, the boring books. For boy readers, reading what is dictated by the Lexile score system is a pedagogical version of the Bataan Death March.
Rule Number Four. Set an example. Turn off the TV once in a while and have family reading night. Read the same books as your son so you can talk about them together. Make it special by serving snacks, just as you would watching TV or movies. It’s OK to read sprawled on floor. You don’t have to sit up straight. You will not ruin your eyes reading by flashlight. Whatever!
Rule Number Five. Get a library card. (Or go to a bookstore.) Get thee and thine to any locale that has books available for borrowing or purchase. Let your kid pick out what he wants to read and not what you had in mind. Libraries have it all, and the price is right. Many of us were lucky enough to grow up in houses filled with books, with the library itself being like a second home. But let me put in a plug here for bookstores, because they will have all the latest series. Ask the staff what’s hot—they all love to read. The books will be new and therefore more appealing. Skip that latte at the bookstore coffee shop, and let your boy get both books he wants.
You see, it all comes down to the fact that boys do like to read. It’s just that they might not know it yet, and it’s our job as authors and parents and readers ourselves to introduce them to one of life’s greatest joys.