If you find getting your son to read a struggle, you're not alone. Boys consistently score lower than girls on national reading and writing tests. This may be because many boys develop language skills more slowly than their female counterparts. But there are other causes as well, like the fact that many boys are uninterested in the books teachers assign. Also, many boys lack male reading role models. As a result, they view reading as a feminine activity.
But don't be discouraged; just because your son doesn't like Little Women or The Secret Garden doesn't mean he's not a reader. Jon Scieszka, a former New York City elementary school teacher and author of titles such as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man, founded Guys Read, a Web-based literary initiative that targets young male readers. It proposes a way to beat the odds: let boys read the books they want to read rather than the ones we think are good for them.
So what do boys want to read? You may need to expand your definition of reading to encompass their wide-ranging interests. Boys who crave action and information often like browsing through the Guinness Book of World Records or a sports almanac. Many devoted doodlers prefer graphic novels. (Even The Hardy Boys series is available in graphic editions.) Sports fans may devour magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids or websites like espn.com. Don’t worry if your son isn't hooked on Charles Dickens. Validate his reading choices and let him discover his own classics.
Here are some places to start:
There's nothing like a really silly book to convince a boy that reading can be fun. Remember, however, that his idea of humor may differ from your own. Let him enjoy titles like Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho without passing judgment on the merits of potty humor. Even Shakespeare got laughs from bawdy jokes.
For some literature-loving adults, a book doesn't count as reading if it's not fiction. And while many of the best children's books are novels, nonfiction can also open a boy's mind. Today's informational books are far from the dusty encyclopedias you may remember from your childhood. Even kids who don't like reading have subjects they want to know more about, from basketball to dinosaurs to snakes to magic.
Nonfiction fans in particular need access to a good library. While many novels and picture books are often reprinted in affordable paperbacks, most good nonfiction titles are not.
Many boys are drawn to stories that allow them to solve puzzles or live vicariously through the daring exploits of others. Well-crafted plots can keep even struggling readers turning pages to find out "who done it."
Even though they are set in imaginary lands, fantasy books deal with problems that are relevant to many boys. Themes of bravery and fear that pervade these stories resonate with youths trying to understand their place in the world.
You may consider poetry to be a genre reserved for highbrow intellectuals, but children's verse can often engage reluctant readers. Kids who hesitate to tackle an entire book may feel a sense of accomplishment upon finishing a poem. Poems also introduce children to wordplay, rhyme and catchy rhythms, helping them to appreciate the sheer joy of language.
As a society, we often teach boys to suppress emotions. Books can help correct that trend by letting boys explore the full range of human emotions and help them realize that they aren't alone with their problems. This can be true on many levels, from the young reader who recognizes that Frog and Toad need each other as friends to the older reader who experiences more complex feelings when he reads about a fictional middle school boy coming to terms with his parents' divorce.
Comic books have come a long way since Superman and the Archies. Now known as graphic novels, these brightly illustrated books are especially attractive to reluctant readers who have outgrown easy readers but are daunted by uninterrupted pages of text. There are now graphic versions of classics as well as hundreds of new titles sure to capture a boy's attention.
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