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Expert Q and A

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Inspire Curiosity and Independence in Girls with Nature

by Jennifer Klepper

Jennifer Klepper is an ex-corporate attorney turned PTO president, volunteer child advocate and Cwist contributor. She is leading a discussion on inspriring curiosity and independence in girls with nature. Read and Comment »

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Boys and Summer Reading

by Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson reviews and writes about children books. She blogs at Jen Robinson's Book Page. Read more »

Sorry, Jen Robinson is no longer taking questions.

All of the tips that I proposed last week for encouraging summer reading apply to both boys and girls. However, there is widespread concern that boys aren't reading as much or as well as girls are. Studies by the U.S. Department of Education show that boys score worse than girls on reading at every age range. (See Guys Read.) As reported recently in the Huffington Post, "the 2010 Kid and Family Reading Report found that regardless of race, geography or socioeconomic status, boys were lagging far behind girls in reading outside of school assignments."

Many different studies validate the points that a) boys' reading scores are worse than girls' scores and b) boys spend less time reading than girls do. Of course "a" follows "b." You get good at something by doing it. If boys aren't reading, they don't have a chance to improve, and thus they find reading more frustrating and don't want to do it. And so the cycle continues.

Many people are working on the issue of boys and reading. Reading Rockets has offered resources specific to boys and books for years. Jon Scieszka, the former U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, founded an organization called Guys Read. The mission of Guys Read is "to motivate boys to read by connecting them with materials they will want to read, in ways they like to read.” Pam Allyn, the executive director of LitWorld, a nonprofit that promotes global literacy, recently published Pam Allyn's “Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives.”

These resources offer a number of potential reasons for the trouble that some boys have with reading, ranging from biology (boys develop reading skills more slowly, and don't like to sit still to read) to sociology (a lack of male role models for reading, and a perception that reading isn't cool). The point made in the above-referenced Huffington Post article is that part of the issue of boys not reading is one of perception. Although they may not be reading as much as girls are, boys ARE reading. They just aren't necessarily reading the books that their mothers and aunts and (primarily female) teachers want them to read. They're reading comic books, box scores, user manuals, joke books and various other forms of nonfiction.

I think that there's truth to this, but I also think that it's not good enough to broaden one's definition of reading and conclude that there isn't a problem. Boys' reading scores are still lagging - we need to make some extra effort to get them to spend more time reading. But I do think that accepting the different formats that boys choose as valid types of reading is part of the solution.

Here are a few specific tips for encouraging boys to read this summer:

  1. Be flexible about what you consider reading. Don't panic if the only reading your son does is the sports section and online news sites. His reading experience doesn't have to be the same as yours. Figure out what kinds of things he does read, and provide more of those.
  2. Find books and magazines that are about the subjects that your boys are interested in. Don't try to steer your 10-year-old who likes to build robots toward the Penderwicks. Instead, find some non-fiction about robots. If you run across a fictional story about robots taking over the world, and you think that your son might be intrigued, then offer it as a suggestion. But that's all. A suggestion. Librarians and booksellers can help you here, as can search functions at online bookselling sites (and the references listed below).
  3. Consider eBooks. If your son thinks that things presented onscreen are inherently more interesting than things presented offscreen, then give eBooks a try. These days, you can read books on dedicated readers, tablets and many cell phones. There's no reason to get hung up on the format of books. It's the experience of consuming words that matters. Of course, you probably don't want to encourage reading eBooks on a raft in the middle of the lake, but they are wonderful for trips, allowing you to bring along a much wider range of material than you might have otherwise.
  4. Consider reading competitions. If your boys tend to be competitive, a reading challenge might be just the ticket. Some summer reading programs highlight the people who read the most books. If you think that your son will respond to this, give it a try. One thing that I bet could really work well would be a competition between your son and one of his friends or male role models over who reads the most books (or magazines, or pages, or whatever).
  5. Get dads involved. One of the reasons that boys don't read as much is that they don't see male role models reading, and so they don't think that reading is something that guys do. If dads or other male role models can spend some extra time this summer talking about whatever it is that they might be reading, and asking their sons about what they are reading, this could go a long way.
  6. Embrace series books. There's some evidence (see that boys like to collect things, and as a result are more receptive to series books. If your son is enthralled in a series, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, go with that. Don't struggle to get him to branch out and read other things. Let him dive as deeply as he wants into one particular series. He'll eventually exhaust it and can branch out after that.
  7. Here are a few specific recommendations of authors and series to try:

    - Bearport Publishing's various nonfiction series (Fast Rides, Animals with Super Powers, etc.)
    - The Secrets series by Pseudonymous Bosch
    - The Skeleton Creek and Trackers series by Patrick Carman (these are multi-platform series that involve websites in the reading experience)
    - The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins
    - The DK Readers series (lots of fiction and nonfiction titles)
    - The Final Four Mystery series by John Feinstein
    - The Squish series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
    - The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
    - The Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka
    - The Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan
    - The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
    - The Frankie Pickle series by Eric Wight

    Also try anything (subject to age guidelines, of course) by:

    - Tom Angleberger
    - Mike Lupica
    - Gary Paulsen
    - Jon Scieszka
    - Jordan Sonnenblick

    I noticed as I made these lists that they are a bit fiction-heavy. If any of you have recommendations for authors or series to try for boys that are nonfiction, I would be particularly interested to hear about them.

    Sorry, Jen Robinson is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.

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