Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader

This is one of my “special interests” within my field. Ohhh, how I could go on and bore you with the statistics about boys and reading, but I think if you know enough boys, you can make the generalization yourself (and yes, it is only a generalization). But simply put, the majority of boys do not like to read. And trying to stay off my soapbox, reading (and reading well) affects more than just your language arts grade in school!

Here are some of the main problems with why boys don’t like to read as they get older:

Required reading: Whether clueless, well-intentioned but ill-equipped, or somewhere else on the motivational chart, many adults (teachers, parents and librarians) have a certain idea in mind when it comes to reading. A boy should be reading award winners, right? We can live in a dream world or we can see what boys really are reading and encourage that. Forcing a boy to read “good reading” or something that we would choose to read at their age is not going to help. It’s bad enough that you’re turning them from storytime with their friends and hearing picture books to reading picture-less books alone ;)

Expand your idea of what reading is, too. Recently, I had some mindless craft prep to do for a few hours in my office, so I tried to listen to a book on audio that I’d wanted to read for years. Oh, did that not work for me! My mind wanders during audios. And I also recently purchased a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors. LOVE anything she writes, and this was good… but again, not my preferred style. But here’s the deal. Each reader has his or her own style. Listening to books on audio is actually a preferred format for boys. So are graphic novels (think comic books), magazines, reading things online, newspapers, and reading non-fiction. Boys like to learn why something is the way it is or how to do something. Jon Scieszka (whose name I can spell without looking it up!), the first/current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, created an organization all about these differences: Guys Read. Check it out. I actually recommended his Time Warp Trio series to a mom of a very reluctant reader, and she came in today to say he loves it and reads it every night… he wants more of them!

So we have to watch “required reading” and expand our view of reading, two key factors in giving boys the room they need to grow to love reading. The third is modeling reader behavior. This is most important for parents, since you see your kids most often. Make the library a routine. Read at home. Especially dads. Dads, please, PLEASE, PLEASE… read in front of your kids! Show them that you read and that you see it as valuable. I’ve started a few programs at the library and they’ve been growing… slowly but surely, and it makes me love what I do all the more to see the changes! We have special Daddy and Me storytimes (no moms allowed!), and we recently began a Daddy Catchers program, where we pick one day a month to give dads a small thank you from a local business if we see them in the library with their kids. (A thank you, not a bribe.) And attendance of dads at programs as well as boys in elementary school age (the age they traditionally stop coming to library programs) has been on the rise. In fact, the most recent Daddy and Me and bedtime booktime storytimes were attended by more dads and boys than moms and girls! And I was thrilled!!

So I tried to be brief, but this is obviously a subject I’m passionate about. Trust me, I did restrain myself. I know these are generalizations, but see how they apply to your situation and use them if they help. I can’t stress how important engaging kids, but especially boys, in reading is!

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