Boy readingIt is interesting to note the ‘chatter’ that is about now regarding the topic of reading. Has the e-reader reintroduced the pleasure of reading or has the e-book phenomenon simply replaced what would have been read in book form anyway? Then there is the question of reading as part of education. There have been a number of comments on this blog about the seeming lack of classic reading now in secondary education, but perhaps this has been on a steady decline for some years now. Will the e-book help bring back reading in schools?

The argument about classic reading being more fitting than popular fiction is a topic that is often debated as well. However in the end, whether in e-book or book format, it is about introducing the young to the pleasure and habit of reading. Another angle is that it could be argued that young men and boys read less than young women. Perhaps it may be promoting a stereotype, but anecdotally it would seem young girls and young women are more likely to read. But what are they reading? Paranormal, urban fiction, vampires, chick-lit and romance? A Jane Austen or two? So nothing has really changed from the 50’s to now.

Girls have always read more than boys, but perhaps, with the attraction boys have with gadgets and toys, the e-book reader might lead boys to reading. As most e-readers can store and play music, send emails and offer basic Internet access, it just might offer an incentive for boys to read as well. My only concern is that young boys are not seen as a great market by book publishers. What genres are being promoted as being aimed at young boys and young men? Very few. Sci-fi perhaps and a few action dramas.

Look at the new authors being signed by agents and publishers. Chick lit, romance, paranormal, vampires and urban teenage fantasy. Girl stuff written by women. The unfortunate fact of life, and in particular book marketing life, is that boys and young men are not seen as a profitable sector. So if there is very little written for them, and even less published for them, what are they going to read? Biggles yet again?

How Do We Promote Reading For Boys?

31 thoughts on “How Do We Promote Reading For Boys?

  • 18/09/2011 at 5:28 am
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    I agree with Martha’s plea for more gender neutral books. Jack Eason, in the 1st comment, notes the books he enjoyed as a boy. Most of the books/authors he mentioned I too enjoyed when I was growing up – as a girl. It frustrates me that our society has become more rigid about girl/boy stereotypes and seems to believe that girls can’t like what boys like and vice versa. My favourite toy was lego. I was astonished to find when I was buying toys for my daughters that it was now classed as a toy for boys (except for the dumbed down girls range).

    I wonder if boys are suffering from this too. Perhaps they are limiting the books that they will read because they don’t want to be seen reading books that are designated ‘girls books’? Perhaps we are limiting the range of books that we are offering to them, thus limiting their choices?

    Only one person has mentioned reading non-fiction. I prefer reading non-fiction for leisure. Perhaps in the spirit of encouraging boys to read more we should also be suggesting non-fiction books to read?

    • 18/09/2011 at 2:25 pm
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      There are definitely limits placed on boys. I did a quick study of recommended reading lists for boys (http://bit.ly/pP7OeP) and in sources like Oprah’s Book Club, 93% of the suggested books had male leads. The lowest percentage of male leads was 75% (Boston Public Library), but most were at or over 90% male.

      As I said in response to another blog post on this topic: “With so much talk about boys falling behind in reading, why not encourage boys to broaden their reading lists, rather than narrow them by ignoring excellent stories that feature a girl as the lead character? Boys might just find something they like among those ‘girls’ books,’ if given the chance.”

      Non-fiction is a suggestion I always make and there are lots of great titles out there, from books about the environment and animals to biographies of interesting historical figures, both male and female.

  • 18/09/2011 at 10:00 am
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    Clive Cussler isn’t dead yet I think? While I read all that Verne, Poe, Doyle stuff as well I soon started on boaty fiction. Read all the Hornblowers and Bolithos and in fact in that genre loadsbooks are still written.
    Then there’s detective stories, even though I got bored of them after a while. If I’m any good as an example for me everything with boats or aeroplanes in it worked and soon enough I enjoyed a couple of pretty women thrown in too.

    Not sure if I think the situation is as gloomy as it comes across here.

  • 18/09/2011 at 11:16 am
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    I love Clive Custler too. The sense of adventure, travel, remote places, jungles and deserts, good guys and baddies, gold and treasure captivate my mind.
    I also love Wilbur Smith. Other ecent living Authurs are Philip Pullman ( I am reading his trilagy again), Jean Auel (The last book is a bit heavy), Irving Stone – Men to Match My Mountain, Jeffery Archur.
    My greatest favourite is Jon Krakauer with “Into the Wild”. which may be challenged by Philip Connors – Fire Season.
    My ambbition is to write a book in the style of Jon Krakauer or Philip Connors. I walked away from $200,000,000 of gold thanks to GB (Gordon Brown). But I am alive to tell you about it and not a tragic mining casualty.

  • 18/09/2011 at 3:28 pm
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    The problem these days with boys and reading in my humble opinion is the shift from books to things like computer games, sport etc. Back when I was a lad, my only home entertainment was books, books, books, with the latest radio play running in the background in the evenings and playing outside in the dirt and among the animals on our farm.

    Although I still believe the establishment publishers are sadly lacking when it comes to this large target audience they are totally ignoring. :D

    • 21/09/2011 at 8:23 pm
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      Jack, you might be onto something there.
      I grew up on a farm with two tv channels and only one of them was English. Since computer programs were still cards with holes in them, I had no videogames and I read everything I could get my hands on. If I had an XBox back then, I probably wouldn’t have started reading.
      Most video games have companion books now. It isn’t great literature but maybe it’s a way to get a young boy started.

  • 22/09/2011 at 5:26 pm
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    I don’t know how you survive having to read girl stuff by women. I for one spent years reading boy stuff by men, you know back when publishing was a sausage fest. My college lit classes had one or two books by women and the rest was just boy stuff written by men…

    There are plenty of YA boy books, they really do exist.

    I Am Number Four
    Marbury Lense
    Anything by John Green and Cory Doctorow
    Shipbreaker

    I can go on and on….

    I am not saying there isn’t a problem with covers and marketing, but when you bring up the gender of authors you immediately make your point invalid.

  • 22/09/2011 at 5:55 pm
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    Publishing companies *respond* to market trends. They don’t *create* market trends.

    Oh, you poor, poor, American literate males: I feel so bad for you. #firstworldproblems #whitepeopleproblems

    • 22/09/2011 at 7:54 pm
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      Nessa – of course they respond to market trends – they, like anybody else in mainstream corp America – claim to listen the public. The mentality of buying power has totally escaped today’s society. Therefore, what is available is what the big six determine to put to press. It is what is hip, popular, trendy, and usually always a passing fad. I think this is where indie authors/small publishing companies can play a key roll in changing this ignorant way of providing decent literature. Most of what is on bookshelves here is garbage just like what is on TV. Maybe that’s the reason for the sudden increase in e-readers?? At the end of the day – however – when it comes to children – their folks are in control of what is in their hands…. be it a control, mouse, or paper. If reading was started at a young age with an emphasis on using their imagination there may not be a problem. There are so many authors and stories listed in these comments alone geared toward YA/boys. :-)

  • 22/09/2011 at 6:01 pm
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    I loved Biggles as a kid but it’s not exactly PC these days. WE Johns led me to Alistair MacLean and Len Deighton by the time I was about 12.

    If you want YA for boys these days you could do worse than Charlie Higson’s young James Bond series or Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels.

  • 18/10/2011 at 4:45 pm
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    I’ve created a website: http://kidsadventurebooks.com/
    to help parents, teachers and librarians find books for both boys and girls who are looking for fast-paced high interest books. There are books listed for both middle grade and YA readers, and it’s divided into categories such as mysteries, historicals, fantasies, etc. There are descriptions and recommended age ranges for each book. I try to update it weekly with additional books.

  • 18/10/2011 at 4:51 pm
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    Like Alannah upthread, I’m also a female largely raised by my dad. And I have a window on this issue, working at my local library.

    Personally, I read a lot of “gender neutral” things, or just plain “guy” things. I love a good serial killer book. I also love good fantasy and scifi. Unfortunately, in general, there are a lot of tragically bad books being published, and sometimes it’s hard for me to find something to read, much less somebody who isn’t in the habit in the first place, and being goaded by his mother or father, or has a report due.

    Depending on the boy (age and what kind of thing he asks for), I’ve given them things like Gary Paulsen (Hatchet), Clive Cussler, or Stephen King (it’s not up to me to figure out if it’s age appropriate, I’m not their supervising parent), or in one instance, The Lions of Tsavo and Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places. Good old fashioned action-adventure sorts of books are thin on the ground, though. Too much supernatural high school romance going on, too many people trying to reinvent the vampire and ride on Twilight’s coattails.

  • 18/10/2011 at 5:16 pm
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    In my only boys school (from 10 to 16 years of age) we have a 20 minute compulsory reading time every morning from an arsenal of books provided by the school for every reading age and ability or they can bring their own. They are all eager to read to us and you can see the pleasure they take from it, even dyslexic kids do very well. The system was introduced last year and has been a tremendous success: not a single complaint. If they don’t like the book they’re reading, there are plenty more to choose from: everyone’s a winner!

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