How Do We Promote Reading For Boys?

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?

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

  1. Its a wonder that the ‘big six’ have merely concentrated on the female readership and let this large group slip past their sights.

    When I was a boy, I read books like Enid Byton’s “Famous Five” books and the “Jennings and Derbyshire” series along with works similar to “Ring of Bright Water”.

    As I grew older my tastes began to include the works of George Orwell and J.R.R Tolkien.

    I think its high time the publishers put out books for boys once again, don’t you Derek?


  2. I cannot help being female but this is a question I have asked myself many times. I was raised my by father and have spent a lot of time with ony men when I was younger (in a rock band) Anyway, my point is that some of us, are trying to figure out what would appeal to men and boys and it is something that is very important to me.

    My novel’s main character is a man, and yes, he’ll probably have the women swooning but I am also trying to find a way that he’ll appeal to boys or men. However, I am not writing YA fiction, it will be for adults, though I can see how it could possibly also appeal to a younger crowd.

    Anyway, I think this is a great subject and hope other writers keep it in mind when writing…

  3. As a mom trying to simply FIND interesting books in the YA range for my son, I’m sorely disappointed. We can find MG books in his interests or adult level books with no problem.

    Derek, if you or any of your readers has recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

    1. It’s not easy Suzan. Very difficult to find books for teenage boys. I can only say that I do have a few mum’s that have told me their boys read my two sci-fi farces and they enjoyed them. However, I have to admit I didn’t write them with young boys as my target readers. Hopefully some readers of the blog may have some suggestions.

    2. Here are some recs for boys: John Green, David Levithan, Chris Crutcher, Francisco X. Stork, Marcus Zusak, K. Ryer Breese, Patrick Ness, Walter Dean Myers, Sherman Alexie, Garth Nix, Neil Shusterman, Neil Gaiman, David Clement-Davies, Charles Higson, Jonathan Mayberry, Michael Northrup, DM Cornish, Jeff Hirsch, Nick Lake, Matthew Quick, Jay Asher, Pittacus Lore, Suzanne Collins, Chelsea Campbell, James Dashner, Ilysa J. Bick, Carl Hiasson, Frank Beddor, Rick Yancey, John Barnes, James Patterson, Nancy Farmer, Scott Westerfeld, Charles de Lint, SE Hinton, Diana Wynne Jones, Jonathan Stroud, Steve Kluger, Alison Goodman, Rae Carson, Megan Whalen Turner

      Shall I continue? And please no BS about female authors, their books have solid boy appeal, hand a male fantasy fan the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, he’ll probably thank you.

  4. My older bro loved reading Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, E. A. Poe and Dumas when he was 13 or 14 years old. And yeah Sherlock Holmes too was a particular.. After that he started reading Kafka, Conrad and others. I remember the special editions of classics (Dickens and all that) for kids that we read as 10 or 12 year olds. That gave him a good start he says. He still loves reading! :)

    1. But Pri, what about modern writers? You know, like the ones who are not dead yet. What living writers did your brother read? The writers your brother read have been the standard offering for generations now. KInda proves my point I think.

  5. I’m not sure if you have a specific age range in mind, but I know that Rick Riordan is very popular (author of Percy Jackson and various spin-off series). The 39 Clues series is another hit, with various authors sharing the writing duties. Gordon Korman is popular with boys, as is the Silverwing series and others by Kenneth Oppel. Graphic novels also count, although some are very violent. And let’s not forget that we can encourage boys to read books with female protagonists e.g. a great graphic novel that my son loved–Rapunzel’s Revenge. Philip Pullman and Diana Wynne Jones are other authors that have been suggested to me.

  6. Quite true. But my brother is a classics freak you know :) He just wouldn’t read anything else and trust me I’ve tried..! I think he keeps waiting for writers to die! Lol

    But my point was that to make a kid love reading you gotta start early. Giving him a taste of everything so that when he’s, say, 15 he knows what sort of books that he loves. And if he loves some genre then he’ll find it. That’s for sure. I never countered your point :) See? I was stressing on the point of kids reading all sorts of genres from an early age.

  7. My son is 10. We bought him an ipad last year. He also uses my Kindle. Whenever her asks if he can buy an e book I say yes. His school just allowed students to bring ereaders to school and just this month 3 kids got kindles our nooks for their birthdays. My son usually buys nonfiction. Ghost in the Wires. Fatal system Error. He did read Human.4 and liked it. Here’s the thing I noticed. If there is a good book that is gender neutral, he’ll read it. Why not have more of those instead of”boy” books?

  8. My “Boys” are now twenty three & nineteen I’ve read them books since they were infants & we always bought them books or got them from the library. They have read throughout their lives & still read real books! My younger son is in his second year of college as a Physics/Math major but still reads fiction {more during summer or time off}. If you don’t take the wonderful time to spend reading to your children every night before bed when they are little; why would they grow up to love books? Yeah, I’m old &
    “Old School” so I still love to visit the library & did several times this summer with my nineteen year old. He even got his Dad to get a Library Card this summer!

  9. Thanks for the suggestions, folks. I’ve tortured GK with the classics, but he wants something a little more relatable. He’s is eleven, so I’m right at that lovely between stage. He’s ripped through all of Rick Riordan’s books in a matter of weeks and loves Yugioh graphic novels. Most of what I suggest automatically becomes uncool because Mom likes it, meaning I could not get him to read my X-Men and Batman GNs and comics to save my life. LOL

    Though part of the Mom uncool factor was negated when I picked up Tobias Buckell’s Halo: The Cole Factor, and GK asked if he could read it. He’s now read all of the Halo novels and just finished The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, so I was looking for a modern YA that didn’t involve glittering vampires.

    Martha, I so agree we need more gender neutral books. Let me know if you write one. *grin*

  10. Kortney Gessler

    Loved this post! One of my kid brother’s is a writer and is a book worm like his ol’ sis. One kid brother is a ‘gamer’ and loves to read anything having to do with dragons, knights, sci-fi, star-wars that sort of thing. However, Mom read to all of us kids when we were younger and kept the books involved in our lives from day one. So it is not unreasonable to see either boy enjoy literature in some form. There’s three of us girls and all of us are writers and avid readers too. Of course we all have our own genres that we enjoy…it shows how very different all three of us are. My other brother? Not a chance he’s picking up a book now. Just not his thing. I own a small publishing company and thus far I really haven’t had any manuscripts that would be appropriate for an 11 year old boy. However, I am glad I stumbled on this post and the comments this morning. This is the type of thing I have been looking for – what exactly are the readers wanting that are not a fad. What group is being left out and how do we really appeal to them to get them reading. I hope that ebooks will bring the younger boys into the fold of fiction. Hopefully publishers and even authors will look at this group and start writing stuff that caters to them – if there is something that will open the door the kids will run with it. There was a series of books my mother and grandmother invested in for me – it was called the Great Illustrated Classics. The younger ones loved reading them too… it was a great way to introduce all of us to classic literature without being over the top for kids to understand. Moby Dick, Little Women, Black Beauty, Jules Verne, et al. Here is the website – and they have them in ebook form too…

  11. 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?

    1. There are definitely limits placed on boys. I did a quick study of recommended reading lists for boys ( 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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

    1. 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.

  15. 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

    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.

  16. 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

    1. Kortney Gessler

      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. :-)

  17. 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. I’ve created a website:
    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.

  19. 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.

  20. Fatima Rosales Naya

    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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