Why boys don't read

By  on March 15, 2007
A lot of very smart boys don't like to read and many consider it 'girlie'. Others won't slow down long enough to open a book or may have lost confidence. Given the choice, most would rather tuck into a plate of organic tofu than read Charlotte's Web. But the worrisome reality is that boys tend to score lower than girls on standardized reading tests - and that has educators and parents scurrying to find a solution. The Harry Potter series has brought some relief to moms searching for boy-worthy material but books have some pretty stiff competition in this video age.

Make it exciting

It's hard to rival a game of Gran Turismo on a boy's Playstation 2, but some children's authors are trying hard to make reading more appealing to boys. "Boys will not read a book that doesn't grab their attention right at the beginning and hold it all the way through," says award-winning Canadian author John Wilson, who writes about dinosaurs, lost Arctic explorers and boys caught up in war. "If they lose interest, they will go off and play Diablo or Warcraft. The trick to get boys reading is not to make a book simpler or better literature, but to make it more exciting. A good book for a boy is one he wants to read. They don't have to understand everything in
a book, just be thrilled by it."

Make it wacky or useful

Boys who are bored by relationship books may be turned on by funny stuff that appeals to their wacky sense of humour - especially toilet humour that many never seem to outgrow. Others may enjoy adventure tales or nonfiction books about sports, weird and interesting facts, or how to build or do things. The key is finding out what interests the boy, whether it's animation, skateboarding or zombies, and tapping into that passion. Reading is reading. It doesn't have to be great literature to be worthwhile.

Boy's don't read girls' books

When it comes to books, boys have a different agenda than girls. Girls are more flexible readers than boys - girls read books that are written for boys, boys don't read books written for girls. Just like in the fashion industry, there's far more for girls than boys. Wilson discovered this when he searched his local library for books that might appeal to his son. He assumed that the eightyear- old was reading at his age level or slightly above and needed an 'exciting' story to hold his interest. The number of books he found that met this requirement fit into a good sized book bag. But you'd need a pickup truck for the books that would appeal to a girl of the same age and reading level.

What boys want to read

Some of the first books Wilson's son loved were the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. Why? Every short Goosebumps chapter ends on a high. The promise made in the opening hook is that there will be more thrills to keep the story moving. The story is the key.

"I once read an article on books for boys entitled: Johnny Doesn't Care Why Heather has Two Mommies," says Wilson. "The point is that Johnny doesn't care 'why' at all, he cares 'what'. He would read the book about Heather if one mommy was a vampire and the mommies were battling for control of Heather's soul."

Boys' bodies and brains are different. They react and learn differently than girls and need different books. Educator Michael Gurian says in his book Boys and Girls Learn Differently that boys tend to have more development in certain areas of the brain's right hemisphere giving them better spatial abilities such as measuring, mechanical design, geography and map reading. They also tend to rely heavily on nonverbal communication, being innately less able on average to verbalize feelings and responses as quickly as girls.

So what makes a good book for boys? Wilson says, "Books for boys must be strongly plot driven. From a boy's perspective, too much character development gets in the way. What doesn't get in the way is a detailed description of a neat weapon. Boys like to know how things work.

"We have to acknowledge the things that boys are interested in, even if we would rather they weren't. Only then will we get their attention. Only then will we get them to read." Differently that boys tend to have more development in certain areas of the brain's right hemisphere giving them better spatial abilities such as measuring, mechanical design, geography and map reading. They also tend to rely heavily on nonverbal communication, being innately less able on average to verbalize feelings and responses as quickly as girls.

So what makes a good book for boys? Wilson says, "Books for boys must be strongly plot driven. From a boy's perspective, too much character development gets in the way. What doesn't get in the way is a detailed description of a neat weapon. Boys like to know how things work.

"We have to acknowledge the things that boys are interested in, even if we would rather they weren't. Only then will we get their attention. Only then will we get them to read."

March 15, 2007

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