WHAT is Going On With Boys And Books?

“Why doesn’t my son like to read?” It’s a question I get at least once a day from exasperated parents. When your son tells you “I hate reading!” it can be something of a shock. After all, you love to read. You’ve been reading to him and talking about the importance of books since his birth. What happened?

The reasons are many, and the solutions are just as varied. Young male literacy is a complex subject that can’t be covered in 900 words or less. In this post and Part Ii that will run next week, you’ll learn about the struggle boys have with reading, why they struggle, what you can do, and a list of books/genres that appeal to boys and why they appeal. This series is based on a presentation I gave recently at a local Rotary Club meeting.

Please note: We are speaking in generalizations here. There are girls who don’t like to read and there are boys who love to read. This post is addressing the growing epidemic of boys who are anti-reading.

Why Boys Struggle With Reading
What is happening to our boys? The statistics are staggering. For the last 30 years, the U.S. Department of Education shows that boys have scored behind girls, in every age category, EVERY YEAR. Or let’s make it a little more personal. Here are the percentage stats from the Alabama Reading and Math Test for 2010-2011 for all three school systems (5th grade was chosen as a representative):

Huntsville City Schools, ARMT 2010-2011            

Level   I

Level  II

Level III

Level  IV

Male 

0.65

15.58

27.56

56.21

Female 

0

10.79

26.52

62.69

Madison City Schools, ARMT 2010-2011              

Male

0

4.22

17.17

78.61

Female 

0.29

3.81

14.96

80.94

Madison County Schools, ARMT 2010-2011          

Male

0.25

4.68

25.06

70

Female 

0

4.48

19.24

76.28

Level I – Does Not Meet Academic Content Standards.

Level II – Partially Meets Academic Content Standards.

Level III – Meets Academic Content Standards.

Level IV – Exceeds Academic Content Standards.

The majority of girls AND boys are reading at Level IV, Exceeds Academic Content Standards, but, in each local school system, many more of our girls are reaching that highest level than our boys are. If you look at the numbers of kids who Do Not Meet/Partially Meet standards, in every school system the number is higher for boys. In Huntsville City, 16.23% of our boys are not meeting reading standards, compared with only 10.79% of girls.

WHAT IS GOING ON?
Why aren’t guys reading? According to Jon Scieszka, children’s book author and spokesperson of the Guys Read movement, there are multiple reasons.

#1. Boys’ brains develop more slowly than girls’. There are studies of brain development that show even from embryonic stages, the male hormones slow brain development (especially in linguistic acquisition) when compared to their female counterparts. This explains why boys tend to talk later than girls, and also gives us a foundation for understanding why reading development for boys differs from girls. In fact, by middle school, boys are nearly 1 & 1/2 years behind girls in reading.

#2. Boys need action! Boys have an action-oriented, competitive learning style. Boys prefer active responses to reading in which they physically act, or do something, or make something.

#3. Boys aren’t comfortable with emotions. Remember how their brains develop more slowly than girls’? One of the ways this manifests is in emotional development. Usually, I see this play out when a mom suggests a book she remembers enjoying from her childhood. Little House on the Prairie is one of the worst offenders. Look at the covers. For Little House in the Big Woods, you’ve got Ma in the back holding a baby, and Laura in front cuddling a baby doll. What boy wants to read that book? They aren’t interested in books that are founded upon relationships and emotions, as most traditional fiction is. They want action, extreme subjects, and racing plotlines. And they want it NOW. Sorry, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Boys can't get enough of Jarret Krosoczka's graphic novel series, "Lunch Lady".

#4. Gender Boundaries. You show any book to a child, and they can automatically tell you if it’s a “Boy Book” or a “Girl Book”. Pinkalicious by Elizabeth Kann? Girl book. Smash That Trash by Jon Sciezka? Boy book. Now here’s where it gets interesting. It is socially acceptable for a girl to read a “boy book” such as the Artemis Fowl or Hank the Cowdog series, etc. No one pays any attention when a girl reads one of those. However, if a boy were to pick up a Fancy Nancy picture book or a Rainbow Magic Fairies series book, he would face a wall of ridicule. No way are they reading a “Girl Book”! That automatically means that boys have a slimmer selection (some studies say 50% less!) of reading materials than girls do.

#5. There is a lack of Male Reading Role Models. Take a look at your son’s literary education. Most of the instructors who teach reading? Female. Most of the librarians he interacts with? Female. Statistically, it’s also the mother who hovers over his reading homework. These boys quickly get the message that reading is a female dominated activity. They need male role models to say, “Hey, reading is cool and it’s masculine! You can be a boy who reads! Look, I am a man who reads! Follow my example.”

So what can we do? Find out how to combat the anti-reading syndrome right here next Tuesday in Part II of our series, HOW To Connect Boys and Books.

While you’re waiting, you’ll want to load up your library card this summer with books that your son will love. Check out our recommended reads for the reluctant boy at www.facebook.com/HPLKids.

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