George Lucas Educational Foundation

Boys and Reading

March 4, 2015

In an era of GroPro cams, SportsCenter notifications pinging on smartphones, and gaming systems existing in the palm of a hand, is it little surprise that boys have trouble sitting still to read?  

According to a national survey conducted by the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2001, boys of an average age of 14 listed their top obstacles to reading:

  • boring/no fun 39.3%
  • no time/too busy 29.8%
  • like other activities better 11.1%
  • can't get into the stories 7.7%
  • I'm not good at it 4.3%

These challenges may seem insurmountable, yet if we fail to develop entry points for boys into books, they run the risk of missing out on a lifetime of ideas and personal growth. These ramifications run far longer and deeper than the score on a state reading exam. As boys become men, they miss critical opportunities during their formative years to become more empathetic, more articulate, and more analytical.

Much of the popular discussion today focuses solely on instructional-reading strategies, which misses the point. While these strategies may produce short-term gains, like vocabulary decoding or inference recognition on a state exam, they fail to address the larger issue of motivation.

If we can’t make reading fun for boys, they may never progress to the more nuanced aspects of active, engaged reading that is the sign of a mind at work.

We must appeal to their interests, find male reading role models, and devise authentic ways for boys to talk about books without making it seem “emotional” or “confessional.”

Here are three resources that move the discussion beyond strategies and focus on the ways in which we can integrate books into boys’ lives.

If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.

Boys and Books by Jane McFann

According to Wendy Schwartz in the ERIC Digest entry Helping Underachieving Boys Read Well and Often, the male perspective needs to be considered in the selection of reading material. ‘Reading choices made for boys frequently do not reflect their preferences, since girls are clearer and more vocal about what books they want, elementary school teachers are predominantly women, and mothers rather than fathers select reading materials for their children,’ Schwartz says.

‘Further, boys, like all children, want to see characters like themselves sometimes,’ Schwartz adds. ‘Therefore, materials should feature people of different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds who live in a variety of types of homes and communities.’

A good book for a boy is one he wants to read.

The problem for many reluctant readers is that they are not being offered and encouraged to read the books and other reading material that they want to read. In short, the corner store is not stocking its shelves with what the customer wants to buy.

In an earlier section, it was shown that many boys are drawn into a masculine culture that is wary of books and reading. There is an underlying suspicion and discomfort, stemming from the association with the feminine and the "school-approved" which they have learned to disdain.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Literacy
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

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