I used to be able to recognize the question before it had even been asked. There was a certain look parents had as they squished themselves behind the desk their middle school boy sat behind day after day. Why? They would ask. Why weren’t their boys the natural born readers their daughters had been? And I got it. I really did. I was a seventh grade language arts teacher and their boys repeatedly told me that “they just didn’t like reading.”
This, my friends, is a lie.
Don’t believe it.
Not for a second.
I would love to say that my years in the classroom successfully debunked this mysterious belief that girls were natural born readers and boys weren’t, but it didn’t. What those years did do, was help me figure out how to get past this myth long enough to get the right book in a boy’s hand. Heck, I even went so far as to WRITE a book for those very boys! Was it my best marketing strategy to create a book specifically for people who don’t read? No. No it wasn’t. But being a passionate teacher makes you do crazy things sometimes.
Here are some tips to help you turn that it’s just not for me, books are boring, I hate reading boy of yours around.
- Meet Them Where They Are.
Your boy might not be a reader (yet), but ALL boys are passionate about something. Whether its dirt bikes, Minecraft, Star Wars, football, Halo, or, these days, Pokemon-Go, they all have a something. Make that something work for you. Don’t try to force classics into their resisting hands because, dang it, kids for the last fifty years have liked this book and YOU WILL TOO! Don’t do it. Resist. Instead, hunt up books that speak their Luke Skywalker, Master Chief, Pikachu language. You may cringe as they read those video game/movie spinoff books, but think of them as gateway books. Get them in the habit of reading, of finding joy between the pages of a book, and they will start branching out on their own.
I know I’m lumping all boys together in this one, but the average boy likes HAS to be on the move. The thought of curling up with a good book may sound like heaven to some of us, but it sounds like torture to them. That’s fine. Audiobooks can be downloaded straight to that handy device that’s always attached to their ear. They may just bite the book bait if they find out that listening to an audiobook while they mow the lawn, log miles for cross country, or ride in the car will get them out of any required sedentary reading time later. This is sneaky. This works. My younger brother was the classic “anti-readers” until he discovered the Harry Potter audiobooks. (Jim Dale narrates them and he is a genius. I could listen to him read the phonebook.) Is it traditional reading? Nope. Does it still give them all sorts of benefits? Yup. Go with it.
This tip is especially beneficial for any kid who struggles with the mechanics of reading. It is very hard to find joy in a story when it’s moving at a glacial pace. I always equated it with trying to watch a movie someone’s put in slow motion. Brutal.
- Reading Is NOT Girly.
Somehow our culture has convinced boys that reading is something girls do and boys don’t. This is a crying shame. And VERY incorrect. To remedy that, let them see the men in their lives READING. Get these same men TALKING about books when your son can hear them. Note-they aren’t talking TO your son about the books. Just having a discussion ABOUT books in his presence. This may seem minor. It isn’t. Luckily, people like Colt’s Quarterback Andrew Luck have put themselves out there as readers, and your son can now do live chats with a pro-football player about books. I’m not sure it gets much cooler than that.
- Make Reading Part of Your Family Routine
Creating a culture of reading in your home does not just happen. Start with a “reading” time at the end of the day…required for everyone. Dad included. Turn off the electronics. Stick everyone in a room. And read. If your son wants to listen to his book on headphones while he builds something with Legos, sketches, or putters with his skateboard. Let him. Not every reader looks the same. This is not only okay. It’s beautiful.
- Find the REALLY Good Books.
Not all books are created equal. Some are fabulous. Some are duds. Some fall somewhere in the middle. Let your son know this. Most boys are under the false impression that they are supposed to like every book they read. So they haul around a book all school year, reading a page here, a paragraph there, never catching the thread of the story, and they miss out on SO MANY FABULOUS BOOKS! (Sorry to go all caps lock on you there, but this is IMPORTANT. There I go again.)
Here is where you come in. The reason I was incredibly good at putting the right book in the right kid’s hand was because I’d read a ridiculous amount of books. I knew the good, the bad, and the down right amazing books that were out there, and I made sure I pitched them to kids in a way that had them swarming the library shelves to get their hands on a copy. If you aren’t well versed in children’s literature, you’re in luck. There is this wonderful thing called the Internet. I know. Mind blown. On it you’ll find countless blogs dedicated to reviewing and discussing great books. Better yet, chat up your school’s media specialist or your local librarian. They know where the good stuff is.
On a side note, you need to remember that a book one kid loves might be a book that another kid hates. See tip #1 again if you need a refresher.
- Don’t be Afraid to Give Them Some Grit
I know they’re your baby. Even if they are a farting, burping, zit-toting teen, you still see them as the sweet boy you brought home in that adorable fuzzy blue hat. I’m a mom. I totally get that. But don’t make the mistake of over-censoring your boy’s book options. Boys especially are often ready for books with more action, adventure, and I’ll say it…violence, than their age might dictate on the back of the book. (You can thank our modern media for that one.) Unfortunately many middle grade books for boys just don’t have enough oomph to keep them hooked. Why do you think Rick Riordan’s The Lightening Thief series has been such a hit? It has the perfect combination of action, adventure, and yes, some violence, and boys eat it up.
This is why I wrote Edge of Extinction the way that I did. I wanted my reader at the edge of their seat from page one…because I knew from past experiences that if they weren’t on the edge of their seat, they probably weren’t in the seat at all. Now I’m not saying that you hand your little darling something you are completely uncomfortable with, but I am saying that you might foray into books written for a slightly older age group than your son currently occupies. Read it first and make the call.
7. Do or Do Not… There is No Try– Yoda
Make reading your battle cry, the hill you’re willing to die on. Fight for it. And the earlier you start the fight the better. I turned kids around in the seventh grade. It wasn’t too late for them. It is NEVER too late. Readers are raised one book at a time. When you are ready to give up, remember that readers live fuller, more-well rounded and enriched lives. Children who read have seen the world through a set of eyes other than their own and there is so much power to that. But most importantly, they will know the unexplainable magic of a book. They will know what it feels like to find a story that speaks to them at a gut level, and they won’t feel so alone in this great big world. You can give them that. But first you have to give them a book.
Don’t back down from this fight.
It’s worth the battle to win the war.
Your boy is worth it.
A side note: ALL of the things I talked about above DO apply and WORK for girls just as well as boys. I fully realize that not everyone’s daughter is a reader just like everyone’s son isn’t a non-reader.
Note from Melissa: Thank you for these tips, Laura. Readers, I LOVE Laura’s book and know you will, too. Read my review of Edge of Extinction here.