Friday evening I attended a Booklist session titled "Men at Work: Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers." A panel of speakers shared some of their thoughts on getting boys reading.
Boys read. As librarians, we know that's a fact. Research does indicate, however, that boys typically don't read as much or as well as girls the same age, and as a result they can start to fall behind in competency. Some great male writers, whom readers of both genders love, gave their perspectives on why getting more boys reading is necessary and how we might accomplish that goal. Here are the highlights of what Jon Scieszka, Michael Grant, Andrew Smith, and Daniel Handler had to say.
- Start by asking boys what they want to read. Listen to what they say, and note what are the heavy circ-ing titles.
- Escapism has value in encouraging reading. Is the book one they'd be willing to spend time with?
- There are a few dirty words when it comes to encouraging reading: "appropriate," which casts judgment; and "for," which excludes potential readers (e.g., books FOR boys, books FOR teens).
- Speaking of dirty words, teen boys in particular like their books to have racy and dirty bits. To the young male reader, these parts are value-added, but censorship-happy adults view even short instances of language and sex as rendering the whole book objectionable.
- Some boys don't read, but there are plenty of clandestine male readers, too. The prevalence of readers who hide their enjoyment of reading suggests there's something fundamentally wrong with our reading culture. This fact could shed light on the whole issue of boys and reading.