Saturday, March 19, 2005

How to interest boys in reading

This is a follow-up to my earlier post entitled Do Boys Really Have a Reading Problem?

In a guest opinion in the April 2005 issue of the Canadian literary magazine Quill & Quire, author John Wilson offers his insights on the topic.

He recounts his experience trying to find "exciting" books for his son at the local library: "Assume that a seven- or eight-year-old boy is reading at his age level or a little above and that he needs an exciting story to hold his interest. There are some suitable titles out there, but you will be able to take all of them home in a good-sized book bag. On the other hand, you would need a pickup truck for the books that will appeal to a girl of the same age and reading level".

Wilson goes into the differences between boys and girls at a young age. Basically, his argument is that boys "live in an immediate world that requires instant gratification" and they won't read pages and pages of background and character development.

Give 'em excitement up front, as exemplified by one of his son's favourite passages, the very first line of Wilson's very own book The Flags of War: "The heavy black cannonball bounced twice over the spongy mat of heather before decapitating the man to Rory McGregor's left".

This pretty much reminds me of what I was like. No, boys are not incorrigible little barbarians. It's just that boys are, as Wilson stresses, "not the failed girls that our school system would sometimes like to view them as".

If you can get boys hooked on reading "exciting" (i.e, gruesome) stuff when they're younger, they'll graduate to the more sophisticated stuff. Well, some of us do.

The youth librarian at my local library branch when I was a kid understood this. I remember the branch was located in a commercial strip building just above a variety/candy store (talk about bloody brilliant marketing for getting kids into a library!). The librarian guided me to history books and by age 10 I had read all the stories about the Battle of Britain, the Normandy landings, the Allied bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe, the U-Boot war, and the Soviet counter-offensive on the Eastern Front.

The books were very graphic, explaining both the "heroism" (which attracts many boys) and the consequences of violence (bombed-out cities, sailors from torpedoed ships drowning in the frigid Arctic waters, Canadian and British soldiers slaughtered at Dieppe or slogging through the corpse-ridden flooded fields of Belgium and Holland on their way to liberate Germany).

Those books were "cool". Let's face it. My librarian knew this. She knew that if I became excited by reading those stories, I would go on to better things later on.

As the Radio-Canada report that I quoted in the other post concluded "...adults need to have a very open mind about the choice of reading material by youngsters and allow them the freedom to like less sophisticated works."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 3:20 pm


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