How do you get boys to read? It’s a difficult question, and there isn’t an immediate answer. In the face of fierce competition from tablet games, consoles, social media and online content, more and more boys are turning away from reading and abandoning once cherished books. I have, however, reversed the tide on a few occasions, and my anecdotes – below – may help parents and tutors when faced with this difficult question.
Bored of Books
A lot of boys will (falsely) claim that they have no interests and find all reading matter disinteresting. I worked with one student who had read all the children’s classics at an early age but had foundered in fiction and now resolutely refused to read, with the sort of obstinacy only a ten year old truly has the time to perfect.
Rather than teaching him in our first couple of sessions, I discussed his interests. I worked out – from some of the hints he would occasionally drop – that he was interested in what may loosely be termed Geography – different cultures, and outlandish places. Rather than getting him to read, I recommended his family buy the BBC Human Planet series and watch it with him as a homework. He loved it, and the next day forced his mother to take him to a bookshop and buy the illustrated guide. When he was there, he bought several other books in the same section and was soon back reading!
Books can be Fun!
Many households are filled with shelves of once-loved books, ignored for years. In many cases, boys have fallen out of love with books and no longer care for them. They consider books ‘boring’, and have – in a way – forgotten how to read. They may skim through the first few pages of a book, or listlessly flick through them, but they no longer associate books with the joy they once brought.
I often see this with older boys, aged twelve or thirteen. The way to break this cycle is to give them a book they absolutely can’t put down. For older students – and due to the content they must be thirteen or older (Year Eight or Nine) I’d recommend Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, a wickedly funny, scurrilous book that offers a non-stop stream of laugh-out-loud anecdotes and stories.
For younger students, wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshall has now written a series of anecdotal, action packed books which adventurous boys will enjoy. These can be linked to his TV shows – again, funny and light hearted – and will rekindle reluctant readers’ love for a fast-paced, quotable story.
I Know All About Sharks…
Many boys are absolutely fascinated by a topic (for some reason, this is almost always sharks!) and read everything they can about it. Sadly, this obsession often burns out as they devour all available material. I have worked with a few boys of this ilk, and the best way to retain this reading fervour is to think of a link. Obsessed with sharks… why not read about deep sea diving? And from there, why not explore the world of undersea caves… or gigantic waves… or (brace yourself) why not make the leap to dry land and read this explorer’s travel narrative, or this safari guide’s journals?
In many cases it is better to think about the wider genre, or what the boy gets out of the books, rather than dwelling on the exact topic. If the boy is interested in sharks, it may be that he finds tales of dangerous animals and exotic species interesting – or it may be the sea, or it may be the style in which the books he reads are written. If you can pinpoint the interest, and link it to an another, the boy will keep reading and engage with new interests.
Been there, Done that.
A lot of fiercely intelligent students are such proficient readers that by age ten or eleven, they begin to scorn children’s books and look for a bridge to something more advanced. Unfortunately, in many cases they are not mature enough to tackle Young Adult fiction, nor books intended for adults (I always think of the Lee Child ‘Reacher’ series – books which would captivate a proficient reader of ten or twelve, but which would definitely NOT be suitable for them!).
There are, in some cases, books which bridge this gap – written for adults, in a mature style, without the disturbing or unsuitable content which may expose younger readers to a world they are not yet ready for. Bernard Cornwell and David Gemmel are two authors who precocious readers can turn to at an early age. Although both authors write vivid, detailed stories, neither dwells on the sort of content unsuitable for younger readers. I would recommend Sword in the Storm, the first book in Gemmel’s Rigante series, and Sharpe or The Winter King, two excellent series by Cornwell, the former often featured on Year Six and Year Seven reading lists.
Books for Boys – Reading List (Year Four to Year Nine)
There is no one solution, but I’ve helped many boys to return to reading, usually through thinking about their interests or suggesting a book I’d once read or enjoyed. My Winterwood ‘Books for Boys’ reading list offers some pointers, and may offer a lifeline to reluctant readers.