Helping boys to become readers of literature
We all know that boys can be more reluctant to read. They tend to speak later and read later than girls. As well, boys are less likely to want to be read to or spend time looking at books. But as I have said before (here & here), we also know what it takes to get them more interested. While using non-fiction is a great way to get boys actually reading, it is also very important to raise their interest in reading fiction. It is out of the reading of literature that so much knowledge of language develops as well as a whole range of study and research skills that are important for life (see my previous posts on the 'Power of Literature'). So all the ideas and suggestions in this post have the single motivation of getting boys more interested in narrative and the reading of literature. I've said some of the introductory things before on this blog but I'll summarise and elaborate some of these again:
1. Boys are more likely to be pick up books and read them when the books and the reading event offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things.
2. Fathers and mothers need to work hard at listening to and reading with their sons. Reading to and with adults should be enjoyable, not boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).
3. Fathers have a key role to play in boys' literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).
4. Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like, but which they will be able to read. Take the time to help boys choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
Some ideas that I know work with younger boys
If you can't get your 3-5 year old boy to listen to a story try one of these ideas to turn them around:
1. Storytelling as a starting point - You might start by telling stories, preferably with the child in it. Here's the gist of one I told to my 3 year old grandson on Saturday just before he went to bed. "Once there was a boy named Samuel. Sam got up one day and heard a strange sound in the back yard. He went out and saw the bushes moving. He walked to wards the bushes and pulled them apart, it was a cat. "Meow", said the cat. "Go away", said Sam. He heard another noise behind him and turned slowly to see a furry tail disappear under the veranda. "What's that?" said Sam. This recipe story proceeded with Sam discovering a duck, fox, snake and so on. By the 2nd or 3rd animal Sam was already suggesting the next animal and trying to contribute to the story. This simple strategy helps to enhance story prediction, and teaches children about plot, story structure and so on. It's hardly a great story, but that's not the point, it's a way to usher them into the narrative form to engage them! Once they begin to enjoy story telling they should be more able to listen to stories that you read.
2. Dramatic reading - Once you start to read books to your young children, try to do it dramatically. Try to include lots of action, loud noises and maybe a rumble half way through (when the wolf eats Grandma, or the boy gets falls out of the tree). Be dramatic, get their attention!
3. Fractured stories - Read a story that they've heard before but mess up the story line as you go along. My grandchildren love this and soon start contributing. "Grandad, make him say...." This is probably how writers invented fractured fairy tales. The first little pig built his house from straw, but he wasn't stupid, so he used super glue to hold the straw together. The wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." The pig replied, "No, no, no, I've used super glue, get lost." "Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you're house down," roared the wolf. "Two chances wolfey, get lost" and so on. It doesn't matter if the story logic breaks down, they will still love it anyway.
4. Using toys and play objects to create stories - One of the reasons boys like Thomas the Tank Engine is that they are introduced to the simple story lines through television or books and then can retell them with the trains. At first they will want to simply retell known Thomas stories, but eventually they will begin to invent their own stories that build on the personalities and characteristics of the trains in the books. As well as Thomas trains, toy cars, planes, plastic animals, superheroes and so on, all lend themselves to this type of improvised storytelling. Storytelling of this kind is laying the foundations for reading and writing.
5. Television and Videos - Use stories that they've enjoyed seeing on Television or on DVDs as a way in. Follow the viewing of a favourite show (e.g. 'Bob the Builder') with a book version based on the show or the characters.
Some ideas that work with older boys
If your older boys are reluctant to read, the issues (and the solutions) are still similar to those facing young boys:
They may find reading hard - help to make it easier for them.When faced with boys 10 years and up I always find that the above three issues in some combination are the blockers to boys reading. Some boys can read but are clueless about choosing appropriate books. Others have lots of interests but are hopeless at reading and so they tend to flick pages, look at pictures and do everything possible to avoid reading the words.
They may find it hard to find suitable books - help them to find them.
The reading material may lack interest for them - find better books or use varied materials.
Here are a few things that I have found that have worked:
1. Helping them to find a suitable book - This starts with getting the topic and difficulty right and reading it with them. Negotiate who starts first and then read. At first try to read more than the child and always start by reading the first few pages, maybe even the first chapter. This helps them to get into the book. Make the task easy for them, don't turn every session into a word decoding lesson; do this in other sessions. As appropriate make small comments on the plot or story line to help them follow the emerging plot. I've written previously on this blog about reading with and to your children (here).
2. Try reading books stimulated by other media - As suggested for younger children, you might try reading something first experienced with other media. For example, choose a book that relates to a film that they've seen and like. For example, your child might enjoy watching 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' but not be keen to read the book. But why not read the book in instalments after having seen the movie. There are so many wonderful videos available of books that boys will enjoy.
3. Align books with your children's interests - Try to choose literature for them that align with some of their interests in reading and viewing non-fiction. If they have an interest in exploration and adventure they might just enjoy reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. Or, they are fascinated by war then they love reading 'The Machine Gunners' (Robert Westall) with you. Also be aware that forms of visual support (pictures, diagrams, photos etc) all help to support the reading and build interest. Books that have some illustrations always help.
Following on from the last point don't be afraid to use graphic novels (see my previous posts that deal with this literature form here).
Some books to try with boys
Here are some books that should capture the interest of lots of boys. I'm not trying to be comprehensive; it's just a sample.
1. For boys aged 3-5 years
'In My Backyard', Nette Hilton & Anne Spudvilas
'Looking for Crabs', Bruce Whatly
'Mr Archimedes Bath', Pamela Allen
'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek', Jenny Wagner
'The Fisherman and the Theefyspray', Jane Tanner
'Terry's Brrrmmm GT', Ted Greenwood
'Where the Wild Things Are', Maurice Sendak
Where the Forest Meets the Sea', Jeannie Baker
2. For boys 6-8 years
'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day', Judith Viorst
‘Charlotte’s Web’, by E. B. White
‘Dragon ride’, by Helen Cresswell
‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, by Roald Dahl
‘Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales’, Di Bates
‘James and the Giant Peach’, by Roald Dahl
‘Mr. Popper's Penguins’, by Richard & Florence Atwater
‘Superfudge’, by Judy Blume
‘The BFG’, by Roald Dahl
‘The Shrinking of Treehorn’, by Florence Parry Heide
‘The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race’, by Morris Lurie
‘The Eighteenth Emergency’, by Betsy Byars
‘The Iron Man’, by Ted Hughes
‘The enemies’, by Robin Klein
‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’, by C.S. Lewis
‘The Twits’, by Roald Dahl
‘The turbulent term of Tyke Tiler’, by Gene Kemp
'The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales', by Jon Scieszka
3. For boys aged 9-11
‘Boy’, by Roald Dahl
‘Callie’s castle’, by Ruth Park
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Roald Dahl
‘Charlie up a gum tree’, by E. A. Schurmann
'Encyclopedia Brown', by Donald J. Sobol
‘Foggy’, by Allan Baillie
‘Frog thunder’, by Jill Morris
‘James and the giant peach’, by Roald Dahl
‘Just So Stories’, by Rudyard Kipling
‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl
‘Mike’, by Brian Caswell
‘Misery Guts’, by Morris Gleitzman
‘The adventures of Stuart Little’, by Daphne Skinner
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis
'The Adventures of Captain Underpants', by Dav Pilkey
‘Storm Boy’, by Colin Thiele
Some related links
The importance of literature (here)
How to listen to your child reading (here)
Supporting comprehension (here)
Helping children to choose books (here)
The benefits of repeated reading of literature (here)
You can read all of my posts on boys (here)