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Reading: Closing the gender gap

Jun 02, 2015

How can we stop boys boycotting books?

“Girls not only enjoy reading more than boys but they also read more often.” – National literary trust report 2015

Everybody knows that reading leads to greater achievement in school, right? More choices, more success and more fulfilment in later life, right?

Boy in blue shirtWrong.  It seems that only around half of children, when questioned in the National Literacy Trusts’s recent survey (2015), understood the link between reading as a child and having a better job when they became an adult.  This worries me. A lot.  How are parents and teachers ever going to move towards improving standards in literacy when the message that reading is vital just isn’t getting through?

What about the boys?

And, unfortunately, the situation for the boys seems to be that, once again, girls are surging ahead.  This persistent gender gap is characterised by girls reading more often, for longer periods of time, enjoying it more and reading more frequently outside of the classroom. In fact, nearly double the amount of boys as girls say that they never read outside class (5.6% vs. 2.7%).  How can we combat this widening gap between the sexes, before it becomes a chasm?

Since opening my Kip McGrath centre last year I worked in a boys Secondary School in Inner London for nearly a decade.  I have seen the library become the heart of the school, and I saw young boys reading avidly, loving every second of it!  Maybe that was because we had the most creative, empowering and inspirational school librarian I have ever seen, but it shows that there is hope out there for boys.  It’s not all damning statistics and doom and gloom. It’s just a matter of finding the right books and motivating them in the right way.  It can most definitely be done.

Why are some boys ‘reluctant?’

The first problem to overcome when tackling the issue of supporting your son to read is to identify where the reluctance comes from and then try to help them to overcome it.

  1. The Pace of Today – There are so many distractions in modern-day life, that happen at such a quick pace, that it is a wonder any child has the time to settle down to a good book. Social media is interactive, quick and with instant feedback. Young people are used to interactivity in a way that no other generation can truly appreciate.  Technology affects all aspects of our lives and the massive gaming culture that so many boys are a part of only adds to this.  How can a book compete with the excitement, explosions and rewards that are given to children playing a console game?
  2. Feelings of Failure – The National Literacy Trust findings also revealed that more than half of children prefer to watch television than read. Of course, we all know that!  But it’s the why that we need to think about.  Basically, there is no chance of feeling like a failure when you watch TV.  For those who have struggled with reading over time, every time they make an attempt to read, it reinforces negative feelings of lack of achievement.  Of course, seeing their peers ploughing through a giant novel in a school reading session only fans the flames of these feelings of despair.  Who would want to put themselves through that?  It’s easier to believe that reading is just not cool.
  3. Lack of Inspiration – For so many boys they have yet to connect with a book in any meaningful way.  I truly believe that there is a book out there for everyone and I have dedicated hours of my teaching life to helping boys search for the right one to fuel their interest.  I hope that the recommendations I have included in this article can help can help you to find just the right choice.

So what can you do next to help?

Here are my tips and suggestions for ways to get your reluctant boysto start reading:

  1. Let them read in the format they want to – Start to think away from just the traditional forms of reading and think about all of the e-book readers available on the market.  There is also the IPad and other tablet devices that children already love to use.  Harness their existing desire to use the device and go with it.  If only Xbox did fiction reading books…
  2. Don’t be a book snob! Don’t force Dickens onto your 12 year old. Remember that reading comes in many, many forms: websites, magazines, comics, non-fiction books, autobiographies of favourite celebrities or sportspeople, manga and graphic novels, to name but a few.  Reading text in whatever form is beneficial and may lead to a real feeling of achievement.  Heap on the praise and you could see the child’s reading thrive!
  3. Ask the right questions – let his interests and passions lead the way. If you really struggle to find that book that will get them started, ask ‘What’s your favourite film?’ Or  ‘Which sportsman inspires you?’ This will help you to pick the right genre and help them to find a storyline that they will want to finish.  You’d be surprised at the response you get.
  4. Have amazing texts ready to motivate and engage and, most importantly, keep up to date! Look at what movies are in the cinema as many young adult books have been turned into films recently (‘The Maze Runner,’ ‘Divergent,’ ‘The Hunger Games’ etc.)  Look at book lists of good, recent authors and be reading to make suggestions to your child.  If you take an interest in what is happening in the world of children’s literature then this will rub off.  Maybe you could even read a few children’s books or Young Adult books and have a chat about them?
  5. Be your son’s Reading Role Model – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the reader you want your son to become.  If he sees you read and sees how important reading is to you then hopefully this will have a knock-on effect.  Have discussions about your reading and make it part of the daily routine of your lives together.

Here are some ideas for reading materials that will engage and inspire:

Reading Idea for the iPad – Fighting Fantasy Gamebook – Read as a novel via an app and choose how the character progresses through the story.  Totally interactive and full of gruesome tales, including zombies and monsters.  The reader decides every step of the adventure.  Awesome!

Recommended Booklist for Boys

  • Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon – 3 short stories in one small book, creates a sense of achievement when the child has completed an entire story.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney – easy to access withillustrations, great characters and funny situations.  Currently top of the most-read list!
  • David Walliams series of books – hilarious, quirky books with wonderful illustrations.  Very popular.
  • Foul Play and Football Academy Series by Tom Palmer – really superb for sporty boys who like football-based stories.
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz – Teenage boy juggling normal life with a secret life as a spy.  Exciting, fast-paced and filled with action
  • The Enemy series by Charlie Higson – Thrilling, dark, zombie-themed books with incredible characters and detailed, gripping plot.
  • Skullduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy – Mysterious characters with exciting and supernatural edge.  Many books in the series so a really good option for getting a child gripped and enthralled in the action.
  • Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling – Intriguing tale of a boy who learns of his destiny as a werewolf and follows a path full of supernatural happenings and high adventure.  A fantastic series that just gets better and better!


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