Building a Better Student: Boys and Books

boy lying on table, reading a book

Speaking at school PTO meetings often provides terrific content for articles and blog posts. The parents (the P in PTO) ask terrific questions, and their feedback to my presentations gives me interesting new ways to look at issues in education.

When the topic turns to reading, it’s not unusual to hear a question about “books for boys.” Specifically, some parents want to know why there aren’t enough good ones.

To which my eyes open wide and I stop myself from sputtering: “What?!”

We’re living in an age where there are more great books being written for boys than at any other time. There are a couple of reasons why some parents don’t see them.

One, pop culture’s spotlight on girl-friendly fiction is practically blinding. Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight – just to name the recent heavyweights – not only have strong female leads, but the associated movies captured the imaginations of millions of young women. I get it; book sales tilt heavily on the side of female readers, and both publishers and producers are anxious to cash in.

There are plenty of great novels that cater to the tastes of boys; they just don’t hog the attention of Hollywood. Your school or public librarian would be delighted to steer you or your son toward them.

The second reason has to do with genre. When we think of books for kids we seem to naturally default to fiction. It makes sense, given the cascade of popular fiction that Harry Potter and Percy Jackson spawned. And since so many adults today grew up with either The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew or Choose Your Own Adventure stories, fiction is top of mind.

But it’s not the only way to go. Non-fiction could very well be the entry point for boys to discover reading.

A dad at one of my talks said that he’s always been into music, and his dislike of reading as a kid dissipated when someone gave him a book about one of his favorite rock stars. He devoured it in two days. After that he sought out everything he could find to read about other musicians and bands.

From there he discovered that books on World War II fascinated him. And biographies. Just like that he flipped from a young man who supposedly hated reading to a guy who always had a book going.

Because you love fiction – perhaps even a very specific genre of fiction – you might be limiting the books to which you expose your child. Do they really hate reading . . . or have they simply not been introduced to the ‘right’ reading for them?

It’s true that girls are much more likely than boys to be active readers, but we can alter the ratio in a positive way. Look beyond the traditional bestseller list (and beyond the hit movies) for hidden gems, and don’t confine your suggestions to fiction.

All it takes is one book to change a boy’s attitude. That just-right book is out there, waiting.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty-four years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit student-development foundation. His new book, Smart Is Cool, is now available. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

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