Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Boys And Reading: A Lesson From Cinderella?

One of my guilty pleasures is listening outside my daughters' bedroom door on the nights my husband puts our girls to sleep. Emanating from the crack under the door, come the voices of Anastasia, Drizella, and the Stepmother brought to life in full animation. I live in a story-book bubble where fairy godmothers, talking animals and imaginative characters preside, and where two pint sized tots trot off eagerly to bed for some cuddle time and a nightly story. It makes me wonder if I would have been so lucky had fate filled our household with individuals carrying the XY chromosome instead.

Sadly, it seems I may not have been. Unfortunately, the above scenario does not play itself out as easily when testosterone is the prevailing hormone, with much of the existing research and anecdotal evidence suggesting that boys are less likely to enjoy the pastime of reading. Consider this alarming statement in Jim Trelease's authoritative book, The Read-Aloud Handbook**:

 " early as second grade, fully 25 percent (of boys) had developed a negative attitude about reading." (Trelease, p.156)

For a variety of reasons related to development, temperament, environment and otherwise, boys tend to fall behind when it comes to reading and enjoyment. A worrisome trend for fifty percent of our population! Fortunately, there is hope. And, the researchers have provided two very simple suggestions helping to help alter this statistic:

1. Supply more positive reading role models that boys can identify with (dads, male teachers and community leaders).  (Trelease, p.156)

Who knew that my emoting husband was ahead of the curve? The simple act of curling up at night with his children and a book provides a very clear message that books and reading are for men as well. The fact that he turns the read-aloud into a performance meant to send my children into fits of laughter only emphasizes the idea that books can be fun. Imagine if all fathers, step-father, grandfather and brothers read Jon Scieszka's Smash! Crash! aloud to an eager audience, loudly emphasizing the sound of fender on fender or the squeal of brakes on pavement. Picture a scene where these same male role models spend the time before bed quietly reading side by side with older children. These scenarios play themselves out night after night in many households, often with mothers leading the charge. Isn't it time we shake things up?

2. Allow them to choose books that are decidedly "in-group" for males.  (Trelease, p.156)

A quick perusal of the children's section at bookstores finds images of princesses, ballerinas, heroines and more. I could likely pick any book off the shelf and my daughters would happily flip through the pages. It is often a little harder to pinpoint a books that will immediately hook children of the opposite gender. Fortunately, with a little searching and a willingness to consider less typical sources of reading, exciting and motivating choices can be found. Consider some of the following suggestion:

Books geared towards typically male interests:

Books featuring quirky personalities:

Books staring Male Characters:

Less typical reading materials:


Men, pull a book off the shelf, sharpen your dramatic tendencies, and read to your boys. Who knows, perhaps you will find your equivalent of my husband's  "Cinderella." Aren't our sons, step-sons, grandsons and nephews worth it?

Click here to view collections offered by Laughing Giraffe Books created specifically for boys.

** Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, Fifth Revised Edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2001)


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