Researchers who’ve studied how to get boys to read say we as parents, teachers, too, for that matter, need to follow their interests and offer them choices.
Boys, they say, like humor, action, adventure, historical fiction and nonfiction.
But as a mom of two boys, I’ve wondered whether they really mean stuff like Captain Underpants, whose infamous lineup includes titles such as “Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People.”
Yeah, says Jeffrey Wilhelm, a professor of English education at Boise State University and co-author of “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men.”
“Take a chill and be glad the kid’s reading,” Wilhelm said. “If he’s loving this stuff, he’ll outgrow it and he’ll love things like Jonathan Swift later on. Let them read the stuff that’s meant for them and their state of being.”
So, OK. I’ve brought home Captain Underpants, Pokemon books and “Mythical Monsters: The Scariest Creatures from Legends, Books, and Movies,” not to mention Sports Illustrated tomes with mind-numbing (to me, anyway) lists of minutia about baseball, football and basketball.
Is that what I’d choose for them? Not so much. But within the bounds of what’s age-appropriate, I’m trying to let them choose and accept the notion that they are reading — a lot. Yes, Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes” can be quite naughty. But he’s astonishingly creative and has a college-level vocabulary.
And I know if I seed their stacks with more literary books that I think they might like, they may eventually pick them up. The younger one recently picked up Michael Morpurgo’s “Shadow,” about a dog and a boy who has fled the war in Afghanistan, although the older one has yet to touch “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend” by Susan Orlean. He did, however, ask for Sherlock Holmes.
And that’s where librarians come in. And teachers. Both have recommended some great books. And at the library, we can grab an armful of stuff to try risk-free, including Sherlock. (That also jives with another of Wilhelm’s recommendations, to keep reading materials lying around where they can just pick them up.) ”Bunnicula” by James Howe came courtesy of a tip from a librarian. We howled at the rabbit who may or may not be a vampire but whose arrival heralds a fridge full of white vegetables. Coincidence? I think not.
And when I take time to read aloud — time has been scarce lately and we have slipped, so I get the challenge that poses — we often get into stuff I doubted they’d go for. ”The Secret Garden” anyone?
So bring on the Captain and the graphic novels. I’m chillin’.
Julie Anderson, a World-Herald reporter, wrote this guest blog for momaha. She’s married to Jeff and mom to Will, 10, and Ben, 8.
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