Monday, May 26, 2014

Boys and Reading

Every once in awhile I read an article or see a headline lamenting the fact that boys are in crisis because they don’t read. I’ve seen all sorts of “reasons” for this – video games, sports, you name it. I remember hearing Donalyn Miller in a presentation once address this issue. She said something like, “Boys don’t read? Don’t tell my boys that.” I couldn’t agree more.

I have three boys in my house – Chris and our sons. Chris reads, but will always say that he is not a reader like I am. I disagree. He is a reader, one look at the table on his side of the bed tells me that.

Chris is an avid comic book reader, an occasional book reader. When he does read books, he reads compulsively. This winter he polished off as many books as I could throw at him, but then will go months before picking another one up. It works for him.

Luke and Liam are readers. When people talk to me about my boys’ habits as readers, they often make comments like, “Of course they are readers, you are their mom.” I think that devalues what we’ve done to ensure that has happened. They are surrounded by books – we even visit bookstores on vacation like we did this weekend:

Wild Rumpus Bookstore - Minneapolis, MN

They also are expected to read, and they do, daily, even on vacation. 


I talk to them about books all the time. I ask them about what they’re reading, what they like about the book, what the characters are doing, etc. My boys are blessed, yes, by parents who can afford to buy them books. But they have become readers because we have worked to make sure that happened.

Boys don’t read? In my family they sure do. Even in my classroom, they do. This year I have 79 fifth graders for reading. Out of that 79, 42 are boys. All of them read, many are avid readers. How do I know this? Boys rushing to meet me when I arrive at school to confer, asking about a book, or begging to be first in line in a new book. Conversations in the hall, in reading, on our way to lunch. Messages left on post-its stuck to my laptop. Or, when I’m lucky, I get an exchange like the one below.

A little background – these texts are from my student, Hayden. Most students don’t have my cell number. Hayden’s mom and I are friends, so he’s on her phone. Our class read aloud was The False Prince. I had told Hayden he would love it. Starting it, I was confident he would find another copy and finish before I ever did, and he did just that. He moved on to the second book while I was still reading the first, and then the third. These texts came over the course of a week in which he read the second, started the third, got worried over a plot point, and then finished the series. I told my husband as I texted Hayden back while we drove up to Minneapolis this weekend, I wish I could confer with every student on my phone when we aren’t at school. I think the loss of privacy would absolutely be worth it.

Don’t those texts just say it all? An engaged boy reader. Please note, there was no grade for time spent texting about a book. J

So, yes, boys read. When I see those articles I am frustrated and I wonder – why are “some” boys not reading? Are we not giving value to their chosen format? Genre? Ways that they want to respond? How can we meet them where they are and help them to grow?

I think the best thing we can do to ensure our boys are reading – heck, that boys AND girls are reading – is to get to know each child, what makes them tick, what they love, and build those relationships. Boys don’t read? Don’t tell my boys that. 

Sidenote: while typing this entire post, my son, Liam, has lay in the bed next to me, reading. I've asked him to stop and go to bed several times only to be met with, "Let me finish the page I'm on." over and over and over. I could have just recorded our conversation in lieu of writing this post. Here lies the perfect response to "boys don't read."