'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 2 October 2010

Guest Post: How Can You Interest Your Boys In Reading?

After our very popular post on great fiction for young boys, we're thrilled to welcome US children's author Max Elliot Anderson with a sensational article on getting boys to read - and the questionable, over-use of 'gross' topics to attract boys to books. Welcome, Max!

Summer vacation in the US is over - another school year has begun and some families are looking for ways to get their boys interested in reading again.

A primary reason why boys don’t enjoy reading can be directly attributed to an increase in the use of technology, leading to a decrease in reading. When children watch television, DVDs or play video games, the music and sound effects suggest how they should think, feel and react to what is happening on the screen.

In many cases, the use of electronic devices has become somewhat addictive. As a result, many tweens are thought to be slow learners, struggling or reluctant readers, along with other labels. It is critically important for parents to make sure that their tweens are reading on a regular basis, as early as possible. Those habits will serve children well for a lifetime. But what if you have a child who doesn't want to read? What then?

I grew up hating to read. About ten years ago, I decided to find out why. The results of that research may be helpful to you.

First, it's important to be sure that there aren't any physical, emotional, neurological, other medical conditions or vision problems that might hamper reading. This should be diagnosed by professionals. Once these have been ruled out, you can move on to find reading strategies that are best for your child.

1. Choose topics that interest them. If children aren't interested in the subject matter, they aren't likely to be interested in reading about it.

2. Expand to consider materials other than books. This can include magazines, the sports page, comic books or other sources.

3. Try audio books. A child can listen while holding a copy of the same book. He is able to both see and hear the words at the same time, and practice following along on the page. This can be done with higher than grade level material.

4. Choose a book that is below grade level. This will help to build confidence.

5. If your child is already familiar with electronic devices, interest your child in using electronic readers like Kindle, iPad or others.

6. Take turns reading (even advanced books) out loud. His skills will improve as he listens to the way you read.

7. Have your child try reading to a child, a dog, a cat, a doll or stuffed animal.

8. Look for high interest, low vocabulary books (called Hi-Lo).

9. Get rid of distractions during reading, including the TV, music or other noises. And make sure your child is in a comfortable place.

10. Above all, make reading fun.

If your child avoids reading - choosing video games or the computer time over reading - consider using those activities as rewards. You can say, "After you've read for thirty minutes or an hour, then you may spend time doing those other things."

A few articles are circulating on the internet that ask how gross we have to be, in our writing, in order to attract boy readers. I won’t quote the titles out of respect for the readers of this blog and children who might also be visiting it today.

In recent months, a number of books have been published that make use of toilet humor, gross words or situations and certain sounds. Are dirty or questionable words funny? Of course they are. Are certain body parts, sounds and functions funny? No question. But that is no excuse to use them in our writing, especially when children are the intended audience.

There are two kinds of comedians. One can tell a side-splitting joke or set up a situation and deliver a line so funny that it hurts our stomachs and makes our eyes run, all without reaching down into the gutter. Others come out on the stage with crutches. Their crutches are nasty situations, dirty words, swearing and a gross use of humor. Just because it’s funny is no excuse for us to say it or write it.

Our daughter teaches second grade in a public school in the Orlando area. “Dad,” she’ll say, “you cannot believe what these kids say to each other, to me, and to other teachers.”

Where does this come from? Truth is, they see it on TV, listen to it in their music, hear it in their own homes or from friends, and read it in some of their books.

We can do better. And we owe it to them in the books they read.

The internet articles I mentioned take the position that the more gross we can be in our writing, the more likely we are to attract boys back to reading. While the premise might be true, I reject the concept. Even though one might be able to point to skyrocketing sales figures, what is the long term effect going to be? Am I just a prude? Please! I spent two years in the army. I believe that the books our boys read don’t have to go in that direction.

How important is reading to your tween? When we read, we fully engage our imagination. We decide what things look like, smell like, sound like and taste like. Processes take place in the brain, while reading, that don't happen any other way. And reading will prepare your child for future success in life. Why add mental pollution into the process?

Remember, readers are the leaders others follow.

Do you agree with Max's observations? Post a comment and let us know. You can learn more about Max's books on his website maxbooks.9k.com - and don't miss his wonderful Books For Boys Blog - booksandboys.blogspot.com.
Max Elliot Anderson grew up as a reluctant reader. After surveying the market, he sensed the need for action-adventures and mysteries for readers 8 – 13, especially boys. Using his extensive experience in the production of motion pictures, videos, and television commercials, Max brings the same visual excitement and heart-pounding action to his stories. Each book has completely different characters, setting and plot. Max has published seven books, with an additional twenty-eight manuscripts completed. Young readers have reported that reading one of his books is like being in an exciting or scary movie.