Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ten Ways to Get Boys Reading by Dr. Danny Brassell

Ten Ways to Get Boys Reading

When I speak to audiences across the country about how to get kids excited about reading, one of the first points I make is this: four out of five struggling readers are boys.

Girls will read books about boys. Boys will not read books about girls. Yes, that is a generalization, but any astute educator will agree with me. We need to understand that boys can be fickle readers, and one of the best ways to attract a boy to a book is to put a corpse on the cover or “diarrhea” in the title.

I can empathize, as I was a boy who hated reading. In fact, my favorite reading material growing up was the TV Guide. Even though my father was a librarian, I was about as interested in picking up a book as I was picking up a debilitating disease. So how do we get boys reading?

Here are some quick tips that have worked wonders for me over the years in my experiences working with struggling and reluctant boy readers:

1.      Let boys select whatever they want to read. A football card or menu is just as legitimate as a classic novel.

Probably the biggest mistake I see in schools today is “assigned” reading. It is only reading when we choose to do it ourselves. Remember, the research is quite clear: it does not matter what you read; it only matters how much you read.

2.      Find books related to movies, video games, comics, etc.

Talk to your boy or eavesdrop on him while driving him and his friends to games. Listen to what your son’s interests are, and develop a library around those interests. It is more important to get your son reading anything for fun than to prescribe classics that he is unlikely to pick up without bribes and threats.

3.      Read aloud to your boy…constantly. Try to read things that are well above the reading level of your boy so he can get excited about the functions of reading for information.

When should you start reading aloud to your child? Pre-conception! When should you stop reading aloud to a child? Never! If you don’t have faith in your own read-aloud ability (trust me: you need to give yourself a lot more credit, as young children all look up to their parents), get some great books on tape from your local library. Listen to great storytellers. When I was a kid, I loved listening to Paul Harvey deliver his Rest of the Story anecdotes on the radio.

4.      Read in front of boys. If a boy never sees his dad reading for fun, it is a good bet that he will not read for fun.

I don’t care if dad only reads the “Sports” page. It is critical for boys to see their dads reading for fun.
Kids are not stupid. How do you ever expect them to read for fun if they never see you read for fun?

5.      Get boys magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

When I was young nothing excited me more than receiving mail. I especially loved my subscription to Sports Illustrated. Magazine subscriptions are a marvelous way to build anticipation for reading in boys.

6.      Find shorter books with shorter chapters.

I run a book club that is phenomenally popular because we only feature short books (www.lazyreaders.com). Nothing used to turn me off more as a child than books with endless chapters or spines thicker than my own. Finishing a chapter or a book furnishes the reader with a sense of accomplishment, so ease your son into reading by providing him with a lot of successful experiences.

7.      Sports and non-fiction rule. So do funny books.

Very few boys are naturally drawn to the “classics.” Boys tend to prefer books about dinosaurs and Nascar drivers. They love books with jokes and silly pictures. Feed them a steady diet of things that match their taste buds, and they are more likely to be willing to try your other recommendations.

8.      Reverse psychology: tell a boy that a book is too difficult for him to read.

I often hold up books and promote them to boys, only to sullenly report that the back of the book cover gives a reading level well above their level. “Unfortunately, it says it’s too difficult for you to read on your own,” I’ll say, but I’ll leave the book out. Guess which book every boy wants to read?

9.      Promote books with cool covers: dinosaurs, car crashes, cash, etc.

I have been studying students’ reading habits for the past 20 years, and I have found that all children – and boys, in particular – select two types of books: books that have been read aloud by the teacher or parent, and books with cool covers. Boys are drawn to bodily functions and explosions, not Elizabethan-era women sipping tea. Find books with appealing cover art.

10.      Keep boys’ interests in mind. Little Women is great, but if you want your son to be interested in it, you might add “diarrhea” or “vomit” to the title.

Jeff Kinney features a hilarious bit in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books where Greg Heffley’s mother starts a mother-son book club. The mother brings books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, while the boys bring books like How to Cheat at Video Games and The Truth About Puke.

Of course, these are general guidelines, but I find them to work quite well. Some parents are appalled when I promote what they consider to be “grotesque” or “inappropriate” literature, and I would never recommend books to children that feature crude language or adult situations. However, I do believe that a lot of adults have to accept the fact that books that excited them back in the days before electricity may not have the same impact on children growing up in the digital age today. As parents, we need to understand that interest drives reading, and one of the best gifts we can ever give our children is a love for reading by building on our children’s interests.

Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is a father of three (including one boy) and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills. He is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. You can get more teaching tips by visiting his website, www.dannybrassell.com.


  1. Enjoyed these ideas. But I must say, as a third grade teacher, sometimes reading must be assigned.

  2. Debbie - where are the other six ideas? I can only see four of the ten listed.

    1. Yikes! Where are the other six? I'll go looking for them right now! Come back folks -- there's more!


  3. Wonderful suggestions, Danny! My son always enjoyed reading, but interest in the topic was helpful for him as well. He especially loved reading about the Holocaust and disasters like the Titanic. Of course, it helped that my husband and I both showed a real love of books and bookstores. And we never stopped reading aloud and listening to books on tape. As an adult, my son still listens to books on tape during his drive to and from work. I pinned your post to my Literature-Based Activities Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/literature-based-activities/

  4. Thanks for pinning my post, Deb, and keep up all of your read alouds. YOU are by far the most important reading model for your son. ;-)


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