Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope?

Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope? – is a great article about the issue of getting boys reading in an industry dominated by women from top to bottom. I recall in high school where one of our English teachers (a middle-aged woman going through menopause) made us all read The Stone Angel by Margaret Lawrence (about a middle-aged woman going through menopause reflecting back on her life) which as you can expect all we 15 year old boys completely related to. We related to it so well that it (and being forced to read books like it) literally drove me and many of my classmates from reading novels for years, and I didn’t get back into it again until University. (And this was before the Internet was there to distract us!)

Also from the article:

But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.

Naturally, authors are writing for this ready group. The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.

He makes it almost sound like a conspiracy, which of course it isn’t, it’s simply how the industry has shaken out, since they’re making most of their money from a female audience. On the educational side, male teachers and librarians are sadly uncommon at the elementary and middle-school levels these days, so there is a gap there in connecting with boys as well. (Ironically, during the most critical time for making that connection!) So the boys get shortchanged and don’t always get directed to the stories that they will connect with the most. (Which isn’t helped by school book collections that are woefully ancient in their topics and selections.)

This is especially sad when you consider the high divorce rates and nature of modern families often mean there aren’t fathers around to direct young boys and show them that reading is something for men as well. They see their sisters reading, and reach the decision that reading is something girls do, and decide to shun it in favor of X-Box and sports. (Well, those boys who actually play sports, anymore…) Only the more nerdly of boys seem to gravitate towards reading, instead of a general audience who would benefit from it.

A sad state of affairs all around.