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Boys Don’t Read – It’s True

I grew up reading sports stories and playing hockey. So what better subject for my first foray into the children’s literary genre? “Good luck selling it,” a publisher told me when I showed him the manuscript. “Boys don’t read.”

Boys don’t read? It was the first time I had heard of it, and I have a five-year-old son. I started researching the subject – and sure enough, I found out that he was absolutely right. Once the boys are eight or nine years old, they stop reading.

Entire forests have been sacrificed in a bewildering array of reports on the subject. Educators tell us that boys drop out of art classes as soon as they can. In tests of elementary school children, girls consistently outperform boys in reading and writing tests by a wide margin. This is consistent with international findings: the same conclusion was reached in a recent study of 36 countries. Business leaders are beginning to take notice, complaining that recent university graduates often lack basic literacy skills. Some 50% of all school-aged boys consider themselves non-readers!

These same studies clearly show, if it wasn’t already the case, that reading is an essential life skill. In a 2004 Canadian government report, reading is described as “the search for deeper meaning” that allows children “to refine, deepen and reflect on their thinking” and that will “lead to levels high learning. Boys who read often get better grades in school and are less anxious about schoolwork. And perhaps most important of all, boys who read turn into men who read.

Most literacy experts have focused on one culprit: technology. There’s too much television, MSN, computers, video games, the Internet, Game Boy and iPods. These mediums are winning the battle for the hearts, eyes and ears of our boys. The solution is equally clear – boys should be provided with books that are just as meaningful and interesting to them as these other mediums.

We understand the problem. We have identified the culprit. We have a solution. So why haven’t we reversed the trend? To put it bluntly, why is reading something girls do?

Before writing my novel, I made a few trips to bookstores to check out the competition. At first, I was very encouraged: there was no competition. Virtually all of the books were aimed at girls. The depth and scope of these novels aimed at girls was impressive, and as the father of a 10-year-old girl, I was thrilled. The few selections aimed at boys were non-fiction sports books – either biographical accounts of athletes or a catalog of statistics. No wonder boys don’t read – they have nothing to read.

A vicious circle must be broken. Boys don’t read, so publishers don’t publish books for them, and writers write for girls. Boys continue not to read because there is nothing they are interested in, which only encourages publishers and writers to avoid this market.

I want my son to read. I want it to be like my daughter, who will ignore multiple dinner calls to finish a chapter, or secretly turn on her nightlight to finish a book. I have a little stash of classics for him. But after crossing Tom Sawyer, what will he read?

Specifically, will it read at all – or will it just turn on the computer?

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