Sunday, December 8, 2013

Want a Boy to Read? Listen First

This article is courtesy of Jake Ball.  Jake started in 2006 after realizing that there was no website that was a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. He loves engaging with the authors, illustrators and publishers who work hard to produce high quality children’s literature.

Jake and his wife have 4 children.  Jake tells us his poor children are often used as product testers and they have more books than might be considered healthy.

Below Jake's article offers four solid tips on how to get boys to read.

Want a Boy to Read?  Listen First
The tasks of helping children, especially boys, establish a strong reading habit is a perennial challenge for parents and teachers.  This task has been made more difficult as electronics occupy more space in our daily lives.  As a bookseller and the father of three boys, I am often asked by parents and educators which books are “best for boys”.
I appreciate that parents and educators want to spur an interest in reading through providing books that appear to be popular among boys.  However, encouraging boys to read requires a more comprehensive set of actions than simply providing popular books.
Below are some techniques I have used and observed regarding the task of turning a modern boy into a reader.  This is not an exhaustive list.  Just one with which I have found success.
1. Listen
What do you like to read, historical fiction, True Crime, motivational or some other topic?  If you love to read about sports history, you would not react well if someone were to demand that you read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Before you place a book in the hands of a boy, you need to listen to what he is interested in.  Pay attention to what he talks about and what hobbies he enjoys.  As you pay attention to his interest, you will learn about what kind of reading material he’ll go for.
If you want to take this a step farther, go to a bookstore and see where he ends up.  It might be in the car section, sports or another topic area that you may not have considered.  If you take the time to listen and present books along his interests or better yet, allow him to select his own books, chances are he’ll be much more willing to read.
When you acknowledge his interests and preferences, he will feel validated and want to demonstrate his knowledge on the chosen subject through reading.
2. Schedule time for reading
If you want to get something done, you need to make time for it.  Schedule a little time each day that is dedicated to reading and nothing else.  In our house, the 30 minutes before bed is set aside for reading.  Our boys use the time to unwind from the day and it is now an indispensable part of our evening routine.  
It may be difficult to start a regular schedule.  But, it will be worth the effort once a habit is established.  A good corollary to scheduling reading time is also making a schedule for electronics.  Having a balanced approach with both electronics and books will help the entire household.
3. What are you reading? 
Children model their parents’ behavior.  The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is this: You can’t give your child something you do not possess.  If you do not read at home, it’s almost laughable to expect your son to become a reader.  Turn off the TV, pick up a book and conspicuously read it.  Reading isn’t just good for kids.  Consider using the time you’ve set aside for a boy’s daily reading for you to read also.
4. On his level
Boys do not like to struggle through material that is above their reading level.  They want to be successful.  Often a boy in first or second grade does not have the skills to take on a dense chapter book and they have no interest in picture books they consider to be “for babies.”
Enter the graphic novel.  This genre has blossomed over the past 10 years.  The bridge graphic novels build between beginning readers to chapter books is wonderful.  A good graphic novel contains illustration that tells the story along with the words.  The interplay of the words and pictures allows a boy to comprehend the story and feel successful in reading.
We have seen great commercial success with series such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants and more.  However, there are many graphic novels and series that are very good.  Seek the help of a librarian or a bookseller to discover graphic novels that the boy(s) in your life will enjoy.
The above four techniques are the most direct and simple ones of which I am aware.  Of the four ideas, listening is the most important.  Parents and teachers need to listen and observe what reading challenges may exist with a boy.  If there is a stumbling block in acquiring reading skills, it will take a coordinated effort to overcome it.
There certainly is no lack of high-quality reading materials from phonics and very early readers to the growing Young Adult genre.  Making strong reading habits requires adults who are engaged in the task of building readers out of boys.  Attentive parents and teachers can apply the right materials at the right time to build success.  By becoming a partner in reading with a boy, parents and educators will find success and open up a world of literature to new generations.