Friday, 16 March 2007

Books for Boys

Earlier this year the Guardian book blog published a post "The wrong kind of reading lessons" which more or less says that the books being targeted at boys, while praiseworthy in their attempts to persuade boys to read, are reinforcing stereotypes: “a fast food menu of impoverished stereotypes …., based on rigid class systems and exclusion”. The article received a mixed reception.

This week Guardian Unlimited ran an article which reports that a government minister is advocating boys’ bookshelves in school libraries, again in an effort to encourage boys to read.

When they were young I did everything I possibly could to introduce my two sons to the pleasures of reading: library visits, story times, reading at bedtime. One of them turned out to be a reader, the other, well, perhaps he is a late developer.

Personally I don’t really think the content matters too much within certain limits. I was such an avid reader as a child that, living in Africa as we did, my parents couldn’t keep the supply of books going. That’s when I developed my liking for medical journals, specifically The Lancet. I happily read my way through the multiple Enid Blyton series and I really don’t think it did me any harm, for all their repetitiveness, limited vocabulary and dated attitudes. I remember one story which praised a “good” girl though I can’t remember why. I was not impressed so I clearly didn’t think I was likely to be included in that group. Strange the things which stick in your mind.

Where I do quibble about these “boys’ books” articles is at the division of reading matter into boys’ and girls’. As a girl I loved mysteries and adventures. Would they have been available to me if we had had a boys’ bookshelf at school? The books my younger son could be persuaded to read were usually about crafts. Would they have been on the girls’ shelf? Why compartmentalise reading like this, and worse still label it male and female? It could be alienating a sizable number of children who don’t feel their reading tastes fall into the “right” category.


  1. A.,
    I have two girls and two boys. We did everything possible to inspire a love of reading in all our children. Both my husband and I are voracious readers; books are the one vice I have that costs money and the books take up more room at our house than we do. Here's how things turned out: oldest child, a girl, is an omnivorous reader - a self described geek because she reads for pleasure; second child, also a daughter, a very good reader but only in certain genres; twin son number one, wouldn't touch a book unless you stood over him with a whip; twin son number two, will read occasionally those books castigated by the Guardian as stereotype enforcing, and also reading at below grade level.

    In twenty two years of buying children's and young adult books, I have found that there was a concerted effort many years ago to introduce female heroines so girls could identify with them. (I personally grew up reading books that featured boys as heros, and the difference in sex never ever stopped me from imagining myself in those adventures). So now there are lots of books with girls in the lead, but not too many good quality boys' books. Boys in general, I have found, are not interested in reading books that feature a girl as hero/ine. There are, of course, books which appeal to both boys and girls - Harry Potter being the most obvious example - but they're in the minority. So you're kind of stuck, then, when it comes to finding things for boys to read which will engage their attention and keep them reading. But while I guess there is a de facto division between boys' and girls' books, I agree that formally compartmentalizing in libraries and such would not be a good thing.

  2. It's strange isn't it, that two voracious readers (as we are too) don't produce 100% voracious readers. Nature or nurture?

    Our reader *was* prepared to read books with a heroine - Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman series were popular as I remember, but generally the criterion was that it had to be exciting. Only generally though. I also remember he came home one day when he was 10/11 with a copy of I am David for me to read. He had begged it from his teacher who had been reading to the class because his Mum would love it. I did.

    He had similar problems in English. His teacher complained that he wouldn't write anything more than a few lines in imaginative writing. My husband's suggestion that she tried asking him to write about travel in space instead of a day at the seaside didn't go down very well. Again, does the content really matter. Is it not a means to an end? (I still seethe about being marked down for an essay, not because it was badly written, but because the teacher, on her own admission, didn't agree with my premise.)

  3. I think boys are naturally different than girls. It's not all just social constructs. Who's to say the books aren't just appealing to those natural differences; not sterotypes.

    Anyway, you might like the Book & Reading Forums.

  4. Nature vs nurture? good question. I've given up trying to figure it out, and just come to the conclusion that you can never tell what's going to pop up out of the gene pool. I have not totally given up hope, though, since my husband was late coming to the reading habit. Right now my sons are more interested in doing than reading.

  5. Thanks for telling me about the Book & Reading Forums Reader Scott. I may just have to join in, if only to put in a word of support for Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro- my number 1 from last year.

  6. There should not be a boy section in the library. I think the boy that wants to read will find the kind of books he wants by browsing. I think it is more fun that way and often he'll find some books that he thought he would never read.
    There is also plenty of boy stuff on video and TV that's competes with the library.

  7. I agree Hathor. If the books aren't divided up into sections, who knows what anyone looking will come across. It could open up a whole new world.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin