Thursday, 19 May 2011

Getting Boys to Read

Edge Writer Paula Rawsthorne asks

“What will get more teen boys reading?”

I don’t want to generalise about the reading habits of teenage boys - I personally know just as many boys who are voracious readers as boys who wouldn’t dream of voluntarily picking up a book.  However, there is no getting away from it.  There are a lot of reluctant teen readers out there and the majority of them are boys. 
Research keeps finding that, after junior school, many boys stop reading for pleasure and seem uninspired by the books they are forced to read in school.  A survey of 500 secondary school English teachers reveals a picture of many boys who simply lose interest in a book if it’s longer than 100 pages (and far less than this, in many cases). 
Pearson’s the publisher, undertook the survey and publicised it this week to coincide with the launch of the `Heroes’ series.  These short books are in genres that particularly appeal to boys and are coupled with a website with teaching resources and group exercises that hope to get boys back into reading.  The wonderful writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce is series editor of ‘Heroes’.  He says, “Our hope is that the stories will be shared and enjoyed by pupil and teacher alike because pleasure is the most powerful motivation.”

I can empathize with these boys.  They may view those longer, literary novels they study in school the way I view `Wolf Hall’.  It’s been propping open a troublesome door in my house since I bought it- Yes!  I know I should read it.  I know Hilary Mantel is a genius, but blinkin’ heck, look at the size of it! 

Some might argue that the use of shorter story books in the classroom is just pandering to kids who should try harder to concentrate.  Some might argue that, no matter what the word count, if a book is compelling enough, the boys will be drawn in and want to finish it.   

But will the introduction of short, boy orientated books lead to more teachers ditching the novels that are considered of greater literary merit, or, is this the way forward to get reluctant boys into the habit of reading for pleasure?  Perhaps one day, like me, it will lead them to purchasing a tome such as Wolf Hall (and using it as a door stop).

Paula Rawsthorne’s thriller for young adults ‘The Truth about Celia Frost’, is published by Usborne on 1st August.  Find out more at


  1. I think this research was compromised by being commissioned and used to promote a particular series. I also think that the survey concentrated on teachers and their views, rather than talking to boys themselves. I suspect a lot of the problem is concentration spans - it's hard to get many boys to sit still for long enough to get into a book.If they can get into the habit, no reason why they shouldn't try all sorts of books. And no reason why they should need lots of add on screen stuff ether - they get enough of that already.

  2. Boys do read. Perhaps they are the ones who aren't asked enough in surveys. They read books with girls as protagonists - e.g. Jacqueline Wilson. They want to know when my next books is coming out and all of my three books have girls protagonists ( it just happened that way.) We can't write books specifically geared to boys, we just have to write the books we want to and if they appeal, they will appeal to boys as well as girls.

  3. I was a slow reader. Took me ages to finish the assigned books in school. The books I was forced to read by teachers turned me off reading for years. They turned reading from pleasure to chore. Last summer a teen I know was assigned OLD MAN IN THE SEA. She's not a big reader to start with and the teacher's book selection pushed her that bit further from enjoying books. I think we should give children choice and be thrilled at whatever books they select. I'm a fan of whatever gets kids reading and hopefully develops a habit for a lifetime. Today might be GOOSEBUMPS but tomorrow could be Tolstoy.

  4. Great post, Paula, and very interesting. It does seem generally true that amongst teens, boys read far less than girls. My son is 13 and amongst his peer group that's definitely true.
    He happens to be a big reader, but he's been lucky in that he's had inspiring English teachers, parents who read voraciously, and a mum who buys far too many teen books! He's happily read books with girl protaganists, and even adults books like Room and White Tiger.
    He thinks boys do like series fiction, (Cherub series was a major hit, and Darren Shan's horror); they do favour shorter books, but once they're into a series the length of the book no longer matters.
    My nephew, a teen, read The Old Man and the Sea at school and I asked him what he thought of it. He replied, 'One of the best books I've ever read!' I think with school reading texts, so much depends on the enthusiasm of the teacher and where the pupil is at in terms of their reading development.
    Judging from what I hear, what teen boys do like are books with a real edge, characters they can identify with, and a plot with pace, but the problem is that it can sometimes be hard to find them in the school library - and his library is well-stocked...

  5. Interesting post, Paula. I teach secondary school English, as well as write, and from a teaching point of view, one problem is that much of what we teach in English is "outcome-based." There's precious little time to enjoy and explore a book, just as there's not enough time in the curriculum for expressive writing. We don't give boys (or girls)enough time to imagine, or to guide their creative thinking...and I think that lessens their ability to enjoy a long book (or often, sadly, even a short one)or to write an extended story.

  6. Great blog, Paula.

    I can't pretend to be an expert on boy readers, but I do feel that for any reluctant reader anything that can be done to make the prospect of picking up a book more attractive is a good thing.

    These could include being a manageable-looking size (I, too, am fairly daunted by the prospect of picking up Wolf Hall!), having an attractive cover, an interesting blurb, and gripping opening chapter.

    Once they've got that far, different things matter - the quality of the writing, the characters, the pace, but above all else the only thing that will make a reluctant reader continue reading, or choose to repeat the experience, is if the story itself is compelling, enjoyable, and satisfying.

    The same for any reader, really. :)

  7. It is a great post yes but I have to say I don't agree at all that the majority of boys are reluctant readers.
    As Keren said surveys are geared toward whatever incentive is news at the time.
    Before I actually started work in the school I made an effort to tackle Boys into Books. However, I have to say it was not necessary, boys and girls will either read or they won't.
    On the whole it just isnt seen as 'cool' to read :( Which makes me very unhappy.
    I have had some successes this year with a few pupils both boys and girls. It is about books appealing to the majority rather than concentrating on boys or girls reading. It is about relating to that pupil as an individual.
    Apologies for the long comment.