Boys & Reading

Do not train boys to learning by force and harshness, but lead them by what amuses them, so that they may better discover the bent of their minds. ~ Plato

See our companion site: for more tips and to share real stories about men and kids reading…

Boys vs. Girls

It’s no secret. Girls read more than (most) boys and girls score higher on reading assessments than (most) boys. This translates to boys being less successful in school in a lot of other ways, too. So why the gap? What’s going on? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Some of the research on boys and reading reveals:

  • Boys take longer than girls to develop comparable reading skills (According to the National Center for Education Statistics, teen females have outperformed teen males on reading assessments at a relatively constant rate from 1971 to 2008.) By middle school they are nearly 1 & 1/2 years behind girls in reading.
  • Boys of all ages generally read less than girls.
  • Middle school aged boys believe reading is much harder than it was in elementary school.
  • Boys claim reading becomes less enjoyable as they become older. (Perhaps because we make them read and interpret genres they cannot connect to?)
  • Boys value reading as an activity less than girls do. (When reading doesn’t help me “become a man”, why bother?)
  • Boys “almost never recommend books to each other.” (Pirie, 2002, p. 80).
  • More middle school boys declare themselves “non-readers” than do girls. By high school nearly 50% make that distinction.
  • Boys and girls express interest in reading different things, and they do read different things.
  • Boys are less likely to talk about or overtly respond to their reading than girls are. (Girls are inherently more verbally expressive)
  • Boys prefer active responses to reading in which they physically act out responses, or do something, or make something. (Smith and Wilhelm, 2002)

Boys and Reading: Strategies for Success
Reading is for the boys (and girls)!

Helping Underachieving Boys Read Well and Often
Reading Don’t Fix No Chevy’s by Smith and Wilhelm
Teenage Boys and High School English by Bruce Pirie

So what DO Boys Want?

If educators want boys to join the “literacy club,” then they have to invite them in with genres of their own choosing. ~ Thomas Newkirk, author of Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture

Even though boys read less than girls, many of them do read. They just don’t read what we ask them to read in school. In fact boys tend to read a “wider number of genres over a broader range of topics” than girls (Simpson, 1996). For a more eloquent discussion of genres boys like, listen to author, editor, & boys reading advocate, Marc Aronson in this interview.

Lots of boys like science fiction, fantasy, and adventure books. My professional experience as a teacher and school librarian and my personal experience as a mom leads me to believe that those boys tend to be good readers who learned to love reading very early and just kept at it. They picked up on a book series or a particular author and they were hooked for life.

Other boys (those non-readers) tend to prefer non-fiction and/or humor – books about sports, cars, video games, famous people they admire or want to be like, history and war, animals, dinosaurs, sex, drugs, diseases, and music, as well as magazines, news articles, and websites about topics of interest to them.

How do we engage boys in reading and raise reading achievement scores for boys?

Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys. ~Author Unknown

There is no magic answer, no silver bullet, no perfect curriculum. If there was, then we wouldn’t be seeing the same reading achievement gap between boys and girls that we have for 37 straight years. Perhaps a whole new revolution in schooling needs to occur, but that’s another issue altogether. In the meantime, there are ways to help our boys. Connect boys with appropriate reading material, get them to enjoy it, and show them how reading helps them become stronger, better men.

I’ll argue that one of the best ways is to connect every boy with a caring adult man who reads with, to, and in front of the boy, modeling how reading helps him learn, grow, engage with the world, and get better at being a man. When was the last time you saw a dad, grandpa, uncle, or coach read to a kid?

The Guys Read program I started at my school is a great example of this approach. Adult male mentors connected with reluctant middle school readers in an informal, social reading club and made a huge difference in the lives of these boys. This club was so successful I felt a need to share it with other educators and librarians through my presentations. It’s been a thrill to hear about other schools trying out the concept in various forms and seeing boys become readers.

Of course there are other wonderful strategies and programs to encourage and engage boys in reading. Here are some of the best that I’ve been able to find so far. This list will grow as I learn of others, so please stop back by to check it often. And please feel free to add your program or favorite resources to the list by commenting or emailing me at

Boys & Reading Programs and Resources

Guys Read (John Sciezka’s brainchild)- the book Guys Write for Guys Read is a perfect starter for engaging boys
Chicago Public Schools Real Men Read Program
Real Men Read (Alexandria Va)
Spring Lake Park (MN) High School Real Men Read Program
Getting Boys to
– super blog and great resources
– awesome site dedicated to “developing a new generation of literate men”
Book Meets Book
recommendations for books for boys by age
Cool Books for Tough Guys
50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men

Other Articles and Presentations:
Center for Education Policy Report Differences Between Girls and Boys
Reading Rockets: Boys and Books

Boys and Reading: Strategies for Success

Why Women Read More than Men (NPR)

Boys and Reading (Huffington Post, March 2010)

Boys and Books: Encouraging Middle School Males to Read

Encouraging Boys’ Interest in Reading
– Ch. 4 from the book, Helping Boys Succeed
Where the Boys Aren’t
(Business Week) – article about men turning away from print
The Truth about Boys and Reading

Closing the Reading Achievement Gap for Boys: Engaging Texts, Engaging Practices
(PPT by Brozo at American Reading Forum, 2008)
Can Fart Jokes Get Boys Reading?
(Huffington Post Jul 2010)
Boys May Be Boys, But Do They Have to Read and Write That Way? – beautifully written article about boys, reading, action, writing, and some big questions
Dads and Boys Reading Together

Blogs for, about, and related to Boys and Reading
I.N.K. – Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids
Books for Boys
author Max Elliot Anderson
Get Johnny Reading


The Book Zone (For Boys)

Boys Rule Boys Read

Getting Boys to
Getting Kids Reading
ReadKiddoRead – James Patterson’s ning “dedicated to making kids readers for life”
Books for Kids Blog


5 Responses to Boys & Reading

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Boys & Reading | FourCirclesLearning --

  2. Ms. Yingling says:

    Thanks for the list of blogs. You might pop over to mine– I don’t do exclusively boys’ books, but I do try to have several every week.

  3. Pingback: WHAT is Going On With Boys And Books? | Rocket City Mom: Making Parenting in Huntsville Easier

  4. My web page (Boy Meets Book) has moved to, and my updates are on the Facebook page Thanks for this compelation, I’ll add it to my feed. – Michael Sullivan

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