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Reading with boys

Children’s authors work to draw boys into books in the age of distraction

Reading with boys

(James Hardy/AltoPress/Maxppp)

Three male children’s authors are oddly optimistic about children’s, and specifically boys’, reading habits despite the distractions of smart phones and iPads. 

“I have no fear of the device,” said Jack Gantos, Newbery medal-winning author of Dead End in Norvelt. Gantos has been visiting schools for the last 25 years and watching children’s reading habits. “The crop of readers we have now is greater. They read more widely, more in-depth.” 

Kevin Emerson, author of The Lost Code series most recently, said the problem of technology is no different than when he was growing up: If he had been able to sneak an Atari video game console into school, he would have. But he couldn’t, so he read. 

Jon Scieszka, perhaps best known for his children’s book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, said apps can’t replace a book: “Walking around here you see 100 great books that can only be books.” 

“If you write good books, you will have readers,” Gantos said. 

The authors appeared at BookExpo America, an annual gathering of major publishers, authors, librarians, and booksellers in Manhattan. Their bright outlook about the future of books was a sentiment that was widely (and perhaps unsurprisingly) shared at the BookExpo. 

Publishers seemed more confident about the coexistence of digital and print books. Publishers Weekly, in its daily reports on the expo, noted that “the digital business had leveled off,” and “there is a sense that print and digital can, and will, coexist.” 

Despite the optimism, boys do lag behind girls in reading, according to Scieszka’s project called Guys Read (guysread.com). The project is an effort to get boys reading regularly, eventually on their own volition. Scieszka’s website has a curated list of books that might interest boys, under categories like, “At least one explosion,” “People being turned into animals,” and “Funny.” He’s said previously that because most elementary school teachers are women, they don’t always know what books to give boys. 

A mom asked the authors how to get her son reading. Gantos said he thought it was critical for families to set the example and read in front of their children. He said his family would all go to the living room after dinner and read. “You had a general sense, if you have a spare moment, why not pick up a book?” he said.

“The role model piece is huge,” agreed Scieszka. “Get more men reading in public.”

“Use humor as a welcome mat and then, boom!” said Gantos. “There comes the theme, boom! There come the characters.” 

“Boys can be really trapped in their interior in elementary and middle school,” Emerson said. “They’re very quiet, not as verbal as girls. A lot of my characters are trying to find their way out of their shell.” 

Emerson said he reads a lot of boys’ writing to learn how to write for them. “It’s super annoying because they’re smart and they have these amazing ideas,” he said. 

“Kids are much more sophisticated [today], just from what they watch on television,” said Scieszka. “We watched Gilligan’s Island.”

Gantos concurred. “Kids don’t want just one dimension anymore.” He recalled that when he was growing up, the array of children’s literature was more limited: He read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Scieszka remembered comic books. Emerson remembered reading the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

“There’s so much more available now,” said Scieszka.

Listen to Jack Gantos read from the audiobook of Dead End in Norvelt courtesy of Macmillan Audio.

Emily Belz

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @emlybelz.

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  • SharonMc
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:17 pm

    My son (9 years old) and I just discovered Gary Paulson.  He has some excellent books for boys!!!  We've read the series about Francis Tuckett and also Hatchet.  You might want to preread them, there are just a few parts that can be a bit intense.  Wonderful books!!

  • Laneygirl
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:17 pm

    So, this is GOOD NEWS ;-))

  • Laneygirl
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:17 pm

    We've been so worried as a nation that girls were getting short shrift that no one remembered the boys who like to read! When my 34 year old son was an adolescent, so many of the great series, even in the limited Christian fiction market,  were very girl- oriented. After the "Cooper Kids" series there was no place to go.