Boys & Books


Is there a difference between the way boys and girls approach books? "Yes" says Michael Sullivan, of the Weeks Public Library in Greenland NH, and author of a new ALA book "Connecting Boys with Books," in a story in today's Seattle Times.

His advice is essentially to let boys choose the subjects they like, even if they're "full of action, gross stuff and silly humor. Boys' brains are wired different from girls; they learn differently {they} need multiple stimuli to get their brains going — noise and color and motion." Boys have to read "like boys."


This is one of those things that should be so obvious, but because it's obvious, people seem to miss it. I don't claim to represent any faction of the male population, but coming from my own experiences and those of my friends, boy's tastes in books start immature and get better as they grow.

For instance, when I was in school, I read everything I could get my hands on. But I had a real preference for stuff like Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, and that ilk. Books with some action and adventure. What boy would want to read Sweet Valley High? No adventure there. As I matured I kept reading the same kinds of books eventually branching out into other books that, while similar, had significant differences. In high school I got into the Mack Bolan novels, which spawned an interest in war, which spawned an interest in the history of war, which spawned an interest in World War II, which spawned an interest in Japan, which spawned an interest in Japanese history, which spawned an interest in Japanese culture, which eventually led to a degree in history specializing in Japanese Civilization and Popular Culture.

I don't know how it is for girls, but for a lot of boys I knew, they started reading simple stuff and from that grew into more advanced things still related to the simple stuff. A friend of mine couldn't get enough sci-fi. He even liked the really bad sci-fi novels, you know, the equivalents of Plan 9 From Outer Space. From that he gained a love of science and math. And now he works for NASA.

I figure, as long as the little tyke is reading something, anything, it's good. Don't judge what he's reading and for goddess' sake don't take it away from him. It's like a James Burke Connections kind of thing. What he reads today will probably link up to what he does tomorrow.

This isn't the first article about the male of the species and their reading habits, but I gotta ask: are boys called on the carpet more often than girls because of the books they choose to read? There's lots of femme-centric youth literature (Judy Blume's ouerve, the Sweet Valley series) and non-gendered lit (such as the various R.L. Stine series) that get bashed pretty heavily as being junk.

Then again, my first YA novel was Jacob Have I Loved, which sent me reeling into the adult fiction section and holding on for dear life.

Boys' brains are wired different from girls

Not nearly as much as some might have us believe, though. Socializing influences have a huge role that this seems to utterly discount; raise a kid as "a boy" and of course they're much more likely to be interested in a particular selection of reading material.

"Boys know you can succeed without being a reader. They see the evidence every day."

Yet boys read the instructions for numerous card and online games. And though net surfing is becoming increasingly icon driven, you must be able to read to be successful in locating the best porn site from a result list, right? :-) 'Scuse the blatant stereotype, in the name of wit.

Children's author Jon Sciezka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Time Warp Trio), started the Guys Read initiative a couple years ago--focusing on literacy for boys. I'm not sure that the initiative ever took off, but the site is worth taking a look at (as is Sciezka's work!).

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