Monday, April 16, 2007

Encouraging Boys to Read

The weather is finally starting to warm up and turn to Spring, and so we finally had the sort of boy-intensive weekend that we consider normal. The Kid and his friends, liberated at last from the indoor confines of winter, raced through the houses, yards, and streets of the neighborhood on foot, skateboard, and bike, burning off energy like little packs of laughing yahoos. We had boys on the deck, boys in the yard, boys in the trees, and boys on the neighbor's trampoline, and the only time all weekend that I had to turn into Mr. Authority Figure was when they were out in the back yard with golf clubs, driving balls into the cow pasture.

There's nothing wrong with that per se, as long as the cows aren't out, but cows will eat golf balls, with unpleasant results, and the lads were exhibiting some reluctance to walk out into that bovine minefield and retrieve their lost balls.

Saturday evening we also acquired a Tagalong Little Sister (TLS) for a couple of hours, and that is when the gender difference really struck me. The Mrs. was sitting on the deck, reading, and TLS was quite content to join her, to spend the last hours of the day soaking up the light and warmth and quietly immersed in a book. And, after raising three daughters, we had plenty of suitable books on hand. But the boys?

Boys don't read — at least, not voluntarily. I've been observing the lifeform in its natural state for some time, I've formed some ad hoc focus groups, I've tried to question them, and I've even tried to give books to The Kid's friends, and I have come to the conclusion that it just plain doesn't work. To most boys, reading is something disagreeable you do in school. Among his friends, The Kid is the only one who actually reads for pleasure.

This concerns me. Literature is the collective memory of our species, and the more I observe The Kid and his friends in action, the more strongly I believe that most of them are functionally illiterate. Or maybe that's the wrong way to put it: the boys can read if they absolutely must, but will do so only if they're forced to do so, and their reading comprehension skills are painfully weak. Call it Illiterate by Choice.

So that's today's Big Question: _how do we encourage boys to read_? I don't want to stop them from running and making noise; I don't want to turn them into girls; and I have some observations and questions which I'll throw in the comments thread later on, but right now, I'm disturbed by their non-literacy and looking for ideas. Any ideas.

Your thoughts?