Friday, July 23, 2010

Books about farting are not the only way to get boys to read ...

"How to get boys to read?" asks this report from AP's Leanne Italie. "Try a book on farts."

The article goes on to report that parents — and some teachers — hope gross-out humor can close a gender gap in reading achievement. It focuses upon teacher and author Ray Sabini, who self-published SweetFarts in 2008 under the name Raymond Bean, and is set to release Sweet Farts, Rippin' it Old-School, next month.

"Boys have lagged behind girls in reading achievement for more than 20 years, but the gender gap now exists in nearly every state and has widened to mammoth proportions — as much as 10 percentage points in some, according to the Center on Education Policy," Italie notes. "Parents of reluctant readers complain that boys are forced to stick to stuffy required school lists that exclude nonfiction or silly subjects, or have teachers who cater to higher achievers and girls. They're hoping books that exploit boys' love of bodily functions and gross-out humor can close the gap."

But the article leaves me asking ... "aren't there other things that can stir a boy's love, and develop a passion for reading?" At the risk of appearing a doddering old dinosaur, offering-up gender stereotypes, I ask, "what about action and adventure, journeys of discovery and expeditions into the extraordinary?"

There was a time when stories such as those excited THIS young boy many (MANY!) years ago, when I found myself skimming through those chapters of War & Peace set in Anna Pavlova's drawing room, so I could re-join Prince Andrei Nikolayevich on the battlefield. So, why not now?

One reason, I suspect, might be that a number of old adventure stories are hardly 'P-C,' hardly acceptable to the standards we have set for ourselves, our culture, and our expression of such. Much as I loved — and STILL love! — the stories of H. Rider Haggard, C. S. Forester, James Hilton, James Fenimore Cooper, Rudyard Kipling and so many others, I have to wonder whether their views of differing races, cultures, conflicts and so much more — or, at least, the manner in which some of the books' characters comment on those differences -- would be considered proper for exposure to young minds still in their formative stages. I suspect the P-C Police might offer-up an emphatic "NO."

My own experience, as the father of two boys, is that they can be encouraged to read. Magazines have been a big help in that respect. Elder Son was a regular reader of Sports Illustrated, Junior while Younger Son grew up on Ranger Rick. As they've grown, so has their interest in reading periodicals geared towards their interest. And those interests have moved on to books, as well ... sports non-fiction, in particular, for Elder Son and manga novels for Younger Son.

Reading can be fun for boys, too, without undue emphasis on flatulence. One example ... I highly recommend the Hank the Cowdog by John Erickson for a series of books that will set them — and you! — laughing.

And don't dismiss the contribution of the 'blockbusters' out there. One example ... long before my boys cracked open a book by J.R.R. Tolkien, they were enjoying books by J.K. Rowling.

Speaking of Rowling, one of the greatest helpers you can have encouraging your boys to read is
Scholastic Book Fairs. If you haven't yet attended a fair at your kids' schools, YOU SHOULD. I think you'll be surprised by the breadth of topics covered on the fair's temporary shelves ... there really is something for everyone.

Maybe even Sweetfarts.


Geo said...

"Dangerous Book for Boys" got a lot of favorable attention. Looks like a load of fun, too.

Did your guys read that one?

Jeff said...

George, GREAT recommendation ... for boys AND their dads! BTW, the publishers have also produced a first-rate site and video promoting the book.