Raising a Reader

Michael Forbes, whom I follow on Twitter for hockey stuff, linked an article in the New York Times, “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” by Robert Lipsyte.  The issues brought up in the essay are boiled down to this passage:

If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.

The differences in the boys around here were driven home to me today as I picked my son up after school from a friend’s house.  Part of their homework (3rd grade by the way) was to read for 20 minutes.  The friend would ONLY read for the requisite 20, even complaining – seriously! – about an extra second of time on the timer set for him.  My son would read every night until he fell asleep face first in a book if I let him.  After catching sight of that article tonight, I sat down to try and think if there was anything I did specifically to encourage his love of reading.  First, I think the biggest thing is this:

On his Web site,, the teacher and author Jon Scieszka writes that boys “don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. . . . Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

This is something where being a GeekDad comes in handy.  I grew up reading, and the gateway to my love of reading was science fiction and comics.  From there it was an easy branch out to fantasy, and whatever other books my brother bought until I could afford my own.  The next part is having good teachers.  Last year his teacher had a ‘browsing box’ of books you could read in class and take home (outside of their scant library time).  He reads this series of Geronimo Stilton books she had in there (he’s a mouse that runs a newspaper and has adventures), but when he runs out of those, he picks up whatever I have here.  That could be a Narnia book, the Hobbit, Percy Jackson (the movie caught his eye) or my wife’s Harry Potter.

If your kid shows the interest, the next step is to be sure to feed them books regularly.  The library can help, church rummage sales, those discount bookstores that appear in the shopping centers after a big anchor store closes, and the discount shelf at your local B&N.  An e-reader can come in handy as well, as kids love technology nowadays, and I have a hard time prying my Nook away from Thomas.  I’m not saying this stuff will work for every kid, but hopefully this (and the link article and site) give you some ideas on how to nudge your young one on the reading path.  If you have any other tips, share them here.