Thursday, December 4, 2008

Boys will be readers, or not

What's the YA lit blogging world atwitter about today? This SLJ Talkback contribution: Wanted, Male Models: There's a good reason why boys don't read. No one seems to like it but me. I think it's kind of great.

First, it's written by Gail Giles, author of books that include the modern classic Shattering Glass, Right Behind You and What Happened to Cass McBride?. If there's anyone I admire for saying what she thinks, it's Gail. Not only that, but she is an experienced teacher of reading and writing and I've learned quite a bit from her just from reading her YALSA-BK posts. She fully admits that the article stems from her experiences and from generalized observations, not from peer-reviewed research, and the opinions she expresses in the article are shaped by her personal thoughts. (Or, as I like to say around here, "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'evidence.'")

With this acknowledged, she speaks about one big reason boys might not be enthusiastic readers, that is, they don't have male reading role models. She doesn't pretend that the reason she writes about apply to all boys, but she does encourage men to set an example for the boys in their life by reading. It's true what she says about teachers and librarians being mostly female (one only has to enter library school to see that), and I also believe it's true that as boys get older, reading becomes a chore. It becomes a chore for many girls, too, but that's not the focus of the article.

Her final paragraph begins:

Whatever you do, don’t expect teachers and librarians to turn your son into a reader. It’s not their fault he won’t read. By the time he meets them, he’s been primed for failure. Be proactive. And I’m sorry to say this, but a male has to be involved in your plans.

Wow, talk about things no teacher or librarian wants to hear. Talk about a whole article full of things that teachers and librarians don't want to hear. But you know, I don't disagree with it. The thing is, it's our JOB as teachers and librarians to encourage reading and try to turn kids into readers. Kids know this. For all the makeovers libraries give themselves, they're still seen as "the place where the books live." I don't think this is a bad thing, because I love me some books. However, teachers and librarians cannot follow every kid home and make sure that the home environment is conducive to a love of reading. That's where parents come in, fathers in this case. I think that male role models are only one of many factors in getting boys to read, but they're an important factor.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article, Gail!

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