What boys like to read: Blood, guts and butt jokes

How do you get boys to read? Books that are gory or gross are luring boys away from their video games, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The book’s main character slaughtered his victims by running them through with sharp stakes. He once left hundreds dying slowly on a hillside while the soil grew “muddy with blood” and “blackbirds flocked around the corpses, fighting for a meal.”

Although it has the contours of a horror story — with splotches of red ink on its pages depicting blood — it’s actually a children’s book. Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula is widely available in libraries and is making its way into middle-school social-studies classes.

The book is part of Scholastic’s “Wicked History” series, which includes Leopold II: Butcher of the Congo and Mary Tudor: Courageous Queen or Bloody Mary?

Publishers are aiming more books at boys, who are said to prefer non-fiction. New science books stress the yuck factor.

In a series called “Sanitation Investigation,” Capstone Press in the fall is bringing out Getting to Know Your Toilet: The Disgusting Story Behind Your Home’s Strangest Feature. Other popular selections in the grossness genre include Workman Publishing’s Oh, Yuck: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty and Simon & Schuster’s It’s Disgusting and We Ate It! True Food Facts from Around the World and Throughout History. (Think worms, rats and squirrels.)

Scholastic’s Captain Underpants series has been a huge hit. The Day My Butt Went Psycho and two follow-ups has sold more than 1.2 million copies.

Kevin Bolger, an elementary-school teacher in Ottawa, offers “Captain Underpants” to his third-grade classes, calling the response “awesome.” “It’s like reading-candy,” Mr. Bolger says.

The experience inspired Mr. Bolger to write his own children’s book, Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger.

Flypaper’s Stafford Palmieri suggests non-violent alternatives, such as Kipling’s Jungle Book or “Grimm’s scarier fairy tales.”

Why not Captain Blood instead of Captain Underpants?

About Joanne


  1. Why not Captain Blood? Because there are no fart jokes.

  2. Obviously butt jokes then any thing else

  3. Why not Captain Blood? Probably because the reading level is too high for many of the 3rd grade set.

    Captain Underpants, etc., are the 21st century dime novels & penny dreadfuls. Stanford has a wonderful collection, showcased online: Dime Novels & Penny Dreadfuls

  4. A new genre: Resident Evil meets Beavis and Butthead.

  5. Thanks for some ideas about books to buy for boys. It’s difficult to find books that my grandsons enjoy. I also find that they prefer non-fiction.

  6. Soapbox Diva says:

    Joining several of the last few posts together, readers become better with practice, so let the gore lovers have their gore if it keeps them reading. A counterpart to this is to allow more examples of math and science that appeal to stereotypical girlish interests such as crafts, cooking, and design. I believe lack of interest toward math and science by girls has way more to with lagging scores than anything else. Keep students interested and progressing with skills in any subject, the ability is at least given a fighting chance of success. Neither gender need fluff or lower standards, but the realization that the skill relates to the rest of their life.

  7. I’ll leave aside the fart literature. One of my borthers got hooked by reading Tolkien, another by reading a different fantasy epic, Deeds of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. Compelling stories seem to work just as well.

  8. True, true, true. My son is 8 and he is completely absorbed by Capt. Underpants. However, he also, as a result of the books, understands the finer elements of the construction of a story. Elements such as irony, pun, and foreshadow. Of course he does not know the terms, but the concepts he explains when he tells me why he loves the stories so.

    I teach middle school so I do not see many of my students reading Capt. Underpants. However, the boys are drawn to the blood books. Pendragon, although not likely to be placed in that category, has been a huge hit over the last three years so much so that I had it approved in my district so I could use it as the text in my classroom as it has in it every writing skill that I teach.

    Great post.

  9. My sons liked historical fiction, but it was hard to find books with male heroes, so Rosemary Sutcliff was a great find. She has a number of books set in Roman Britain and she also has versions of Tristan and Isolde, the Odyssey, Black Ships before Troy, the Arthurian Legend etc. They are all very well-written and the vocabulary is wonderful. They can be read to younger children, but my sons read them on their own by 4th-6th grade and continued to enjoy them into high school. They aren’t usually in bookstores, but can be ordered and I have seen them in libraries.

  10. My 13 year old son’s list of summer reads consisted of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (books 1 & 2 for a second time), Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, Augustus Caesar’s World: 44 BC to AD 14, Little Brother, Beyond the Lemonade Stand and Fellowship of the Ring. Could we be assuming that they’ll only read the Capt. Underpants equivalents?

  11. What happened to The Last of the Mohicans? Not bloody enough?

  12. My son, six years old, loves superheroes. I told him that I had two boxes of comic books from when I was a kid, but if he wanted to get at them he had to learn how to read. We worked through the Engelmann book last year and got his wish – now he reads Pilkey books by himself (Captain Underpants, Ricky’s Mighty Robot, Super Diaper Baby) and his bedtime story is usually an old Spiderman or Avengers comic book.

  13. Also, boys love battles and the strategies used to win them.

    You want to perk a boy up about the Civil War? Teach him about Picket’s Charge at Gettysburg or any such battle decision. Ask him what would happen if things were different, if Gen. Warren hadn’t noticed that Little Round Top didn’t have enough soldiers to defend it.

    Then, you’ll have their attention.