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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why boys don't read very much: They want manly courage -- not teen angst

Boys read a lot less than girls, because assigned reading is oriented toward girls' tastes, writes Tom Sarrouf on the Institute for Family Studies. Boys are "more interested in war, comedy, sports, and science fiction, and more excited about informational texts," while girls prefer narratives and romances. "Boys are also far less likely to read books by female authors or with female protagonist, but girls were willing to read books written by men and with male protagonists."


Boys get enough exposure to nonfiction, writes Katya Sedgewick on American Mind. They need to read classic literature with male heroes. (According to the 2024 What Kids Are Reading report, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is on reading lists from elementary to high school, she writes. Not good enough.)


Sedgewick grew up in the Soviet Union reading Twain, Dumas and Tolstoy. She makes a case for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a "rebel child living by wits and daring." (I loved Tom Sawyer as a kid.) "I find it strange that teachers don’t see it as their job to connect the next generation of Americans to their heritage, preferring to submerge students into the sea of forgettable contemporary titles rather than explaining complicated language and showing their students how to love historic writing."


As a high school English teacher and father of young readers, Auguste Meyrat thinks boys need more books with "action, conflict and even violence" and fewer books focused on "feelings and relationships."


He suggests teachers read this overview of classic adventure novels to create boy-friendly reading lists that celebrate masculinity rather than condemn it as "toxic." (I've read every book mentioned.)


Graphic novels have become very popular, writes Meyrat. They're "intended to serve as a gateway to non-illustrated novels," but they don't build reading comprehension skills. "Instead of using words to recreate characters, events, settings, tones, arguments, and themes in their minds," students "can look at the pictures that already do this work for them."


The Wimpy Kid series, he writes, "has more in common with an animated cartoon for kids than it does with a comparable YA novel."


Old School's Rick Hess discovered a popular series called Great Battles for Boys by history teacher Joe Giorello. This is the kind of history that boys are eager to read about," he writes. But school assignments focus on social and cultural history, which can be "tedious."


"As a kid, I found books about the Battle of Midway or D-Day vastly more interesting than grim tales of teen angst," Hess writes. "Too many 'diverse, inclusive' reading lists feature authors who may vary by race and gender but overwhelmingly tend to write introspective, therapeutic tales that read like an adaptation of an especially heavy-handed afterschool special."


The nonprofit I Would Rather Be Reading uses “trauma responsive literacy support and social-emotional learning to help children,” he learned from a recent email. Hess wonders "if any of the books in question feature stoic virtues or manly courage."

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7 comentarios


Sandra Miller
Sandra Miller
2 days ago

I'm surprised Auguste Meyrat doesn't mention C.S. Forester. His Horatio Hornblower novels were excellent, as were his other novels.

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Joanne Jacobs
Joanne Jacobs
2 days ago
Contestando a

I was a big Hornblower fan.

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lady_lessa
4 days ago

John Flanagan saw the same problem with his sons, so he wrote some books that would appeal to them. I highly recommend most of "The Ranger's Apprentice" series. For the last one, I was glad that I read the Wikipedia summary first, because the main character turned wimpy.

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linda.g.oc
4 days ago

My son liked the Rosemary Sutcliff historical novels - most set in Roman Britain and with male protagonists - and her versions of the Odyssey, Iliad, Arthurian legend, Tristan and Isolde etc. The vocabulary and style are such that a bookworm like me can read and enjoy them as an adult. The novels are considered YA, I think, and maybe the legends also.

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rob
4 days ago

I agree with the premise, but I don't agree that the protagonist must be male. An example that comes to mind is Robert Heinlein's book, Podkayne of Mars, which features a female protagonist, that I nevertheless enjoyed a lot as a young reader. The book certainly has many interpersonal conflicts weaving thorugh it, but it also has lots of science and space travel and other futuristic stuff (including, amazingly enough for a YA-oriented book, an interesting exploration of the style of the unbridled capitalism that can be experienced in a "company town" setting). Heinlein himself did not classify it as a "juvenile" novel, but modern opinions are mixed.


I find the Wimpy Kid-type novels insipid and boring. Kids need t…

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superdestroyer
4 days ago
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Podkayne of Mars was published in 1963. Not a good example. The Young Adult market is a market aimed at girls. And how many middle school age boys are going to slong through dune or even Ender's Game.

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superdestroyer
4 days ago

While working at a used book sell, several adult males were asked to help sort out the young adult fiction. We looked at each other that talked about how to do it. I said that we should look at the cover and determine if the main character is having problems with her friends, having problems with her boyfriend, or that the problem is that her boyfriend is a vampire. That cover most of the books.


Boys who learn the habit of reading enough to be adult readers usually just skip the young adult category and just jump into the regular fiction to find something to read.

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