Boys Read! Stop Saying They Don't!

Every so often you get an article like "10 Tips to Get Boys to Read" or "Books Boys Will Actually Like". Or else you get someone super excited because, "Oh my gosh, it's a miracle. My son actually likes to read!"

Okay, listen. I'm all for encouraging anyone to read, especially kids. But this whole "boys don't read" thing has to stop. (A) It's not true and (B) it seems to be leading the publishing industry to the more sinister "boys don't read, so we better stop publishing books for them or else we'll lose money."

Start with me: I'm a boy, and I read. I always have. And I know other boys who read. My dad reads, my best friend MattyDub reads, my friend Cory reads, Bear, Emmet, Jamie (he reads like six books a week), Whytey, Mike, Dave...

Those are men, Adam. I thought we were talking about boys.

Fine. Forget the fact that most of those guys have been reading since they were boys. I've also got three teenage boys who come over every week to borrow every book I've got: Pratchett, Card, Tolkien, Rowling, Collins, Gaiman, Crichton, *DEEP BREATH* Asimov, Sanderson, Cashore, Brennan... (The only book I couldn't get them to borrow was Silver Phoenix, I suspect because of the girl on the cover -- sorry, Cindy, I tried).

Anecdotal evidence not good enough for you? All right. I searched for actual statistics on boys not reading and found a single article. I guess in 2002, for overall book reading (whatever that means), young men were at 43%.

That's not a lot, Adam.

I know, hang on. It also put girls at 59%. Fewer boys than girls, but not much. It's still A LOT OF BOYS READING. In a classroom of 30 kids, it means half of them read. Of those readers, 9 are girls and 6 are boys. Certainly enough that books should be published for them, right?

Well, no, apparently. The biggest push still seems to go to books with lips on the cover, "Kiss" in the title, or protagonists with pink, sparkly tasers (for the record, I'm very excited about Kiersten's book that comes out in 4 days, but you have to admit we boys are not the target audience).

There are exceptions, sure. But hearing from people in the industry, it sounds as though they're AFRAID to market books to boys. Jason Pinter suggests this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Publishers believe boys don't read, so they target their book at the biggest market (girls). Boys find only romance stories (with girls or unrealistically hot boys on the cover) and head for the comics section or out the door. Publishers say, "See? They didn't touch [obscure boy-oriented title stocked between "Girl's Rock" and "My Secret Desire" (totally made-up titles)]. They must not like to read at all!"

And the cycle continues.

Jason also says that if the industry pushes boy books, boys will come to read them, even if it's slow at first. I agree. But for now can we stop being surprised when we see boys reading? Can we just believe that a lot of boys DO read, even if it's a whole 15% fewer than the girls?

Cuz the statistic that really worries me is that half of the kids in that study DON'T read. Let's work on them instead, aye?


vic caswell said...

interesting adam! i never thought the argument was that boys don't read. i thought it was that the YA market particulary didn't publish enough books that appeal to boys. MG, SF/F, historical, etc. are all genres publishing many great "boy books." but the worry is that YA will go the way or romance and women's lit... and many of us don't want to see that. maybe i misunderstand... but i think what they're saying is that boy's don't read YA... my oldest son (just turned 8) reads more than i do. but then it's riordan, stine, lasky, twain and tolkien... there are very few YA books that i believe he will enjoy in five years when he's a teen. and THAT'S a shame. teen boys should have books where they can see themselves represented... does that make sense?

Adam Heine said...

I've seen it both ways, aspiring. There are those who say boys don't read period -- that's the myth. And others say they read, just not YA because Publishing doesn't give them much they like.

As a guy who likes to read YA as much as adult, I agree with the latter (and Jason's article I linked to has a great example of how it happens). Especially in the online/blogging world, I often feel left out when talking YA. Even in books I love, the discussion frequently turns to Which Boy is Hotter, and I start to wonder if I read a different book than everybody else.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I love this post! I know for a fact that boys read. My mom works in a school library, and she says more boys are reading than girls. I've also been surprised that so many male readers have read and liked my novella about Cinderella. Very interesting! It's sad when stigmas and rumors like this stick.

Lyla said...

Boys certainly read SOME, but I have to say--90% of the guys I know don't. I ask them, "Do you read," and they scoff, "Are you serious?"

...So apparently I need to live where you live, or meet this other 43%. Haha. But really, it makes me sad. What are non-readers doing with their lives!?

Unknown said...

Give the boys who are more reluctant to read something about sport, guns or music and the percentage of non-readers would fall to almost zero.
In my class of thirty children there were only two who could not be persuaded to read.
My new wip is a paranormal romance written mostly from the boy's pov.

Emmet said...

The Black Arrow, Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, Treasure Island, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Robin Hood, Jules Verne's stuff, etc. They used to write books for YA boys, and *gasp* they were really good. Aside from some of the Ender books I can't think of anything recent that would fit the category of being good and accessible. The reason why boys walk past Stephani Meyer and go straight to the graphic novels is that those are the ones that are telling good stories well.

Adam Heine said...

Lyla wrote: "What are non-readers doing with their lives!?"

Statistically? Watching TV I think. Though no doubt some of them are being productive members of society too.

Emmet wrote: "The reason why boys walk past Stephani Meyer and go straight to the graphic novels is that those are the ones that are telling good stories well."

Ha, yeah. Or at least stories we want to read about. There are (I've heard) some good boy-oriented YA books though. Look up Leviathan for example (or the more commonly cited Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

Myrna Foster said...

My husband and son read, and they're the only boys in my house.

And there are boy-oriented YA books (Ranger's Apprentice is another great boy series), but they're fewer in number than the girl books. Personally, I'm not into the obsessive romance books that seem to be taking over YA. I am looking forward to Paranormalcy though, and so is my husband.

Shani Lee said...

Being the mum of the boys who borrow books from Adam I don't believe boys don't read. I do, however, believe that there aren't enough books for them to read. Also there are many that would be great for them to read like "Speak" and others but perhaps they need different covers on them to appeal to boys more. The Alex Ryder novels are awesome and boys and girls enjoy them and of course Percy Jackson which Nico is reading for the third time I think... Loads of boys prefer to read non-fiction and as a teacher it used to be my job to find stuff for 'non-reader' to read... not always an easy job, but worthwhile as reading opens up the world to people.... :) :)
As a homeschooling mum I find many of the books that are recommended with curriculum to be frightfully girlie and non-acceptable for boys.... we need more historical novels and such written for boys and from a male point of view. It's all very well having wonderful young female role models but 'yawn' for the boys! :)
Sharon :)

Diana Bleu-Smith said...

When i wrote my book "Adam Ant" i used a boy character because in my life all i have are little girls, and what i noticed as a parent not every one "gears" things toward boys! My approuch was to be fun and meant for both boys and girls! I took a new spin on the letter " A " using my own parenting skills and wanting to take a possitive look on autism awareness, so i combined many things! My sales are slow, but i think once people catch on.. the book could sell itself.

( .. I like that your name is Adam!) = )

Adam Heine said...

Thanks, Diana. It's cool to hear about actual sales. Good luck with your book!

Victoria Dixon said...

Aye, Adam! However, lets not disparage comics. After all, that's where Mr. Gaiman excels and there are great stories in those back issue boxes. Just because they used to be called "Funny Books" and are now called comics doesn't mean they're automatically frivolous or shallow. They can even have a high vocabulary nowadays.

Victoria Dixon said...

Aye, Adam! However, lets not disparage comics. After all, that's where Mr. Gaiman excels and there are great stories in those back issue boxes. Just because they used to be called "Funny Books" and are now called comics doesn't mean they're automatically frivolous or shallow. They can even have a high vocabulary nowadays.

Adam Heine said...

Agreed, Victoria. And I would never disparage comics. I've got six or seven graphic novels here that I LOVE -- including one by Gaiman.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Yes, it raises my hackles too. Especially when I'm looking at having teen boys soon and trying to bridge the gap between Percy Jackson and John Grisham (BTW anything by Scott Westerfeld is a great teen read, both boys/girls). And I can't help noticing that LOTS of childrens/teen authors are women and LOTS of childrens/teen agents/editors are women. I have nothing against women (erm, being one), but it can be a little too easy to believe tropes that are outside your personal experience (i.e. "boys only read sports books or fantasy").

I also believe that "boys" are no more a homogeneous group than "girls" and we need to encourage boys to take chances on books that are outside their comfort zone.

And publishers need to make more "gender neutral" covers - but apparently that's a rabid fight, as I found out when I suggested as such on a teen cover "vote" on a website recently.

*end soapbox rant*

Adam Heine said...

"And publishers need to make more 'gender neutral' covers - but apparently that's a rabid fight"

Is it? That's kinda sad. You know what has a gender neutral cover? Freaking Hunger Games. That alone should be reason to push for them.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Agreed. Maybe HG will change things for the better in more ways than one (in YA).