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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Boys and Reading

I Am Giving a Talk on Boys and Reading In Illinois

(Peoria, June 11th), and working on the speech got me to thinking. Surely many of you know the basic arguments — Jon Sciezcka made them in that fall 2007 issue of the Horn Book that was devoted to boy and girl reading. Those of us who recall being boy readers — and those of you who are particularly attentive to the boys in your midst — notice that, all too often, "reading" is conflated with fiction, and, especially, the kind of fiction in which observations about character, feeling, internal development are the best parts of the book. Plot-based fiction, funny books, nonfiction — much less websites, baseball cards, and instruction books — are all seen as poor relations of real "reading," which involves those astutue explorations of self, friendship, and point of view.
But even as I wrote my talk, I realized that I may be just as wrong as the heedless interior-novel-lovers. I realized that while they blur "reader" and "the reader I was when I was a girl," I blur "boys who read, but not fiction" with "reluctant readers" and "nonreaders." In fact there is even a fourth blur — which was most true of me "boys who will read interior fiction, and even like it, but in a mix of much other reading." And then with the force of revelation I understood the real problem in how we speak about boys and reading: we know so little about it that we do not have a good typology of the spectrum of boy reading, in all its variables: the boys whose dads are professionals and read all the time, the boys whose dads never read outside of the sports page, the boys devoted to fantasy or spy series, the boys who give up reading any fiction, no matter how action packed, on the first page.

We need to break down the big category of "young reader" into its many sub-categories, and then begin to see what characterizes each. Otherwise we are just shifting around our mythologies, substituting one set of memories merged with observations for another. In this wider view, surely interior fiction will lose its pride of place, nonfiction will rise, and we will discover many styles, kinds, and types of reading — just as Roni Jo suggested. The one first step I urge in the speech is that we all begin by questioning our assumptions about what "real reading" is — so that we can notice what is actually going on around us.


  1. Betty Carter says:

    I believe it was Kylene Beers who first started talking a lot about the differences between avid readers and reluctant readers — that what appeals to one may not appeal to another. Great food for thought as we often try to tempt non-avid readers with the same kind of books favored by avid readers. And, in reverse, often those “tools” that appeal to reluctant readers (such as paperback editions) may turn away some avid readers who like the heft and weight of a book (all research done before ebooks hit the market).

    I think we also have to look at the language of the studies which allows for your category of yourself who might have been what I call a “Mikey Reader.” Just like the young boy in the TV commercial named Mikey who would eat any kind of cereal, some readers will read anything — or danged close to it. But, boys may show distinct preferences rather than stay with hard and fast choices and I think the difference between a preference study and an interest one is crucial.

  2. Ms. Yingling says:

    If any of your readers would like to win a three book set of Patrick Carman’s Atherton series, I am giving one away on my blog, MsYinglingReads. Thanks!