Getting Boys (and Girls) to Read

Getting boys to read

The boy was 13 years old and in the 8th grade. I know this because I walked up and introduced myself after he defended The Giver. A man not 3 feet away from where we were standing was teasing his teenage daughter, threatening he would buy her the book and force her to read it because of the grumpy looking old man on the cover.

He was in the new release section, deciding between three books when he heard the man. He looked up and said “No way, dude. That’s an incredible book.” Then he went back to his books as if he didn’t just give a stranger over 40 a setdown.


I had to meet him. I wanted to know what he was reading and why.

“I like to read books that show things that could happen, but probably won’t.” Dystopian, then, though he didn’t know that’s what it’s called. We then spent 15 minutes going through all the books in the teen section. He picked out a bunch of books he thought the boys at school would like. His mother–who I made sure to find and compliment–just laughed.

Getting boys to read, 2

This boy reads all the time, anywhere and everywhere. He likes to go to Barnes & Noble to check out books before he buys them in eBook format. He can only afford to buy 1 or 2 per month, so his bookstore visits are important to his selection process. If he doesn’t have a recommendation from a friend or someone whose taste he trusts, he selects first by cover, then he reads the synopsis. When something looks and sounds interesting, he opens the book to a random page and starts reading. He does this a few times for each book. He buys eBooks so he can read any time he has a spare minute. This is exactly what I tell the kids at school. A minute here, a minute there–it all adds up. James Patterson books are popular with the boys, and those only have 2-3 page chapters. You can read a chapter while you’re waiting for your Xbox to turn on. Like most teens, he is rarely without his phone, even at home.

Of all my #nothingwrongwithreading/#dudesreadingbooks pictures on instagram, this one was the most popular with the kids at school (I’m @TheMrsKendall on instagram). Immediately the girls wanted to know more about this 8th grade boy reader. The boys paid attention to the girls wanting to know more about this 8th grade boy reader.

I told them all about our conversation and the books he picked out for the library. I had a limited budget, but I did buy The Giver. They wanted to know what he looked like. Surfer? Jock? He looks tall, was he tall? What color eyes? WAS HE CUTE?

Blink. Was he cute? Uh, I don’t know? He was 13! I’m not in the habit of checking out boys who could be my children, what with me not being a deviant and all. I looked at this boy and saw a boy.

“SOOOO cute,” I gushed. This is when I realized there isn’t much I won’t do or say to get kids to read.

“I knew it!” they crowed. Then I started a hold list for The Giver, which one girl checked out immediately. “If I ever bump into that boy,” she said, “I want to be sure we have something to talk about.”

“A smart move,” I said. “Way to think ahead.”

This exchange proved to me what I’ve read time and again. Kids model behavior, even reading for pleasure. I’ve been searching for pictures of boys reading books ever since.

This is a lot like deciding to search for pictures of centaurs dancing the merengue. I have a board on Pinterest where I collect pictures of guys reading books. This is not, I repeat not, a board for children. There isn’t anything scandalous there (not like this picture), but there are some pictures of men without shirts. I mention this because a reader nicely and politely emailed me because she was afraid some of the pictures sexualized boys/men. THANK GOD SHE EMAILED ME. I was able to explain the Pinterest board is for adults, while instagram is for the kids. I won’t post a picture of a half-dressed man on instagram (unless it’s Sean Connery), but I will pin a picture of Paul Bettany on Pinterest even though he’s smoking a cigarette. I’m not worried about the kids finding me on Pinterest because they according to them, Pinterest is “for moms and grandmas.”

For those who may have lost count, the word Pinterest is in that last paragraph 5 times.

This same reader and I started chatting about instagram and social media, and she mentioned flippantly how great it would be to create a boys reading hashtag more popular than #throwbackThursday or any of those other frivolous hashtags in which we all participate. The idea got me thinking. Wouldn’t that be something to have a hashtag that kids used when posting pictures of themselves reading books? Wouldn’t that be something if kids posted pictures of themselves reading books? Wouldn’t it be something if kids thought reading was cool?

I mentioned this on Facebook, and a few of you told me about hashtags like #whatI’mreadingnow and #Fridayreads. I had no idea these existed, but I’m pretty clueless about that sort of thing. I’ve since found out there are a number of book hashtags out there, but I would really like for us to start one for kids, or maybe young adult books? I haven’t worked out the details, yet. My plan this week is to ask the junior high kids to create a reading hashtag for instagram. If anyone could think of something cool, it would be the kids I’m aiming to impress.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    “sooooo cute” This whole post is awesome, but that is the best :) And Emm just read The Giver. I had to buy the sequel the day after she started.

  2. Kathy says

    Mama Bear librarian, that’s what you are! :) Awesome. Your work at this school ( and out in the world ) is making a difference and I am glad you are doing it and sharing it with us.

  3. says

    Let me check on your hashtag question with my best source (my teenage daughter, who is constantly showing me fan fic jokes on Instagram) and get back to you.

    Oh, and your kids are going to love The Giver. You’re probably going to want the other 3 books that go with it: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

    Love these posts about reading.

  4. says

    Well, I was the 13 year old girl browsing the bookstore shelves, but that’s a little more common. However, I felt I had my own little victory this weekend when I mentioned to the Hubs that the library was having a used book sale and could we stop by? All the way into the park and rec, he was telling me I had to make it quick… that taking me there was like dropping an alcoholic off at a bar… the usual. Until it was *I* who was reminding *him* we had somewhere to be and dragging him off from the used books (he’s a sucker for anything published before 1950 – and they had several). It may have taken 14 years of marriage, but I believe I have a bookworm convert… 😉

  5. says

    I love all of this. I am also now officially on the hunt for pictures of cute boys reading (I instagrammed the Ron Burgundy one at you the other day as a joke but now it’s on. I work on a college campus–the possibilities are endless).

  6. Katie says

    I don’t have a whole lot to add on the instagram, hashtag (or pinterest) front, but there is a website that might be useful in your quest to get boys to read…

    It was created by Jon Scieszka (author of ‘The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales’ , ‘The True Story of the Three Little Pigs’ and others. Mr. Scieszka was the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature named by the James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress.


  7. says

    I love this. It is especially difficult when a lover of reading encounters so many children on a daily basis that do not enjoy reading or cannot read (due to Learning challenges). So, I just love all you do to get children into reading. I feel like I have allies in this battle to make reading cool and important. I have read The Giver twice. Once in high school and once as an adult. I didn’t realize that there were sequels. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is great too. Thank you for your passion.

  8. Susan G says

    This is all so amazing – it’s about reading (my favorite thing to read about/talk about/think about/do), it’s inspiring, and it’s so dang funny and interesting! This is a quintessential Jules post in form and substance and I LOVE IT!

  9. Kates says

    I love that you are trying to get the kids to read. I totally lost touch with reading during middle school and high school and really didn’t pick up reading books for fun until the summer after I graduated High School. I had a boring job and I had a lot of time to read so I devoured the Harry Potter series (or what was out at the time). Once in college I lost interest again but during the summers I would pick back up and just consume a whole series in no time. I love reading now and found that it is much more enjoyable. I would much rather spend time reading a good book (or even an okay book) than spend time watching reality TV!

    Good for you for getting the kids to read totally love what you are doing!!

  10. Toi says

    Moms and grandmas?! Haha! Those kids know how to make a girl feel old!

    I think this is so great. I’ve said this before, but you should be so proud of what you are doing. You’re changing these kids lives. They’re going to remember you years down the road when they pick up a book and read for pleasure. And then again when they teach their children to love books. You’re doing a really good thing.

  11. says

    Your stories about your library efforts always make me think of the frame narrative to The Princess Bride, where both the grandfather and the teacher are instrumental in creating a love of reading in ‘William Goldman’ (it pretends to be autobiographical). It’s one of the most convincing frame narratives I have ever read. Plus, of course, it’s The Princess Bride, so fun all the way through.

    • says

      My all time favourite movie! Have seen it a bazillion times.

      “When I was your age, television was called books.”
      ― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

  12. Emily says

    I have always read the way you suggested, a few minutes here and there. For example, I always read while I dry my hair in the am, on public transit to and from work and before I go to sleep at night. I love the way your changing the way kids think about reading. I think you’ve found your calling!!

  13. says

    I know I’m a couple weeks late, but I’m okay with this…..

    This may have gotten me a bit teary eyed. I love reading and it’s been such a wonderful thing that my brother and I both got to be readers growing up. My mom always was motivating us, and we would always get in trouble for reading at the breakfast table. The worst punishment for my brother was when he was so grounded they took all of the books out of his room for a week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>