Getting Boys (and Girls) 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.
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.