“Boys and Books” by Gladys Hunt

This latest in our Gladys Hunt series, which we affectionately call The Hive, looks at the types of books boys enjoy and muses over why so many boys quit reading as they grow older.

“Boys and Books” by Gladys Hunt

Little boys like books as much as little girls! There’s no gender issue in books for primary children and even early elementary.

But something happens to boys as they become older that leads to discouraging statistics. It’s not that they can’t read, but that they don’t read as they enter high school. Reading for fun drops off dramatically during this time, but among males the drop is three times as large as for young women. It follows, then, that the student body at the average university is 60% women.

The University of North Carolina website suggests one answer: lack of male influence in reading. Boys have few male reading role models at home or at school. Most librarians and teachers are women; mothers read to children more frequently than fathers. Add the lack of “masculine” books on topics as sports, war and competition and you have a ready-made push towards video games. Video games have action, danger, competition and strategy.

It discourages me that those responsible for promoting reading often promote books about social issues. “Sensitivity” is a huge value. Literacy Matters, whose purpose is to improve middle literacy development tells teachers that adolescents like books about “finding one’s self” and resolving personal conflicts and other feeling issues. That’s not where boys are.

The American Library Association’s website for young adult readers lists 25 Outstanding Books for the College Bound. On that list is the story of Precious Jones in a book called Push who bears her father’s baby at age 12, and then becomes pregnant by him again at age 16. Another book on the list: Heartbeat carries this blurb: “Can Ellen get the boy who loves her brother?” Out of the list of 25 novels, 18 are novels or memoirs. Fourteen of them have female protagonists with plots involving conflicts of a personal nature and emotional resolutions. No books on this list offer much for boys—and I would question what it offers girls! Are any of these lasting or great literature? It’s difficult to fight this trend in a PC world.

Parents of boy-children can do something to remedy these findings. From the first be aware of having at least some books with male heroes. There are a lot of them out there. Get Father in on the reading and book-choosing. In most good stories for the young, gender is not an issue. A story like The Wind in the Willows and many other good tales go both ways. The Chronicles of Narnia are wonderful adventures for all children. It’s obvious why children have made Harry Potter books almost universally read. The Tolkien Trilogy is an ageless pleasure and is among the finest writing of the twentieth century.

What we need for boys is out there. We just must be made aware of the need to find the best. We must also give reading a value equal to sports.

From Redeemed Reader: We heartily concur with Gladys Hunt, and we love to find books that boys love. We don’t believe boys aren’t readers, but many book lists skew towards more traditional female interests/characters. Check out our “boys” tag for books we’ve tagged with boys in mind. Janie has a great post about Stalking the Elusive Boy Reader.

Gladys Hunt wrote these blog posts for Tumblon.com, a web app that helped parents understand children’s development. Graham Scharf, one of the co-founders of Tumblon, has granted permission for these posts to be published here to achieve Gladys’s aim: for children and their parents to explore and enjoy great books together.

Please note: all affiliate links benefit Redeemed Reader and help us continue to offer opportunities like this!

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Aryn The Libraryan ? on September 3, 2020 at 10:22 am

    So true! Boys Can love Storytime, if given half a chance. Bryan Davis’s Dragons in our Midst series is another great option. Lots of action and strength and faith!

  2. Danette West on September 8, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    All my children loved “Swallows and Amazons”. It’s a sweet adventure story with a set of brothers and sisters and a summer spent on the lake with their boats.

  3. Karen Webb on September 18, 2020 at 11:35 am

    My son recently turned 13 and has always been a voracious reader; but in the last year or so I have seen him truly struggle to find something to read; he has read all of Flannigan and Mull’s books; all the Harry Poters; All the Artemis Fowl; all the Land of Stories; My Side of the Mountain Trilogy. He has a high reading comprehension – but is not interested in many of the YA novel topics. We read the Hobbit; but seem to get bogged down in the fights of Lord of the Ring. We read the Outsiders – but for a kid who has read so much magical it fell flat. I can see what you are saying coming true in him and it makes me sad. He is searching the web for information about Harry Potter and the actors – so I know he still wants to read; HELP

    • Janie Cheaney on September 19, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Roland Smith is a favorite author for boys–some of his earlier books may be a bit juvenile for someone who reads well above grade level, but his later books are aimed toward young teens. He doesn’t write fantasy; adventure/thriller is more his game. Along that same line, type Andrew Klavan in the search box and see if any of his novels sound interest. For fantasy, I like a lot of Philip Reeve’s work, especially the Larklight trilogy. (I’m not so fond of some of his other novels, though I find The Hungry Cities both literary and profound–but probably too mature for a 13 year old) Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus and Lockhart & Company series. Also check out Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series. Possibly Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield. Finally, see our Fantasy/Sci-fi Megalist!

    • Betsy Farquhar on September 19, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Karen, I’ll chime in, too. (I have two 13-yo boys in my own home!) The Ranger’s Apprentice and Brother Band Series by Flanagan are big hits around here. The Queen’s Thief Series is another series to watch for; we’re hoping to review book 6 in a few weeks.

      • Karen Webb on December 1, 2020 at 12:45 pm

        Thanks Betsy – we have read all of those!

  4. Hannah on October 2, 2020 at 7:10 pm

    I grew up in a large, reading family. We also relished the Swallows and Amazons series. Historical fiction was our favorite genre and the Middle Ages, our favorite time period. A few favorite authors our boys (and girls) loved are: Cynthia Harnett, Rosemary Sutcliff and the great G. A. Henty.

  5. Valerie V Paulukaitis on April 16, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    All of Rosemary Sutcliff’s YA novels have male protagonists and tell manly, heroic, fascinating historical stories. It is interesting to compare the novel “Eagle of the Ninth” with the Tatum Channing movie . . . (spoiler: movie changes some basics 🙁 )
    BTW, our daughter also loved them.

    • Hayley Morell on April 16, 2021 at 6:29 pm

      Valerie, thank you for commenting! Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels were a favorite of mine, too. And I couldn’t bear to watch the movie because I love Eagle of the Ninth too much!

      • Valerie on July 25, 2021 at 11:04 pm

        You were right not to watch! They completely changed the relationship between the two main characters, moving it from one of friendship and risks freely taken, to a resentful, master-slave story. The loss was profound.

  6. Alison Fairfield on March 25, 2023 at 8:04 am

    My 17 yo daughter (HS jr.) who had been a strong leisure reader slacked off reading for a period but now she is absolutely ploughing through Robert Jordan’s “Epic Fantasy Saga” The Wheel of Time. She on book 5 or 6 and these are substantial novels.

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