Boys and Books: What We Like & Why

Connecting Boys with Books 2: Closing the Reading Gap, by Michael Sullivan.

As  discussed in a previous post (Boys and Books: Read for Fun, Read Lots), I’m impressed with Michael Sullivan’s Connecting Boys with Books 2.  Sullivan’s work is well-researched, clear, and concise, and he has lots of practical advice about helping boys come to enjoy reading.

Sullivan’s chapter 3 is entitled “Boys and Girls are Different”.  Duh, yeah.  Obviously.  But we don’t always realize that there are even differences between boys and girls in what, how and why they read.  As with all generalizations, this won’t be true of all boys, but it’s a tendency that helps us understand the reading habits of many.

Girls tend to internalize; boys tend to externalize.  That means girls read to understand themselves, their relationships, their emotions; boys read to understand the world out there — how it works, how the pieces fit together, how they can manipulate it.

As a result, boys are more likely to gravitate to non-fiction and how-to books.  We may like sports books (even memorizing interminable statistics about wins and losses and batting averages), or sharks, origami, how to catch fish or do magic tricks.  We also love non-fiction books we can jump around in, like the popular Eyewitness series — there are titles on almost any subject, each with an array of fascinating facts accompanied by lots of photos.

And when we do read novels, we are less likely to enjoy books that are all about friendships and feelings.  You can still interest us in books with character and relationship development, but you’d better wrap it in an adventure.  A great example I just read is Roland Smith’s Peak.  The main character learns a lot about friendship, family and his own priorities — but in the process of climbing Mt Everest, so it’s cool.

Last year a boy, perhaps  in 4th or 5th grade, came to the library desk asking for  books on collecting baseball cards.  We have one good title in our children’s collection, about 80 pages long, an introduction to the hobby.  No, that’s not what he wanted — he already HAD a large collection of cards — he wanted to CATALOG them.  He wanted to find all the details on every single card in his collection — year, value, etc.  We have such exhaustive catalogs — in the adult department.  One is almost 700 pages long; the others run about 1800 pages.  Did he want something that big?  Yes.  So I gave him the call number, and he went downstairs to fetch his prize.  I don’t know the outcome, but I hope he went home and spent many happy hours organizing his baseball card world.  As a boy who collected — and cataloged — rocks (and shells, and later stamps), I understand the satisfaction.

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