When I was an elementary school teacher, one of my favorite things to do was find good books for my students to read. You know, not the books that won the fancy awards because they tackled themes of blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah, blah. But books that kids really love. There was nothing better than having a student finish a book I’d recommended and come running to me to tell me how much he liked it.
But the very best moments were the ones when a kid who hated to read suddenly found himself engrossed in a book. And, I’ve got to be honest, while I had some girls who hated to read, the ones most likely to tell me they hated books were boys.
The narrative these days is that boys don’t like to read. And that may be true. But the deck is kind of stacked against them. See, the kinds of things boys typically like to read about (warfare, knights, cowboys, monsters, anything gross, etc.) are frequently not allowed in schools because they are “too violent” or “culturally inappropriate.” Whether or not you agree with this assessment of these types of topics is irrelevant. It’s what boys want to read about. So, if you don’t have books on those topics, you’re more than likely to have boys who won’t read.
Not to mention the fact that since this idea that “boys don’t like to read” has taken hold, more books are written with girls in mind. Which means that boys (who may be more inclined to turn on a video game, or head outside for a game of touch football anyway) are kind of out of luck.
If you have a boy in middle or high school whose reading level is at, or above, grade level, then you’re in better shape because they can start to read young adult or even adult fiction which has more offerings for boys. (Shameless plug here for my dad, Andrew Klavan, who’s got a bunch of really excellent young adult books for boys, like the Homelanders series, and Crazy Dangerous.)
But, if your son is in elementary school and/or reading below grade level, you might be finding it really hard to get him motivated to read. And his teacher may or may not be motivated to find him books he’s actually going to like, since most classroom libraries have eliminated all the books boys might be interested in.
So, if you’ve got a son (or a student, if you’re a teacher) who’s in elementary school and is adamant that he hates to read, check out some of these books. I’ve recommended them to my reluctant readers over the years and had some success. It’s worth a shot!
This series of books is a good, old-fashioned quest narrative, complete with knights, dragons, sword-fighting, and wizards. The hero, Tom, is a young boy who must fight magical beasts terrorizing the kingdom because of an evil curse.
One of the best things about this series is that there are over 100 books in it. So, if your kid likes the first one, you’re set for a while. (And don’t make the mistake of telling your former reluctant reader, who’s suddenly reading voraciously, to branch out and read something else. If he’s hooked on this series and wants to read 100 Beast Quest books in a row let him do his thing. He’s reading!)
These books are really short and pretty formulaic so they’re great for struggling readers or kids who feel intimidated by long books. They also have pictures which helps kids visualize the action and stay invested in the plot.
If your son loved Beast Quest and is ready for something a little more challenging (or if Beast Quest seems a little below his reading level), these are the books for him. Again, this is a series, which is great, and there are also a bunch of spin-off series’ so he’s got lots and lots of reading material if he enjoys the first book.
These books also have knights, kings, sword-fighting, and quests which is awesome. And the writing is pretty good, as books like these go. In fact, the first book, The Forests of Silence, had a twist in it that surprised even me. It also follows a basic quest formula with the hero, Lief, looking for gems to complete a magic belt to save the kingdom. But, honestly, who cares? He has to fight monsters, go on adventures, and defeat the agents of ultimate evil. Good stuff.
Sachar has been around for a long time, so it’s possible you grew up reading his books too. But teachers tend not to recommend his really great books too much because some of them contain (very mild) gross-out humor (which boys love) or don’t seem particularly literary. But, trust me, kids love them.
Struggling readers should check out the Marvin Redpost series which follows third-grader Marvin Redpost through many misadventures and hilarious capers. Slightly stronger readers should pick up the Sideways Stories series which is full of related, though separate, short stories about the wild and wacky world of Wayside School. They’re hilarious!
And, if your child is a strong reader (but just reluctant to read), check out There’s a Boy In The Girls’ Bathroom. The title might indicate why teachers don’t recommend this book. But it’s one of my personal favorites and I used to read it aloud to my class every year. It’s a book about Bradley, a bully who learns to fit in. Which sounds really saccharine and awful. But it’s handled in such a realistic, funny, touching way that it’s a great book for boys. (If your son’s not sure he wants to pick it up, tell him one of the lines in the book is, “Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.”)
Getting excited about reading can be tough. Especially when the options you’re being given aren’t great. Try not to push “classics” on your child. He’ll get there. Let him dive into the stuff that will really grab him. Once he realizes that reading is awesome, he’ll be more willing to branch out. Good luck.