The New York Times published a disturbing article this past Sunday on boys and reading. Boys, it states, are trapped in a downward spiral when it comes to literacy: boys’ grade point averages are less than girls; their verbal skills are lagging; they are twice as likely to repeat a grade than a girl; and in federal writing tests, boys scored HALF of what girls score. It’s not just in the U.S., either. The problem affects most industrial nations.
There’s no single explanation for this disparity. However, with nations’ economies more dependent on workers who can multi-task and communicate over a broad spectrum of platforms, it may be that poor reading and writing skills now stand out more clearly than ever. “The world has gotten more verbal.” Reading is not simply a nice way to spend a leisurely hour anymore. It has become a necessity. It’s the gateway to higher learning, better jobs, and higher wages.
The article also suggests that a way to pique a boy’s interest in reading is to ensure that books have boy-friendly subject matter: ghosts, explosions, gross stuff, and wresters. Why not add monsters, aliens, soldiers, videogames, extreme sports, and scary stuff? That is exactly what we do at Stone Arch Books. It has always been our mission to reach those reluctant and struggling readers, especially boys, by starting right where they are. No boy is going to pick up War and Peace, but he will read about the clash of armies, artillery, bombs, and blood. And isn’t that what the classic tales were all about? Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, the Iliad, the chronicles of King Arthur. We need more books to pull a boy into that magical archway leading toward Literature; but we can’t always do it with Dickens, Hemingway, and Chabon. But we might do it with Captain Underpants, a wimpy kid, or Batman. And once those boys are through the archway, there’s no turning back.