We've all heard this, haven't we? Boys and books don’t go together. We heard it in library school, we might see it among our patrons, and maybe even experience it at home with the boys in our lives.
While little boys often start out loving to read and loving the library, it's easy to lose them by the time they reach upper elementary school. There are all kinds of explanations why. Boys often gravitate toward nonfiction and librarians and teachers are often fiction lovers; boys see male role models “doing” rather than reading, boys receive negative feedback on the type of reading that does engage their interest, boys may be less verbal and as their reading material advances, they struggle to maintain skills and interest.
So how we can engage our young male readers and keep them engaged year after year -- which we know will enrich their lives as well as help them keep up academically in countless ways?
We’ve tackled this issue repeatedly at our library. We live in a small town heavily into activities like sports, hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. It can be especially tough in rural areas like ours to connect with boys. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Jon Scieszka speak on the topic in Minneapolis at MLA. He talked about connecting the boys to books they would love, having programs targeting boys, and encouraging them with male role models who value reading. With that last point in mind, we planned a 'boys only' summer book club for tweens. We had our (one) male library assistant run the program, we advertised with the Boys and Girls Club and with our regular patrons, we provided fun food (pizza or subs), and we picked great books. Unfortunately, the program was a dud. We had 5 boys show up the first session, 2 the second and none the third or fourth. Just discussing books wasn’t going to work for our library. So, we tried again.
Our next programming idea was aimed a little younger, and perhaps this was why we had more success -- we started a Lego Club. While this program wasn’t exclusively for boys, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the crowd who showed up: primarily boys in middle grades, who showed up in droves. Each month included a theme for building which made it easy to tie into books and reading. Medieval castles? Plenty of books on that. Rockets and Outer Space? No problem. And, regardless of theme, we could always display the Lego books -- those on building as well as Beginning Reader or Ninjago stories.
For teens, over time we’ve built an incredibly popular teen space by adding a Wii and an Xbox. We have games for the teens to play in-house, or to check out. We subscribe to Gamepro, Game Informer, GameStop and Nintendo magazines and leave those out in the teen space. We host Halo nights and teen movie nights, and the crowd hanging out in our library after school is 40+ teens, two-thirds of them boys. While they might not always be reading, they look at books and magazines in between their turns on the games or computers, they teach each other how to play new games, they recommend new materials and programming ideas to us. And they use our library every day we’re open. We count this as a success. Plus, when these boys do decide to read, they (now) know us well enough to actually ask for help.
Colleagues here in Northern Wisconsin have also tried some great ideas to get boys reading.
Kathy Larson (Youth Services Librarian, Bloomer Public Library) definitely recommends a Lego Club to get boys engaged at the library and reading. She also entices boys with Game Informer magazine, Pokemon guide books and she initiates conversations with boys about what they’re playing on the computer, showing them how to order games, guides and books on the catalog. She says, “If I have a good library relationship with kids at a young age, when they eventually have to have a book for school, I feel that they will be more comfortable coming to me for help choosing books for assignments. I believe that by including non-reading programming to entice kids into the library, you can sneak books into their lives without them realizing you did it on purpose!”
Jo Hick, (Children’s Librarian, Phillips Public Library) started out with a Lego Club, but morphed it into a Wacky Wednesdays program. She puts out the Wii and Nintendo (found cheap at a garage sale!), bins of Legos, board games and other fun activities and lets the boys go to town. She displays books each time and also shares her vendor catalogs with the boys, asking for their input on what books she should order!
Cathy LeFevre (Librarian, Sand Creek Library) hosted a Pirate School -- complete with a cardboard pirate ship, and a Fish Fear Factor! Both drew in large crowds.
And one of our youth librarians at Rice Lake is a member of a very successful mother/son book club. They read great books and try to incorporate a movie, trip, fun activity or food related to the story. The club started when the boys were in 5th grade and continues now that most are sophomores in high school.
At RLPL, our goal with boys is pretty much the same as it is with any of our community. We want to get them in our doors, build connections with them and help connect them to the information, education and entertainment the library offers. It’s just that with boys, we also try to sneak in a little bit of reading -- and we try to make it fun. Part of how we do that is by keeping current on what boys enjoy and translating that to books. This is simple once we’ve laid that foundation of relationship building through programming.
Below are some of our favorite books, series and authors to share with boys of variety of ages-based on what the boys in Rice Lake are enjoying! To snag the full list of titles boys are sure to go wild for, download the PDF.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (first book in the Origami Yoda books series)
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (first book in the Underland Chronicles series)
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (first book in the Artemis Fowl series)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley's Journal by Jeff Kinney (first book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series)
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (first book in the Books of Ember series)
Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (first book in the Warriors series)
Big Nate: in a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce (first book in the Big Nate series)
The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (first book in The 39 Clues series, by various authors)
The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (first book in the Guarians of Ga'Hoole series)