Monday, June 14, 2010

Let the Empire Strike Back Already

Shelving books in the library, I overheard the following conversation in the children's section between a mother and her two sons:

Son 1: (to Son 2, as they both fumble excitedly through the various Star Wars series collection) Number 4 is called The Empire Strikes Back! (to Mom) Mom! Mom! Can we get these? 
Mother: (looks disapprovingly at the Star Wars books, then looks animatedly down at a volume from another series-- The Boxcar Children) Umm... wow! Look at these books, I remember these... What were these series called? Oh yeah! The Boxcar Children! Have you heard of these... ooooh, The Mystery at the Fair! This looks like a good one! 
Son 1: (Blatantly ignoring mom's comments) We could get Number 3 and Number 4! 
Son 2 reaches excitedly for the book Son 1 is holding...they are almost wrestling to see what's in the book.
Mother: You can't get any of those books. That is sooo not quality literature. How about those Boxcar Children?! 
Son 1 and 2 exchange exasperated glances at one another. Son 2 tries one more attempt at showing his interest in Star Wars, again ignoring his mom's suggestion.
 Son 2: Ugh, Number 4 isn't The Empire Strikes Back, it's Return of the Jedi! Mom, please can we get this? 
Mother: No! Definitely not. Alright, look, pick either The Mystery at the Fair or The Summer Camp Mystery. You aren't getting any of those Star Wars books. (She's getting huffy now)
Son 1: When we get home can we watch The Empire Strikes Back! 
Mother: (Definitely annoyed) You have better things to do than to watch Star Wars all summer long!!! 
Son 2: (under his breath, sarcastically) Yeah... like reading the Boxcar Children...
Son 1 and 2 snicker as Mom stalks off.

I'm taken by surprise. First off, the Star Wars movies are great. Second off, the fact that these two boys around the age of 10 are wanting to read about Star Wars, not just watch the movies, is even greater.  And the last and most stressing fact from this conversation is that Mom, by denying her kids' subject of interest in reading, fails to realize that she is probably smothering any idea that reading could be fun, and sending the signal that reading is supposed to be about "good literature" (although where she gets the idea that the Boxcar Children is defined as high-quality literature is one mystery that still hasn't been solved by those ruddy little orphans).

Sorry, Gertrude Chandler Warner. Don't get me wrong about the Boxcar Children. I loved the first book when I was little, and I think it's incredible that children still check them out to this day since the first one was published in 1924.  But even if they are considered a "classic" in the world of children's literature, does that mean they are right for everyone? No. For 10 year old boys drooling over Star Wars chapter books? Definitely not.

There are plenty of books for kids that I think are garbage. [Take the Rainbow Magic series, all about fairies, with awesome names like Sky, the Blue Fairy; Sunny, the Yellow Fairy; Storm, the Lightning Fairy; and yes, even Hayley, the Rain Fairy (thanks, a lot Daisy Meadows, if that's even your real name).]     BUT, the bottom line is: if they are reading, then LET THEM READ.  Star Wars books aren't racy or crude. They aren't the greatest example of children's lit, but it's what they are interested in, so roll with it! 

Boys especially are susceptible to being turned off of books at a young age. After hearing the aforementioned conversation, I decided to do some research to find out what types of books boys at that age might enjoy. I also did a little research on boys and reading. 

Statistics (from Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do by Michael Sullivan): 
  • Boys are on average one and a half grades behind girls in reading
  • 70% of students in remedial classes are boys 
  • Boys aren't the majority in library programs
  • Boys are the majority saying they spend zero time reading for fun
 Although I can't promise to fix these things, here are some things to help the lost boys out: 

  1. Boys need male role models showing them that reading is fun. Have their fathers or other male role models take them to the library, the bookstore, or read them their bedtime story. Let the library feel accessible to them. 
  2. Take them to library programs when they are younger (and if possible, try to encourage some of his male friends to enroll too so he has other male peers to share the reading experience with). Library programs run by male librarians are rare, but if you see one on the schedule, make it a point to have him attend that one!
  3. Encourage him to read what interests him!!! I can't stress this enough!  If you squash his interests in reading when he's little, his reading material when he gets older will consist mainly of Playboy magazines that probably won't read "just for the articles."
  I'll end this blog with a list of books that I've gathered on boys and their reading lists, and on what I've seen boys eager to check out at the library. This isn't a fool-proof list, and it's not in any particular order-- I'm just offering another option that might suit them better than, say, the Boxcar Children. 
  • Non-fiction! Okay, I know that this is incredibly vague, but boys seem to take to non-fiction pretty well. See what their interests are, and promote them: let them learn about Egyptian mummies, Roman soldiers, how cars run, the most poisonous animals in the world, how to build things, the solar system, or any other number of things boys find intriguing. 
  • Books by Matt Christopher. This guy writes fiction about almost every type of sport, and boys seems to love it. 
  • The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne. This woman is a genius! She writes fiction stories about two children who travel in time and space to go on tons of adventures. She's got lots of different stories, and many of them come with non-fiction research companion guides to accompany them. For example, the first in the series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, comes with a research guide all about dinosaurs of the prehistoric world! Boys and girls alike love this series.
  • The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka. Another time travel novel about boys who travel having kooky adventures, with fun titles such as See You Later, Gladiator; Viking It and Liking It; The Not-So-Jolly Roger; The Knights of the Kitchen Table, and Your Mother Was a Neanderthal. :)
  • R.L. Stine's Goosebump series-- Boys like scaring themselves and seeing how much they can handle. Once I had a boy come up to me, and with a devilish gleam in his eye, challenged me to find him the scariest book we had. Although I can't promise these are the scariest, they do fulfill that need for a little horror.
  • The Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate also still does pretty well, even though that was much more popular when I was younger. What boy doesn't love humans turning into animals? 
  • The Hardy Boys series, by Franklin W. Dixon. This is old, I know, but I still get boys running up to me asking where the Hardy Boys are. They also make this in a comic book form now.
  • The Harry Potter series. Enough said! 
  • Eoin Colfer's The Artemis Fowl series. A fantasy series about a ruthless teenage criminal mastermind who tries to obtain money by stealing it from fairies and the like.
  • The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. A story about a boy who has to survive on his own after his plane crashes in the woods. 
  • As far as picture books go, reading books to a boy about boys or animals (curious monkeys for example) who get into trouble, any form of transportation, pirates, dinosaurs, and pirate-dinosaur combinations will get you far! 
 Sheesh, I've given you enough books, now get to work! I'll do more digging to have more titles available at a later date.


  1. Hayley,

    What a fantastic entry! Seriously, loved it...and I love the fact that you are SOOOOO dedicated to fostering children's love of reading. Books have always been a constant fixture in my life and I am always grateful that I came from a reading family. Having a good vocabulary (even from reading "non-literature) has helped me in ways I can't even begin to describe.

    It does seem like boys are rarely bookworms. They definitely should be encouraged and you gave some great tips. Hey, if I have a little boy some day, I might just have to track you down and ask you to dig up this entry.

    Keep on keeping on, you crusader for books :)

    Hope you are well and that the wedding is going off with a hitch. Congrats again to to you and Chris!

    -Larisa (ugh sorry for the long comment, it just sparked a lot of good feelings in me and I had to share)

  2. Wow, Mom is totally lame. She should definitely let them read those books or her children will go through life not knowing that the fourth Star Wars film is "A New Hope".

    Seriously, I do agree that she is probably snuffing out her children's spark for reading, but I think most parents would be inclined to try to sway their children to read things that they enjoy or remember. For instance, I think if I had a son that wanted to check out The Babysitters Club, my response would be, "Hmmm... or you could get this Hardy Boys! It's better, and not targeted at little girls." But I guess a little dissuasion wouldn't be so bad as long as it doesn't go as far as banning a book.

    Also, as your statistic suggests, I wasn't much of a reader growing up, but almost everything I did read appears on your list. So kudos on that.

  3. You know what's freaky? We were literally talking about this today in class! One of the problems that we addressed was that a disproportionate number of fiction books were either specifically aimed at girls, or had girls as the protagonist(s), which just perpetuated the problem. But all of your thoughts/solutions would fix the problem!