Saturday, May 7, 2011

Best Books for Boys

Spending time with Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys K-8: How To Engage Boys in Reading In Ways That Will Change Their Lives today. Allyn discusses "Key Questions and Answers" about boys and reading, and makes recommendations about books with appeal. I like that she makes connections, such as "If you like this book, try that book."

One quote from the book that I'd like to have made into a poster or cross-stitched on a pillow is:

"Reading deeply is more valuable than constantly being drawn back to a task."

If children spend their reading time with Post-its in hand and a job to do, will they associate reading with fun?

When my son, who is about to turn thirteen, was starting to read, what was more important than what he read was that he felt positively about books and reading.

My son's reading trajectory went like this: First, he read non-fiction, exclusively. In particular, nonfiction books about animals. When we went to the library, I wondered whether he might like to go to any other sections, but for a while, that was it, that was all. That was his thing.

Then he branched out a bit into Matt Christopher's sports books and the Magic Tree House series. Reading the Harry Potter series was something of a revelation and seemed to open up the world of books for him.

I think Allyn's book is helpful for its suggestions about how to make reading time positive for different reading styles. I have a friend who said that her son "hates" reading. That sounds so final. I don't believe it's true. He used to enjoy reading, but something happened.

This idea might have been helpful for him: "Have [students] record their changing reading preferences throughout the year in their readers' notebooks or on sticky notes you record together on a wall in the classroom ("Our Changing Reading Lives").

My friend's son might have benefited from thinking of himself as someone with a "reading life" that he had preferences about. I encouraged my friend to think of her son's antipathy for reading as more of a phase than something absolute. I should tell her about this book.

Another bit that caught my eye: "Check your [classroom] collection; there should be at least 30 percent nonfiction books, 30 percent poetry and 40 percent fiction."

I was surprised by the percentage of poetry in this suggestion, but it makes sense -- kids connect to poetry very early on. Funny poetry in particular seems to go over well, and some students might appreciate it who haven't yet connected to other kinds of books. Recently when I gave a fourth grader a lucky clover, he ran to get a book with a funny four-leaf clover poem in it to share with me and his friends. He didn't know that I like poetry, and it was sweet to see that poem pop into his mind.

Out of curiosity, I checked Best Books for Boys' recommendation section to see how many of my son's favorite books were listed. Just wondered if they were there, and it turns out Allyn mentions nearly all of them. Her recommendations seem spot-on. The only ones missing were the Skulduggery Pleasant series, which is admittedly obscure.

My son likes the Skulduggery books so much that he had me order one from the U.K. when the latest book wasn't making it to the U.S. fast enough. If you have a reader who likes the Percy Jackson and Pendragon series, you might want to look into them.

One last side-note: My son's fifth grade teacher had her students run a presidential election featuring book characters. The kids picked the characters who would run and made posters and speeches on their behalf. It was great fun, and even became pretty heated. There are many routes to engaging kids in reading!

Pam Allyn's attitude toward helping boys (and all kids) become happy readers is both reassuring and encouraging. You can find Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys K-8: How To Engage Boys in Reading In Ways That Will Change Their Lives on Amazon, Powells, Indie Bound, Barnes and Noble, and others.

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