Is it wrong to conduct experiments on your own kids? If so, I’m guilty. The eventual outcome of my risky test will either correlate with or disprove the common discussion about what boys will read.
It comes up at every writing conference and workshop and on countless blogs. Boys won’t read books with a female protagonist. I know the premise is correct- kinda. This is where my experiment comes in. My eight year old cherub son loves to be read to after his own required reading each night. Obviously, this is a special time for us that I relish. He has a library of children’s books that would impress any public librarian, especially his collection of train books. Not only do I support local authors, but I’m also a huge treasure hunter- digging up great books at garage sales and thrift stores. It’s another way to recycle, right? Anyway, his shelves and mine are lined with hundreds of children’s books.
At eight years old, “E” hasn’t yet morphed into machoism the way his brother did at about this age. E enjoys Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and Clementine. Of course, he’s also a fan of Spongebob, trains, sports books, and other typical male fare. Away from books, he is “all boy” complete with football, karate, cub scouts, and proud belches. How much of his reading decisions are based on his parents choices? I don’t know. I encourage him to read anything and everything that is age appropriate. He doesn’t grump about the protagonist wearing a skirt or using her hair as a weapon.
So, how much of this “boys don’t read about girls” is actually about the boy? Or, is it about the reader’s specific age? Or, is it about a parent worried that it is un-masculine for a boy to read about a girl? Or, is it an indication of too little introduction to the art of literature? Is E’s openness a response to his father’s and my encouragement to continue piano lessons, write more poetry, and have fun cooking with mom between football practice? Can parenting style keep a boy’s mind more open? Could boys reading about girls be an early form of sensitivity training? Hmm!
One of my recent thrift store finds was a book titled Dear Dumb Diary: Am I the Princess or the Frog? (Jim Benton, 2005). This is part of an impressive series by Scholastic that I hadn’t heard of. Amazon.com indicates the reader age range at 9-12. I’ll admit that I watched closely to E’s expression as I suggested this title. No flinching. No grumping. Just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay.”
E is a good reader-above average, I think. Still, the lengthy and complex sentence structure has challenged him on occasion. I think that’s great in that it forces him to stretch his literary ear and traverse mid-sentence punctuation. But, readability level is another subject, isn’t it? We have both laughed at Jamie Kelly, Isabella, Angeline and their universal antics. E just doesn’t care that we’re talking about girls. At least not yet.
I’ve spent a great deal of time as a library volunteer and substitute librarian at my son’s school. Boys love nonfiction. There’s no dispute about that. But, I regularly see boys older than E choosing female-centered books like Judy Moody along with a book about NASCAR. Perhaps there’s a shift in thinking on the way.
Stay tuned to the boys reading about girls experiment, which may take several years.