Friday, July 15, 2011

Reading Like a Boy

I'm a girl. A girl who has always preferred reading fiction--a variety of fiction, but I'll admit that I'm mostly drawn to literary narrative, historical fiction, and a good mystery/suspense novel. Don't get me wrong; I do enjoy memoirs and I read a lot professionally. My husband even convinced me to read a fantasy series years ago that I have since reread at least 3 times.

As a teacher, I've always worked hard to stock my classroom library with a wide variety of reading material, and in the past few years, have made an effort to balance my read aloud selections. I have deliberately included more informational text and have helped my students get to know authors from a wider variety of genres. I have found resources and created lists of books that might appeal to students with different interests and abilities. This past year I finally admitted that what I hadn't done was spend more time reading these books myself unless they also matched my own interests.

While my taste in and experiences reading picture books is pretty varied, I could not say the same about reading middle grade texts. This is especially true when it comes to books that tend to be geared toward boys. Like a said, I'm a girl. I have to admit that Captain Underpants just doesn't do it for me, though I greatly admire his ability to ensnare hoards of boy readers, including my own sons.

What I have realized is that even if I'm familiar with titles and authors and summaries and reviews, truly connecting with readers is hard when you don't ever read the same kinds of things they do. Besides, my selections for read alouds, book clubs, reading groups and even independent reading suggestions may make it hard for student readers who are not drawn to the same type of reading I am. The other problem is that I end up with very limited experience to draw upon when supporting these readers. I may not understand as a reader how these texts are set up, how the plots tend to work, or what strategies may really help readers navigate and understand and enjoy and share with others what they are reading.

But I'm a girl. So this summer, I've not only been scouring blogs and booklists and journals for reading suggestions to widen my experience, I went right to the source. I asked my 10 year old son. He made me a stack, and even told me which ones to read first. No, I haven't yet read Captain Underpants. But slipped in among my other reading the past couple weeks, I have read:

The Toilet Paper Tigers (G. Korman)
Oggie Cooder (S. Weeks)
A Whole Nother Story (Dr. C. Soup)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1 (H. Black, T. DiTerlizzi)
100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson)
Fablehaven, Book 1 (B. Mull)

Can you tell I started with things I thought I'd most like? My son has promised to keep adding to my stack, and I'm asking him to make sure to pull out some graphic novels and information books. He told me he would, but that he was trying to start with books that boys like that I would also like. I thanked him, but explained that I was also counting on him to stretch me a little, so he promised to vary the list a little more. Meanwhile, the upcoming titles include:

The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow (T. Kehoe)
Powerless (M. Cody)
Stink-o-pedia (M. McDonald)
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (M. Buckley)

Still heavy on narrative fiction, but because I am aware of this, I am deliberately planning some other reading, especially information texts (maybe even the ones about gross topics like why we have snot) and graphic novels. Reading things outside my own interests isn't always easy; sometimes it's a little uncomfortable and I have to make myself do it. But that's what I ask my readers to do sometimes. And I know that doing it will make me a better teacher of reading for all my students, especially those with whom I can not relate to reader to reader.


  1. What an admirable goal, and good way to find those books by asking your son. I hope you keep sharing titles, because I need to catch up on younger grade books myself. I tend to keep reading YA books. It was fun to hear you connect to being a girl. We do tend to read different things most of the time, don't we?

  2. Look at you! A new post! So glad you shared some of those titles. I am pretty sure that Youngest will have to make a list or stack for me next summer!

  3. What a good thought! I tend to stick with things I like also. We don't let the students always do that. And how would you know if you really didn't like "The Captain", if we never actually read him?

  4. Thanks for this push. I needed it. I'm off to make a new To Read pile with books a little off my grid.

  5. Great post. I too need to broaden my horizons. Thanks for the nudge and also thanks to your son for the suggestions. My fourth graders (especially the boys) will surely appreciate them too. Looking forward to reading your blog and need to get back in the groove with mine!