Boys and Reading

My 8 year-old son, in addition to consuming larger-than-ever quantities of food, has started to consume enormous quantities of books, and we can’t seem to keep up! As I speak, he is sitting on the couch reading through the third book that we picked up yesterday afternoon at the library. He has always loved being read to, and we have had such fun with him over the years tackling one adventure after another in The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Tree House series, My Father’s Dragon, and countless non-fiction books about frogs, the solar system, and dinosaurs. For several years, he has had fun skimming through magazines (Highlights, National Geographic, Boys’ Life), Lego encyclopedias (have you discovered these yet? they are great for 5+ year-old boys!), and some of the non-fiction books with great illustrations. However, it hasn’t been until a few months ago (just before his 8th birthday) that he would independently pick up a book and sit down to read of his own volition.

I say all of this because I think that many parents of little boys begin to panic when their sons don’t show an immediate love for independent reading. And while we’re on the subject, my son wasn’t at all interested in coloring or writing until fairly recently either. I would glance longingly in the direction of other families at the restaurant whose children were engrossed in their coloring pages, wondering why my child would only color for about 20 seconds at a time. Report cards always came home with a grade of “needs improvement” for handwriting, and it was always hard to decipher what to attribute to a lack of effort vs. what to attribute to developmental norms.

If any of this sounds familiar, I want to tell you that there is hope! My son just came home with a grade of “Excellent” in the handwriting category (really?!), he loves to read and draw, and he even enjoys writing when the topic catches his interest. I think that many moms of boys have had similar experiences. The key to independent reading with my son seems to be finding a series of books that he is interested in. Once we find a good series, I start requesting every book in that series on the library’s website, and we go to pick up half a dozen books at a time. Within a couple of weeks, he’s read through the series!

I know that there is lots of junk out there in the children’s literature department, especially for boys, but here are some good series that Christopher has recently been reading through:

Beverly Cleary series: Ribsy, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse, and Otis Spofford books

Jack Stalwart books, by Elizabeth Singer Hunt

Hank the Cowdog series, by John R. Erickson

“Akimbo” series, by Alexander McCall Smith

Boxcar Children series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Fudge books, by Judy Blume

What books have your sons enjoyed reading over the years? We will continue to read out loud to all of our children, of course, but are relishing this new stage of independent reading!

  • http://www.humbledwelling.com Elaine

    Thanks for the tip about Lego encyclopedias! My kids have been all about Legos this summer and would love books about them. And I’m a little relieved that Christopher didn’t color a lot either. Liam could care less about it and I was starting to worry.
    One series we loved was Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny. They are graphic novels and Liam read them quickly, but they are good enough to read over and over again.
    And doesn’t it kind of make you sad when they start reading on their own. I know there will be a time soon when I won’t get that snuggle read out loud time. Plus I want to know what Jack and Annie have been up to in the Magic Tree House too! haha

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

      Another great book, more for creativity than for reading, is the Lego Idea book — my boys have had great fun with that!

      • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

        This truly is a great book for Lego-lovers!

  • Kellie “Red”

    This post is both encouraging and very practical. I really appreciate it! While he is able to read, our 6 year old son does not really like to do it. I’m encouraged that it is just a matter of time before he is reading for fun like his big sister. Thanks!

  • Ana

    My parent support network in Chicago recently had a discussion about books for eight year olds. These were posted by a Catholic Mom (I haven’t read them, and don’t even know if they are appropriate or not, but maybe they are worth checking out).

    1. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (this is a series which my children have enjoyed for years, long after they have been reading more difficult books)
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia -this is one of my favorites. It is more advanced reading than the previous recommendation but my oldest went through the whole series when she was 8 and has repeated many of the books over the past three years.
    3. All-of -a-Kind family series This is a beautiful series of five books by Sydney Taylor.
    4. The Pye series or The Moffat series both by Eleanor Estes.
    5. Any of the books by Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague, etc)
    6. The Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

      I love and would vouch for any of the series mentioned there!
      If they are into sports, lots of Matt Christopher books, and also some funny books called And Nobody Got Hurt by Len Berman (the New York sports reporter — these are true, ridiculous sports stories).

      Encyclopedia Brown and the A to Z mysteries are popular with young boys in our house as well.

      None of that is “great literature” but they are fun and wholesome for early chapter readers.

  • Saoirse

    Love to see my boys reading! My near 8 year old loves and prefers graphic novels which I consider fluff. We made a deal that he can take out one graphic novel a week from the library and all else must be plain old books. He loved Magic Tree House and actually has almost all of them (who was I to question when he asked for a series of paperbacks for Christmas!! He wanted to read them in order and found it impossible with the library system. It was a great addition to our home – and they have inspired him to learn more about diverse topics! He has wowed me at museums with knowledge he gained from the books and guides.) He is currently enjoying Geronimo Stilton books and Encyclopedia Brown. He also just discovered the Guinness book of world records and is seeking a record he and his brothers can break this summer! My 6 year old is a reluctant reader but he loves he FlyGuy series which offers lots of boy humor – and good illustrations.

    • http://www.humbledwelling.com Elaine

      Just out of curiosity, Saoirse, why do you consider graphic novels fluff? There are some really great adaptations of classics into graphic novels such as the Odyssey and Black Beauty. I always thought it was a great way to introduce younger ones to great novels or stories that are a bit above their level.

      • Saoirse

        Honestly – it is his taste in graphic novels that is the problem. If he would go for classics – that would be one thing. I have tried that and he won’t look at them. He tends to go for sci-fi or graphic novels that push what I view as appropriate humor. It is also that I feel these comic style books don’t help him develop skills in finding inferences and comprehension – things he struggles with.

        • http://www.humbledwelling.com Elaine

          Yeah, that’s understandable. There are some graphic novels out there that are in very bad taste.

  • Kate e

    Finding the right series or type of book is key, speaking as a kids librarian and mom of reading age boy. Kellie those Geronimo Stilton books were big hits here. As are Dan gutman my weird school series. Bruce Hale’s Chet gecko series. Ballpark mysteries. A to z mysteries and their spin-offs calendar and capital mysteries. Secrets of droon, how to train your dragon, dragons layers academy are our fantasy picks. We like dick king smith for animal stories. My guy is trying longer chapter books like the Half Magic series, paddington books, and boxcar children.

    For read alouds we did this year
    Mr poppers penguin
    Rabbit hill
    Homer price
    Daularies Greek and Norse myths
    Both Winnie the poohs and three shel silversteins
    And now we are tackling the hobbit (slow but gripping)

    For the graphic novel mama, please please check out noflyingnotights.com
    I actually loathe many of the classic novel adaptations because they are so weak in the retelling and often the illustration but there are many many options and you can find common ground with your guy. You can get could inference and comprehension skills from a graphic novel too.
    Some non-fiction graphic novels could be great too. Awesome one on the Redwoods and a great one on Satchel Paige from my memory.
    Happy Reading!

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      Thanks for the discussion on graphic novels, ladies, this is very helpful – I plan to check out the website mentioned above. I grew up with my mom telling me that comic books were rubbish, and because I was a girl this wasn’t ever an issue – I think that I’ve subconsciously adapted this view, but my attitude is totally unfounded because I haven’t spent any real time reading through them myself. Thanks for challenging me!

  • Mrs Gregory

    Rosemary Sutcliff has great historical fiction (like the Saxon invasion of England in the Shining Company). Gary Paulsen is also one boys love…and non-frufy girls. I have no idea how to spell frufy.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    Mary is loving Sideways Stories from the Wayside School right now, and even though she is not a boy, a book that makes kids laugh out loud is probably great for either gender!

  • Elisabeth

    The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books are hilarious. And Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is excellent (Arthurian fantasy).

  • http://thisaintthelyceum.org Kelly Mantoan

    Sorry to jump back to graphic novels, but I would add that my 8 year old loves the original Tintin comics. They have lots of dialogue and exciting stories that take place all over the globe. The 2011 movie of the same name is based on some of these stories. The original comics were published from 1929-1970, with the majority released in the thirties through fifties. All my kids would gravitate towards the comics if I let them, however I usually only allow comics and the majority of graphic novels on the months we are off school.
    I agree with all of the book suggestions here but I would add that DK Readers in level 3 and 4 have come out in a range of topics (Legos, Star Wars, super heros, etc) that really helped my son learn to love reading. But I also don’t shy away from making him read good books either. He was quite daunted when I said I expected him to read the entire first Boxcar Children book. However, I only insisted on a chapter a day, and after he finished the book in less than a week, he realized 1)chapter books (without pictures) were not overwhelming or impossible to complete and 2) some times books that don’t look interesting on the cover can be really fun to read. It was another lesson of the old adage, that sometimes, Mama really does know best. ;)

  • Mafy

    My son loved the Great Brain series. He also loved the other books mentioned. He, with some encrouragement (bribery) from me, enjoyed E.Nesbit’s “Five Children and It.” I also would love to hear more about graphic novels, which my son has been reading lately, checked out from the library. My son is now 12, so with some conflicting feelings I believe I must allow him some freedom in choosing his reading material. the books are not immoral, but as have described are “fluff.” I think.

  • Julie Ousley

    Here’s another vote for Encyclopedia Brown (quite extensive canon if you can find them all) and Tintin,…and I wish that I had known about G.A. Henty’s works when my boys were younger.

    Jon Scieszka (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man, the Time Warp Trio, and a host of other boy-centric children’s books) has done a lot to encourage boys to read through his Guys Read website, http://www.guysread.com/. He is truly a hoot, and his autobiography, Knucklehead, illumines growing up in a household of 8 brothers (His mother was the only girl, even their goldfish was a boy)… actually it was only 6 brothers, it just seemed like more…


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