Action Hero’s HandbookThere’s a good article, in yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, about “boys’ lack of interest in reading,” by Paul Nyhan. Author Walter Dean Myers, who has written some of the truly great guy-oriented works of YA fiction, spoke at the University of Washington’s Information School on “Books & Boys – Making It Work.” Myers told the paper:

I would say there is a crisis…. Too many parents have walked away from this idea … that education is a family concept, is a community concept, is not simply something that schools do.” 

He also feels that the publishing industry is more oriented to girls than to boys, because girls buy (a lot) more books, most children’s and YA editors are female, and even that boys feel freer to ignore the things teachers tell them.

Whatever the reasons that more girls than boys are serious readers, the implicit message in articles such as these is that boys aren’t reading good books because they’re not reading fiction – that they’re not reading the kinds of books that win awards. I see lots of boys reading nonfiction for pleasure, but the education establishment doesn’t give the Eyewitness series’ Shark the same importance as a Newbery winner, even though the boy may feel differently about it.

During the many years I’ve worked in public libraries, I’ve often been confronted by a mother dragging in a reluctant son – often a fifth- or sixth-grader – to tell me, “I can’t get him to read anything.” 

As much as possible, I’d draw the boy away from Mom and ask him what he was interested in, and discover that he liked the kinds of things that were plentiful in nonfiction books. But the reason he was here with Mom was because he had to choose a fiction book for school. His teacher wanted him to read some good literature, the kind of book that wins prizes, while he really wanted a sports biography or a martial arts guide.

What’s absolutely true is that our video/Internet culture hardly ever shows boys and men reading books, and never reading fiction. That’s neither tough nor action-packed. But boys will read, and read happily, if you can get them together with the right books.

I’m glad to see that the writer asked Seattle Public Library YA librarian Hayden Bass for some recommendations, and one of them (although unfortunately the only nonfiction title) is one of my favorites: The Action Hero’s Handbook by David Borgenicht and Joe Borgenicht. This one is always great fun to booktalk because you can describe how to save the life of someone who’s flatlined, or pull up someone who’s hanging (the way they always do in movies) by one hand from the edge of a cliff.

Sometimes I think the world really needs an army of booktalkers with drama and/or storytelling backgrounds, who will walk into fifth- through ninth-grade classes nationwide and describe books that boys will love. I’ve done it, and I know it works. If we don’t stint on the nonfiction and the graphic novels, we’ll have the boys lining up.

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