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Children's Literacy Round-Up: March 10

Boys, Girls, and Stories

Kelly Herold at Big A little a had an interesting post yesterday about a Slate article by Emily Bazelon. In the Slate article, The Little Men Who Love Little House: Why boys like girls books, Ms. Bazelon discusses her fear, when her sons were born, that she would not be able to share with them her own childhood favorites (especially The Little House books). She uses this as a springboard to discussing differences in what boys vs. girls enjoy in books, the avoidance of preconceived notions about it, and especially what to do to keep boys from becoming turned off by reading. She references in particular authors Jon Scieszka and Marc Aronson, both advocates of boy readers.

In her post, Kelly expresses her concern that the the Slate article unfairly blames librarians for the drop-off in boy readers. The Slate article says "Librarians and teachers often look down on boy humor or nonfiction, and their disdain seeps through to the boys who crave those things." I agree with Kelly on this. Librarians aren't out there looking down their noses at the books that boys like. Most librarians that I've met just want kids to read books, and want to find the right books to accomplish this goal.

However, what I think may be happening is related to another point from the Slate article, that "boys read on a need-to-know basis", looking for information rather than story. I've observed this in boys that I read with, too. I remember my young friend Charlie showing me, with painstaking interest, each and every kind of Fire Engine in a book that he loved, and explaining why they were different. He couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 at the time, and had recently moved on to fire trucks from lawnmowers. More recently Anthony, a first grader, told me that he liked the Magic Tree House books because he could learn history from them. One of his favorite books was a companion book to Revolutionary War On Wednesday, one filled with facts, and no story at all.

And here's the thing. I think that many women, be they mothers or teachers or librarians, love stories. I know that I do. I am all about stories, and have been since I was very small. I have never had much interest in reading non-fiction, or even poetry, and I tend not to even like short stories, because I can't get deep enough into the story in the relatively small number of words included. And I think that it's not that the mothers and teachers and librarians show disdain for other kinds of books – I think that they may just have to work harder to summon enthusiasm for books that aren't stories. At least I do.

I'm sure that the people who are working with boys all the time, especially the librarians, have already figured this out. They work hard to know about the best tractor books, and books about bugs, and whatever else. But I think that it's a good reminder for those of us who are not on the front lines, yet have boys that we like to read with when we get the chance.

Many boys (and girls, too, of course) choose their books for the information that they can learn. It's our job, even for those of us who aren't personally in love with these types of books (the way we are with stories), to find the best of them, and read them with the kids we know. Very good friends of mine just welcomed their first son into the world this week. I think that I should go buy him some books about trucks, to add to the wonderful stories that I've already given him. It's all about finding the right books to keep kids reading, whatever those books are, and whether or not they are the books that we like ourselves.

What do you think? I welcome your feedback on this. -- Jen

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