Between the lines: boys and reading
Are girls better readers than boys? This seems to be the conclusion from an international study spanning nearly 50 countries over a period of a decade, in which girls consistently scored higher than boys in reading comprehension.
This study measured reading comprehension by the ability to retrieve, integrate, evaluate and make inferences from stated information, and tested literary reading (reading for pleasure) and informational reading (reading to learn content). The gender gap was much wider for literary reading than for informational reading.
Boys have it tough when it comes to the joy of reading. When they are young, female family members and female teachers inform their reading choices. Females generally prefer narrative fiction with an emotional message, whereas men and boys like to acquire information through non-narrative texts. When boys don't share this love for narrative, they are labelled as being not good at, or not interested in, reading. But maybe they just don't like what their mothers and teachers like.
We constantly encounter advertisements, magazines, social media, packaging, labels and product instructions. Boys can read these just as well as girls, and many may even enjoy and comprehend them more than girls. The ability to understand informational texts is necessary for daily life and career success, so parents should not frown upon sons who read informational texts but shy away from fiction.
Studies have also shown that boys read when the content interests them. So feel free to ply your boys with "books for boys", or whatever reading material keeps their attention. Read aloud a more classic type of narrative story once in a while to test whether their tastes are expanding. You may find yourself with a book lover in the making.
When not spearheading literacy programmes to encourage boys to read more, Jon Scieszka writes great books for boys (and girls).
Truck-loving pre-school boys will love Smash! Crash!, from Scieszka's Trucktown series. Without any moral dilemma to resolve, these books are full of names of all the different types of construction and other vehicles.
His award-winning book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, upends not only the plot of traditional fairy tales, but also the structure of the picture book itself. These side-splittingly funny tales have been entertaining both pre-schoolers and adults for two decades.
When it comes to narrative fiction, I can't think of a better introduction than The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald. This and others in the series were my childhood favourites, and I can't wait to share them with my daughters when they are a bit older.
In this fictional account of the author's life in Utah in the early 1900s, JD idolises his older brother Tom, the Great Brain in the story, thus named for his penchant for swindling schoolmates and other misdeeds. How an obedient Chinese immigrant like me could be so enthralled with the misadventures of two brothers growing up in a Mormon family at the turn of the last century is a real testament to how well-written and delightful these stories are.
Perhaps, to get boys more interested in reading, schools can stock more reading material that appeals to them, such as special interest magazines and non-fiction books. These can also widen the range for girls, who tend to gravitate toward chapter books.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them. bringmeabook.org.hk