Appreciating What, Where and How Boys Read

Recently, I asked a boy in seventh grade, a football player and video game fanatic, how many books he had read in the last 6 months. He responded, “two books for summer reading… maybe three if comic books count.”

Then I asked him, “what would get you reading for 15–30 minutes every day, between going to football practice and playing your video games?”  

After a few minutes, he said, “If I could read something I like and sit where I want.”

He is not alone.

Unfortunately for many boys, what gets in their way of reading for pleasure are very well-intentioned adults who try to steer them in the “right” direction.

That’s why the greatest gift we can give boys this season is appreciation of their reading preferences!

What Boys Like to Read

I must admit, when I taught it wasn’t easy to let go of what I considered “appropriate” and not “privilege” my tastes because I was the adult in the room.

You might be grappling with the same thing when it comes to what your son prefers reading.

For me, it took a very wise person to forever change my mindset about how I see what boys are reading.

He said that it’s all about where I focus my attention. If I only focus on the book, all I’ll see is the book. If I only focus on the boy, all I’ll see is the boy. Instead, when my full attention centers on how engaged boys are with reading the material of their choice, nothing else will matter. How true!

After his Karate Kid-type wisdom, here’s what my full attention noticed time and time again:

A boy reading a book I deemed appropriate looked like this:

eyes on the clock, flipping pages, sighing while reading, forgetting the book at home, and shrugging his shoulders when asked about it.


A boy reading a book he chose looked like this:

eyes on the book, cracking up while reading, missing recess and lunch to keep reading, getting to school early to tell me about something he read, reading it again, showing his friends parts of the book and recommending it.

100% pleasure.

Observing the dramatic divide between mandatory/pain reading versus reading for pleasure hurt at first; then it wowed me. It hurt, because it was clear boys weren’t always interested in my recommended books (ouch!), and wowed me because it was like a completely different boy was reading.

But by centering my full attention on my boys’ degree of engagement, I no longer rolled my eyes or tried to interfere when they hunkered down to read book series like: Captain Underpants, Time Warp Trio, Goosebumps, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 39 Clues and Harry Potter. Instead, I smiled and let them be at peace as they devoured page after page.

Along with series, boys also love: books with pictures, comic books, graphic novels, humorous books, lots of plot and action (fantasy), male protagonists and informational text. And yes, they’ll read the same book over and over and over again.

Boys are not so complicated; their reading needs are actually quite simple. And when boys believe that their preferences are appreciated, you can bet that they will read.

Where Boys Like to Read

Choice matters for boys. Not just what they read, but also where they read. Below are ways boys prefer to read when they’re reading for pleasure:

  • Lying on the floor (on stomach or back)
  • Sprawling in a beanbag chair or on pillows
  • Leaning against a wall
  • Outside
  • Under something (a desk, a table, a chair, a pillow, a coat, a blanket)
  • In a small space
  • With a pet
  • Using a flashlight
  • In their bed

What’s missing on this list? Sitting at a desk or table in a chair. For boys, this position equals pain, not pleasure, and is a reminder of foundational, standardized and mandatory reading in school. For pleasure reading to take hold in your home, it’s important your son doesn’t sit at a desk, unless he chose that spot. Encouraging him to find a reading spot where he feels comfortable for 30 minutes is key.

I do need to warn you that it can be tricky to appreciate how your son prefers to read. My appreciation definitely took some time. Even though I knew boys hated sitting at a desk to read, I felt more in control of their reading that way. Could I really trust boys to read squeezed behind the door or under their chair or leaning against a wall?

One favorite position boys used for reading (which I tried and hated) was lying on their back, with their arms stretched over their head and the book in both hands. I didn’t believe they were reading, because for me it was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t focus one bit. But they proved me wrong and were deeply engaged. The crazier I thought their location or position to be, the more engaged with reading they became.

Their pleasure was definitely my pain and vice-versa. But, as I shared earlier, boys being engaged with books is what I was going for, not my own comfort level.

How Boys Read

Boys carry the misconception that “real” reading only happens when they read fiction paperback and hardcover books, anything else is not worthy or considered reading. This belief is very limiting for them when it comes to developing their reading habit and it’s important to help your son understand what else is available for him to read.

Below are other forms/media your son can and should read:

  • Newspapers (hardcopy)
  • Magazines (hardcopy)
  • Books, newspapers, magazines on E-readers
    (Kindles and Nooks or iPads that are distraction free, i.e. they have no access to the internet, apps, games or music)
  • Audiobooks (yes, listening to books on tape is a viable choice)
  • Printed from the computer (articles and blogs found prior to reading time, printed onto paper to read during reading time)
  • Short stories or anthologies around a topic
  • Comic books or graphic novels

If your son struggles with reading, he still must be reading for pleasure every day, too. Research finds that this is a critical piece that must be in place for struggling readers or they will keep struggling. Audiobooks work great, and Kindle also has a text-to-speech option available for many of their books. If your son can listen and read at the same time, that’s the best option.

Reading Aloud

Reading aloud to your son is another great option, even if he’s 14 years old. This is not the time for him to read out loud to you or for you to ask him questions; it’s meant to be a comfortable, safe and pleasurable time for your son. Many times, I only needed to read the first few pages or first chapter aloud to get boys started. Some parents found that when they read mandatory reading material aloud to their son, he actually engaged more, did better with the subject, and eventually was able to read it on his own.

Another option I used is a bit antiquated, but it worked magic, especially if you don’t always have time to read aloud to your son when the two of you are together: read what they chose into a tape recorder or the voice memo on your cell phone. Many of my struggling readers became independent readers this way.

When you become comfortable with other forms of reading materials, you’ll be able to give him permission and support to expand his definition of “real” reading.

Remember, it’s not about what boys are reading, where they read or how they read, it’s about their degree of engagement. Appreciating your son’s reading preferences puts him on the path to success because it allows him to develop the daily reading habit. Comic books,graphic novels, magazines, newspapers and non-fiction texts help him grow into the best version of himself, not the opposite.

Here’s to boys reading!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, gdiazfor

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