On Boys and Reading

Published November 30, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

I received a comment to my post yesterday saying

That teen is different from many others.. i must say.

And it got me wondering.  Did she mean the fact that he attends literary functions, that he reads and will discuss literature?  So I wanted to point out that while James, 14, does do these things he also plays representative rugby union, basketball, terribly violent video games, picks on his sister and thinks anyone over the age of 16 is senile.

Earlier this year I was very privileged to attend the Newington Literary Festival, and was further privileged to enter a discussion about boys and reading with Oliver Phommavahn and Tristan Bancks.  I am a firm believer that the best way to get kids reading is to be a reader.  Kids copy what they see adults doing.  They revile against what they perceive as “Do as I say, not as I do”, and so they should. 

 Tristan is the father to 2 small boys and while he immediately agreed that it is easy as pie (or is that easy as Pi?) to read to preschoolers, it is really difficult to engage high school boys in reading, and nigh impossible to get them to talk about it.  Yes it’s true, but impossible is wonderful.  I have yet to read 6 Impossible Things (it’s on my to do list), but I like it as a quote from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland in which Alice says she likes to do six impossible things before breakfast.  Or follow Kate Forsyth’s advice, aim for the moon.

Another wise Kate, my crazy cousin Katie, also has great quote “You’ll never do it younger”.  Age is such a good excuse!  No it is not!  Just yesterday I heard the mother of a kindergarten child tell me why she can’t read with her daughter.  You have to make reading a priority, for yourself, and for your kids.

In our family we still read and recommend books to parents, our children and our grandchildren.  Why?  We have established a literary community within our own family, and even my 18 month old joins in.

I was surprised and amazed to hear Tristan, just 20 minutes after disagreeing with me, advise the assembled audience of parents of private high school boys that they should read with their sons.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It was good advice. 

Please, if you haven’t read with your son since he could tie his shoe laces,  don’t go shoving Harry Potter, Gone or The Coolhunters under his nose and expect him to read it.  What you do is choose a book YOU want to read, sit back on a Sunday afternoon and read it.  If your son (or daughter) sees you doing this you smile, say “How ya going?” and go back to your book.  You are MODELLING READING.  You are modelling being so caught up in an imaginary world that you can’t put the book down.  If you catch your offspring reading, say “Whatchya reading?”, hopefully they’ll answer.  You say “Cool” and walk away. 

Don’t push it. 

Keep modelling. 

Maybe one day, not too far from now, they’ll ask what you’re reading and, again – don’t push it, you have the beginning of a literary conversation. 

It can also work with magazines, newspapers and blogs (Go on, practise looking interested right now!)

I would also like to point out that James did not go willingly to his first Poetry Slam.  I told him I was taking him for a special treat for his birthday, but refused to tell him where.  When I did eventually reveal his “treat” he groaned.  However, it was, and continues to be such an amazing event that I officially never have to think of different birthday present again.  He wants to go every year for the rest of his life – success!

DISCLAIMER: CC Katie is a science nerd and has forced me to rearrange Kate Forsyth’s saying to be more “astronomically correct”.  If you catch me writing “Aim for the stars:  If you don’t reach them at least you’ll fall amongst the moon”, please blame Katie!

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