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Books for boys
05 July 2007

Red book

Kerry Honnor, a former primary school teacher, looks at whether girls and boys read differently

Reading stories to children is always a pleasure. Reading really good stories is magic. In a classroom, you can have thirty pairs of eyes on you, minds totally concentrated, lost in an imaginary world.

For some children, the willing suspension of disbelief happens easily, even for the most mundane of story telling

For some children, the willing suspension of disbelief happens easily, even for the most mundane of story telling; for others, it takes a special story, well told, to draw them in. You come to accept that you will only have all of them some of the time.

I strongly believe gender is not an issue here. Certainly not in five to seven year-olds, and I do not recall it making any difference with eight to ten year olds either. A well told story can absorb even the most restless group of children. The hero can be male or female and still they will listen.

So, what happens when they learn to read to themselves? The actual process of learning to read is long and complex. Research into methods of teaching fills whole libraries, and teachers are given new instructions on a depressingly regular basis. However, let it also be remembered that many parents, completely untrained, have successfully taught their children to read.

Does a child’s sex make a difference here? It seems more likely: while some boys learn relatively easily and some girls have difficulty, generally girls learn to read sooner than boys. Why? I send you back to those libraries full of research. But, be warned, there are a lot of conflicting arguments, many on the nature/nurture theme as well as the methods of teaching. It is going to take you a while to get through it all.

It is easier to reach conclusions about which books boys and girls want to read. If a group of six to seven year-old children are told to choose from the book corner (well stocked with a range of fiction and information books suitable for their age range) and to sit quietly reading for ten minutes, the differences are marked. The majority of girls will choose a story and sit and read it with a friend. The majority of boys will choose a non-fiction book and look at the pictures with a friend.

If the ratio of effort to motivation is overbalanced towards the effort, they are not going to do it voluntarily

It could be that, on the whole, boys just like finding out about things. If the text gives them more information than the pictures show, it is possibly too difficult for them to read without a lot of effort. If the ratio of effort to motivation is overbalanced towards the effort, they are not going to do it voluntarily. At this early age, this ratio is all-important, both for girls and boys.

So why don’t boys choose a good story that they can read? Some of them do. They are often the good readers. For the others, perhaps a story that is interesting enough to motivate them is too difficult to read. Girls are more likely to do it, struggling through, using the pictures in their books to help them, and each other, to become better readers. And the books they read are often about boys. Even the ones about animals are still more likely to have male heroes.

But by the age of eight or nine, the gap in the choice of books becomes much wider. If a story is well written, children of either sex will read and enjoy it, but there are certainly preferences. Some children love magic and mystery. Some hate to be frightened. Some will read endless books about animals. Perhaps there are slight gender differences here, but all will enjoy good stories. And factual books for children these days are a motivation in themselves; well designed, full of interesting pictures and laid out in such a way as to make them accessible to young readers.

As adults, we also have different preferences. Women appear to read more fiction than men – bookshops often have a section for fathers’ day, which seems to consist almost exclusively of biographies and information books.

It seems false to say that we need books written especially for boys. We need a variety of books written for different people, books that different children can respond to with pleasure, books that boys and girls can relate to, identify with and learn from, about children who are similar and children who are different. If they are good enough, they will be read.

Kerry Honnor is an ex-primary school teacher living in Devon

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Books: all Catalyst content relating to books.


Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

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Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

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Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 11/07/2007 12:40:13

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo