How to encourage boys to read

on Tuesday, 30 June 2015. Posted in N21 Experts


If you type into Google the phrase "encouraging boys to read", you get some idea of the scale of the problem, not just in this country but in many parts of the world, boys are doing less well than girls, throughout the education system. For example, a BBC article "Boys reading skills must be tackled" says one of the problems is that boys think reading is "uncool".  Michael Morpurgo, writing in the Guardian' "we are faiiling too many boys in the enjoyment of reading". There has even been an all party parliamentary commission into Boys Reading. All made interesting reading.


So boys' lack of interest in reading isn't new and despite all the good intentions from above, it is likely that technology is always going to be a bigger draw for many boys. It has also been argued that the education system just isn't geared towards the way that boys learn; they have ants in their pants. Yet reading is fundamental to all learning and unless children can read properly they struggle across the whole curriculum.


Inspiring teachers, but also parents are enormously important in helping boys (as well as girls) appreciate the joys of reading. I know it's not easy as I have three boys of my own, but it is a battle worth fighting. I often meet parents who despair about getting their children (not always boys) reading. So what can I do, you ask? Here are some tips that will hopefully help you to get your child reading:


It may be stating with the obvious, but reading with children regularly is incredibly important and it is never too young to start. Babies as young as five months show an interest in books, even if they are the chewable variety.


Getting dads and other males to read with young boys, is particularly helpful. It is also good for children to see their parents reading, especially their dads and other males. Reading with your child is the ,ost important thing you can do towards getting them to read independently.Do this every night, if you can and if you can have some quiet time during the day, when you might otherwise let them watch TV or play with their technology games, internet etc. Why not have gadget free weekends once in a while – although you will also have to obey the rules! Let your child get bored and discover the books on their shelves that are there waiting to be opened, or go out together to buy a new book.


The key to getting boys to enjoy reading is to introduce them to books which appeal to their love of action, adventure, super-heroes, mystery, humour and even horror. Boys are naturally curious and often develop more interest in non-fiction than girls. This curiosity about a subject can be a great way of engaging them in reading to find out more about their chosen subject, even if it is football.


Let them choose what they want to read, without being too prescriptive and don't force them to read when they are just not able to sit still, as this will create negative associations. However, settling down with a good book is a way of calming down boys who are over tired or fractious. Reading little, but often may work best for your son, if he seems to have a short attention span, but this will usually improve once he starts to enjoy books.


Do some preparation yourself. Think about how to talk about the story, their favourite character; the pictures. Children of both genders like repetition and will often have a favourite story and character. Maybe you can find further books with this character, make up alternative endings or even make up your own stories together based on the characters they love


Book, books, books.

If you are not already a member of a local library, join tomorrow, not only for a plentiful supply of new books but also because our local libraries have lots of events for young children, especially during the holidays; keeping them involved in books, outside of term time. Go to the library together and choose a pile of books.


Hunt down second hand books in charity shops, such as the wonderful Red Cross book shops in Palmers Green, as well as buying wonderful new children's books as rewards.


Visit bookshops and let them spend time immersed in the beauty, colour and enormous range of wonderful reading matter. They may see other children getting excited about books nd this will rub off. 


When looking at books ask your son to keep an open mind. Choose from different genres: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror etc. and from books for different reading abilities. Try them out. You may not get past the first page of some of them and that is fair enough. There are many books that I don't read past the first page of. But there may just be one or two that you manage to read to him to the end. Once you have found an author or genre that your son enjoys then borrow more books that you now know will appeal to him and maybe he may start to read them on his own. But until such time, keep reading away. You will enjoy it too.


Talk about books that you are reading. Children are naturally curious and if they see you enjoying a book, they are more likely to want to do the same Do you own a Kindle? Whilst it isn't a substitute for a real book, it might be a way of enabling your son to com-bine reading with his obsession with technology. Why not let him have a play with yours?


Don't confine reading just to books - comics, the Internet, billboards and even cereal packets can count as reading.


Audio books are a fantastic way to introduce children to literature. You can choose books that are above your child's reading level but within their comprehension level. I recently listened to Frank Cottrell's Boyce's 'The Unforgotten Coat' with my son and the actress who read it really brought it to life with her Liverpudlian accent, a much better job than I would have done. We enjoyed it so much that we have ordered an-other book by the same author to listen to. Audio books are perfect for any length of car journey.


Many older boys love the work of local teen author Caroline Green, who has created dark fancy worlds that young teens love. You can read about her work here


Book clubs and reading groups are run by some libraries and also some schools. Sometimes outside influences are more powerful. I run a Book Club which has nine boys in it. It was not intended to be a book club for boys but that is how it ended up, weirdly. One mum said it has worked for her son be-cause her son has a 'competitive nature, so as they are all reading the same book they ask each other which part of the story they are up to and it encourages [her] son to read more.'


Try sending them to creative writing workshop events and author events. Sometimes these are run in independent bookshops. I run The Story Room which runs creative writing workshops, book clubs, and writing groups and in each event we talk about books that we are reading and introduce children to new literature. We also run author workshops, which are hugely successful in encouraging a child to read.


Let them choose what they want to read, without being too prescriptive. You know yourself that choosing books is a very personal thing; what appeals to your friends may not appeal to you. Your son initially may make mistakes and choose books that disappoint them but be patient, they will get there in the end. Guide them if they do not know what to choose. There are numerous websites with really good book reviews - my favourites are and If you are looking for reviews of books written by children who have read them, visit our website of the reviews have been written by boys!


Whatever you do, have patience and don't give up!

If you would like any further help on this subject, please feel free to contact me by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"We are failing too many boys in the enjoyment of reading" says Michael Morpurgo

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