Why are boys falling behind in reading?

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 4th July 2012

The National Literacy Trust has revealed that boys are falling behind in reading. Sixty thousand boys aren’t reaching the required levels of reading at 11 and three out of four schools in the UK are concerned about boys’ reading. Lots of boys reckon reading is boring, girly and “geeky” and prefer watching TV or playing computer games to settling down with a good book.

It’s a perennial problem and every teacher I know is desperate to get to grips with it. Earlier this week prolific novelist and former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo wrote an insightful piece in the Guardian suggesting strategies like introducing a “dedicated half hour” at the end of every primary school day devoted to “the simple enjoyment of reading and writing” and regular visits from storytellers, theatre groups, writers and librarians.

It’s excellent advice, but then again it’s not exactly rocket science and many schools are already doing all this. And what about older boys? At 17, my son would far rather be getting on his bike or playing on the Xbox, even though he was a voracious reader when he was younger.

Part of the reason for his early enthusiasm, I’m sure, was that we’re all mad on reading in our house and every room is piled high with books. So when he saw the rest of us reading, he simply joined in.

We had weekly trips to the library, spent loads of Saturday mornings in the bookshop and over the years reading became part of his DNA – not quite as important as biking, but nearly. He liked ripping yarns full of action, adventure and daring deeds so he worked his way through all Anthony Horowitz’s novels, as well as Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series, Charlie Higson’s Young Bond trilogy and Joe Craig’s Jimmy Coates adventure books.

So instead of handing over responsibility for boys’ reading to schools, I reckon parents should be doing their bit too. But as for keeping boys’ enthusiasm for reading going in their mid-teens, I’m stuck for ideas. Any suggestions?

8 comments so far

  • I don’t think you need encourage a teenager to read. He CAN read, and he’ll return to reading when he’s finished being Wonder Boy. Let’s face it, he ought to want to be Wonder Boy, at least for a while, and all that exercise is preventing him from becoming a couch potato. Job done.

    As for teaching children to read, that requires teaching parents to engage, and, with some parents, that’s always going to be an uphill battle. Thank the Lord for all the wonderful, dedicated teachers out there, and those of us who do appreciate them must make sure we let them know just how grateful we are for their hard work.

  • I think you do still need to help teenage boys find books…they need help navigating the mind blowing choice of books that are in the next step up…it can be so overwhelming. I had the pleasure of hearing Conn Iggulden speak at the Emirates Lit fest and I knew he would write the type of story that would be perfect for both my teen boys…i took a punt and bought the first in each series and boom they were off and that has led to Bernard Cornwell, George RR Martin and so…these books have adventure, history, fantasy and cover many of the same periods, times, interests as their games….


  • Thanks so much, Liz. Conn Iggulden is such a good suggestion. My son loved The Dangerous Book for Boys when he was younger. Also I’m writing about David Baldacci and James Patterson at the moment so I think he’d enjoy their thrillers too.

  • I think one of the problems is people try to make children (particularly boys) read ‘serious’ books whether they like them or not. the most important thing about reading is to enjoy it, even if the books are straightforward war stories like the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. If you try to ram books down a child’s throat they’ll come to think of reading as a chore, and when they leave school they just won’t bother.

  • I completely agree with you, Anonymous. The most important thing by far is for boys to find stories they enjoy. There’s nothing worse than being forced to read a book you hate.

  • Perhaps give him something a little bit “dangerous” to read. My son aged 15 has just finished “We need to Talk About Kevin”, and, boy, does he talk about Kevin….! I think what he’s particularly enjoyed about this scenario is that I haven’t actually read it yet, so the tables are turned, and he can recommend something to me, not the other way around as is usually the case.

    But as Nicola said, well done for keeping him active and not a couch potato. Very important these days when so many kids are heading towards an unhealthy weight.

  • Henri, that’s a brilliant idea. Thank you. I found We Need to Talk About Kevin chilling but it would be interesting to hear what a teenage boy makes of it. And I can’t take any credit for his biking obsession – it’s completely self-generated!

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