Reluctant Boy Readers

Somehow, the fun over the farting dog won over the literary elements of reading to analyze a text. It did get more boys reading for pleasure.

There is much controversy over books like these and I guess the question of how appropriate they are will never be answered – except by individual families. When this book first came out in the early 2000s, I was just starting out as a Reading Specialist in an elementary school. Many kids did not like to read, especially the boys. I believe books like these were published as a motivator to entice reluctant boys to read.

But, here’s the thing. I was raised more conservatively. We never burped or farted (oops, excuse me, I mean passed gas) in public or even at home as a means to be noticed or to be funny. And, if it happened, you just said, “Excuse me,” and moved on. Today’s values seem to have changed in this respect and every single body function is open to sharing, discussion, and laughter. I don’t know. What are your thoughts?

As a new Reading Specialist, my school sent me to many literacy conferences and one, that I particularly enjoyed and remember, was about Reluctant Boy Readers. Well, there I was … quiet, polite, and conservative me … surrounded by uproarious hoots and giggles as the conference leader read excerpts from books like Walter the Farting Dog (Lexile level 490, see chart to the right) and The Truth About Poop!

However, being open minded and determined to entice the boys to read more, I bought this information back to my building principal and we ordered a few books for my classroom library. The kids clamored to borrow them – only one parent complained. Years later, one of those same boys was reading with me when I was assigned to the high school and he still remembered those books. And, no, he still doesn’t like to read but he got a few good laughs from them then and. really enjoyed telling the others in our group about them now.

I get it – the reasoning behind snarly titles is the hope to motivate boys to pick them up and read them. But over the 18 years I’ve worked in grades 1-12, never once did a classroom English Language Arts instruction book or a state test present a story about body functions. In school, English studies focus on similes and metaphors, hidden meaning, story themes, and main ideas. Somehow, the fun over the farting dog won over the literary elements of reading to analyze a text. It did get more boys reading for pleasure.

So, where does it leave us as parents and as teachers? I’d love to hear from you about your feelings on this issue. Do you think reading about body functions is a good motivator for reluctant readers to read for pleasure? Or, do you think those personal topics are off limits for your child? Could we start a list of great books for boy readers to share with each other? And, let’s include very young readers up to the end of elementary school. I am going to work on this over the next few weeks and I’ll share my findings with you. What do you think?

My Read-aloud Guide, Creating Smart-Thinking Readers, is expected to be released next year. It was compiled from the lesson plans I used over the years with my students. Please don’t be turned off when you see the words, picture books. I’ve chosen only great, high-quality picture books to read aloud with kids to model how good readers think and to get them engaged in the stories. Boys, especially, will love the titles in the War & Peace section. I’ve also added an article to the right about helping reluctant readers that you might find interesting. “Happy New Year” and “Happy Boy Reading!”