Getting boys to read (a guest post)

I had a lot of friends as a kid. Anne of Green Gables, all the March girls, the Hardy Boys, Katy of What Katy Did, the Naughtiest Girl in School and countless other imaginary people were significant in my early life. The world of books was as important to me as the “real world”. Sometimes more so.
getting boys to love reading

My seven year old son doesn’t seem anywhere near as enamoured with reading as I was at the same age. As someone who still considers a good book one of life’s greatest pleasures, this worries me. So when Dymocks literacy expert Ryan Spencer invited me to ask questions about kids and books, I had quite a few. Particularly around boys and reading. This is a longer than normal post but I found the answers so helpful that I had to publish all of them. I hope you find the below as enlightening (and encouraging) as I did.


My eldest son is 7 years old and used to love reading but now he seems to think it’s a race to get to the end of the book. So he will skip words (or even pages!) and make things up. How can I help him rediscover the joy and immerse himself in reading, rather than feeling like it’s something to hurry to the end of?

Reading is all about making meaning, and so when we read with our children, it’s vital that we bring them back to what the book was about when we’ve finished reading.

When you are reading with your child, it can be useful to stop and ask questions about the text content when interesting things happen in the book. This reinforces that meaning is most important and assists parents to be an active part of reading the text. Short, funny (or even disgusting!) books such as Andy Griffiths’ ‘Bad Book’ are great ways to encourage boys to stay engaged with the meaning of the text.

My son’s current obsession is all things soccer and given the choice he will always take out non-fiction soccer books out of the library. I am glad he is reading something — but I just don’t feel like he is experiencing a real connection to a story which is what I personally love about reading.  I feel like this is fuelling his love of soccer but not of reading. What is your take on non-fiction for kids?

Males traditionally have different reading interests than females. Boys therefore usually won’t want to read the same thing as their sisters or female classmates will, and this is okay.

Frequently, we get trapped into thinking that there are only one or two types of books that children should be reading. The first is usually picture books, which we then expect children to grow out of as they progress towards reading novels. However, these types of text don’t always engage and excite young male readers.

Encourage your son to choose what they are interested in reading. If he wants to frequently read non-fiction texts about soccer, this is okay. Don’t restrict your sons’ choice in reading – when choices are restricted, a huge disincentive to read is created. A good way to continue this interest is to suggest a broad range of reading materials from the same topic, such as fiction books about soccer (Tim Cahill’s books comes to mind) or even a graphic novel about sport.

I read often, and around the boys, but my husband doesn’t. How does this influence them and their future relationship with reading? My husband tends to read reports for work and that’s about it. It’s not something that gives him pleasure.

Experts agree that when it comes to engaging boys with books, the key is reading with dads, uncles and grandfathers. When fathers engage with their sons in reading, the level of boys’ engagement, interest and participation are known to change. Dads are able to engage their sons in different ways with books, usually by hooking into shared interests and developing sustainable reading habits.

The following tips are easy ways for dads to start or further develop quality reading relationships with their boys.

Spend Quality Time Reading Together
Dads who share quality reading time with their sons are role-modelling effective reading behaviours. Encourage your husband to read at home with your son – it’s an excellent way to build quality reading time. Ask them to make a special time together on weekends to venture to the local library or bookstores.

Read About Shared Interests
Dads need to share their favourite texts with their boys – talk about the types of authors, what happens in the story and what the characters are like. If you generally read only magazines or the sport pages in the paper, talk about these too. This sharing builds strong relationships around reading and demonstrates that reading takes on many different forms.

Laugh and Have Fun
Boys love humour, and the plethora of humorous books that are in print makes these a popular choice. By having fun with books, we are encouraging boys to come back and read again and again.

Sometimes my 7-year-old will read to his brother, who is 2. He reads toddler books to him so they are below his reading level. Is this still a good way for him to practice his reading? Or is it a bit of a cop out? It is so cute to see them reading together.

This is valuable reading time regardless of the books that are being read, and it should be celebrated. When we read a book that is easy or simple for us, we are practising the skills that it takes to be a great reader. This is vital practice for a 7-year-old, as they learn important book handling behaviours (such as holding books, looking at pictures and turning pages left to right), are exposed to words they already know and helps them to develop fluency when reading.

We get readers home from school and some of them are pretty dry. He does read them but sometimes under fair duress. I worry that this will stifle any future love of reading. How would you recommend parents deal with this?

When your children bring home required reading, whether it be home readers or a set text for class, make sure that this isn’t the only reading they do. Provide incentives for your child to want to return to books of their own choice, in order to foster their interest in reading.

If teachers insist on reading the dry boring books, do these quickly first, then move onto a more interesting selection. In my experience, a quick note to the teacher explaining what you’ve read at home is all that is needed. No teacher will ever be upset if you’ve read more books at home!

Children need to know that it is okay to read whatever they want, when they have the opportunity to do so. Giving children the chance to read whatever they like when shopping at the bookshop is a great place to start. If you are picking up a book to take home to your child as a gift, purchase a few, so they can choose something that interests them.

What ways can I use reading time to help my son with his spelling and understanding how words work? How can we make this fun?

The core of the reading process is making meaning. When a child changes a word in the text, they are being a resourceful reader. They are working towards making sure that the text that they are reading makes sense for them. The child who reads the word flu instead of cold is putting the text into their own context. Children need to know that it is okay to not read “word perfect” all of the time.

Unfortunately, prior reading experiences for many of us have stressed the importance of reading “word perfect” and have implied that to do otherwise is cheating in some way. When a child changes a word, or looks to a parent for help, the importance of making meaning needs to be shared. Simple prompts for parents, such as “what would make sense here?” or “let’s read on for more information”, give the reader a strategy to figure out what they are reading.

Getting stuck on a word in many cases results in pointing at the unknown word and sounding out, or the parent becomes the “instant word factory” and supplies the word to the child. Both of these strategies are unsustainable. When figuring out unknown words, sounding out is the least effective strategy because the clues aren’t in that word – they are in the rest of the sentence or the pictures.

I genuinely want my kids to develop a love of reading because I think it’s such a rich part of the human experience. But I don’t want to push it either. What are some good ways to develop a genuine love of reading? 

The simplest way to encourage children to engage in reading is to relax around the process. Parents are often anxious when they feel that reading isn’t going as well for their children as it should be. This then translates to the children that they are reading with. One of the easiest ways to relax around the reading process is to change the location reading takes place at home. If the difficult reading times have always been at the dining table, then encourage a variety of reading locations. Try lying down on the lounge room floor, Mum and Dad’s bed, or outside under a tree.

Let Your Children Choose What They Read
Book choice is a vital component of the reading process. As adults, we very rarely read anything that we either don’t love or enjoy. Why then do we insist that children must read cover to cover something that they don’t necessarily enjoy or like? Often these imposed choices on children come from a place of love – we are trying to support the children in accessing a text that is at their reading level. It is often hard to let go and let children choose their own books. This is vital, however, for developing strong, self-sufficient readers.

relax and read

What are the best books for 7-year-old boys?

In my experience, 7-year-old boys love humour and books about disgusting subjects! Andy Griffiths is always a great place to start, as his collection of books are funny and downright disgusting at times! The Bad Book and The Very Bad Book are great places to start, particularly with reluctant readers.

Classics such as Paul Jennings’ ‘Unreal’ Series are also great to engage and excite boys. Other popular selections include ‘Captain Underpants’ series by Dav Pilkey and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series by Jeff Kinney.

For more book suggestions, check out a range of children’s books from Dymocks online.

Arrow 2

Do you have kids that love books?
What do you do in your house to foster a love of reading?
Do you have a son whose interest in reading seems very different from your own at the same age?


Linking up with Essentially Jess and IBOT


18 thoughts on “Getting boys to read (a guest post)

    • Robyna says:

      I loved Roald Dahl as a kid, Matilda was my all time favourite. Thanks for the tip – will add it into the bookshelf.

  1. Alison says:

    Love the article, and as a mum of a six year old girl who is struggling and not loving reading either, lots of this advice sounds relevant to us too!

  2. EssentiallyJess says:

    My boy enjoys reading a lot more than one of my girls. I sometimes feel like this is my fault because I read at night when the kids don’t see, and these days I don’t read a lot to the kids.
    But I’m also aware that some people just don’t like reading and that’s ok. My husband doesn’t enjoy it, so I suppose it makes sense that not all my kids will.
    EssentiallyJess recently posted…An A- Z of things to blog about when you have nothing to blog about #IBOTMy Profile

  3. Tracy says:

    What a fabulous interview. Thank you for sharing it!

    My oldest daughter is not keen to read and only does so out of necessity for University. It’s just not her “thing”. In contrast my youngest son has been a voracious reader ever since he discovered Dr Seuss when he was in Year 1. He realised that he could read and that the book was funny – it really appealed to his sense of humour. That was the big key for him. He’s about to 16 and he reads constantly. He’s allowed to borrow 10 books for school holidays, which he does. And then when the library teacher is away and the library technician is in (they work half a week each) he goes and gets some more, because the Library Tech takes pity on him. Ten books isn’t enough!

    Some of our interest in reading is purely about personality. Not everyone will enjoy reading. But for boys, particularly, a lot of things about school are less challenging if they are able to develop strong reading skills.
    Tracy recently posted…Twenty Years in the Making – A Perfect Mother’s DayMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Oh, I LOVED all the Little Women books. I identified with Jo the most but liked Amy more than most people seemed to.

  4. Bel says:

    Awesome suggestions! I’m a grade six teacher and getting them to read can sometimes be a task. I love reading, so I make sure I always reading a variety of picture story books, and chapter books (especially ones where I can scream and use lots of expression to engage them!). I’m huge on getting kids to get their own library card and head down (I really want to do an excursion to the local library with them all) and once they have a card I also convince them to get the borrowbox app so they can borrow on their devices for both home and school reading.

    • Robyna says:

      We often head to the library together as a family and it’s great having the boys choose the books they REALLY want to read.

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