7 pitch-perfect books for boys who (think they) hate to read
Show of hands: Who cringes at our kids’ reading logs? (Not to mention the nagging and feet dragging that go along with them.)
Teachers assign those calendars, with their goals of minutes-to-read-per-day, to increase kids’ reading frequency and stamina. But to a boy who’d rather do anything than read, reading logs just make what the rest of us see as a life pleasure and springboard to school success seem like…torture.
Boys fall behind girls in reading for fun in every grade, studies show. Developmental differences partly explain why (boys are less verbal, for example). But to be fair to boys, maybe some of the books we offer them aren’t exactly boy friendly.
Solution: Work with boys where they are. These seven books just might get your son to actually want to read more:
Stick Dog by Tom Watson
Ages: 8-12 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys love humor—and pictures.
The story is narrated by the fictional author/illustrator Tom, who admits he can’t draw very well and doesn’t follow the “rules” of a “good writer.” The pages look like they come straight from Tom’s notebook. (Surprise: He’s actually a clever writer with a pretty impressive vocabulary.)
Tom’s funny stick figure drawings and conversational tone will make your son feel like he’s reading another kid’s not-so-secret notebook of made-up stories.
Catchy bonus: This is the first in a whole series of Stick Dog and Stick Cat tales.
Ghost Island (Choose Your Own Adventure) by Shannon Gilligan
Ages: 6-8 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys like interactivity.
The reader makes decisions that lead him down different branches of an interactive storyline, in this case exploring an island “haunted” by ghosts during a family vacation to the Caribbean. Directing the action in the story gives this book the feel of a game. It’s part of a younger, more modern version of the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series you may have read and loved as a kid.
Catchy bonus: A 2016 Miami University study reported that reading CYOA books improved kids’ reading fluency (how well they read) and reading comprehension (how well they understand what they read). The reason: Kids are forced to pay close attention to what they’re reading.
Tip: If either parent was a fan of the original Choose Your Own Adventure series, tell your son! He might ask to read “the classics” when he’s ready (the suggested ages for those are 9-14 years). Didn’t keep your collection? Find republished versions in bookstores or track down originals in used bookstores or online.
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis
Ages: 7-10 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys gravitate to dramatic action and adventure.
Although it’s historical fiction, the story is grounded in historical facts. Plucky 10-year-old George must problem-solve and think on his feet while on the ill-fated Titanic voyage with his little sister and aunt.
An exciting, terrifying cover matches the text in grabbing and holding your son’s attention—traits shared by the entire disaster-focused “I Survived” series. (I Survived … the San Francisco earthquake, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the attacks of September 11, Hurricane Katrina, etc.)
Catchy bonus: These books are gateways to more history reading. Reading about the Titanic led my son to ask for other nonfiction about the event.
National Geographic Kids Myths Busted! by Emily Krieger
Ages: 9-12 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys love addictive factoids.
Brace for all the trivia tidbits your son will love to impress you and his friends with after he learns them—especially when he gets to prove you wrong. (“Did you know fortune cookies aren’t even found in China?!”) The book is jammed with misconceptions, superstitions, and old wives’ tales, with descriptions of how they originated and factual explanations to debunk them.
Catchy bonus: Typical National Geographic-style visuals, which also help make it a quick, fun read.
Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
Ages: 4-8 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys love gross stuff (but they’re also receptive to emotional themes if in the right, gross package!).
A young boy is in search of a pet who will help him win a pet show. Fly Guy, a kind of gross but likeable fly, impresses the boy by apparently knowing his name, which happens to be Buzz. Their friendship grows as they prove to others that a fly can be a great pet. It’s a twist on the usual “boy and his dog” story.
Catchy bonus: The Fly Guy series is perfect for boys looking for an easy read. But it might also ease them into related books—under the title “Fly Guy Presents” (as in Fly Guy Presents: Space)—that pack plenty of informational value too.
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Ages: 8-12 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys love graphic novels.
This funny, action-filled story has an unlikely undercover hero. Lunch Lady and her sidekick Betty, armed with high-tech kitchen-inspired gadgets and surveillance equipment, investigate and fend off a strange substitute teacher (and his cyborg army) after a math teacher goes mysteriously absent.
Librarians and educators say graphic novels (the adjective refers to images, not adult content) can be particularly appealing and beneficial for reluctant, struggling, and even dyslexic readers—in part because the pictures provide context clues to the words. And they’re less intimidating.
Catchy bonus: It’s a 10-book series. If your son likes this one, he’ll keep asking for the next installment.
Who Would Win? Killer Whale vs. Great White Shark by Jerry Pallotta
Ages: 7 to 10 years
Why he’ll get hooked: Boys love fighting and competition. (They just do.)
This series sets up imagined matchups between animals (even extinct ones) and debates which animal would survive the other—killer whale vs. great white shark? Tarantula vs. scorpion? Whale vs. giant squid?
Catchy bonus: Fantasy premise aside, the books are full of real scientific facts and informative illustrations and diagrams to contrast the animals’ characteristics. In other words, your kid will actually be learning something. (Mom to mom: I totally misjudged this one by the cover and was pleasantly surprised by the content!)
What all these books have in common:
They ease reluctant boy readers in by appealing to their interests, tendencies, or abilities. Reading ANYTHING is the trick to more reading, experts say. And the more he reads, the better prepared your son will feel to tackle books outside his comfort zone.
—Senior editor Juanita Covert is a mom of three (ages 6, 8, and 11) who works from her home in Traverse City, Michigan. She’s also a busy hockey mom, softball mom, and Girl Scout troop leader.