Getting boys reading

One argument in favour of gender labels on children’s books is to get boys into reading. According to the OECD:

Girls outperform boys in reading in all countries and economies by the equivalent of one year of school.

One way of combating this imbalance is by creating more books specifically for boys, to encourage and therefore enhance the boys’ reading experience. Studies have been carried out to find out which type of books boys would choose, and (according to Coles & Hall), the preferences are:

  • 10yrs old: adventure, humour, football
  • 12yrs old: war, science, fantasy, horror
  • 14yrs old: much more diverse and difficult to predict

It has also been suggested that boys are much less likely to pick up a book they consider to be ‘girly’ or intended for girls, whereas girls are less perturbed by indications of a ‘boyish’ book. But why is this? And should publishers be publishing books particularly for boys to get them reading, or should we be encouraging children to read any book that takes their fancy?



7 thoughts on “Getting boys reading

  1. Interesting covers for children’s books to engage interest -far more important than gender division, also boys may want to read books “for girls” but be uncomfortable in accessing due to “girlie cover”. The layout in book shops should be addressed to prevent the gender division occurring-ie Waterstone with pink princess books together, this probabily stops, not only boys, but relatives and friends buying the book for a boy. (otherway around too)


    • ‘Girlie’ covers do seem to have an impact on putting boys off reading. Interestingly, some of my research has been suggesting that girls are less likely to be put off by ‘boy-themed’ covers than boys being put off by ‘girl’ versions. I’d be keen to here any stories around this – either in favour or against this idea! It’s also very interesting that you mention the responses of relatives too – I wonder if parents/relatives/carers are the ones who are more influenced by the gender divisions than children themselves. Afterall, the buyers for children’s books are going to be adults in the most part – so are bookshops maybe creating gender divisions for adults rather than for children?


      • I’m a primary school teacher and due to the gender gap in Reading and Writing, with girls traditionally being stronger in both subjects, we actively theme our literacy and guided reading sessions around books which will appeal more to the boys. We find that this doesn’t put the girls off at all, they tend to enjoy all types of books, but whenever we introduce a slightly more ‘girlie’ text, it instantly switches off a lot of the boys. It works well for us and helps keep everyone engaged!


        • This is very interesting, and concerning to me. I would see this as boys ‘instantly turning off’ because they’re afraid of engaging with something that may associate them with femininity, afraid that if they like it, their status as ‘proper boys’ will be harmed. (After all, if they’re ‘instantly turned off’ they clearly haven’t given it a chance.) This is deeply troubling, and I can well understand presents a real challenge to to a teacher whose task is to make sure that all the children are engaged and making progress with reading.

          Girls learn early that they are expected to empathise with a male perspective. Boys learn that they not only not expected to do the reverse, but may be actively discouraged or shamed. (At the Hay Festival this year the woman in the activity tent apologised to my son that the theme today was ‘Alice in Wonderland’ because ‘boys don’t like it much’. Which was news to him.)

          If we don’t actively challenge this, it’s easy to end up with a situation where we actually reinforce it. If boys turn away from ‘girly’ themes, or narratives led by girls it’s because they’ve learned it’s socially risky not to – closing off whole areas of reading and learning that they might enjoy. It’s for adults to do our level best to undermine that, and reassure boys that themes of family and friendship and stories which are told from a girl’s perspective are open to them.


  2. The David Walliams series of children’s books, have storylines which appeal to both sexes. The author has got the balance with the main characters being a boy and girl, with fantastic humorous situations they find themselves in. These books really did get some boys reading!


  3. This brings to mind one event I witnessed during my own course of study in a Children’s library, which I found quite shocking.

    A little boy had picked up a copy of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ and took it over to his Mum to ask if he could take it out. As anyone who has read Roald Dahl will know, his books have massive universal gender appeal, but this child’s Mother told him “No honey, that’s a girls book”. Because it had a pink cover. And an illustration of Matilda on the front.

    I’m not sure if this is illuminating more in terms of adults attempting to install a certain gender identity onto their kids (who at these younger ages seem to care very little about their gender identities), or in terms of wondering why this title was ever presented and packaged this way by the publishers, effectively excluding half of their market.


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