Boys and Reading: Author Bill Jones Jr. Talks About Bridging the Gender Gap

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Please welcome author Bill Jones Jr. Bill is a fellow Third Campaigner with me. He also shares my concern that we reach boys as readers in this busy, fast-paced, video game oriented environment. He’s given some thought to how to encourage boys to read, and I’m delighted that he agreed to share his thoughts with everyone on my blog.

Bridging The Gender Gap

There is a consensus that there is a gender reading gap between boys and girls, and it’s getting worse. In fact, according to a survey developed by UNESCO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), girls had higher reading scores than boys in every one of the 43 countries surveyed. This wasn’t a small survey – they tested thousands of students in each country.

The study blamed “a lack of engagement” for the boys’ less-fluent reading. Simply put, boys don’t read as well because they aren’t interested. In fact, the study said, over half of all boys read only “to get information.”

How sad.

It’s easy to place blame here, and many have: textbooks and reading assignments that do not appeal to boys, too much TV and video game time, even lax parenting, or the preponderance of female Young Adult fiction writers. I think all of this is misguided at best. For one thing, the reason there are so many books for young female readers, is because, well, young females read.

We have created a vicious cycle here. Boys have video games and a host of other opportunities for their time. Experts point out that among home-schooled children, there is no discernable reading gap. So the answer seems simple: get parents more involved, turn off the games, and voila, problem solved.

Except, no, not really. Parents did not create this problem, and parents alone can’t solve it. The fact is, boys and girls are different, no matter how much we parents of millennial kids wanted them not to be. And, this ignores the fact that girls know how to work TVs and video games too. That, alone, is not the problem.

A very insightful Washington Post article, “Why Johnny Won’t Read,” said as much. According to the authors, “… boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys.”

So how to do appeal to a male audience? Do you trick them into your work, sliding in the “female” themes, and hope they are too hooked to notice? Harry Potter, for instance, certainly featured character interrelationships, and strong female characters, but they were clearly secondary to the main Good vs. Evil plot line. Sadly, for awhile, it seemed the way to appeal to boys was not to create exciting books with strong male leads. It was easier, to write books about bodily functions. Go for the cheap laugh; dumb irreparably down.

The WP article adds: “At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems … ” There is certainly nothing wrong with this, as millions of readers will attest. For those of us who don’t write short, easy-to-read books, what to do? As the Wall Street Journal aptly cites, you can’t raise an entire generation of boys on Captain Underpants. Well, you can, and have, but isn’t there more?

I believe so.

When writing my current series, The Stream, I remembered moving from Dr. Doolittle to Call of the Wild, to Sherlock Holmes. By the time I reached middle school, I was open to read anything, including Little Women, Jane Eyre, and others. The key was learning that unlocking one’s imagination was more exciting than any television show.

We, as writers, must craft the stories that all children will want to read. My series, The Stream, features adventure, war, historical nonfiction, personal relationships, mythology, and fantasy. We can find the type of balance that J.K. Rowling created with Harry Potter, without crafting a Potter knockoff. Authors of classic literature wrote stories, and assumed their public’s ability to read would improve as quality literature was available.

We must create our next generation’s classics. Should that not be our goal, as much as creating that next best seller? We can show boys interesting, challenging stories – that they will actually want to read. Why learn to read, to love books, if there is nothing worth being challenged for?

I published my book myself, because I believe there is, and always will be, a market for good stories. I believe boys will read, as long as we give them reasons to read. Harry Potter was popular, in part, because it allowed boys to read and still be “cool.” We can make it cool again. And we must.

I choose to believe that our kids are tired of Big Publishing’s dumbing down for them. I’ve chosen to believe that my ex’s 9-year-old daughter, who wanted to read Twilight, was not an anomaly. Kids are as smart as we allow them to be. Boys will learn to love what we allow them to love.

As the WSJ says, “Aristotle thought we should be raised ‘so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education’ … This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that? How much easier to meet children where they are.” I, for one, agree. I enjoin my fellow Indie Publishers to join the fray, and change the course.

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Bill Jones, Jr. assumed from an early age that he would be a photographer when he grew up. From age 12, Bill could be found bicycling around the streets of downtown Hampton, Virginia, camera in hand. Already an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy buff, at age ten, he was exposed to the poetry of Nikki Giovanni and the fiction of Jack London and Madeleine L’Engle. The writing bug was born.

In 2007, he wrote a short story, which would later become the first two chapters of The Stream. In 2009, he began work on the book in earnest, completing his first novel, The Stream: Discovery, and its sequel, The Stream: Awakening, writing the books back-to-back in four months.

Now, with the completion of the series, Bill is excited about the publication of his debut novel, The Stream: Discovery, a Fantasy Fiction book for all age groups. When not at his day job as a Market Research Analyst, Bill can be found writing, at the gym, or wandering the streets of the Nation’s Capitol, still with cameras in tow.

Contact Information

You can reach Bill at his website, his blog, or connect via Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.



About Kelly McClymer

Kelly is a writer, a mom, and a reading tutor for children with dyslexia. Plus, she is totally addicted to her iPad. Curse you, Steve Jobs.

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