To scan the many recent articles about the demise of books and reading in America, especially among boys, is to conclude that my friends aren't the only moms who feel that way. Given the choice between 4,000 pages of Harry Potter or nothing, well, duh. (For more on the trouble with Harry, see A Landscape with Dragons.)
Alas, there are other choices. Now they also have books about vampires, horror, crude mystery and offensive body humor. Publishers of books for boys are going to great lengths -- and great lows -- just to get boys to take up and read. Mom blogger Amy Henry describes the genre that's become so popular with adolescent males as "the barf/poop/belch genre."
About such fare Henry says, "They’re all junk-food books; trans-fat-laden, corn syrup-saturated Hostess cherry pies on the literary highway." And judging from the shelf-upon-shelf of such well-worn paper backs in our local library, I'd guess most boys are glad to help themselves to what tastes so good going down.
But you are what you eat. And what you read. If it's true that "readers are leaders," I wonder where all these readers of the books most boys are devouring will be leading us in years to come.
Still, who wants a boy who can't, or won't, read?
So that's our choice: bad literature, maybe even books that corrupt, or illiteracy. That's what the publishers of the junk-food stories would have us believe. Thankfully, there's another way.
When I take photos, I take hundreds of them. And usually, out of about 300 pictures, I'll have a dozen or so I want to post on the blog and share with friends. I might even have one or two I think is great. Maybe. It takes a lot of pictures to arrive at a winner.
Books are like that. Consider, there were between 250,000 and 500,000 books published last year (that's my very rough estimate based on my very quick and inconclusive Google search). Even if my numbers are off by a hundred thousand or more, that's still more books that you'll read in your lifetime, let alone a year. You can imagine that in a collection that large, there will be a host of stinkers. They'll be a lot of boring, uninspiring, incorrect, misleading and even harmful books. But there will also be a bunch that, while safe, are just not worth your time. Like my 300-to-1 photo ratio, the books in your library or local bookstore contain more trash than treasure.
You have to search for the good stuff.
Once you find the good stuff, you have to work to find the few titles that will inspire your child. But it's work worth doing.
I love to pre-order as many good books as possible before we head to the library so that we're not limited to what's on the shelf. Even if the kids don't find many good books in stock, the "holds shelf" is full with the books I hand selected. When we get home, we have a stack to choose from. It's my secret delight to see our 11-year-old grab one from the massive pile of books, start reading, and not want to put it down. Victory!
Where to Look
How do I know what to pre-order?
- I ask around. Friends with kids of similar ages to ours, moms whose kids are grown, fellow home-schoolers, Facebook friends.
- I check websites. My favorite is SimplyCharlotteMason.com's bookfinder. It's a searchable database of "living books" (the sort that "make a subject come alive") organized by grade and subject matter. It's a little tricky to find the first time. Just look in the left-hand column under "Quick Links."
- I order homeschool catalogues. Though I've never used Sonlight or Veritas Press, I love to get their catalogs for the book lists. Because they're literature based curricula, they have great lists of good books, most of which are available (for pre-order) from our local library. These aren't the only two literature-based programs. If you know of others, please leave a comment!
The other reason you need to bring home a lot of books is that every boy will gravitate to something different. Some will relish the classics, others will want more scientific books. If you only bring home a bag full of one type of book you may find your son rejecting the whole lot. But throw in McCloskey's Homer Price, a few biographies (the Trailblazer series), a catalogue or encyclopedia-styled collection (think DK Eyewitness books) and a book of maps -- or even better, Pagoo, by Holling Clancy Holling -- and you may find him diving in.
Vary the options and he's likely to discover an author, genre, or style that suits him.
This isn't to say we should only give our sons books to read that they naturally love, but that beginning with such books will kindle their love of reading, making it more likely that they'll stick with you when you require books outside of those they'd normally choose.
Read, and they will follow. That's what we've heard but also what we've witnessed in our own family room. Even 2-year-old Teddy knows what to do with a book. He loves to hold it in his lap and flip the pages, front to back. Though he can't yet read the simplest of words, he's practicing the book behaviors he observes around him.
Before you know it, you'll be asking to borrow their books. That's what happened yesterday when I noticed Harrison with a friend-recommended-find that he couldn't put down. As soon as he finished, I opened it to see what all the fuss was about. Now I'm the one with my nose-in-a-book while I wash dishes and make dinner and walk on the treadmill. It's called Leepike Ridge and it's one of the best new books for boys I've ever read. Harrison calls it a page-turner. I call it a win for boys everywhere!