Books for the boy that does not read

Every bookseller has probably heard some variation on “my teenage son/nephew/grandson doesn’t read. I want to get him a book. What should I get him?”

99% of the time, this is blatantly not true. He does read… otherwise why get him a book at all? The real question is actually one of these two, and its important to determine which:

  1. “My teenager doesn’t read for pleasure, only for school. What should I get him to read for pleasure?”

  2. “My teenager is not reading books that I approve of. How do I get him to read great literature that will get him into Harvard?”

Most of the time, the question is really #1. But #2 takes special handling so I’ll address it in a moment.

For both versions you need to establish a few things first things:

  1. How old is he and is reading at grade level? How mature is he?

  2. Is he not reading because he is too busy with other things?

  3. Is he not reading because he has pushed to read ‘boring’ items in school?

  4. What does he like in general? Sports, videogames, hiking, art, music, dogs?

Now to address those questions…

  1. It’s often easier to select books for older teens as you don’t have to worry as much about rating and skip directly over teen lit and give them normal books. If the kid is in 9th grade or up (roughly age 15+) and reading at grade level, skip direct to men’s books. It offers a wider variety and he won’t feel like he’s being patronized. (Many teen books are unbearably preachy). If he’s reading below 9th grade level or is immature, you’re probably stuck with teen lit. This is partially due to the reading level, but mostly due to maturity. You don’t want to hand your customer something with a sex scene or too much violence for a 6th grader.

  2. Overloaded schedules where the kid shuffles between karate, soccer, band, and tutoring are often to blame for teenagers that don’t read for pleasure. He wants to relax and turn his brain off in what little unscheduled time he has.

If this is the case, the best bet is to suggest short story collections. This gives the kid a chance of finishing an item in his brief downtime. I usually suggest to parents that they keep these in two places: the car and the bathroom. Make sure the material is available and he will read. (make sure he doesn’t get carsick from reading!)

  1. Schools often overemphasize classics and analyze them to death. This trains boys that reading is WORK. School often also focus on ‘coming of age’ stories centered on girls. Teen boys REALLY don’t want to read (let alone analyze) anything having to death with a girl’s first period. Seriously. Neither I, nor any of my female friends, liked those books either. If this is what they’re reading in school, no wonder they don’t want to read!

For most boys you’ll want to select something that’s as far from literature as possible to counter this. Many of the men’s serials such as The Destroyer, Mack Bolan, Longarm, Slocum, etc feature lots of adventure and violence. This is the equivalent of pure brain candy with no redeeming value. It’s not great literature, but its FUN. And if they like it, there are hundreds of titles in the series.

A good option for younger teens are “choose your own adventure” books or the various movie & videogame tie ins. The reading is easy and if you’re seen the movie or game, you have a good idea of what the ‘rating’ is.

  1. Picking something on a topic he already likes is a bit of a no-brainer. If he’s really resistant to reading, non-fiction will often be more palatable than fiction. Of course, sometimes the person doesn’t know what he likes. If they don’t know, ask what the last few movies they saw or what their best subject in school is. This will generally give you a clue. If they have no idea whatsoever (and you’d be surprised how often this happens), give them Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or Louis L’Amour’s “Last of the Breed”. One of those two usually works.

Which brings us to the second type of “my teen is not reading” question. This generally means the parent doesn’t think what they’re reading is Great Literature. You can easily tell this one if they have the boy along, he selects something appropriate for their age and they say something to the extent of “that’s too easy”, “that’s garbage/trash”, “why don’t you read This Very Serious Piece of Literature?” and so on. Basically they don’t like them reading popular literature and think their kid should be reading nothing but classics. This is hard to deal with. The best you can do is suggest classics and modern prize winners that are good stories on top of being great literature.

If they’re REALLY reluctant to read they can often be lured into reading comics rather than full books. Parents may balk at this as not being “real reading” but it may often serve as a good stepping stone. Art Spielgman’s “Maus” is highly recommended to get around parents balking at comics. It’s a history of the holocaust, told in comic form that won the Pulitzer prize. For less serious reading, most American comic publishers will offer omnibus editions that collect together multiple issues and are near book size.

Japanese comics (manga) are widely available and are generally book sized. They may also run for dozens of volumes, so if they like one, there’s 12 more in the series… Aim for books labeled as “shonen Manga” as these are intended for boys. Many of these are also produced as cartons, so may be familiar to parents. Pokemon is probably the most familiar book from this genre. (There’s so much manga available, it really deserves its own article)

Next time, more specific recommendations!

Part 2

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Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

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16 Comments

  1. I had this problem with my nephew. Hos mother complained and so did his teacher as well. I decided to take the kid with me to the book store. At first he was totally ignorant but then I started asking him questions about what he really wanted to do and wanted to know more about. It turned out that he wanted to know more about the clouds, why they are white and so on … So I got him a book about the weather and lots of information about clouds. The boy read the book in two weeks and phoned me asking me whether I would take him to the book shop again. So, it is all about their interest. Keep asking them questions and if they want to read about something totally stupied then let them do it, after all it is reading 🙂

  2. when I was in grade 7. My dad basically told our local rather nosy librarian that he didn’t care about sex or violence as long as I kept reading. One of the nicer things he has done for me.

  3. Nice pointers up there! Seriously is not an easy those teenagers to read, but have to take time in cultivating their interest.

  4. it is very bad to say that reading book isnt fun for the kids. they like to waste ur time on their computers. this problem must be solved with the right discussions.

  5. Really, kids never like to read the books. They always want to play, Every child has been taken care and make them to read their books forcefully. I think we have to face this problem until we have any solution.

  6. It’s kinda problematic. When I was young I used to read fantasy and horror books. I know that it’s far from classical literature but at least I read something and it’s good start.
    And the major problem I see is that parents are usually unhappy that their children don’t read books but seriously…. did you read him fairy tales? What about role models? Does he or she see you reading books? If not then why are you so surprised 🙂

  7. Pingback: A list of books for boys that don't read too much. | Bookshop Blog

  8. Some early, male non readers can be encouraged by buying them a kit to build a model plane, car or boat. Then before they begin putting it together, get them to tell you how they are going to do it. After two or three kits, they are able to go on their own, but interest is the key to reading. We have each had college course that put us asleep and others, we couldn’t take our eyes off the material.

    For students, the key is getting them interested, involved and doing. Not all cases are easy and not all students have had the right kind of background or home life, but keep searching. Soon you will have the little guys reading out of your hand.

  9. Great article, very informative. I believe that it is extremely important to encourage reading in children, it really makes a difference in many different areas of communication and comprehension is general. I really liked the tips you had on choosing the right type of book for each individual boy. I always liked the alternate ending fiction books! 🙂

    All the best!

  10. Great article, I have a 7 year old who i am really trying to get into reading, but I have been having trouble convincing him. He loves the comics, but I really want him to read something a bit more conventional, like a fiction novel.

    I liked what you wrote about accepting their interests though….I will have to be a bit more accepting of the comics, perhaps, but find a novel that is in the same vein as comics, like adventure books.

    Thank you for the great articles, i really like your blog!

  11. Ana@BabyBoyNames says:

    Making our sons interested in reading requires patience on our part and most importantly the perseverance to spark their interest. The first book might not be the one that will catch his interest, but with a few more selection and with you reading by their side they are more likely to develop a good reading habit. Oh and one last thing, make sure to give them a rest period of playing video games and watching TV. They will inevitably ask for something else to do and you can give them a book to read.

  12. To Ana
    You are absolutely correct, I doubt that there is any of us who have an interest in all books and some books I might have been interested at a certain age, I am no longer interested in. I am sure you have done well with your own children and your advice to others is taken very well, thank you.

  13. I was one of those kids that always loved to read story book and never anything educational. Turns out that not im older i spend more time on work/research reading than reading interesting stories.

    You could always just give the kids some time and just be happy they enjoy reading at all.

  14. Dr Robert E McGinnis says:

    Books for young people.

    SERIES OF BOOKS (first series all published) READ IN ORDER

    The Paradise series in this order. (all in paperback & Ebooks now)

    (1) A Beckoning From Paradise (2008) (EBOOK) and paperback
    (2) Secrets Of Paradise (2008) (EBOOK) and paperback
    (3) Paradise Is Where You Find It (2009) (EBOOK) and paperback
    (4) Paradise Grows (2009) (EBOOK) and paperback
    (5) Raised In Paradise (2009) to be (EBOOK) and paperback now

    Second Series called The Little Eagle Series (these are with the publisher with expect publish dates noted)
    (1) Indian Summer April (2010)
    (2) Christmas With Little Eagle August (2010)
    (3) Little Eagle Saves A Spy December (2010)
    (4) The Golden Cross February (2011)
    (5) White Panther’s Legacy March (2011)

    Third Series, The White Panther Series (all written and awaiting edit, proof and final) Complete set expected out by 2011 but we are saying 2012 to be safe. O’Bannon Castle is out and ready for purchase.

    (1) O’Bannon Castle Published in e-book and paperback June (2010) (EBOOK)
    (2) The following will be available in (2012)
    (3) A Spy Saves Little Eagle (2012)
    (4) Upholding Family Traditions
    (5) White Bird Returns

    A fourth series is underway. Titles in this section are subject to change.
    (1)Steam Valley or alternate title Paradise Valley (Ready for rewrite to update.)
    (2)Robin Long Bird (finished) to be entered in a contest early next year.
    (3)Wisnook Treasure
    (With more to come.)

  15. Pingback: Recommended Books for Young Adults | Bookshop Blog

  16. Wow – so much good advice here. Well done. I’m finding that using our Nook with our son is helpful because he can download a sample chapter of a book, give it a read and decide if it’s for him or not. If he likes it, we can buy and download it instantly. Very handy way for find books for kids — especially super-picky teenage boys!

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