Monday, February 01, 2010

Because You Care About Boys

I grew up hating to read.

I know, that's a surprising statement to most people, now that I write action-adventures & mysteries for kids. My reasoning is that I'm attempting to create the kinds of books that I would have enjoyed as a child. Hopefully my work is making a dent in the problem of struggling and reluctant readers, especially boys.

In addition to writing original material for these young readers, I'm happy to display additional books and resources from others on this blog. That has resulted in reviews and announcements for a number of books for kids by other authors.

Today I want to address parents, educators, classroom teachers, librarians, and others who are working to help boys who struggle in our education system, with a resource that you may find helpful. The book, Why Boys Fail, by Richard Whitmire, is just such a resource.

Hard Numbers and Alarming Facts about Boys

· Nationwide, nearly twice as many boys as girls repeat a grade.

· In preschool, boys are four and a half times more likely to get expelled than girls. In the K-12 years, boys are twice as likely to get suspended and three times more likely to get expelled.

· On federal writing tests for 12th graders, more than a quarter of males score “below basic,” compared to 11 percent of females. In reading, a third of male students fall below basic, compared to 22 percent of females. Only 29 percent of male high school seniors are reading at the proficient and advanced levels, compared to 41 percent of females.

· The grade advantage long held by girls appears to be broadening. In 1990, both girls and boys had “C” grade-point averages, according to the Education Department’s High School Transcripts Study. By 2005, the gap widened to a “B” for girls and a “C+” for boys. According to the Higher Education Research Institute’s 2007 survey of college freshmen, 28 percent of women report a high school grade point average of “A” or “A+,” compared to 21 percent of men.

· Twice as many girls as boys were members of the National Honor Society in 2007. From 2006 through 2008, all the first place winners of the Intel Science Search were female.

· 54 percent of female high school sophomores are enrolled in a college-preparatory curriculum, compared to 48 percent of males.

· Overall, only 65 percent of our nation’s boys graduate from high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent “national report card,” released in the spring of 2009.

· In the arena of higher education, a wide gender gap has opened up for students of all races. Among whites, women earn 62 percent of associate degrees, nearly 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 62 percent of master’s degrees, and 54 percent of doctoral degrees. Among blacks, women earn 61 percent of associate degrees, 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 72 percent of master’s degrees, and 64 percent of doctoral degrees.

· Young boys, ages 10 to 14, are twice as likely as young girls to commit suicide; young men, ages 20 to 24, are six times as likely.

· Among high school seniors, 23 percent of white males from college-educated families score “below basic” on federal reading tests, compared to 7 percent of females.

Actions for Parents:

· Volunteer for a reading tutoring program. Struggling readers need extra help and encouragement from adults. Book Buddies and HOSTS (Help One Student To Succeed) are two highly-targeted tutoring/mentoring programs credited with having a major impact on boys’ achievement. If your local school lacks such a program, lobby the principal to start one. Then, urge friends, relatives, and colleagues to join your volunteer effort.

· Welcome boy-friendly books. Many boys are only interested in books that girls (and Moms) find silly, too violent, or just plain gross. If your son prefers Captain Underpants to Bridge to Terebithia, don’t worry. Giving your son boy-friendly books will help him become not only an early and proficient reader, but also a voracious one.

Actions for Educators:

· Experiment more with K-12 reading programs. Consider the success of the Comic Book Project. Elementary school teachers wrap comic books and graphic novels into their reading curriculum, pressing students to analyze the text and pictures for mood, tone, and character development. Now in 860 schools around the country, this creative approach works, getting boys excited about breaking down a novel into its working parts.

· Focus on phonics. Reading experts overwhelmingly agree: Boys need phonics instruction more than girls. Boys are less adept at intuiting the structure of language, which means teachers need to make it more explicit for them. Besides letting boys sound out words, phonics lends itself to being taught in computer labs, with video-game-style hand controllers that boys thrill to using.

· Intensify literacy instruction in middle and high schools. After the elementary grades, most schools make a gradual transition from literacy to literature, leaving behind legions of weak readers, most of them boys. For boys to catch up on literacy, middle and high schools must embrace a collaborative effort to turn every teacher into a reading teacher. Reading and writing assignments should be standard in all subjects, including math.

· Make high school more relevant. Giving boys a reason to care about high school will get more of them to stay until graduation. California High Tech High charter schools keep boys by combining hands-on learning with a college-prep curriculum. Career academies, like Braden River High School in Bradenton, Florida, help students see the relationships between the skills they need to earn a living and the academics in the classroom.

Adapted from WHY BOYS FAIL: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire (AMACOM; January 2010; $24.95 Hardcover; ISBN: 978-0-8144-1534-4). For more information contact Irene Majuk at 212/903-8087 /

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

Wow! I am stunned. Thank you for sharing this with us, Max. I never would have guessed at the suicide figures, so sad.

I do care about boys (and girls). This is helpful information.


Finance said...

Thanks for writing on such an important topic. I think the key is erading to the boys very early on, with your finger on each word as you read. Kids will naturally get interested in reading once you read with them and explain the written words.
In that spirit, and in helping the kids as young as 5 years old in developing their financial skills, I wrote 20 children's books on finance. They are meant to be read by parents to their kids, while the parents explain their values to the kids while reading. If children can read those illustrated books, great! You can read about them on
Prakash Dheeriya, PhD
Father of 2 boys, Author & Professor of Finance
Finance for Kidz series
finance4kidz dot com

Mia said...

I also blog on children's lit at I have a posting on Books for Reluctant Boy Readers. It's nice to discover your site. I've added your blog to my blog roll.

pragmatic mom

SWIRL said...

I just found your site and I share your passion! I have 4 boys. And while 3/4 can read.. my youngest son is only 4yr old... my older boys still prefer NOT to read.

Something I've found that motivates them to read is hosting book clubs for them! At first they thought it was a lame idea...but now they are hooked! Currently we are finishing up Lightning Thief and we'll be seeing it in the theater as a book club! Boys that once wouldn't read without a fight... now are putting the effort into it.. so they can "hang" with friends at book club.
Thanks for addressing and dedicating your time to such a serious problem!

Anonymous said...

Reading these kind of posts reminds me of just how technology truly is everywhere in this day and age, and I can say with 99% certainty that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes less expensive, the possibility of transferring our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could see in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i SDHC[/url] DS FFBrows)

Marianne said...

This is great stuff. You know, when I was growing up my grandmother (who was one of the first social workers and a great example of a sucessful educated career woman before they were very common) told me that girls were smarter than boys. I told her that people were all equal.

I think that part of the equation of feminism is to allow boys to be successful, smart, creative, and not afraid or unable to express their feelings. Breaking things up into "things for girls" and "things for boys" is not really good for either.

Gender defines us, and can be a source of great strength. But we should be careful not to be limited or held back by gender expectations.

Mrs. B. said...

Mr. Anderson. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the information about your books. I am excited to head out ot the bookstore and look for them. I am always in search of books that will fuel the desire to read in my students. It is so exciting to see them get lost in a good book and to read their reflection journals about the adventures they have gone on in a good book. Thansk for your words of encouragement and best of luck to you on the latest book.
Patti Barker

Geena said...

Thank you for summarizing this book - I think I'll pick it up to ensure that I'm on track with my son. I have found that the use of audio-books is a wonderful way to connect boys (and girls) to great stories, before and after they become independent readers.

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