John Martin

Boys Read
Resources | Discussion

"Boys Read" Effort Aims to Turn Boys Into Readers

"Reading Tribes" draw boys to reading in Seattle model program.

By John Martin
Founder, Boys Read
July 1, 2008

The Facts:

  • America's boys are the most violent in the industrialized world.
  • 50% of all minority male students drop out of school.
  • 87% of boys play explicitly violent video games.
  • 92% of convicted violent felons are male.
  • Male literacy is part of the solution.

It's not that boys can't read; it's that boys won't read.
Our mission: Transform boys into lifelong readers.

Child psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of the best-selling book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys, documents in his research that American boys are the most violent in the industrialized world. Many are unable to express their emotions. On average, boys are doing worse in the classroom than they were 10 years ago. This is especially true when it comes to reading.

Recent evidence-based research proves that boys lag behind girls in reading skills. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show that, on a national basis, boys tested in 2005 scored significantly lower than girls in their age group. According to Michael Sullivan, “Without an active reading life, boys are almost destined to fall behind, and stay behind, in the acquisition and effective use of language.” Mr. Sullivan is a leading authority on boy’s literacy and author of Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do. In his book, Mr. Sullivan also states that, "Boys’ reading skills suffer as they struggle with other transitional issues — issues of identity, separation, and social development, in the early elementary years. We need to realize that these transitional issues can put boys so far behind in reading they may never catch up. We can help boys through this struggle by offering recreational reading that they can identify with, and by allowing them to read below their level if that is what it takes to develop good reading habits.”

Many school librarians and teachers have observed and anecdotally documented that there’s a bigger reading-gap between boys and girls depending on the age of the students.

Younger boys tend to be more excited about books as they learn to read. As boys get older, they tend to enjoy magazines more than books. The biggest challenge parents, teachers, and librarians face is finding books that interest boys. School librarians agree that boys tend to read non-fiction rather than fiction. They want to get as much information about the world as they can.

The lack of male role models also contributes to the reading-gap problem. Boys always see girls reading, so they don't think it's masculine. They don't see a lot of guys reading. Furthermore, books interesting to boys are harder to come by than they are for girls.

The problem isn't hopeless. A new, innovative program called Boys Read has recently been founded in Seattle. Boys Read’s mission is to transform boys into lifelong readers. It is an organization of parents, educators, librarians, mentors, authors, and booksellers. A core objective of Boys Read is to establish Reading Tribes. Tribes are informal reading circles for pleasure and non-deterministic learning. They’re very similar to book clubs. Tribes are a great opportunity to bond with boys. A Tribe Leader acts as a mentor and facilitator for the Tribe. Parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, coaches, and other community outreach programs and services organize Tribes.

In the Seattle area you may learn more about how to start a Tribe, during an informational meeting at the Ballard Public Library, 6:30 PM on August 9th.

The Boys Read’s website features many extraordinary authors who have published numerous compelling and gripping novels that boys love. For more information about Boys Read, visit the website at

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Related Resources
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson

Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do
by Michael Sullivan

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