Somewhere between 7 and 9 years old, I became a Reader. And by Reader I mean someone who loves to read. I’d been “reading” (deciphering the alphabet to produce words whose meaning I understood) since I was about 3, and by first grade I was the best reader in my class (just a small elementary school in a tiny rural community, but still – no brag, just fact).
But somewhere during or after second grade and before fifth grade, I really got into reading. Why was that important? Because when one loves to read, then one reads more. When one reads more, one better develops vital language skills. The more enjoyable reading is, the more one develops the information access skills that are critical to success in the twenty-first century.
And, perhaps alarmingly, boys are NOT turning into readers in the same numbers as girls. This trend has been going on for at least a decade, and the causes are many: popular tween and YA books focus more on the female audience by about 3 to 1; [YA titles are in a Golden Age, btw – perhaps more on that in another blog later…?]; boys are more likely to spend free time in video games than reading; and, finally, many educators don’t always know what’s “out there” for boys. Probably all true to some extent. While I can’t do much about most of those causes, I can share some titles that might help your young male to enjoy reading. They made a difference for me anyway.
One of the books I came across in that important phase where I was developing as a reader was “Tarzan of the Apes.” Written about a century ago, it still has the excitement and adventure that is capable of hooking a reader. Better yet, the author Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a lot of sequels. One of the things that happened to me reading Tarzan what that the author had a YUGE vocabulary. I was constantly going to my Mom to ask her what a word meant. (Tarzan’s mighty thews, for example: A well-developed sinew or muscle: “sinews of steel, thews of iron” American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.)
Mom got tired of answering me, and directed me to take a dictionary with me whenever I sat down to read the book. Whenever I did not know a word, I had to look it up in the dictionary. This had two great side effects: 1) My vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds (albeit with many somewhat archaic usages, like “mighty thews”); 2) I learned to use a dictionary really well. While today’s young reader might be more inclined to look an unknown word up on the internet than to use a print dictionary, the benefits would still accrue.
Another book or set of books that really worked for me was the “juvenile” series by Robert A. Heinlein. I’ve written in an earlier blog about how a kindly librarian directed me towards this author, but his books are great if the tween/teen reader has any interest in space or science fiction.
So really, there are some great books available, and the Library has them. Here is a list of books I remember liking immensely as a young growing male reader – they have different reading levels and certainly the rule about having to look any word up if you don’t know what it means will apply, but overall I believe they have some real value.
Tarzan series – Edgar Rice Burroughs – jungle adventure
The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy – adventure during the French Revolution; features a hero with a secret identity
The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas – adventure during the French monarchy – swords and swashbuckling
The Call of the Wild – Jack London – animal (dog) adventure during the Alaska gold rush
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck – historical rags to riches story in pre-industrial China
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Howard Pyle
Beat to Quarters (Capt. Horatio Hornblower) – C.S. Forester – adventure on the high seas during the Napoleonic era
Lost Horizon – James Hilton – Hidden realm (Shangri-La) in the Himalayas
Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling – like Tarzan, boy raised by animals (Mowgli)
The Great Impersonation – E. Phillips Oppenheim – adventure/mystery set in the WWI era
King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard – hidden kingdom in Africa
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne – Captain Nemo and his fantastic submarine the Nautilus
Rabbit Hill – Robert Lawson – animal adventure (rabbits)
Watership Down – Richard Adams – animal adventure (rabbits, but like no rabbits ever known)
Lad: A Dog – Albert Payson Terhune – animal adventure
If the boy is younger, you might want to read these aloud to him. Most are suitable for 10 year olds and up. Besides growing a reader and increasing vocabulary, there is a lot of history, folklore, and imagination to be gained. Please let me know if any of these fit on your list of beloved books, and feel free to suggest some others!
[All titles are held by the NC Cardinal Library system which Fontana Regional Library belongs to – the links might be to just the first book if it is part of a series]