Literacy for Lads and Lasses / Books for Boys

August 17, 2008 at 10:46 am (News) (, , , )

According to an article published on last week, literacy levels amongst teens in the UK are dropping dramatically, with almost 1/3rd of 14-year-olds failing to reach the expected standards of reading for their age group.

Apparently, boys fare worse than girls in these statistics, making me wonder, is reading seen more and more as a feminine pastime? If membership on the Book Club Forum is anything to go by, women are certainly more drawn towards book discussion in a forum setting, as, although I don’t have the exact percentages to hand, the women far outweigh the men – but there are men on there waving the flag for male readers everywhere.

We also have a small, but growing, membership at the younger end of the range. Again, there are more girls than boys, but there are definitely boys on board who are happily reading and discussing the books they enjoy. This begs another question though – is reading something that we get into at a young age and keep up, or is it generally something we learn to do for pleasure at a later age?

I don’t have an answer to that one, being someone who cannot remember a time when I didn’t love reading (according to my parents I shunned toys in favour of books from an early age and was reading to myself long before I started school). I do, however, know many people my age and older who love to read and many others who are younger and never got bitten by the bug (please bear in mind, this is a generality – I know folks my own age who never pick up a book if they can help it, and people of all ages who adore nothing more than curling up with a novel).

So, are the reading rates in youngsters today affected by things to which we didn’t have access when we were kids – i.e. computer games? It would be easy to claim that factor as finite – so many children love computers and games, and this has been cited as the reason for many changes in modern children, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder (i.e. children sit around playing games with flashing images rather than playing outside and getting some exercise, and become unable to focus on things for longer periods of time).

I’d be inclined to go against this argument – after all, although the older generations didn’t have computer games, we did have books and television. Personally, I quite often took a book outside with me and would sit contended for hours, lost in another world, rather than running about with my friends. I was a tiny, skinny little thing, so sitting about didn’t make me fat, that’s for sure! My sister loved to watch cartoons – they lasted all of 5-minutes each in many cases, which doesn’t need a great attention span. She never had ADD, but she did have dyslexia (hence, she didn’t read as a child – although in recent years she has begun reading for pleasure).

I was very pleased to come across an article today on the BBC news that refutes the “evidence” that youngsters don’t read (it specifically cites examples for boys, but it could just as easily have included girls). There is evidence that children today are reading just as much as we did in my day – they’re just reading different things. Computer games often require a high level of reading ability and understanding in order to progress to the next level, and graphic novels can ignite an interest in more “conventional” forms of literature. And there are books that appeal to the youth market too – in recent years we’ve seen the phenomenon of Harry Potter sweep not just the UK, but the whole world, and J.K. Rowling is not the only author igniting the reading passions of the younger generation, although she might be the most famous contemporary example.

So, I’ve resolved not to worry too much about the reading habits of my own child (due next month). He or she will most definitely be exposed to books from the very start (in fact, I already read to my bump), and there will also be a “lead by example” atmosphere as my non-reading hubby will be encouraged to read to our child (especially if we have a boy – “books can be for both boys and girls” will be the message), but if computer games and graphic novels encourage my kid to read more, then I’m not going to complain. Just because the educational system in this country doesn’t count them in their educational statistics, doesn’t mean they can’t be counted towards overall ability and understanding and lead to a love of literature through other avenues.


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