1. Curious Critters
Boys love to read about animals, the stranger the better. What's really terrific is that so many animal picture books are written using nonfiction text conventions such as a glossary, index, text boxes, captions, boldfaced and italicized words, appositives (for defining words in context), and headings and subheadings. Boys who frequently read these books will later find content area texts easier to navigate.
So which critters to include? Insects and predators lead the list, although mythological creatures are also popular. Boys tend to leave books about horses, dogs, and cats to the girls. A great example of this critter category is Predators, one of Simon and Schuster's Insiders Series. Photographs, photo-realistic close-ups, and cool cut-aways give boys an unparalleled look at some of nature's most awesome hunters.
2. Caped Crusaders
Superheroes embody many of the traits that boys admire. What schoolboy hasn't dreamed of living dual lives? Superheroes, with their awesome powers and identity struggles, continue to be popular with boys right up through middle school. From classic superheroes such as Batman to newer, more unlikely protagonists such as Jeff Smith's Bone, this is a tradition that continues to reinvent itself for new generations of boys.
Need ideas for using superhero books? Check out the I Need a Hero post at this blog, and also click on the tag for heroism to the right.
3. Cool Cars
Cars, planes, motorcycles, and all things that go VRROOM! universally appeal to boys (and full-grown men as well!). In fact, researchers in a Harvard study of several hundred preschoolers discovered an interesting phenomenon. As they taped children's playground conversation, they realized that all the sounds coming from little girls' mouths were recognizable words. However, only 60 percent of the sounds coming from little boys were recognizable. The other 40 percent were yells and sound effects like "Vrrrooooom!" "Aaaaagh!" "Toot toot!"
Boys, it seems, do have a need for speed! Use this to your advantage by offering books such as the high-interest Torque series from Scholastic. While the reading level in this series is roughly third grade, the interest level is third to seventh. Some titles include Stock Cars, Apache Helicopters, and Motocross Cycles, all written by Jack David.
4. Comic Characters
In addition to superheroes, boys enjoy reading other materials in comic form. Many publishers recognize this, and now offer a fantastic collection of graphic novels in almost every genre (biography, mystery, history, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, etc.).
Graphic Planet's Bio-Graphic series title Jackie Robinson, for example, presents that hero's life story in comic format. The title also includes a timeline, glossary, index, stats, recommended further reading, and web links. For reluctant readers, this is a rewarding foray into biography which is likely to create a desire to explore additional famous men and women.
For more on graphic novels, see my previous post on Graphic Novels and New Literacies.
5. Comebacks and Conquests
The majority of boys who are obsessed with sports can be encouraged to read voraciously, given a library stocked with titles about players, teams, and championships. What's really awesome about many of today's titles is that they'll take a boy's love for a sport, such as baseball, and bring the context of a single game to life. In Phil Bildner's The Shot Heard 'Round the World, for example, young readers are taken back to Brooklyn in the sweltering summer of 1951 to see the Dodgers face off against the rival Giants for the chance to play the Yankees in the World Series. Illustrator C.F. Payne's images complete the time-machine transformation, and for just a little more than a dozen pages we are lost in a bit of baseball history.
If your students dig that one, be sure to check out Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, by this same creative duo. Then, in a bit of what I call "stealth teaching," slip in Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss. They'll recognize C.F. Payne's style on the front cover, and that should be enough to draw them in.
Need some ideas for teaching with sports books? Check out my previous post on Going Extra Innings with Baseball Books.
6. Creeping Corpses
Almost every kid loves a good scare, and boys in particular love to read creepy stories. Whether it's a collection of Scary Stories which have been passed down orally for years, or a retelling of a classic ghost story, or a totally new take on this genre, boys love a good horror story.
Tales of the Dead: Ancient Egypt by Stewart Ross is a large format picture book that is part graphic novel, part cross-sections, and part nonfiction reference (a combination of three genres which are tops with boys!). This incredible book tells a tale of "murder, magic, and mystery" while simultaneously teaching the reader how ancient Egyptians honored their dead. The vast number of incredibly detailed and historically accurate illustrations were painstaking completed by a pool of talented artists and designers called Inklink. A fantastic addition to any library!
Lerner's Graphic Universe series Twisted Journeys is part Choose Your Own Adventure, part graphic novel, and 100% gripping. For example, the blurb on School of Evil (Twisted Journey #13) reads:
At Darkham Academy, the teachers are creepy, monsters lurk in the lab, and your dorm room is haunted! Can you survive the first day of school and finish your homework on time? Every Twisted Journeys graphic novel lets YOU control the action by choosing which path to follow. Which twists and turns will your journey take?School of Evil's compact size, slick pages, masterful illustrations, and multiple opportunities for rereading (by choosing alternative endings) makes it a hit with upper elementary and middle school boys.
7. Close Combat
While many schools discourage war play, we can tap into boys' fascination with soldiers and guns by offering a wide selection of books on history. Books like 2010 title The Top Ten Battles that Changed the World are an easy introduction for boys into the wider study of world culture. Warring is, unfortunately, nearly as much a part of any culture as music, art, food, and dance. But a good book on the topic may lead students to want to explore more about a specific culture, beyond which battles it fought.
For lots of great titles and activities for teaching about the Revolutionary War, see my previous post, Crossroads of the Revolution.
8. Cut-Throats and Cutlasses
There's something about the pirate life that's enticing to boys. Is it the sword fights and the buried treasure, or the absence of nagging mothers and the lack of bathing? Whatever its allure, the pirate life can be explored through such books as How I Became a Pirate, Everything I Know About Pirates, and Pirate Bob.
If you have older readers, Candlewick's more sophisticated Pirateology would be an excellent choice, and your boys would absolutely want to visit the related web site at Ologyworld.com. There they'll find games, downloads, and extracts for all the Ology books.
9. Corporeal Crud
"Boys are gross!" is the oft-heard lament of school-age girls. Whether or not that's true, it does seem that boys love stuff that is really gross. Case in point: Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and Others) Left Behind, a fun and fascinating look at scatology (the study of poop). Author Jacob Berkowitz and illustrator Steve Mack might do for this field of science what CSI did for forensics.
Boys also love to find out cool stuff about their own bodies. Place a copy of Clot and Scab: Gross Stuff about Your Scrapes, Bumps, and Bruises on your classroom book shelf, and you're not apt to see it again until year's end! Filled with disgustingly real photos, gross facts, microscopic close-ups, and just enough text to answer students' questions, this book will be of interest to future scientists and physicians alike. Author Kristi Lew supplements all the "cool stuff" with some really solid, fact-filled writing. Chapter One, for example, begins:
Have you ever fallen off your bike and dragged some poor body part along the pavement? YOW! Not only does it hurt like crazy, it looks nasty too. But don't worry. While you made hamburger out of your knee or elbow, your body got busy repairing the damage.In that short paragraph, we have an awesome model of writing: all four sentence types, varied sentence length, and a metaphor! Trust me, if every textbook were written with this much skill, students would be far more successful in reading them than they are! (Clot and Scab is just title from Lerner Publishing's Gross Body Science series which includes Crust and Spray, Hawk and Drool, Itch and Ooze, and Rumble and Spew. What awesome titles! Also be sure to check out my prior post on Does It Really Take Seven Years to Digest Swallowed Gum? That post discusses ways teachers can use disgustingly cool books like these to encourage inquiry and research).
10. Cross-Sections and Cut-Aways
What boy hasn't taken apart a favorite toy or household appliance, just to "see how it works"? Books that offer detailed diagrams of the workings of helicopters, the human body, pyramids, the Titanic, tanks, and the Millennium Falcon are guaranteed to attract crowds of boys, anxious to read and discuss the tiniest captions offered to explain the most detailed drawings.
DK Publishing has dozens of these titles, and what's incredible is that the cross-sections of things that don't even exist in real life (such as the vehicles and spacecraft found in Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections) are often the most popular. My guys will sit and pore over a single diagram with a degree of studiousness I could only wish they would apply to their other school work.
Need even more recommendations? Check out Deborah Ford's recently published Scary, Gross, and Enlightening Books for Boys Grades 3–12. About this resource, School Library Journal says
Citing studies and describing the academic risks boys face, Ford challenges educators to help boys become more successful readers and students. Nine chapters cover nonfiction, graphic works, sports, mystery and adventure, humor, fantasy and science fiction, war and history, books with male characters, titles that have become movies, and read-alouds that meet national curriculum standards. Entries include a brief synopsis along with the publisher's interest-level recommendation and a reading level calculated by averaging three standard tools. Throughout, activities are highlighted, and Web resources are included at the end of each chapter.Know of other great titles and topics to get boys reading? Leave a comment below.