I’ve written books for boys and books for girls at both the middle grade and young adult (YA) levels. My recently released novel is geared toward teenage boys, although all my reviewers have all been adult women. LOL! This highlights the difficulty of connecting with boy readers.
If you are the parent of a boy you’re probably already aware of my title’s phrase. Boys don’t read (of course, girls do). If you’re a boy, you might even identify with it. In a 2005 article by the Washington Post called “Why Johnny Won’t Read,” the phrase was equated to a gender identity marker. Although a few years old, the article still rings true. Boys by the high school level have thrown in the towel on reading. Studies have long tracked the gender differences in reading, but in the last few years the gulf has widened significantly. The article cites 59% of girls reading and only 43% of boys reading.
The article blames market and educational trends that seem to stymie boys’ interest in reading starting in elementary school. Curriculum books with strong male characters, especially the kind my husband and brothers read, are gone. Forget those biographies that inspired generations. It appears that educators and publishers are not interested in masculine stereotypes or in the masculine point of view. In middle school and beyond, the current offerings center on problem novels (dealing with issues like drugs, bullying, divorce, etc.) and multicultural perspectives. Neither seems to re-engage boys in reading. By high school many boys have given up. It’s just not worth the work!
As a writer following changing publishing market trends for over a decade, there are some things I think the average American has no idea of. Children’s publishing has always been overwhelmingly female. That includes writers, agents, editors, and publishers. At every level, it is difficult to find a man in this business. Publishers scream for more books for boys and continue to ignore them when offered. There are lots of frustrated writers who can’t sell their boy books. So boys have fewer books and give up on reading. Publishers know boys don’t read, so they don’t produce books for boys. Catch 22 thing here.
It’s not totally hopeless. More studies on what boys need and want to support their continued reading may help. Books that allow a strong male perspective, more adventure, more sports, more SF and fantasy, along with graphic novels may help bridge the preference gap. And if you’ve been to a bookstore and strolled through the YA section, you’ve probably noticed the absence of boys hanging out in front of all those pink covers. We need to make the YA section appeal to both genders.