Boys and Books: Wisdom from Michael Sullivan
Last week my library had the privilege of hosting Michael Sullivan, library consultant and advocate for the Boys Read movement. I have wanted to do this since my coworker and I heard Mike speak at a Maine Library conference three years ago. He made such an impact then that we wanted to share the wisdom.
It was worth the wait.
Mike spent the day speaking passionately about books, boys, and brain development, and even after 14 hours of listening to him I wasn’t tired of him or his message. I learned SO MUCH that my mind is reeling and I have lists scrawled on notebooks and slips of paper everywhere in my life. There is no question that Mike’s influence makes me a better librarian, a better book reviewer, and even–no joke–a better parent of young readers.
So though I cannot possibly do justice to Mike’s style, here are a few pearls about boys and books:
- Boys and girls are different. Their brains develop differently and this impacts their reading. Specifically, boys need to work harder to activate both hemispheres of their brain to be ready to absorb language. This activation requires stimulation, including music, art, and kinetic energy. This explains why boys LOVE pictures (as in comic books), and often listen better right after recess.
- Third grade is a critical year when boys often fall behind in reading. This is not because BOYS change, but because EXPECTATIONS change. This is the year when kids stop LEARNING to READ and begin READING to LEARN. Reading becomes more mandatory and less fun. Third grade is often when the reading gap between boys and girls begins to widen.
- Girls connect better with the character-driven fiction we tend to assign in schools. Boys connect better with action-packed, plot driven fiction and NONFICTION. Since their preferred books are not often accepted as “literature” in schools, boys feel their choices are devalued and become discouraged. Accepting, even celebrating the books boys love can help.
- The only predictor of reading success is TIME SPENT WITH TEXT. It doesn’t matter what level book, what kind of book (Graphic book? Great! Magazines? No problem! Guiness Book of World Records? Why didn’t I think of that??), or how many times a kid wants to read that book, they are still gaining the skills they need to become a reader.
- Schools would have better success if they focused less on TEACHING READING and more on CREATING READERS. Rather than focusing on content, in Mike’s words, we should “make kids into lifelong readers, and they will make themselves into whatever they want to be.”
I could go on. I did spend 14 content-packed hours with the guy. His suggestions have already impacted how I review books for boys. Here are a few more ways in which we have, and will continue to, change our small public library in order to enact some of Mikes ideas.
- Develop our library collection with boys in mind: series, humor, graphic books, and nonfiction, here we come!
- Leverage as many hours of reading aloud to kids as we possibly can. We are working on putting a “literary lunch” program together in the local schools to get community members (especially men–boys need role models!) to read to kids.
- Help parents (and grandparents) understand that they don’t have to AGREE with their children’s book choices, they just need to SUPPORT them. After all, as Mike says, we are not 10-year-old boys, and many of us never were.
Thanks Mike. What a great day.