How To Engage Your Boy in Reading - a Q&A with Pam Allyn

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It is possible.

We cannot settle for less.

All of our boys can become avid readers and book lovers.

In fact, all of our boys need to fall in love with books.

Literacy is an incredible key, it opens all doors.

One day many of our kids will fall in love with chemistry, others will come to love music, while some of them will want to become archeologists.

Regardless of what they love - for most everything in life today, to succeed first you need to become a good reader.

If you want to learn chemistry and become a world-renowned expert - you have to read, read and read about chemistry.

Everything begins with the reading.

Unfortunately, many of our boys today are struggling with reading. Although the societal cause is important, we do not have the luxury to wait for a systemic solution.

We must help every individual boy - individually. Now.

Read Aloud Dad today enlists the help of world-renowned literacy advocate Pam Allyn who recently authored a ground-breaking book named "Pam Allyn's Best Books For Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives"?

Pam Allyn is the Executive Director and founder of LitLife and LitWorld, two well-known literacy development organizations as well as the Founding Director of Books for Boys.

For nine years, Books for Boys has been acclaimed for its innovative efforts on behalf of at-risk boys, and its work is replicated in other foster care agencies.

Last month I invited you to send in questions for Pam Allyn, who graciously accepted to give us answers to many questions that are worrying us parents.

10 Questions for Pam Allyn 

Question 1:  I have a big problem when reading aloud to my son at bedtime. Every night I fall asleep just a couple of minutes after I start reading aloud. Does Pam have any tips on how can exhausted parents avoid falling asleep during read-aloud sessions?
(question submitted by a Read Aloud Dad reader from ... Cremona, Italy!)

Pam Allyn: I know this feeling! Keep your evening read alouds short and sweet. Poetry is a great option for this time of day. Or short stories, or joke books. Find other special times of the day to read aloud from longer chapter books. Create rituals for the read aloud that are not just reserved for bedtime.

Question 2:  How can I finish reading aloud a book to my two-year old son when he keeps turning the pages in order to get to the most interesting part of the book? When he reaches the page he wants, then he just wants to focus on the illustration that interests him and we have to talk only about that part of the book.  
(question submitted by Ivana, a Read Aloud Dad reader)

Pam Allyn: Don't worry about finishing the book. Your son sounds so curious and wonderful! Let him take his time and explore the pages. He is demonstrating qualities of a reader who loves his books.
Question 3: Pam, you quote some shocking statistics in your book regarding falling literacy rates among boys. In fact, you state that this is an universal phenomenon. Let me quote a segment from your new book "Pam Allyn's Best Books For Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives":

"I learned that on a wider level, at every socioeconomic level, anywhere I go, a similar phenomenon affects boys across the country and even across the world.

Why are over 300,000 boys dropping out of high school each year? Why are 93 percent of young people in our prison system young men? Why do illiteracy rates correlate with the risk of a jail sentence later in adolescence, making it twice as likely for non-readers to be incarcerated? And even in our highest performing schools, parents and teachers worry that the boys are the ones who seem less likely to want to read on their own or outside of school.

The 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic reports that “only 39 percent of boys say reading books for fun is extremely or very important versus 62 percent of girls.”

Can you kindly explain to Read Aloud Dad readers, what is the key factor determining such a big difference among our boys and girls in your opinion?

Pam Allyn: I think it's really more a question of what we are not doing for boys as a society. We have enculterated reading to the point where it seems uncool to be a reader if you are a boy. What is valued in the media is boys who are active and moving quickly, boys in sports, boys who are not sitting down. We also do not value what many boys like to read. We devalue internet surfing. We devalue reading nonfiction. We have to make a far greater effort to be sure we are including boys and girls in the club of reading, and help them to value their reading journeys.
Question 4:  What would you say to parents who are considering a complete switch from traditional children's books to ebooks? Does the age or sex of the child influence your response?

Pam Allyn: It is not necessary to make a complete switch no matter the age of the child. Both ebooks and print books provide different values for children, both equally dynamic. Right now print text still offers more in the way of illustration but soon enough the e-readers will catch up. I am all about reading and so whatever it takes for a child to fall in love with the world of words, I am about that. Follow the lead of your child.
Question 5:  In your new book "Pam Allyn's Best Books For Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives" you stress a big problem that is evident in schools and which is a big turn-off for boys.

"One big problem is the emphasis in the upper elementary and middle grades on the whole class novel. The whole class novel has been pretty successful in convincing boys NOT to read. The whole class novel is the single most deadly bullet aimed directly at boys’ impulse to read. The teacher has selected a book for the entire class that is about something the boy doesn’t have that much interest in, or it’s about a twelve-year-old girl."

If you would single out the single most deadly bullet aimed at boys' impulse to read in a home setting, what would it be?

Pam Allyn: Tension between parent and child is the single most deadly bullet. Be a team player with your child on this reading journey. Do not be critical or judgmental about what the child reads. If they love comics and cereal boxes, riddles and video game manuals, celebrate and affirm their choices. The home should be a sanctuary for reading.
Question 6:  How important is the role of dads as readers from your experience? How often do dads read aloud to their boys and girls in the 21st century? Do they choose books together, go to libraries and share reading experiences? Or is that wishful thinking? Is a read aloud dad still a rare beast ... like the unicorn?

Pam Allyn: More than ever, dads are reading to their kids. I am thrilled about this. It's crucial that boys and girls see their dads as readers. This is the number one most important way we are going to break the negative cycle of boys as nonreaders. And especially in the 21st century, reading is more varied than ever before, so the reading can take place online and on the go. It's a radically changed world for parents and it's tremendously exciting.
Question 7:  Pam, I love your Thoughtfully Annotated List - Pam Allyn's Best Picks for Boys that is included in your new book "Pam Allyn's Best Books For Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives".

There are so many good book recommendations with age codes for Emerging, Developing and Maturing readers. I think that the list is a perfect list for parents who wish to help their struggling or gifted or just plain cute boy (and even girl) to find more reading material. I found many books that I plan to review .. superb indeed!

This leads me to the question... what is your opinion on home libraries and the importance of having children's books at home for a boy who is reading or learning to read?

Pam Allyn: The home library is essential. Children must have easy access to books so they can read at any time. Reading should feel natural and serendipitous. Don't keep the home library out of the way. Put it right in a central spot in the house or in your son's room, if your son uses an ebook reader, the home library can be virtual.
Question 8:  How difficult is it to help a boy who does not have a reading habit to make a U-turn in his life? Is there an age after which it is really difficult to change deeply ingrained habits? Is it difficult to play catch up with their generation for such kids? Many parents may be afraid that it is too late now to change anything.

Pam Allyn: It is never too late. But for the older boy, you may have to take extra steps to create that opportunity for a u turn. Make sure you know what has kept him from reading up to this point. Talk honestly with him and be his best buddy in how to help him feel better about reading. Always be for your child. Be his best advocate. Listen to his passions and find the reading that matches them. At any age, he can have a lifechanging experience with books.
Question 9:  Audio books. I've tried to introduce them to my four-year old twins, but they simply do not want to listen to them. They prefer the real deal. Still I remain optimistic. Do you have any  tips regarding audio books and boys? (any good sources of audio books online?)

Pam Allyn: There are children who really do not like audio books. I actually don't like them myself! It's also interesting to note that they may prefer the audio books on an ipod rather than on your car cd player, if they can listen with headsets. As for good recommendations, because this is not my favorite area, I really don't!
Question 10:  What is your position on watching TV/playing game consoles and their influence on reading habits and reading motivation among boys?

Pam Allyn: "I am a big believer in moderation. Never use tv or game playing as a reward or punishment for anything. If you thoughtfully offer opportunities for everything your child will come to see reading as a valuable part of his home experience. And the tv/games can be balanced into the big picture.

Dialogue is a key ingredient, whether you are sitting with your child and watching a great show or sitting on the couch and reading together, open communication and trust are what you are building together.

The child who sees you enjoying a great book or who enjoys one with you will recognize that you value these things and want to emulate you."

Readalouddad: Pam Allyn thanks so much for sharing your time and expertise with Read Aloud Dad readers. I love your book and adore the fact that you are the best advocate for our boys. I wish your book extraordinary success. Thanks for accepting to guest on
Pam Allyn: "Thank you, Read Aloud Dad!"



  1. Great tips! Thanks.

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  3. Wow so much info! I'm not a parent yet, but hopefully someday, and I guess it's never too early to start learning! Found you at the Making New Friends Blog Hop, and am glad I did! Am a happy new follower, great post! 

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  6. This is great!  I have raised 3 girls, 27, 22, and 17 (the youngest goes to college this year).  All but the oldest are avid readers.  I have a 10-year-old son as well, and  he likes reading as well.  The library is a special trip each week, and he has lots of his own books to choose from as well.  What was said about not making reading time the time before bed was spot on, I think.  A couple of days ago, we saw a news article about a girl whose father sat with her an hour each day just to read with her ... all the way until college, and my son asked if WE could do that!  So that will be one of our new routines, and I love the idea.

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