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5 Books to Get Middle School Boys Reading
As both a teacher and a librarian, I have noticed that getting girls to read is an easy trick. Throw together a mysterious but handsome boy, an average, regular girl, and you have the ingredients of not only a cheesy romance, but also a story that pre-teen and teenage girls will seem to flock to read. Getting boys to read, though, that is the true challenge. Boys would much rather play video games, shoot a basketball, or just cause random havoc than pick up a book. How do we get them to read, then? Well, first, it takes some prodding by teachers through use of things like book reports and required class reading. What is that old saying, though, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” Boys and books is the same thing. You can give boys the classics and the most beloved books of all-time, but you can’t force them to read them. The answer to this problem is to offer them books that will speak to them; books that will grab a hold of their probably-awkward-because-of-their-age ears and drag them into the plot and characters’ lives. The following books and their authors have been able to do just that. As a middle school librarian, I cannot seem to keep enough stock of the following books:
1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney has being a boy in middle school completely figured out. Through use of his main character, Greg Hefley, he illustrates to all the awkwardness that is pre-teen boy-dom. Greg is vying for the love of a popular girl and he would kill to be seen as popular himself. He has an older brother and a younger brother that seem to always ruin his life (because, as you know, anything that goes unplanned to a pre-teen, no matter how small, ruins their lives), parents that never cease at embarrassing him, and someone who is always there to pick on him or point out when he does something weird.
Boys flock to this book faster than ants at a picnic. I about lost my sip of water one day when a boy, who I did not even think knew where the library was, asked me if I had the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, yet.
2. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
There must be something to this “I am all on my own, only I can save me” theme of the books by Gary Paulsen that follow character Brian. Middle school girls do not seem to be interested in a character who has to sleep outside and fend for himself in the wilderness for days upon days (maybe it is the lack of soap and proper bathrooms). Boys, on the other hand, would fight each other to get their hands on this adventure, survival story (well, if fighting were permitted in the library).
3. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Is there much explanation for why middle school boys absolutely love Captain Underpants books? I mean, we are talking about a full-grown man running around in underwear and a cape. That is middle school boy world in a nutshell. Putting the ridiculous story plots and character costuming aside, though, Pilkey uses, at times, some pretty high-level vocabulary in his tales of the undergarment hero.
This school year, I had a student in 8th grade, who actually read on a second grade reading level. He refused to even try to read anything, until I put Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part I: the Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets in front of him. He was so excited to come to class every day and read with me. Hidden in this outlandish story were words like, academically, depictions, cybernetic, and endoskeleton, which completely changed my mind about these silly books.
4. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
I am not sure whether it is the way in which this book is written (it is written like a movie script with some diary entries) or the plot itself that draw middle school boys to its pages. It is the story of 16-year-old Steve, who is the one writing the script and diary entries, who is in prison awaiting trial for his involvement in a murder. He wants to be a director someday, so he begins with writing down his experiences in prison and in court.
For whatever the reason, boys seem to become invested with Steve. They hang on every clue that is given. Do they believe it when he says he is innocent? Do they think he is lying? They love to guess and then they love to talk about their opinions when they have finished the book.
5. Holes by Louis Sachar
Ahh, the beloved Stanley Yelnats, Louis Sachar’s main character who seems to pull young boy readers in with his gripping story. He is cursed from birth because of his great-great-grandfather, he is wrongfully accused, but he finds a way to overcome all of his struggles and save the day. Boys will read this book, then watch the movie, and then read this book again. I am not sure if it is because Stanley gets to beat or win over the “authority figures” or because boys can relate to Stanley getting in trouble for something he didn’t do, but, again, for whatever the reason boys seem to thoroughly enjoy this book. I have 7 copies of this book on my shelves, and I usually only have 2 or 3 copies available at a time.