Monday, July 16, 2007

Guys Read

This is a big week for me---in addition to having my birthday on Saturday (and thank you, Liz, for that lovely post. I still have our copy of A Birthday for Frances, chompo bar included!), I am also expecting the birth of my first child, a son, any day now. As I mentioned in my first post, I am looking forward to sharing my love of reading with him. However, I realize that some of the books that I loved as a child may not exactly be his cup of tea (I can't imagine that too many boys get into the Little House on the Prairie series, for example). Plus, boys tend to lag behind girls in literacy achievement and often find reading to be a chore rather than a joy. The best thing parents can do, then, is to help their sons select books that they will want to read. This is easier said than done, especially when the books that you remember as a child are now at least 20-30 years old. Some of these have remained classics for children of both sexes, while others are probably out of print and hard to find. Plus, parents will want to become familiar with titles that have been published since their childhood---but as Liz pointed out in an earlier post, the children's book market has exploded, meaning that there is a lot of bad (movie tie-in books, anyone?) out there with the good.

Liz and I have already written about ways to find books for kids, from Liz's likely-to-be-successful tips (asking a librarian, using a reference book, perusing a library's online lists) to my hit-or-miss technique of picking books off a new-arrivals shelf at the library (at least I flipped through the texts and didn't judge them solely on their covers!). But not all of these techniques will help you to select books that might appeal more to boys than to girls, and you may not have access (or the time to read) subject matter guides such as Kathleen Odean's Great Books for Boys). For those short on time or without access to a large library collection, the Internet can be a terrific resource to help locate books.

Jon Scieszka (author of The Stinky Cheese Man, a personal favorite, although he's written a lot more since that book was published in 1992) has created a website to address the issue of boys and reading. It is called Guys Read (be forewarned that the site uses flash and didn't work so well on the Firefox browser). Scieszka has put together a site that parents can use to find books that their sons might enjoy. The "Find a Book" feature allows the user to type in the title of a favorite book, author, or topic (say, dinosaurs); the database will then return a list of suggested books. The "Guys' Picks" page lists favorite books as recommended by other users of the website; the lists are roughly broken down by age group (Young Guys, Middle Guys and Older Guys). Either way, a click on the titles or author names will take you to the appropriate page on

I played around with the site for a few minutes, and although I think it's a terrific idea, there are some limitations, particularly with the "Find a Book" database search. Entering a subject in the "Books About" box is probably the best way to use this feature. Type in 'trains', for example, and you'll get 120 pages of suggestions, from The Little Engine That Could (I always loved that book not so much for its message of empowerment but for the pictures of candy and toys that the good boys and girls on the other side of the mountain were about to receive!) to the unavoidable Thomas the Tank Engine series. Other books with "train" in the title that have nothing to do with actual trains were included, meaning that the search code is not particularly sophisticated (while I'm sure that a book on Harriet Tubman would be fascinating (Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman), it's frustrating to sift through 120 pages knowing that many of the selections won't actually have anything to do with actual trains). And there doesn't seem to be any specific order to the list that the search returns---multiple editions of one title show up but are not grouped together, for example.

Other limitations with the database search become apparent with a search based on favorite author or title. I was expecting a search according to either of these categories to recommend books that are similar in some way to the favorite. However, in both cases, the search simply returned all the books by the favorite author (or author of the favorite book).

The "Guys' Picks" page lists books by a variety of authors, although they are not broken down by subject or even a specific age range (how young are "Young Guys", anyway?). But, one could definitely print out the list and then either read reviews on Amazon or as a starting point for a search at the local library. There are lots of familiar titles on the list (Richard Scarry's Things That Go, James Marshall's George and Martha books), some that I know have become popular since I was young (Mo Willems has been recommended to me by two children's librarians-in-training), and some I've never heard of. It looks like a nice mix, but again, without further information, it's hard to know as a non-librarian the age appropriateness of each title.

I'd be curious to hear what others think of this site, especially Liz and other librarians or librarians-in-training.


Wizards Wireless said...

I'm not very familiar with the "Guys Read" website... although it has been mentioned as a great resource in a lot of my library school children's literature classes. Jon Scieszka also edited a highly regarded anthology of short stories for boys... "Guys Write for Guys Read."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestion. Have you read Book Crush by Nancy Pearl? I thought it was helpful.