motivating boys to read


It’s something most of us are familiar with: the problem of motivating boys to read for pleasure. It’s a long standing issue, and one that has a significant impact on boys’ schooling and their future life chances.

The evidence on the importance of reading has been clear and consistent. There is a positive relationship between how often a child reads, their enjoyment of it and their attainment at school. Benefits include:

  • Reading attainment and writing ability
  • Breadth of vocabulary
  • Text comprehension and grammar
  • Greater general knowledge
  • A better understanding of other cultures
  • A greater insight into human nature and decision making
    (Clarke and Rumbold, 2006)

The Gender Gap

Hearing parents talk about their daughter’s enjoyment of reading for pleasure and their son’s lack of motivation to read, is not uncommon. And although this is not the case for all boys, (more on that later), it is significant enough that many boys are being effected right from the start:

By the time they reach school, many boys are lagging behind in literacy:
at age 5 there is a gap of 11 percentage points between boys and girls achievement in reading.
(National Literacy Trust, UK)

Global research has shown that girls significantly outperform boys, with reading and literacy. Generally, boys take longer to read than girls, value reading less highly and describe themselves as non-readers far more than girls do.

And not only is the issue not going away, it’s getting worse. The National Literacy Trust research (Boys’ Reading Commission), commented that in the UK, three quarters of schools are concerned with regard to boys’ underachievement in reading. And the gap between how many times girls and boys read for pleasure is widening.

Similarly, Clark and Douglas, (2011), found that between 2005-2009, the gap had widened to 15%. They also noted that almost twice as many boys as girls agreed with the statement that, reading is boring and that it’s hard.

But it’s not biological…

The gender gap is clear. And although the results are disturbing, (and not just in the UK, but worldwide), the good news is that it needn’t be a major cause of concern for parents. Why? Because not only is it the case that not all boys fall into this category, but they don’t fall into this category because they are not as able as girls with language. This can be seen with the differences in the gender gap between countries:

The size of the gender gap varies considerably across countries, suggesting
that boys and girls do not have inherently different interests and academic strengths,
but these are mostly acquired and socially induced
(OECD, 2010)

According to the Boys’ Reading Commission, (by the National Literacy Trust), boys not being motivated to read for pleasure is not, biological and therefore not inevitable. I am sure we all know plenty of boys who have no problem at all with reading and are avid bookworms. However, the issue is there. And it is big enough for us as parents to take action to ensure that our boys don’t fall on the wrong side of the gap.

If it’s not inevitable, why does the issue exist?

The National Literacy Trust argues that although it’s a complex issue, boys not being motivated to read, is something that societies are doing, that means that boys are more likely to fail at reading. The commission found that the cause is linked to the interplay of three factors:

  1. The home environment. They found that girls more often than boys are more likely to be bought books or taken to the library; and mothers are more likely to role-model reading.
  2. The school environment. Teachers may not have a wide knowledge of modern and attractive texts for boys and/or may not give boys the opportunity to develop their identity as readers.
  3. Male gender identities which do not value reading as a mark of success.

The commission also noted that the gap is not simply connected to just how teachers teach children to read, but significantly that the, foundations are laid early: girls achieve higher levels than boys at the age of 5 in all areas of learning…

How parents can motivate boys to read for pleasure

As parents then, we have tremendous influence over our child’s success in reading and therefore success in later life. The research into the impact of parents being involved with their children’s reading has been consistent and conclusive:

The earlier parents become involved in their children’s
literacy practices, the more profound and long-lasting the effects
(Boys’ Reading Commission, UK)

The research also noted that, children’s reading is more sensitive to parental influences than any other subject.

motivating boys to readParents can also have a big impact on their child’s reading by simply having books in the home. Clark (2011), found that boys were twice as likely as girls to say that they had no books at home. For these boys, over a third did not reach the expected reading level for their age.

Michael Rosen, (citing research from the University of Nevada), demonstrated that children brought up in homes that have many books, get three years more schooling than children who come from homes without any books:

There seems to be some power about books hanging
around children and children hanging around books
which enables them to to access this stuff that we call
schooling and the curriculum

Top tips for motivating boys to read for pleasure

So we know the research. We know that it would be easy for our sons to struggle with reading and lag behind as soon as they enter school. But as parents we also hold the key to that not being the case. We hold the key to help them be successful at reading and thereby improve their chances of success later in life.

motivating boys to readBut how exactly can parents help? Below you’ll find 12 top tips to help motivate boys to read for pleasure and help them see the value in it:

1. Have high expectations

As the research tells us, the reason boys are facing this issue is partly connected to societal reasons rather than boys are just not naturally good at language, (something similar was said about girls and science/maths!!).

If we start with the belief that our sons just won’t be good or interested in reading, then we run the risk of making it a self-fulfilling prophesy. So banish any negative thoughts about boys not being naturally good or interested in reading.

2. Be involved

Your involvement in your child’s literacy is key. Read aloud to them from infancy, encouraging a love of stories. (See: Reading Aloud: Giving our Children the Best Start).

3. Re-define your definition of reading

Research has shown that boys tend to like a variety of genres, formats and a range of topics. As your son gets older, expand the reading from story books to newspapers/magazines/graphic novels etc.

motivating boys to read4. Get dad to read

Again, the research has shown that if we are to motivate boys to read and for them to have a positive attitude towards reading for pleasure, then they need male role models. So get dad, or another male member of the family to read to your son. This will also show your child that reading is not solely for females.

5. Become good reading role-models

Let your son see you reading for pleasure, rather than do it only when they’ve gone to bed, (which is always tempting!). Seeing dad read for pleasure will be particularly powerful.

6. Make reading fun

Focus on the pleasure of reading rather than see it as developing a skill. Maybe link it with a fun activity like dressing up as the characters/re-enacting the story etc.).

7. Make reading a habit

Reading aloud to them everyday reaps tremendous benefits (Reading Aloud: Giving Children the Best Start). When they get older, have a non-screen evening where everybody reads their books.

8. Choose texts that have positive male role models

Expose your son to new books regularly. Take him to the library and buy books for birthday presents etc. Research has shown that one of the contributing factors of why some boys fall behind, is through how parents can treat boys and girls differently. It shows that girls are far more likely to be taken to a library on a regular basis and be bought books.

9. Have books at home

In order to show your son the importance and pleasure of reading, have books at home – not only their books, but your books too. And books don’t always have to be on the shelf. Having books lying around will also contribute to valuing reading.

10. Go to book signings

Take your son to a male author book signing at your local bookshop. If possible, have the author chat to your son about the writing of the book and himself as an author.

11. Discuss books

Encourage your son to discuss the books you read together. Talk about the characters, the message in the story, the relationships between characters etc.

12. Get information from your child’s school

Ask you child’s school how they support boys’ literacy and ask for information on how successful their practices are.


Now you have the tips, here are some recommended reads for boys by Love Reading, to get you going:


Recommended Reads for boys under 5

motivating boys to read1. Jamal’s Journey, by Michael Foreman

Written by the twice Greenaway Award-winning author, M. Foreman, Jamal’s Journey tells a tale of friendship and adventure. Jamal the camel, is separated from his friend. They are reunited by a wise falcon and then go off to explore the city together with its exciting sights and sounds.

Released: February 2017

2. I Saw Anaconda, by Jane Clarke

The author has reinvented the story of an old woman who swallows a fly and changed the setting to the Amazon jungle, replacing the old woman with an Anaconda! The book provides an array of exotic creatures along with elaborate flaps and pop-ups.

Released: Sept 2016

3. The Building Boy, by Ross Montgomery

A young boy lives with his architect grandma. She’s old and one day not there anymore. The boy decides to create a giant model of his grandma, who comes to life and takes him on an epic adventure.

Released: Sept 2016

4. Lionheart, by Richard Collingridge

At night time, when Richard is scared about a monster, he grabs his toy lion, Lionheart and runs through the streets and fields into a magical jungle. Thinking the monster is still chasing him, he runs into Lionheart who is no longer a toy but a big, friendly lion. He shows Richard how to be brave, roaring at the monster so that Richard’s fears disappear forever.

Here’s a trailer:

Released: February 2016

5. Robot Rumpus, by Sean Taylor

Mum and dad get some robots to do the babysitting while they go out for the evening. They include a Cook-bot to make dinner, Clean-bot to do the washing up and Book-bot to read a bedtime story. All should go smoothly, but it seems that a lot can go wrong with getting the robots in!

Released: September 2014

Recommended Reads for Boys 5-7

1. The Amazing Dinosaurs Detectives, by Maggie Li

An interactive and fun introduction to dinosaurs. With a group of ‘dinosaur detectives’, readers can explore the world of dinosaurs and collect a wealth of information. This includes how dinosaur fossils are made to their actual size. It also comes with it’s own magnifying glass!

Released: April 2016

2. Would You Rather: Dine with a Dung Beetle or Lunch with a Maggot? By Camilla de la Bedoyere

What would you rather dine with? A dung beetle, a maggot, a spider or mosquito? Decide on your answer and learn all about the different bugs. But be careful what you choose, as you could end up eating elephant poo! With its amusing illustrations and entertaining text, the book provides opportunities for discussion and for boys to come up with their own questions.

Released: May 2016

3. The Truth According to Arthur, by Tim Hopgood

Arthur and The Truth are good friends. But then Arthur does something that he shouldn’t have and would rather cover it up, and then ignore it. The picture book fable shows the temptations of fibbing and the relief of telling the truth.

Released: June 2016

4. My Little Book of Emergency Vehicles, by Claudia Martin

Contains a wealth of information about different kinds of emergency vehicles, from ambulances to amphibious trucks and fire fighting aircraft. Contains clear photos and easy to read short sentences. It’s a good choice to encourage reluctant readers.

Released: January 2016

5. There’s a Dragon in my Dinner, by Tom Nicoll

Erik finds a mini dragon in a box of beansprouts! He’s friendly and a lot of fun. The dragon is lost on his way from China to Mexico, but settles in Erik’s sock drawer.

Released: February 2016

motivating boys to readThat rounds up the recommended reading. I hope you found the post helpful. If you have any comments about the content or suggestions for further tips for readers of MoW, I’d love to hear them in the comments section below. Glad to have you here! 


Related: Reading Aloud: Giving Children the Best Start/Stories Making the News