Top tips for getting boys reading

Published on: 01 April 2024

At BookTrust, we know the long-term benefits that reading for pleasure brings, yet many boys aren't as keen on reading as they could be. We asked Mission Microraptor author Philip Kavvadias to talk about what boys particularly like in a book.

A photo of Philip Kavvadias and the front cover of his book Mission Microraptor

In a recent Guardian article, boys were identified as one of the two groups more likely to report not enjoying reading in their free time (the other group being children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is a particular focus of BookTrust's work).

Of course, teachers, librarians and parents don't need the stats to tell them what they see every day. Boys read less. Personally, I discovered this by observing the reading habits of my children and their friends, and through my involvement with the PTA, and by being a Scout Leader for a number of years.

And that was the main reason that prompted me to start writing. Could I write books that played a small part in making boys fall in love with reading again?

To begin with, I thought that a male author visiting their school would provide a role model for boys. "There's a man," they'd think, "who not only loves books, but he also writes some. Is he an AI hologram created by the Department of Education to fool us into reading? No, he seems real."

Most importantly, though, I wanted my stories to speak to boys and what they love. So I started paying attention to what boys liked...

Note: Of course, girls also like all the things I will mention, but I am specifically trying to address the extremely low reading stats amongst boys. Also, when I refer to boys, I mean on average. Naturally, everyone is different and there's a lot of variation within groups.

1. Humour

A collage of front covers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books

When boys do pick up a book, it's often a funny one. Incidentally, comedy is not appreciated enough by children's literature awards, other than the Lollies, which highlight funny books. Comedy books very rarely win other awards, which is strange to say the least, given that they play a massive role in reading for pleasure.

It's hard to overstate the importance of humour in helping boys to read more. Humour is fundamental in kids' lives. I've recently read that children laugh 300 times a day, around 20 times more than adults, so stories with humour have a great chance of creating that deep connection between child and book.

Humorous stories don't feel like homework or a chore; they are fun and entertaining. Crucially, that doesn't mean they are without a message. A funny story can also touch on the most profound topics and communicate important messages most effectively.

2. A strong voice

Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, one of the most popular series of recent years, where the protagonist's voice and his perspective is, I think, the biggest factor in the books' success. Boys can perhaps recognise themselves in Greg, or the distinct voice makes him feel more like a real person, a friend in the playground.

Mission: Microraptor, my debut, is written in the first person and I've tried to create a unique voice full of self-parody and cynicism on the surface, but deeply caring at heart.

An illustration from the front cover of Mission Microraptor - two children and a raptor running away with a helicopter chasing them

Illustration: Euan Cook

3. Illustrations

Another appealing element of many best-selling series is the illustrations. Having pictures offers another way to follow the story. The growing popularity of graphic novels shows that readers respond positively to pictures alongside text.

4. The thrill of adventure

Boys love those adventures where the stakes, danger and threat feel real. That's why they continue to devour Alex Rider and Artemis Fowl, because, apart from all their other merits, they make peril and tension feel real.

An illustration from the front cover of Artemis Fowl

Illustration: Goni Montes

5. Open worlds

Boys love stories in open worlds, where everything and anything can be explored. Video games do this particularly well and we all know the fascination of boys with those. I'll just mention Minecraft, the most famous example. Adventures where the protagonists get to explore virtually limitless worlds where they can interact with almost everything are bound to fascinate boys.

6. Non-fiction

Boys absolutely love non-fiction, mainly – in my experience – around technology, science and futurology. Again, video games excite boys' imaginations particularly well in those areas. There are many stories packed with such facts, and I tried to include a lot of facts in Mission: Microraptor and the subsequent books.

As I said before, girls also like all these things and I'm sure (I hope!) they'll love Mission: Microraptor too, but it's a fact that boys read less. I hope that they find books like mine – that are written with their interests in mind – engaging and fascinating, leading to a long-term love for reading.

Mission: Microraptor by Philip Kavvadias is out now.

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