WIRE TELEGRAM: It is well known that boys are slower to learn to read than girls. Becoming literate is a two-stage process. The first is the technical issue of learning the alphabet, becoming familiar with the sounds represented by each letter, and then associating each known spoken word with its set of characteristic symbols. Many people complete this stage but do not advance beyond it, as anyone who has worked in Third World countries where English is a second language will confirm. In native English speaking countries too, some people do not advance to the second phase: the stage where reading is pursued for interest and pleasure, becoming entirely fluent and involuntary. It is perhaps at this second stage, even more than at the first, that boys need more encouragement than girls.
One problem at the second stage is the certainty of coming upon new words, both known words not before seen in print and unknown words not previously seen or heard. At first, such words may be numerous enough to present a barrier that deters the student from making further progress, and can result in people being technically literate in employment, even at a professional level, and yet never acquiring the habit of reading for pleasure. Reading and writing remain forever associated with forced labour. It is in achieving unconscious fluency in reading, as every teacher knows, that the full glory of literacy is realised.
Older schoolboys and teenagers have a plethora of non-academic interests to distract them. Sport of all kinds and hobbies have always been there, and in recent decades, computer games and social media activities have become dominant. In the face of such competition, it takes an exceptional book to draw boys on to fluent reading, and it is interesting to identify some of the essential features.
A recent review of a book written for older schoolboys and early teenagers stated: ‘It reads very fast and I believe was designed to be read aloud to children and by children. Just wonderful adventure stories.’ This statement highlights three essential features. Firstly, for those with a short attention span, the action needs to be fast. Few beginner readers have the patience to plough through long descriptive passages. Secondly, by being designed to be read aloud, parents can share in the process, perhaps starting the reading, explaining new words and expressions and gradually handing over to the young reader. Thirdly, action and adventure is needed to keep the reader engaged.
It is essential that the book for boys does not appear to present a mammoth task of several hours’ duration. It should be seen rather as a succession of short stories that can be taken one at a time in easy stages. Finally, the book that is good for boys is likely also to be good for girls, as was found by the reviewer quoted above who concluded her review with: ‘I think both girls and boys would enjoy it.’
Older Children, teenagers and adults will enjoy reading the humorous tales of Saint George: Rusty Knight and Monster Tamer, as he serves as Minister for the Environment under King Freddie and Prime Minister Merlin the Whirlin. The first book of a trilogy was published in September 2015.