Boys like mystery and action. Boys like strong, brave characters. Boys like swords and magic and knights and epic battles. So why does research worldwide show that teen boys lag behind girls in reading skills?
There is more than enough great YA Fiction/Fantasy literature, both classic and contemporary, to whet their appetites. Teen years are prime for discovering such tried and true choices as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or Lord of the Rings . Both have all of the above elements to capture imaginations. Yet Keith Topping, professor of educational and social research at the University of Dundee, Scotland conducted a massive research project examining this very question. One of his papers using data from 852,295 students in 3,243 schools found that boys skip pages and in fact whole sections. The type of reading material was immaterial the study showed. Whether magazines, fiction or non-fiction, the pattern was the same with boys ages five to eighteen.
“What they are doing is not particularly good – and they are lagging behind,” says Topping.
Other studies in the United States, Canada, and even other European countries have universally shown the same results. Boys lag behind girls in reading skills. So, it begs the question, which came first, the lagging or the lack of attention to the reading material causing the lag? In other words, do boys lag behind due to lack of maturity and intellect in understanding the material? (This is in no way saying ALL boys lag behind or lack ability to comprehend. The studies show, however, an overall pattern.) Or Does the innate nature of boys to be more interested in physical activities and less interested in ethereal activities such as reading leave boys in the dust when it comes to reading enjoyment and comprehension? There are plenty of studies ongoing and plenty of theories out there, but none has clearly defined how to resolve the issue.
In the meantime, what can parents do to help their young sons to both enjoy reading and also improve their reading skills?
The obvious answer is READ! Read to them. Read with them. Encourage them to read on a daily basis. Make daily reading for at least half an hour a house rule. One of the other interesting points to come from Professor Topping’s report is that boys tend to choose easier material they can breeze through without too much effort, thus not advancing in reading skills. This is an important point. Encourage them to choose books that are a bit more challenging. Leave the magazines on the shelf. Put away the electronic devises. Make it a good mix of classic and contemporary material.
So, what is out there to capture boys’ attention besides the “hard stuff”?
Believe it or not, the Maagy Series is doing just that. Five-star ratings put it among best teen Fantasy book series currently available. Set in an imagined world of long-ago-and-far-away, it is the perfect chapter book series for new, exciting explorations into kings and knights, swords and magic, and plenty of intrigue to keep them guessing. This YA Fiction/Fantasy series is written in a more sophisticated language style meant to gently challenge the reader but not in such a way as to cause the reader to lose interest. The mix of archaic term and modern language give it an old-world feel but keeps it easy to read and understand. The Glossary with a Words and Terms section gives easy access to meanings which may be unfamiliar.
Just Maagy, the first book, introduces the reader to the impetuous Princess Maagy on her thirteenth birthday where she throws a tantrum over no spumoni ice cream for breakfast. In the classic examples above, the main characters are mostly male. In the Maagy Series, the main character is female, but she is not a typical girly girl. Princess Maagy is a spoiled brat who demands her way and is not above telling a lie or two. Her feisty personality appeals to boys.
“Maagy starts out as a self-centered, spoiled kid. I have seen boys and other girls who are the same way in school and [in] other books,” says Gavin Wehland, 12 years old.
She has no friends because of her bad behavior, and her father King Henry is blinded by his own adoration of his precious child. So, what is the value of reading about such an unpopular character? The answer is simple. Most readers appreciate being present as characters grow in knowledge and wisdom.
“… Maagy’s story made me look at myself and realize that I should really think more about others instead of just me.” says Gavin. “… Whether the main character is a boy or a girl, I can still enjoy the story and learn something that makes me a better person.”
Maagy is a caring and compassionate person at her core. Her journey toward maturity opens her world to another side of life that has a profound effect, allowing her true nature and strength to emerge.
“Never judge a book by its cover”, they say. Well in this case, don’t be fooled into thinking Just Maagy is for girls only. The beautifully illustrated color image of a young girl in a red dress seeing herself in a full-length mirror may lead readers to believe this book would not appeal to boys. However, the innocence suggested by the idyllic scene belies the adventure inside. Maps of Maagy’s world along with 17 black and white illustrations similar in style to a Grimm’s fairytale enhance the readers enjoyment of Maagy’s world giving them a feeling of connection to her.
“… The story helped me realize that girls experience becoming a teenager a bit differently emotionally then we guys do. That was a big-time eye-opener!” (Gavin)
So, again the question, why should boys enjoy reading YA/F/F stories? Gavin has given the answer. Boys can get the messages. Boys can relate to a female character who has grit and depth. The life lessons Maagy learns are those universal to young teen boys and girls. However, girls experience them in a profoundly different way. Boys like Maagy’s adventures. Maagy’s journey toward adulthood is fraught with extreme emotional ups and downs which influence everything about the budding young princess’s life. Boys can learn a thing or two about girls they probably didn’t already know. This is what makes Just Maagy and the Maagy Series the best teen fantasy series for boys and girls.