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Must reading: Brave Kristy Valenti starts a methodology-based (or as much as it can be based) series entitled Gender and Reading Habits . In Part One. she looks at the well-known factoid that bys stop reading at a certain age, and looks at how this demographic is affected by superhero comics:

If one visits ERIC, the Education Resources Information Center, on the Internet, he or she will find scores of articles on why, in the U.S., boys lag behind girls in reading. Many of these articles suggest using graphic novels as a lure for boys, [2] but it is Christine Welldon’s popular “Addressing the Gender Gap in Boys’ Reading,”[3] that’s of particular relevance. Welldon’s “school literacy initiative was to help close the gender gap in reading,” so she invented a club aimed at the older elementary school grades.

Valenti marshals as much statistical evidence as she can and talks to librarians to explore the topic, which shows that for teen boys, books are as great a marketing wasteland as superhero comics have been for adult women.


  1. ERIC is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, and is located at:
    Given the prejudice of educators towards comics (rapidly shrinking as the old biddies retire), there are many papers and reports posted here detailing the educational uses of comics. My favorite is the ESL teacher who uses Calvin & Hobbes strips to teach idioms and expressions!

  2. I learned to read from comics.
    I could read before I entered first grade.
    I used comics,..(Jeff Smith’s “Bone,” “Archie,” “Sailor Moon.”) to get my daughter engaged in reading.
    It can be a fabulous tool.

  3. I learned to read from comics, too…Spider-Man comics were my nightly bedtime stories, and I learned to read so that I didn’t have to wait ’til bedtime to find out what was going on with the ol’ webslinger. It’s a GREAT tool.

  4. I guess I never thought of reading as a gendered experience before.

    Then again, I started reading when I was 2, and I skipped straight from Dr. Seuss to Frank Herbert, so it would seem that even my own experience would bear out the premise that “young adult” writing is not for boys, since I despised everything that had a YA label in my school libraries when I was growing up.

  5. Both of my boys read. As a YA librarian, I was among the first in Hawaii to get graphic novels into my collection in order to attract boy readers. I also used a lot of nonfiction and magazines when I visited schools to do booktalks (think of them as sort of commercials for books). As I grew up, I despised most girls’ books and much preferred to read those books aimed at boys, including lots of superhero comics, so I’ve always been more sympathetic with boys’ choices. I’ve also found, in my experience, that lots of boys who say they’re not readers equate reading with fiction, yet when I talk with them I find they read lots of magazines and nonfiction. When I tell them they are indeed reading, they’re sometimes shocked. I’ve always thought that a lot of the problem is how reading is presented in schools.

    At the preK-8th grade school where I now work part-time as the media specialist (fancy word for librarian), I find that lots of boys read, and that they’re reading Bone, fantasy and science fiction, and nonfiction. Last week I fielded requests from at least three boys in 3rd and 5th grades for manga; one of them showed me Yotsuba&! Volume 1 and said he wanted more. At the Scholastic Book Fair I ran last week, boys and their parents bought every copy I had of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, as well as David Lubar’s humorously creepy Curse of the Campfire Weenies. Boys will read, if we just give them the books they want to read. My own 13-year-old loves lots of comics (although he doesn’t read any of the mainstream superhero titles), David Lubar books, nonfiction (especially about animals), and he’s a big Calvin & Hobbes fan. He’s one of the best readers and has the strongest vocabulary of his peers at our church.

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