6 Books For Boys Who Hate Reading

Until recently, my 7-year-old son was a reluctant reader. We’d tried a variety of books and incentives, but every session of storytime, where he would unenthusiastically read to us, felt like an excruciating scene from The King’s Speech. Granted, part of my son’s apathy toward reading was due to his novice ability. But most of it, he confessed, was because he didn’t like any of his books.

Um. He has like 150 books.

The whole situation was bewildering to me. Because I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb with the entire Anne of Green Gables series in my arms. As a kid, I even delighted in reading billboards and brochures. Truthfully? I may have taken some historical novels on my honeymoon. So last Christmas, when I caved in and let my son open an early present on the 23rd, I almost took a maternity test when, upon opening a classic Shel Silverstein, he screamed “BOOKS ARE SO DANG!” (“dang” being his word for “excruciatingly boring”).

Finally, we had an aha moment this past June. Five pages into Diary of a Wimpy Kid, my son pressed the book to his chest and said “I love this book.” Since then, I’ve determined what may be six motivating categories for lukewarm literary lads, and his favorite books thus far that fall into said categories.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Category: Commiserating)
This may seem like an obvious choice for boy readers, given its immense popularity, but I had resisted buying Diary of a Wimpy Kid for my second grader since it’s all about middle school. Yet therein was what hooked my son: the “big kid” nature of it.

After that initial hook, what reeled in my son completely was the empathetic aspect. I could just see the delighted relief wash over my son’s face with the turn of every page. Yessss. Not everyone on Earth is cool enough to be a member of One Direction! (Let’s be honest: this is exactly how I felt when I first read Bridget Jones’s Diary.)

Another plus is that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is super hilarious, and it’s not about a wimpy kid’s diarrhea. Which, my son recently admitted, was what he’d always thought it was about.

George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Category: Naughty)
For legal reasons, there’s no way this book could be published today, which is exactly why it appeals so much to kids. It’s all about a boy who can’t stand his grandmother and sets out to poison her with a concoction of household toxins, including, but not limited to: a perfume called Flowers of Turnips, flea powder, gin, chili sauce, sheep dip, pig pills, and antifreeze.

As he always does, Dahl appeals to the dark underbelly of the elementary set with quotes like:

“George couldn’t help disliking Grandma. She was a selfish grumpy old woman. She had pale brown teeth and a small puckered-up mouth like a dog’s bottom.”

‘Nuff said.

Attack of the Giant Hamster, by Dr. Roach (Category: Gross)
This is the story of Hercules, a hamster that’s fed a nutritional supplement called Booster Bites and subsequently morphs into a Godzilla-sized rodent. Most of this book details how much waste this hamster produces. And how his owner, Billy, has the Herculean task of hauling buckets of dung to the downstairs bathroom. Eventually, the hamster’s unchecked growth blows the roof off the house, and he escapes into town, where he destroys the Farmers’ Market.

I don’t want to spoil the whole book for you, as it’s obviously destined to become a literary classic, but things pretty much end with a giant expulsion of hamster gas that sends Hercules crashing into a cell tower and deflating to his original size.

When in doubt about how to pique a boy’s interest in reading, you can’t go wrong with a scatological selection. This one’s a real diaper dandy.

Bunnicula, by Deborah Howe (Category: Scary)
As a mom, I’m not a big fan of scary books for kids. Because scared kids tend to wake up sleeping parents. Bunnicula is a great choice for boys who claim they want to be frightened, but may not be completely sure about that. It’s a mildly spooky classic that I remember from my childhood, and involves a vampire rabbit who drains the color from all the vegetables in the house. Eventually, we may move on to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, but I’ve got to buy an espresso maker first.

Interrupting Chicken, David Ezra Stein (Category: Funny)
Though this is a picture book, it’s still appropriate for young readers. Not only does it give them an opportunity to learn how to read with expression, it is one of the funniest books I’ve encountered. Little Chicken just can’t help but interrupt EVERY story her Papa reads, and the end result is adorable.

I think it’s good to keep a few picture books in the mix once kids move on to chapter books, in the same way the Farrelly Brothers make it possible for me to occasionally watch films with subtitles.

On Board the Titanic: What It Was Like When the Great Liner Sank, by Shelley Tanaka (Category: Tragic)
A lot of kids, boys especially, enjoy learning about the long, slow, suffering of others. Is there a book that chronicles the unabridged history of quicksand deaths? No? Well, someone get on that stat and become a millionaire. You’re welcome.

This book is a perfect combination of good writing, excellent illustrations, and play-by-play tragedy. Are people going to die? Definitely. Lots of them? Oh, yes. The only downside of this book? No Leonardo DiCaprio.

What are your favorite books for boys who aren’t too keen on reading?

  • John Singletary

    I would also add The Great Brain series. Set in the 1890s and based on true stories, they follow “The Great Brain,” a really smart rapscallion who gets into all sorts of trouble for his swindles and schemes. I loved them when I was 11. They also give you a sense of what it was like to be a kid at the turn of the century (the previous turn of the century).

  • Jodi Keller Campagna

    My 8 year old, who absolutely hates to read, loved Mary Amato’s “Please Write in this Book”. He read it in 2 sittings. Right now he’s reading “Sideways Stories from the Wayside School”, and seems to be enjoying that too.

    • Jodi Keller Campagna

      Oh, and last year, he was obsessed with Dan Gutman’s Weird School series. Miss Holly is Too Jolly, Mr. Dole is Out of Control, etc. There are about 15 books in all. When he finished one, he would beg me to take him to the library to get another one.

    • FairDaizie

      My 8 year old loved Please Write In This Book, too. We’ve gotten it from the library twice now, the second time through was just as much fun for him as the first. He’s also a huge fan of Big Nate books, and Doug Tennapel’s graphic novel Cardboard.

  • Meredith Caldwell

    My 10 year old really started reading when he found the I Survived series (he read all of them in two weeks). He loved the Sideways Stories books also, but the ones that really got him to read (besides the contest for a free dress down day at school for most scholastic reader points) was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants series. Still a battle to get him to read, but it’s a little easier now.

  • Cat

    My son, at 11-12, has loved the Theodore Boone books by John Grisham. He really enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series too.

  • Lauren

    I like the Vordak the Incomprehensible series. Very funny and silly, and heavily illustrated so there aren’t big intimidating blocks of type.

    • John Martin

      Vordak’s “Time Travel Trouble” comes out in a few weeks!

  • Paul T. Gaston

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid, How to Train Your Dragon, The Lightning Thief, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, and The Red Pyramid: Graphic Novel

  • Jenni Brooks

    The Captain Underpants series and George Brown Class Clown were the ones that got my son involved (and obviously, Harry Potter though we are only on book 2). Stories about underwear and runaway burps seem to pique his interest!

  • Andrea Wenderski

    My “reluctant reader” was mesmerized by John Flanagan’s Ranger Apprentice series and, later, his Brotherband Chronicles series, and has reread them numerous times. I will admit that they may be better for the 10-year old and up age ranger

  • kmeghan

    I gave my nephew all the Roald Dahl books I could find. He loved them.

  • wenweeks

    At 7, my son enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books. He especially enjoyed reading the story, then I would help him with the nonfiction companion book. Some of my very reluctant middle school readers enjoy Captain Underpants. They really enjoy books by Allan Zullo -War Heroes: Voices from Iraq, Battle Heroes: Ten True Tales, Crime Scene Investigators: Ten True Tales, Heroes of 9/11, Surviving Sharks and Other Dangerous Creatures, and Heroes of the Holocaust. I could not keep the Zullo books on the shelves.

  • Brandi

    My son has really enjoyed Holes, but the real thing that got my reluctant reader reading was non-fiction. I may try “On Board the Titanic…” because he is obsessed with the Titanic. Otherwise, it is tractors, sports, bugs, dinosaurs, farming magazines, and Sports Illustrated. But… he reads.

  • Alice Hawkes

    Hank the Cow Dog

  • guest

    Can I add one more to the list? The Last Akaway. It’s a spirit animal adventure (funny, special powers, lots of action) for kids ages 6-12. I know it appeals to kids who hate to read because it was written by one.