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.”
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?