Boys, books and the battle to read

As parents and educators, we intrinsically believe that reading is key to educational success.

It is a truism that academic success correlates with those who are regular, if not avid, readers. Such reading goes beyond the mechanics of functional literacy, however, instead reflecting a deep immersion in literature, which, in turn, fosters an understanding of how language, and the texts it creates, function. This, obviously, allows for success in almost every learning area at school in which students are presented with written information – all of them, in other words.

Research undertaken by the Centre for Youth Literature concluded not only is reading for pleasure closely correlated with academic success, but that its benefits are “socially and economically significant”. Reading for pleasure provides students with the tools that develop effective comprehension and communication skills and – ultimately –  success in many aspects of their future lives. Analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data has shown that Australia’s reading literacy performance has declined in correlation with a decline in reading for pleasure. Since 2009, PISA data reveals that reading performance of boys has declined at a lesser rate than girls. Before we rejoice too much, it is worth remembering that girls still outperform boys in reading by a factor of 30% and outperform boys across the spectrum of PISA tests. While we cannot attribute this solely to boys’ reluctance to read for pleasure, there is little doubt that it is a contributing factor.

Many parents note a drop off in reading engagement that seems to coincide with puberty. As boys head towards high school, reading appears to become more of a chore, a solo activity that is at odds with their development of a new, social persona. So how can you, as parents, foster a continued love of reading within your son?

Make reading part of your family culture. If no one else within the family reads, there is little modelling of the importance and joys of reading. For boys, it is particularly important to have male role models who read, to address the perception that reading is a feminine pursuit. Dads, stepdads, grandfathers, uncles and older brothers can play a part in encouraging boys to read.

Begin with the familiar. Don’t be concerned if all your son wants to read is fantasy, non-fiction or even comics. Once your son is reading regularly, you can encourage him to branch out into other types of texts. We often unfairly judge particular genres anyway; fantasy can actually deal with deep questions of human behaviour and contemporary graphic novels can be exquisite works of literature.

Tap into your son’s interests. If your son is a mad-keen cricketer, suggest a biography of a cricketing great. If he loved a particular film, see if there’s a novel tie-in. Boys seem to love non-fiction books, so suggest an appealing book on skateboarding, if that’s his thing. There are even novels based on a wide range of computer games, including the likes of Minecraft.

Discuss what he is reading. If your son has a class novel to read, read it alongside him and discuss it over breakfast. If this is not possible, ask him to tell you about it, even if it is just in the car trip home. Use questions to reinforce the inferential reading skills your son is being taught at school – ask him to predict what might happen next, or why they think a character behaved in a certain way, or what the main idea of the chapter might be.

Make reading social. A chat with our friendly library staff or your local bookstore will reveal what is popular amongst your son’s age group. Encourage him to ask his peers if they’ve read the same book. Take your family shopping, or to the library, and make choosing a book a social activity. Local libraries and bookstores often run events featuring children’s and young adult authors, and festivals such as Scribblers, Awesome Arts and the Perth Festival Writer’s Week provide fantastic opportunities to engage boys in active, social reading communities.

Support reluctant readers. Audiobooks can be an invaluable way to facilitate reading, especially if your son follows along in the book as he listens. There are plugins that will read ebooks aloud from your son’s device or students can borrow ebooks via the library. Many classics have been adapted into graphic novels, which can be more accessible for struggling readers.

Consider the impact of screen time. For boys growing up on a steady diet of YouTube, computer games and Tik Tok videos, with their fast-paced, multisensory nature, reading can seem tame by comparison. However, reducing stimulus and encouraging boys to pick up a book instead can not only help with developing reading comprehension skills, but function as a form of mindfulness, providing a respite from the constant stimulation providing by phones, tablets and computers.

A love of reading is not the only factor influencing academic success, nor is it a panacea for the struggling student. But there is so much research out there that reveals a strong correlation between the two, and their future life skills, that it seems important that we do all we can to support our boys in their reading pursuits. Aside from the academic outcomes, there are also the simple joys and rewards that come from being lost in a good book, and the natural balance reading provides to their physical and digital pursuits.

Stories are the way we have made sense of the world and our place within it since time immemorial. They are a repository of human experience and culture. Reading is a doorway that can lead our boys to make their own mark on the world, and it is up to us all, parents and teachers alike, to throw that door wide open.

Written by Mr Adam Kealley, Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity College


Echazarra, A & Schwabe, M. 2018. Australia: PISA Results from 2018 [online]. OECD.

Horbec, D. The link between reading and academic success [online]. English in Australia, Vol. 47, No. 2, 2012: 58-67.

Centre for Youth Literature. (2009). Keeping young Australians reading. State Library of Victoria: Melbourne.