Over the past few days I’ve had the pleasure of watching my great niece spend half her time with a nose in a story. She is not yet seven, and I suspect her reading level surpasses those of my teenage boys. I wouldn’t know for sure. They never open a book.
My sons’ bookshelves are crammed with all manner of literature in two languages, but their steely arms are incapable of lifting the cover of a book. We live in Switzerland and they are completely bilingual in German and English. I appreciate that this is a gift in itself. They are able to converse without thought, switching between two languages at the dinner table as though they have swapped the salt for the pepper.
But my offspring are the prodigy of two avid readers, one of whom is a compulsive writer. What happened to my sons’ love of books? We read to them constantly as babies and toddlers, and the joy at their infantile discovery of a whole new world between the pages of a book lifted our hearts. I taught both children to read English at home before they began reading the more phonetic German at school.
And then as pre-pubescents, the books snapped shut with super glue, never to be opened again. My literary heart began to break.
Where did I go wrong? Sensory overload? As toddlers, the boys loved eating ‘little green forests’ so I fed them broccoli practically every day. By the time they reached puberty, they had eaten so much of the stuff, they couldn’t face another fleurette. But avid readers never lose the passion to open a book. Books aren’t broccoli.
It could be that as the world becomes more verbal, it also becomes more intimidating for the non-communicative male teenager, and the struggle with words on a page are part of the reclusive process. The age of computer games hasn’t helped, but even when screen bans are imposed in our house, those books remain firmly closed.
The advantage for the fairer sex is that the university graduation rate is steadily increasing for women, while the rate for men remains stagnant. I should be proud of this modern girl power. But I want my sons to be the best they can be. And power comes from reading. Books are knowledge. Knowledge is power.
As I delight in the reading skills of my six-year-old great niece, I also wonder whether boys are intimidated by the reading skills of their fellow female schoolmates themselves.
It’s a known fact that girls mature faster on every level, physically and socially. So in a co-educational society (all Swiss schools are co-ed), why shouldn’t girls start school earlier than boys? If they began their academic journey at the age of five, and boys at the age of six, they would be passing through the starting gate of knowledge with the same fundamental skills of communication. And reading shouldn’t become a competition between the sexes.
But it’s too late for my teenagers. Although ten years into their schooling, I believe they are still one year behind the developmental level of their female counterparts. It might take years for such an idea to be implemented, and I do not have the academic qualifications or authority to advocate such a ruling, only the instincts of a mother with a little experience in the school of life.
However, I’d welcome any advice on how to get boys hooked on books.