Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys

I am thrilled to welcome Pam Allyn, a literacy advocate and education expert. I first learned about Pam Allyn's work during Anderson's Bookshop's Children's Literature Breakfast. She spoke about her two non-profit organizations, LitWorld and LitLife, and her inspiring book What to Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your Child--and All the Best Times to Read Them (Penguin, 2009).


During Allyn's book signing, she told me about her work with the Books for Boys program at The Children's Village. She sets up programs that help boys see themselves as confident readers. I left our exchange feeling motivated to reach even more male readers.


Pam's newest book, Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives (Scholastic, 2011), should be required reading for every educator who works with elementary and middle school students. She provides easy-to-implement tips that will help build reading confidence in boys.

I emailed Pam six interview questions. Read her responses and then immediately check out Best Books for Boys from your public library or support an independent bookhop.



A fantastic tool to start using right away is the READ model I talk about in my book Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys

. The model offers four easy to remember elements that will seamlessly incorporate reading into any child’s life. We can make reading fun and full of variety, by sharing our own love of reading and unique reading life with our boys. And find out what gets them excited about reading!


Ritual: Rituals create consistency, comfort and familiarity for children, even during times of change or turmoil. An easy ritual to implement right away is to begin each school day with a read aloud or independent reading time. It’s also nice to include reading time right before or after lunch or as a close to the day. Read alouds are especially nice no matter how old your students are, because they are a soothing, communal way to engage in text and story.

Environment: A comfortable, usable space is essential for developing a lifelong love of reading. It’s important to work with individual students to create the environment that suits them best. I use surveys or class brainstorms at the beginning of the year to get to know my students’ reading lives. I ask questions like:

Where do you like to read?

Do you like reading alone or with a group?

Do you like being read to or reading to yourself?

Do you like music when you read or do you like it to be quiet?

Access: Surround your students with books and text of all kinds. Access is about not only having a lot of books, but about having the right ones. One of the biggest reasons the boys I work with say they don’t like reading is because they aren’t given the books they want to read! A quick survey at the beginning of the year will help you get to know your students’ unique interests. Let them tell you what gets them excited about reading. I ask:

What gets you excited about a new read?

Is it: the book cover art, the art inside the book, peer recommendations, characters just like you, something else?

Who are your heroes?

What are your favorite things to do?

What are your favorite subjects in or out of school?

Dialogue: Active, thoughtful dialogue makes reading a social and interactive experience. For boys, it is especially important to foster a feeling of real authentic engagement in their reading life. Dialogue can take place between two people, in small or large groups, with pen pals or a book club. And don’t be afraid to use technology - incorporating the mediums and forums students already use in their everyday lives is a great way to jump start conversations about reading and writing that feel relevant and engaging. Emailing, texting, blogging, tweeting and gaming all involve using literacy skills and should be celebrated as part of a child’s vibrant reading life!



The incredible benefits of having students authentically engage and identify with what they are reading far outweigh the reasons we, as teachers, hold on to the books that we think are appropriate for them. A book might be close to our hearts, but may not resonate with our students and the last thing we want to do is alienate our students from the joys of reading!

I am a strong advocate for letting our students read the books, stories and texts that drive them to be avid readers—whatever speaks to them, at whatever pace they need and on whatever devices they have available to them. It is so important for us to teach our students to empower their own reading lives. When a child actively creates his own reading life, the impact is so much deeper and the affects so much longer lasting.

Here are just a just few examples of how to incorporate choice into your classroom:

Choose a theme for the class and allow each student to choose a book that fits within that theme or provide them with a list of books that they can choose from, making sure to include lots of variety and books that are at all reading levels.

Allow the class to pick the theme! You will be pleasantly surprised at the inventiveness and ingenuity of your students and it will be so much more meaningful to them if they are the curators of their own reading lives.

Allow each student to choose a genre or theme that speaks to him or her personally, then work with each child to find a few books that will work for him or her as a reader.

If there is a book that you think is simply too important to be missed, consider reading the book aloud or choosing a particularly poignant excerpt from the book, which students can then respond to and discuss. You can then match that excerpt with a similarly themed selection from other books and open up the dialogue even more.


There are countless ways to incorporate choice into the classroom and your first and most im
portant resource for coming up with ideas is your students!


Anything that gets a child excited about reading is valuable. I personally think that graphic novels are fantastic and necessary. Boys are generally very visual in their learning style and the graphic design in these types of books help boys to stay focused on the stories behind the pictures and to be fully engaged with the text. Additionally, a lot of classics have been reformatted into graphic novels. So for teachers who are committed to exposing students to classic literature, these are a great option!




Book One: How Do Dinosaurs Go Up and Down? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague






It’s okay for a child to want to browse books that are above his reading level. We never want to take a book away from a child - our goal is for our students to have access to a wide variety books and texts and this includes allowing them to explore and experiment with books that might be above or below where we think they should be. Sometimes by having a wide variety of genres, topics and authors available at every reading level students will begin gravitating toward books that are in their range.

Ask your students what books get them excited about reading and keep an eye on print that is getting a universal thumbs-up from students at all reading levels. Graphic novels are an excellent genre to include on any bookshelf as they are generally considered very cool, but vary widely and inconspicuously in reading levels.

I also suggest sitting down with the child and discussing his reading preferences and interests. Sometimes students don’t pick books that are in their reading comfort zone because their reading environments are too public and so their reading choices are open to the scrutiny of their peers. Some students require more private places to read and might be more willing to choose books that are within their own reading level if they have a safe space for reading.



One of the things that I’ve heard straight from the boys themselves is that they get turned off from reading when they have to do it all by themselves. Boys love doing things in groups, they love the immediacy of it and the shared experience. World Read Aloud Day and the Global Poem for Change really tap into this.

Both of these initiatives really engage and challenge boys. Boys love the friendly competition of read aloud challenges and read-a-thon competitions inspired by World Read Aloud Day. Being able to “win” really got boys fired up about reading.

Boys also love the authenticity of the experience that these initiatives provide them, as well as the tangible experience of having their words be heard in different places around the world! Boys love to know that they’re making an impact, and both World Read Aloud Day and the Global Poem for Change have given boys all over the world the opportunity to actually see they're making a difference.


Pam Allyn discusses Best Books for Boys on Let's Talk Live.
LitWorld sponsors World Read Aloud Day. Shannon Miller and I connected with schools and authors on this special day.


School librarian Donna Kouri and I had a wonderful book discussion. We brainstormed ways to share Allyn's books with our colleagues.


Pam provides classroom management strategies.


Shannon Miller and I invited our students to compose a Global Poem for Change.


Pam talks about storytelling in kindergarten.


Browse inside What to Read When.



Pam Allyn has formed book clubs and reading groups to get boys talking about books that interest them.


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