Pam Allyn’s ninth book for Scholastic publishers provided me with some disturbing information about the state of boys in education today. They’re basically falling behind girls in every subject. However, in the pages of "Best Books for Boys" Allyn also provides hope to mothers of boys (such as me) by offering creative solutions to boys’ education. The simple act of placing books in baskets rather than on shelves, in making them accessible, and in expanding our definition of what “reading constitutes” allows room for boys to be boys when it comes to reading and to education. Allow active young men to read in groups, to talk about what they read, to gather around a computer screen or to take a book to recess. With flexibility and an open mind, boys can be encouraged to read and ultimately to re-engage with the educational system.
Pam Allyn was kind enough to submit to a Q&A with me. Following are very interesting details about Pam and her work, in her own words:
Lory: What is your background, Pam, and how did you come into your current line of work?
Pam: My two passions are children and the power of literacy and I am very blessed I've gotten to travel along this journey that combines them both. I started out as a teacher of the deaf, became a leader for literacy reform in New York City and started my own organizations, litlife and now litworld. Early on, I did a lot of advocacy work at a foster care agency in New York where I launched the award winning Books for Boys campaign. Every step of the way has felt like the next logical step. I am just trying to reach as many kids, families and teachers as I can with the message that words do change worlds. “Best Books for Boys” is my ninth book for Scholastic Publishers.
Lory: How long have you been planning this book?
Pam: I think it has been simmering inside me for the last decade, ever since my Books for Boys initiative started growing in a big way. I started to think that there is a big message here in that we as adults are not really paying attention to the messages boys are sending us about what they really want to read, and in the last few years, the alarming statistics about boys as readers got me fired up to make sure I could make this book happen. Luckily my publisher agreed this is an important topic!
Lory: Who is the intended audience of the book?
Pam: Early on I knew this book would be compelling for both teachers and parents. So although it is published in the teaching division and seems more geared to teachers, I've already gotten tons of emails from parents saying it suits them just as well. This is what I was hoping for.
Lory: Why does the classroom set up favour girls?
Pam: Most teachers are still women and we bring our own memories and biases about what constitutes "real" reading. We have to be really careful we do not bias our learning communities in these ways. For example, there is a preponderance of narrative fiction in our classrooms, when in fact boys tend to gravitate towards nonfiction. We have to pay more attention to what all readers want.
Lory: You have a fabulous and extensive reading list here. How did you decide on what to include and what to exclude?
Pam: This was a very difficult task! There are millions more great books out there. I tried to be very true to the fact that good writing is compelling, no matter what the genre. I also heard some titles over and over from the boys I interviewed and I wanted to be sure I honored their voices.
Lory: Who else, like you, is leading the way to getting boys back into education and reading?
Pam: I have some wonderful mentors, role models and friends in the field who are also speaking to this issue, and for whom I have the deepest respect. They include Alfred Tatum, Tim Rasinski, Ralph Fletcher, James Patterson and John Sziescka. I am proud to be a woman among these great men, speaking as someone who has taught in classrooms of all ages and who has nurtured and loved the boys with whom I have worked. I think my vantage point as a teacher of teachers is unique and I hope complements these other wonderful voices.
Lory: Any other comments?
Pam: I hope the next time a boy says he doesn't like to read, we don't give up on him!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Pam Allyn’s e-book.