Getting boys to read

listen
AUDIO

Listen to kids author Andy Griffiths chat with James O'Loghlin on the cleverest and most disgusting ways to get boys, and girls, into books.

Download: right click and Save Link As (MP3 11MB)

Views expressed in interviews may not be the views of the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
Transcript
 

At a glance

  • A key to getting boys to read is finding subject matter that interests them.
  • Often young boys are interested in "rude things" because it allows them to laugh about it without having to do it themselves.
  • Boys can see reading as a feminine activity because it's often women they see reading.
  • Hook boys into reading something they like and they will broaden their choices in time.
  • Books allow the reader to visit different worlds and dimensions; something many boys love.

James O'Loghlin
Hello, I'm James O'Loghlin and welcome to School A to Z.

I'm talking to Andy Griffiths. Andy Griffiths who's sold over four million kids' books worldwide; he's done the very popular Just series, and also I guess was famous for writing about things like bums that often adult writers thought were a bit too, you know, rude to write for kids. Well he proved that getting down into the nitty gritty world of rudeness was incredibly popular.

We're going to talk to Andy about tips on getting kids to read, to be interested in reading, in particular whether being a bit rude is the secret ingredient. 

Andy, thank you very much for your time.

Andy Griffiths
It's my pleasure.

James
Could I ask you firstly about the rudeness thing? 'Cause you were kind of ground breaking in that. Was that to you, going into and writing about subjects that of course kids make jokes about all the time and even adults do really, did that seem to you to be something that was intrinsic to or at least a big part of the popularity of your books? And did it help a lot of kids to get into it?

Andy
Look it certainly did, but I got the idea because I toured Australia pretty relentlessly for 10 years in the early days as a visiting writer and I'd be often thrown in front of groups of kids and told to entertain them and inspire them about reading and writing. And so I would run ideas past them and I'd tell them stories and every now and again you would say the word 'bum', you know just by accident almost, enormous reaction, they'd fall about laughing. And I started off with a little story, what could be the worst thing that could happen if you had a bum and it grew arms and legs and it ran away, how embarrassing would that be? And they would love to make stories – "Oh yeah!" – then you'd have to get the bum catcher, so it just sort of grew out of a natural conversation with kids. And although I hadn't been writing about bums specifically, I had been writing about the character Andy from the Just series who often crosses into taboo territory; he does what you're not supposed to do, he says what you're not supposed to say and I knew that was great interest for kids because they're often wondering what would it be like if I really did, you know, start a food fight in a restaurant or say the wrong thing at dinner. And they don't want to do it in real life but they love to read about it. So the idea of a novel about a bum that ran away from its owner was kind of a no-brainer in the end. I thought, "Gee you'd have a real gripping subject and you'd drag these kids who often don't want to read anything and make them read a whole novel. It could only be good".

James
Well is this the key really isn't it, in that if we're talking to parents who want to encourage their children to read more? I guess you made two sort of general points; one was – write about what they're interested in, what they're really interested in, not what they should be interested in. And secondly, that what they're interested in is often bums and other sort of in inverted commas "rude things".

Andy
Well there's a good reason for that because if theories of humour often start with, the first type of humour you get into is body humour, body- function humour as a child and I think the reason is because we have bodies and we're learning about them, we're not sure how they work. There's a lot of rules about them, you're not allowed to fart, you're not allowed to burp at the dinner table and sometimes you can't help it. So you're learning to control yourself and a great deal of angst amongst the parents. And so a lot of the embarrassment that's felt is able to be tapped into by a comedian and come out as laughter. So it's a kind of cathartic thing that you can laugh about these functions and learn. See at my own house we have rules about this stuff, it's not anything goes, it's not just funny. But it's learning about what's appropriate humour and what sort of appropriate subjects at the right time. You can actually use this stuff to let the pressure off.

James
You've mentioned what subject matter was appropriate for certain age groups but sometimes it's not the subject matter – we can laugh at the same subject matter no matter how old we are, it's the tone in which it's approached.   

Andy
Yeah you don't lose, as you develop more of a sophisticated sense of humour, you don't lose previous senses of humour. So body function and humour is still good. Particularly if it's cleverly done and well done. And although there was initially a bit of fear amongst parents when The Day My Bum Went Psycho came out, "Woo, if we let our kids read this will they go out of control". It was almost the opposite; a lot of families came to me and said, "How did you know that this is our sense of humour? This is what we laugh about at home; we thought it was only us".

James
And on that, you've mentioned subject matter, find what the kid's interested in, they're often interested in, you know, this sort of stuff, but sense of humour if you find a book that makes your kid laugh once, they're going to keep reading for the next one aren't they?

Andy
Yeah and they've had a good experience with the book and that's what you want for any beginning reader is to come to a book and go, "Wow that was great, I want that feeling again". Now whether it's crazy out-of-control bum humour or it's a non-fiction book on frogs, it doesn't matter, it's finding the right book for the right child.

James
Does the bum stuff or the rude stuff, do you think it appeals more to boys than girls 'cause there is a stereotype that it's harder to get, I don't know if it's true or not, but a lot of people say it's harder to get boys to read than girls?

Andy
Look, I think in general that's true. But it's partly because boys see books largely read by women, female teachers and librarians, and they associate them slightly as a feminine product. So as you're becoming a man, acquiring masculinity, you push away things that could be considered a bit girly. And unfortunately books get pushed away. So one of the ways I got around that was to write about my characters who do outrageous things or see themselves as rebels or to write about the subjects that engage them, their interest, despite the books being a passive activity, but it doesn't knock out the girls. Girls still comprise 50 per cent of my audience.

James
They do?

Andy
Yeah. Audiences that I talk to, the fan letters, they're all 50 per cent girls. They love the characters, they get that humour too.

James
Some people might think, "Look, if I do manage to hook my children into reading via rude things like bums, they might be stuck in the bum world forever". But in your experience, if that is the hook, do kids then find doors open with reading and want to explore the world beyond bums?

Andy
Yeah, that is my experience completely and from lots of feedback from teachers and parents is, "Oh you know thank you, they started reading your books, they read them all and they were, ‘what else is out there?'." So some of them go on to be great veracious readers and the kids themselves will tell me that, "I thought reading was dumb before I got your books, but now I'm reading all the time". So I don't think you do get stuck.

James
OK. If parents have kids who are reluctant to read, they're not really getting into it, particularly boys but girls as well, what tips would you have to get them going?

Andy
I think it's very useful to go into a library or a bookshop and spend time with them in there and say, "What interests you here?" And stand back and let them tell you and not to make judgements on it, to say, "Oh that's a non-fiction book, that's not a real book, or that's one of Andy Griffiths' books, that's not a nice book. Can't you find something nice?" So take your judgements out of it, 'cause it's not so much about you, it's about what turns them on. And you only need that one key in the door and they may go in a phase, they may read nothing but a particular writer. I read nothing but Enid Blyton for three years, until I worked out after a certain point a lot of these characters are getting the same and the plots the same, I wonder if there's something else out there. That's when you move onto more dimensional characters. And it's nothing against Blyton but good readers are inevitably phase readers. So just sit tight, let them exhaust the canon of whatever they're on and then be there with a suggestion or a trip to the bookshop to find the next level.

James
Any ideas about once, you know, you've been to the bookshop and found a book they're interested in, but actually building it into what seem to be increasingly busy lives?

Andy
Well that's where you need to be proactive and in our own house we have screen-free time from Monday to Thursday, and we actually started just reading a chapter or two from a classic book after dinner each night. And it's actually become the highlight of the dinner for me because I'm getting to revisit Narnia and all those books I haven't read. But surprisingly, it's a group activity, but it does require proactivity or just when there's a space in the day, even 15 to 20 minutes where there's silent reading time or shared reading time.

James
And finally, why? What if some parents are saying, "Look my kids love being outdoors and we're always told get your kids outdoors and they're doing that all the time and they come in and then they have dinner and then they're tired and go to bed and they don't read much but they seem to have a lovely active life?"

Andy
Well, I think that's very important too. I would tell a kid who's reading all the time to get out and get some exercise too. But I think reading is a dimensional activity – it lets you enter worlds, it puts you into other points of view that you may not have considered, it shows you characters dealing with tough situations and being resourceful and I think there is a direct link back to their own lives so that when they're faced with a problem, books are a type of rehearsal for dealing with people and getting in touch with themselves. I think that's very important for future happiness and current happiness, just as much as exercise.

James
Andy, thank you very much.

Andy
Thank you very much.

James
Thanks for listening. For more information check out the School A to Z website at www.schoolatoz.com.au.


 

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths

Andy Griffiths is one of Australia's most popular children's writers. He is the author of more than 20 books including nonsense verse, badly drawn cartoons, short stories, comic novels and creative writing textbooks. Andy's books have been New York Times bestsellers, won more than 40 Children's Choice Book awards, been adapted as a television cartoon series and sold more than four million copies worldwide. He is best known as the author of the much-loved Just!series and The Day My Bum Went Psycho.

In 2008 Andy and his wife, Jill, collaborated with The Bell Shakespeare Company on the theatrical production Just Macbeth! which was nominated for two Helpmann Awards. In July 2010 Just Macbeth! completed a return sold-out season at the Sydney Opera House before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The book of the play was shortlisted in the children's section of the 2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.


Translate

This site uses Google Translate, a free language translation service, as an aid. Please note translation accuracy will vary across languages.