Rethinking Your Son’s Reading

woman reading book on orange sofa

Last year I dove whole heartedly into the #G3reads reading challenge. I had a great list and was very proud of myself for compiling all of it from books already on our stacks. 2022 was the year I was not going to buy more books. Well I failed. And the one failure led to another. Not only did I buy more books, I ended up reading the new ones instead of finishing the ones on my list. So the bad news is I only got about half way through my #G3reads list, but the good news is I still have some new books from last year that I can put on my list for 2023

Last year G3 ministries also put out a reading list for highschoolers. It was a great model and I decided to tweak it to suit the needs and interests of our primarily male household. In the overwhelmingly egalitarian world of education, we tend to lose sight of the fact that if we want to raise complementarian men and women we might want to be educating our boys and girls in a complementarian fashion. This means they don’t always need to be reading the same things. In fact, in many cases they ought nought be reading the same things at all. 

Before I go further let me lay out the personal experience I will be building upon. 1. I was educated entirely within the public school system from first grade all the way through the California state university system 2. My husband was as well, except he got his degree at a private Christian university 3. My husband has taught Jr. High and High School English for twelve years 4. I was a substitute teacher for two 5. I taught all five of our boys to read and have been the primary teacher in their home-based education. 

That said, here are 5 observations I have made regarding boys and reading. 

  1. Boys’ and girls’ brains develop very differently and while girls are often eager to start reading as early as four or five, boys may not show a natural propensity for reading until 7, 8, or 9. Forcing the process on any child before their brain is ready can lead to frustration, discouragement, undue stress, and a dislike of reading and learning in general. Resist the temptation to enforce arbitrary age-based reading standards on your son. God has fearfully and wonderfully knit his brain to accomplish amazing things for His kingdom. The world’s educational standards and expectations do not have in mind the work God has prepared for your son.
  2. Reading requires a high level of confidence in one’s own ability to make sense of symbols, interpret them accurately, and derive meaning from them. If a child lacks that confidence, reading can become an insurmountable task that will more often than not end in failure. One of the most formative gifts you can give to your son is the confidence that he has what it takes to fulfill God’s creation mandates for him. In other words, that he has what it takes to be a man. Because reading is often the first big step in a child’s education, that confidence is often undermined before it is built. If your son is losing confidence it’s best to shift the focus to other skills he’s gifted at for a while. Remember, reading is only one means of acquiring information. Focusing on other powers of observation can be extremely beneficial in the long run.
  3. Most educational reading lists are curated by women according to their own tastes and egalitarian humanist standards. As an English teacher, my husband is often appalled at the selections foisted upon his male students. Most “classics” from the 18th–20th century are glorified love stories written for middle aged, upper class women and never had young men as a target audience at all. The relatively newer genre of young adult fiction is often so emotionally angst-driven as to lead one to wonder if the intent is to leave the reader entirely without hope in this world. Yet these two classes of literature make up the majority of what most of our teenage boys are exposed to. And we wonder why most boys hate reading so much! Homeschool moms, it is really important that your husband be involved in choosing what your son is reading. If dad is completely disinterested in reading and has left it all up to you, it could be because women were in charge of his own education and left him without any valuable resources to draw upon. Find out what books he was exposed to and if he hated them don’t make your son repeat the torture. Dads, it’s time to get involved in your son’s reading. There could be a perfectly legitimate reason you hated what you were assigned to read. There’s nothing wrong with you. Time to explore what you would actually benefit from reading and pass that gift on to your son. 
  4. Which brings me to my fourth observation. If Dad isn’t reading himself, don’t expect boys to be that into it. Homes where book-reading is relegated to a school-assignment only based activity rarely produce life-long readers. And now I’m going to really step on some toes. Y’all need to be reading real physical books. When your kids see you reading from an iPhone, kindle, or laptop there is no visible difference to them from reading a book and scrolling social media or watching a movie. Your eyes are on a screen and you’re engaging with the same device that’s already consuming everyone’s attention 24/7. Park yourself in front of a paperbound book so they can see the difference in what you’re doing. 
  5. Even enjoyable books can become drudgery when used as a catalyst for mundane busywork. Fiction and poetry are art forms intended for pleasure, not scientific analysis and merciless dissection. The most well intentioned teachers can become so hyper-focused on using literature to teach grammar, writing, and analytical skills that they rob the student of the mere pleasure in reading. It’s possible to teach all the skills necessary for good writing and analysis without strangling all the great books to death. Just let the boy read for heaven’s sake and then ask him what his thoughts are about it. 

Here is the tweaked version of the #G3reads challenge my husband and I compiled for our teenage sons. The accompanying suggestions are not exhaustive and are made strictly from what we had on hand in our own home. Countless others could be added.

  1. A daily Bible reading plan (make this manageable according to ability and make sure it includes a heavy dose of Proverbs)
  2. Biography of a Christian man (Robert Murray M’Cheyne-Bonar, Adventures of Missionary Heroism–Lambert, Through the Gates of Splendor–Elliot, Long Line of Godly Men series–Lawson, Diary of David Brainard–Edwards, Fair Sunshine–Purves)
  3. Book on Biblical manhood (Created for Work/Boyhood and Beyond–Schultz, Thoughts for Young Men–Ryle, Future Men–Wilson, The Mark of a Man–Elliot) 
  4. A Christian classic (Pilgrim’s Progress -Bunyan, Found: God’s Will–MacArthur, The Holiness of God–Sproul, A Christian Manifesto -Schaeffer, Acceptable Sins–Bridges)
  5. An adventure novel (The Iceberg Hermit, Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Count of Monte Cristo, Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty, Sir Gawain/King Arthur/Knights of the Round Table, anything by Jack London, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain)
  6. A humorous or relaxed/lite read (anything P.G. Wodehouse, the Inklings, N.D.Wilson, Hardy Boys, Louis L’Amour)  
  7. Cultural commentary (Lord of the Flies–Golding, Animal Farm/1984–Orwell, Amusing Ourselves to Death–Postman, By What Standard–Longshore, How Should We Then Live–Schaeffer)
  8. A book on logic (10 Philosophical Mistakes–Adler, Logic–Watts, We Are All Philosophers–Frame, The Amazing Dr. Ransom’s Bestiary–Wilson, Thinking Toolbox/Fallacy Detective–Bluedorn)
  9. A history (The World of… series–Foster, Sketches from Church History, History of the English Speaking People–Churchill, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power–Needham
  10. An instructional book on a particular skill (woodworking, leatherwork, hunting, fishing, farming, butchering, mechanics, plumbing, welding, investing, real-estate, etc…)

Such a list may seem like a lot to pile on a kid with an already full course load. That’s because it is. If your son is already taking history, literature, philosophy, theology, and various elective courses then he is already being assigned copious amounts of reading in those fields. Since we homeschool, this list is making up the bulk of our sons’ reading. All we add to this is math, science, and foreign language, with essay writing scattered across the subjects. Also, because they’re readers, they end up reading multiple books from each category. The categories just ensure they are reading a healthy variety.

The main benefit of such a reading program is that it better reflects what a working husband/father/churchman should be consuming rather than what an egalitarian/humanist/renaissance man would be. Young men who develop habits of daily Bible reading along with missionary biographies, theology, history, etc., rather than just novel after novel will be better equipped to serve and lead in their local churches. If we want to raise up churchmen, we need to be educating our boys in that direction.

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Julie McEntee

Currently working full time to fill our home with good food, warm fellowship, old books, Christ-centered learning, great conversation, Psalms, and hymns. My greatest joy is serving in our local church alongside my husband Tom, who is a vexingly high-energy Jr. High English teacher, coach, Master’s Seminary student, and devoted father to our 5 sons.