Jon Scieszka taught elementary school before becoming an author of children’s books such as Math Curse, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He says his experiences as an educator and author led him to start the “Guys Read” Web site, which helps boys find reading materials they will enjoy. His recent projects include working with Discovery Kids on an animated television show and Web site for The Time Warp Trio and working on a young adult novel. Read the following interview and visit http://www.guysread.com/ for more information about Scieszka and his work.
CC: I read that you were a teacher for 10 years in New York before becoming an author. What did that experience teach you about boys’ and girls’ reading and writing abilities?
JS: In the classroom, I saw for myself what a lot of people know—that boys, as a group, are struggling with reading. I think I also saw what I believe is the heart of the problem—that schools promote a version of literacy that appeals more to girls. So boys aren’t motivated to want to even try to become readers.
CC: How do males view reading and writing?
JS: Studies done in the U.K. (Elaine Millard’s Differently Literate) show a large majority of boys considering reading and writing as a school activity. They do it because they are required to. The materials they read for pleasure—humor, computer books, nonfiction, and magazines—they often don’t even consider to be reading. My experience here in the U.S. has found the same.
CC: Do you write books to specifically appeal to boys?
JS: Having grown up in a family of six boys, and having been a boy myself, I just naturally write narratives that appeal to a lot of boys. I don’t ever set out to try to appeal to boys. In fact, I think that would be a mistake. Lots of girls enjoy the humor and action and information that boys tend to like too.
CC: What made you create your guysread.com Web site?
JS: I’ve always been concerned about reaching the so-called “reluctant reader.” And once I started to do some research into how different groups were faring with reading, I was stunned to find out that in the 30 years we’ve been testing kids’ reading levels, boys have scored worse than girls every year, at every grade level. And yet we’ve never done much to consider the effects gender might play in learning to read. I started Guys Read to try to make people aware of the problem, and to offer some ideas on how we might change.
CC: Who visits the site, what are they looking for, and what do they find most helpful?
JS: Now that the Guys Write for Guys Read book is out, we are getting thousands of visitors to the site. They are teachers, librarians, parents, and kids. And everyone seems to find the recommended lists most helpful.
CC: Why do you think a lot of boys/men don’t see themselves as readers, even though often they do read—newspapers, manuals, etc.? Is there something wrong with the mainstream definition of literacy? What can we do to change things?
JS: I think our definition of literacy is a big part of the problem. It excludes a lot of the reading that boys and men prefer, and so makes younger boys think reading is not something that has anything to do with them. Reading is for people who enjoy literary fiction, or reading is what you do in school . . . and then you write a paper, or answer questions, or do an activity based on the story you just read. We can change things by expanding our definition of reading to include humor, graphic novels, nonfiction, action/adventure, computer texts, and all of the other things that boys might want to read for pleasure.