Does Judy Blume Turn Boys Off Reading?

Interesting syndicated column this morning by Rich Lowry: Judy Blume is a major boy turn-off. Lowry argues that the Larry Summers flap at Harvard might ending up being a good thing as it has increased awareness of the role gender plays in education. Amongst other things, Lowry argues that girls and boys learn differently and that ignoring this fact harms children. Continuing with the status quo mean more boys who don’t read and girls who avoid math and science:

As it happens, the gender-insensitive American education system hurts everyone. Take boys and reading. According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, between 1992 and 2002 the gap between young women and young men in reading widened considerably. High-school seniors who are girls score on average 16 points higher than boys on a reading test given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As an NEA official wrote recently, “What was formerly a modest difference is fast becoming a marker of gender identity.”

Do boys not have an intrinsic aptitude for reading? No. But those parts of the brain involved in language develop more slowly in boys than in girls. According to Sax, the average 5-year-old boy is two to three years behind his female counterpart, and the average 14-year-old is four to five years behind. Eventually it evens out, but the danger is that by pushing a boy to read too soon, or to keep pace with the girls when he can’t, you turn him off reading forever. Also, boys have different reading interests than girls (and their largely women teachers): war stories, technical information, potty humor. There is no better way to turn a generation of boys against reading than to assign them “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

I was a late starter when it came to reading. It wasn’t really until high school that I became a voracious reader. One set back I had was dyslexia. But interestingly, and counter to the normal gender type, I overcame that in terms of language development but not in math and science. Somehow it was much more fun to read books – and improve my reading ability – than it was to do math problems or accounting. My parents, however, got me started on the reading kick. As I might have mentioned previously, in my house we could only watch 10 hours of TV a week – one hour on weekdays and three each on weekends (this was mostly for sports). In addition, you were required to read one book a month (alternating fiction with non) or your television privileges would be revoked. Since I was such a avid reader the rules soon mean nothing to me (I was reading half a dozen books a month). But it remained a problem for my step-brother who never got into reading (he was the math guy). I can’t say I disagree with Lowry on the Judy Blume thing. I never read her, but focused on things like science fiction, heroic biography, etc. I read Isaac Asimov, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, as well as Christian biographies and history.

What say you? When did you start reading and what interested you? Are there guys out there who love Judy Blume? Girls who loved math and science from the start?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. I like Judy Blume, but maybe I have not read enough of her material to dislike some of it. I remember thinking a couple books I read in elementary school were by her though they weren’t. That’s how much I liked what I read. It wasn’t “Are you there, God?” so maybe that one is a strong girl book, but the Fudge books were lots of fun for me at around age 10.

  2. Okay, pardon my scoffing, but after reading the original article, I’m laughing. Girls read a largely male-oriented curriculum (this is improving) — male authors and male protagonists. Since I know many women who were math/science oriented from the beginning (including a best friend and a sister), I think the author’s (not Kevin’s) conclusion is silly.

    Yes, there are developmental differences between the genders, but to suggest that reading female authors scars young boys for life? Fiction is a great way to understand unknown worlds, and the world of a female to an eleven-year old boy is surely unknown. The subject matter of this book is definitely girl, but it’s a fact of life.

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