Thursday, February 16, 2017

Boy Books and Empathy

I really enjoyed reading Justin Larbalestier's blog ( about the hysteria over so-called "boy" books and the faulty assumption that boys only enjoy reading about boys, which, among other things, promotes the idea that all boys are the same and like the same things, you know, boy things--sports, etc.

What I like most about it was what he said about the importance of reading and the development of empathy:

Studies show novels teach empathy. But if someone’s only reading novels about white, middle class folks, well, I wonder. If you want boys to become more empathetic encourage them to read books by and about girls, about boys who aren’t like them, about transkids.

I recommend this for everyone. Especially white middle class folks like me. Truly, a steady diet of books/TV/movies/fakenews about folks like us is unhealthy and leads to disastrous election results.
Since I am both a novelist and an English professor, I'm sure it will surprise no one to learn that I read to my son a lot. He learned very young that if he wanted guaranteed mommy attention all he had to do was ask me to read. This request almost never met with a no. And I don't know how many times he was able to put off bed time by asking me to read just "one more chapter." I started out reading picture books to him, but we were on to chapter books when he was extremely young. When he was four, he saw me reading Harry Potter and asked me to read it to him. I decided to humor him, but I thought he was far too young and that he would quickly get bored. Boy, was I ever wrong. He loved it at four, and he still loved it at fourteen. Reading with my son was an intimate and special time for both of us. I did not look forward to the day that he would stop wanting me to read to him. Fortunately, it came much later than I expected. Although the frequency of him wanting me to read dropped off as he got older, it did not stop completely until he graduated from high school and went off to college.

Connecting to what Justin said, Jesse is one of the most caring, empathetic young adults that I know, and I'm not saying that just because I'm his mother. He truly treats others as he would like to be treated and seems to understand things from their perspective. I truly believe that much of this trait comes from having but put into the situation of so many people in the books I read him. Reading helped him to understand people and lives very unlike his own. The world would be a better place if more children experienced the wide world in the way that he did.

Read to children! Both they and the world need our stories!

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