Listen to the Recess! Clip
One of the coolest looking and most useful websites currently online for young people — especially young boy people — is John Scieszka’s guysread.com. Scieszka is the author of books like Science Verse, Math Curse, The Time Warp Trio, and The Stinky Cheeseman, that classic collection of fractured, deconstructed fairy tales that is a cherished, well-worn volume in most elementary school boys’ libraries. The site is dedicated, in the words of Scieszka’s mission statement to “making some noise” in the field of literacy programs for boys. Scieszka is intent, he writes, on “expand[ing] our definition of reading [to] include boy-friendly nonfiction, humor, comics, graphic novels, action-adventure, magazines, websites, and newspapers in school reading.” His simple intent, he adds, is to “motivate guys to want to read by letting them choose texts they will enjoy. Find out what they want. Let them choose from a new, wider range of reading.”
Of course, if you search on the subject heading, “outer space,” on the website, you will find, to the chagrin or bemusement of a lot of parents and teachers, that these choices may well include books like Captain Underpants and the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space; Draw 50 Aliens: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw UFOs, Galaxy Ghouls, Milky Way Marauders, and Other Extraterrestrial Creatures; and Bugs in Space: Starring Captain Bug Rogers. But the list also includes a terrific visual exploration of the universe from the publisher Dorling Kindersley, a picture book based on the Walt Whitman poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” and the latest installment in K. A. Applegate’s series of sci-fi novels about a group of young space wanderers The Remnants.
In justifying this highly interactive, animated website (that looks like a kid’s journal come to vivid, three-dimensional life on the flat computer screen), Scieszka cites the generally slower reading and writing skills of boys. He notes their “action-oriented, competitive learning style[s]”; their discomfort “exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction”; and the fact that “boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. . . [and] might not see reading as a masculine activity.” Arguably, he’s right about all of this. He’s certainly right about how lots of personal choice really does matter in generating excitement about the activity of reading, and I’d add that, with just a little guidance, choice can provide the basis for something we’d like all readers — guys and girls — to develop: a sense of discerning, (if sometimes goofy or edgy) good taste.