Skip to main content

Book helps turn young boys into lifelong readers

January 16, 2009

A new book co-authored by an Arizona State University faculty member tackles head-on the fact that, in general, boys in the United States read less often and less well than girls. “Bright Beginnings for Boys: Engaging Young Boys in Active Literacy” offers practical advice and strategies for teachers, parents and anyone with an interest in boys’ literacy development.

“The way many boys in kindergarten through third grade are taught to read goes against the way they love to be, which is playful and active,” says Debby Zambo, an assistant professor in ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership.

“‘Bright Beginnings for Boys’ offers alternatives to repetitive drilling on basic skills, which can lead to boredom, inattention and behavioral problems,” Zambo says. “We believe this book will benefit teachers, caregivers, and anyone else who wants to help young boys learn basic skills in a way that is active and connects to their interests. Beyond that, we want adults to use books to help young boys find positive visions of themselves.”

Zambo and co-author William G. Brozo, a professor of literacy at George Mason University, advocate teaching with picture books containing male protagonists who portray messages of positive values, including cooperation, courage, honesty, perseverance, respectfulness, responsibility, and tolerance.

Zambo and Brozo assert that literacy, or a lack thereof, plays a key role in what has become known as the “boy crisis” in U.S. schools. By fourth grade, the average boy is two years behind the average girl in reading and writing skills. Boys can become disengaged in school because they don’t read; they don’t read because they don’t have positive early literacy experiences.

Brozo is a noted literacy expert who authored the popular book “To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader: Engaging Teen and Preteen Boys in Active Literacy.” Zambo, who had never met Brozo, wrote a journal article in The Reading Teacher applying Brozo’s ideas from that book to young boys. Zambo and Brozo connected through a colleague who was a mutual acquaintance, and the seed was planted for the two to write “Bright Beginnings for Boys.”

“In my heart I knew I had to write this book,” says Zambo, who has experience as an early elementary school special education teacher and expertise in the field of educational psychology. “Boys develop socially, emotionally and physiologically at a different rate from girls. Expecting young boys to sit and focus on skills exercises for long periods of time, or to write at a level that is beyond the development of their fine motor skills, can lead to a pattern of failure and frustration.”

In the Foreword to “Bright Beginnings for Boys,” Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire comments, “This early experience of failure and frustration often turns a difficulty into an identity as boys decide they are just ‘not good at reading’…But slow starts are not a predictor of long-term failure, so long as we can keep boys engaged in reading.”

To maintain that engagement, Zambo and Brozo provide suggestions about simple ways teachers can structure their classrooms to meet boys’ cognitive and emotional needs, along with proven ideas for capturing boys’ attention and interest. Among the resources offered are “About a Boy” vignettes, which contain stories of real boys in real literacy learning situations, and “Learning From a Character” boxes, which provide a picture book with a male character, the positive qualities he displays, and questions to spark an adult’s thinking about how to use the picture book to help boys develop positive traits.

While the primary audience for “Bright Beginnings for Boys” is teachers, Zambo and Brozo also extend their ideas beyond the classroom. The last chapter is titled ‘Making School-Home-Community Connections to Enhance the Literacy Development of Young Boys.”

“We want to give teachers, parents, mentors, librarians, coaches – anyone interested in boys’ literacy development – information and resources to ensure that every young boy has a successful literacy beginning and an increased chance to have a bright and healthy future,” Zambo says.

“Bright Beginnings for Boys” is published by the International Reading Association.

“This is a very important, very readable, very useful, very wise book,” says Peg Tyre, author of “The Trouble with Boys.” Adds Jon Scleszka, an award-winning author and creator of, “If you are a teacher and you have been struggling to connect your boys with reading, this book is for you. Debby and Bill bring their many years of kid and classroom experience to the complicated problem of boys’ literacy.”

Zambo is a faculty member in ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership. Through collaboration with educational and civic communities, the College prepares and inspires innovative educators to be leaders who apply evidence-based knowledge that positively impacts students, families, and the community. More information is available at