Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 01:00 UK

Book list for boys shuns classics

Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Doctor Who
Boys are keen on books based on hit TV shows like Doctor Who

Fathers are being urged to read books featuring pirates and aliens to their sons to improve their reading, instead of traditional children's classics.

A list of 200 books deemed suitable for boys, and produced for ministers, does not feature traditional authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.

Government figures show boys are an average of 10 percentage points behind girls in English by the age of 11.

Ministers hope the gap can be closed by encouraging better reading habits.

The campaign expands the government's Boys into Books scheme launched last year for boys aged 11 to 14.

Fathers, particularly, are being targeted in this campaign, as ministers urge them to bond with their sons on Father's Day over spy novels and fantasy books.

Some of the books on the list
Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People - Dav Pilkey
Asterix and the Vikings: The Book of the Film - Albert Uderzo
We're Off to Look for Aliens - Colin Mcnaughton
When a Monster is Born - Sean Taylor and Nick Sharratt
Trouble at the Dinosaur Cafe - Brian Moses and Garry Parsons

Schools minister Jim Knight said dads should set themselves a summer challenge to read at least one book from the list with their son during the holidays.

He said: "Over a third of 10-year-olds are playing computer games for over three hours a day.

"I am in no doubt that this choice of gaming over reading has a knock-on effect on how well they do at school."

The same research shows TV and computer games have overtaken the bedtime story as the most common pre-sleep activity among children.

Author of the list, backed by the School Libraries Association, Chris Brown said: "We might express concerns about children and TV but they are more likely to see any of us habitually watching the box than reading a book."

He adds: "Boys' absolutely favourite choice of books are usually linked with high profile and successful TV series or films which are current cinema hits with young people.

"Towards the end of 2007, Doctor Who Books were dominant among Years 4, 5 and 6 and cited as 'the best' by some younger boys."

Always popular'

He adds that the intense merchandising that came with the Pirates of the Caribbean films led to a craze for pirates in story books.

"Boys tend to choose books with action that seldom flags, humour in large dollops with characters slightly larger than life.

"Currently extremely popular are fantasy tales of every shade - mock-medieval scenarios, wizardry, future-set alternative worlds, and places existing in parallel to our own time.

"Buccaneering piracy rates very highly and varies from factually based historical stories, fantastic sea-farer based tales or farcical misadventures."

Mr Brown has nothing against classic children's authors like Roald Dahl, whose "great books" he says are "rightly always popular".

'Dinosaurs and football'

He also praises the books of Enid Blyton with their "two-dimensional characters" for firing children's imaginations to fill the gaps.

But he does warn that "feeding young minds with nothing but sterile and unimaginative prose is the equivalent of allowing, or encouraging, a regular diet of too much junk food".

Mr Brown also urges parents and teachers to allow children to follow their own interests.

"If interest gets really hooked by something they will read any and everything that is relevant: so skateboarding, BMX, wildlife, dinosaurs and football come up as choices."

And he also urges schools to encourage reading by involving technology in the process of sharing books.

Teachers could record their pupils reading excerpts from books and allow them to play them back to fellow pupils through the computer, he suggests.

Dads 'don't read bedtime stories'
10 Apr 08 |  Education
Parents urged to read to children
31 Dec 07 |  Education

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