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Books for boys

Oliver Rokison as William in BBC series based on schoolboy stories
Just William is now forced to compete with computer games
Once Biggles and Just William captured the imagination of teenage boys - now computer games and texting seem to occupy their time.

Sats results for 14-year-olds, released this week, revealed a particular problem with boys' reading ability. One in five 14-year-old boys has a reading age below what's expected of an 11-year-old.

While politicians discuss the failures of the education system, author Ian Rankin, who is part of a Scottish Labour commission looking at declining standards of literacy, suggests how to get the kids hooked on books.

He says that there is a form of literacy among teenage boys - considering the amount they text and email each other - it is just of a different kind.

"You need a certain amount of literacy to be able to play computer games these days, a lot of them have on-screen messages and instructions that you must follow. I think it's just a kind of literacy that we don't measure because it isn't happening in the classroom."

But he suggests they start reading such diverse forms of literature such as Top Gear magazine and Harry Potter.

He said his own teenage son was resistant to Shakespeare - until he was introduced to Shakespeare's stories through graphic novels and discovered a new enthusiasm for the playwright.

And he has some advice: "Get parents passionate about reading because the parents will pass it on to their kids. It's never too early to start them - and it's never too late."

But which books will succeed in turning adolescent boys from video gamers to avid readers?

IAN RANKIN

Author Ian Rankin suggests that Batman is a good place to start for teenage boys and recommends the Killing Joke by Alan Moore, a graphic novel illustrated by Brian Bolland which unfolds one of the Joker's most fiendish plots.

He also suggests A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. While it might raise parents' eyebrows, it is regarded as a classic. It portrays the extreme violence perpetrated by the narrator Alex, and also contains many words in a slang dialect which Burgess invented for the book, called Nadsat.

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett's first Discworld book is the third recommendation. It is the first appearance of the tourist Twoflower and his hapless wizard guide, Rincewind, in Pratchett's spoof of fantasy and magic.

And finally, Rankin recommends that teenage boys should get their hands on the Top Gear magazine and any daily newspaper.

CHARLIE HIGSON

Ian Fleming
Could Ian Fleming inspire a new generation of readers?
Actor, comedian and author Charlie Higson believes 14-year-olds should be getting the latest news from The Guardian newspaper and dipping into the gothic graphic novels and comics written by Frank Miller and Alan Moore whose work includes nightmarish futures in Sin City and V for Vendetta, and nightmarish pasts in From Hell, set in Jack the Ripper's Victorian London.

He thinks they would be inspired by the science fiction of JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick and would benefit from movie news from Empire Magazine. Finally, he recommends the adventures of James Bond by Ian Fleming.

EOIN COLFER
Redwall cover image
Eoin Colfer thinks Redwall's warring rodents would interest 14-year-olds
Author Eoin Colfer knows a thing or two about engaging younger readers. His recomendations come from the fiction series, like his own Artemis Fowl, that have been so successful in capturing young imaginations. These include The Young Bond Series by Charile Higson and the mythical adventures of the Strega Borgia family in The Pure Dead books by Debi Gliori.

Also on the list are the battling rodents from The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques, the adventures of a 5,000-year-old djinni in The Bartimaeus Series by Jonathan Stroud and demon fighting in The Demonata Series by Darren Shan.


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