Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

March 10, 2008

Children’s Literature Conference at NIU
to focus on connecting boys with books

DeKalb — Teachers and librarians already know that boys and girls approach books and reading in vastly different ways.

Northern Illinois University’s 28th annual Children’s Literature Conference, scheduled for March 14 and 15, will help them better understand what to do about it.

Seven prominent speakers, including the author of the best-selling “Grossology” series, will address the 400 teachers, school librarians and public librarians expected to attend “Male Call: A Workshop Connecting Boys and Books.” NIU’s College of Education sponsors the conference.

“Grossology” author Sylvia Carol Branzei-Velasquez is joined by authors and illustrators Joseph Bruchac, Robert Burleigh, Mark Crilley, Kathleen Duey, Michael Sullivan and David Wiesner on the weekend’s schedule.

“Boys are a very hard audience to reach. They tend not to be readers,” said Marti Jernberg, coordinator for non-credit external programs in the NIU College of Education. “We wanted to focus on the kinds of things boys like, and to get teachers and librarians to think about how they can attract boys to reading. The better readers they are the better their test scores.”

“Third grade boys have a weird sense of humor – a humor that girls can’t appreciate, particularly – but every mother who has a boy knows exactly what this kind of humor is. We know from anecdotal experience that boys just love gross things, whether it’s a history of bathrooms or a book about dinosaur poop,” said Barbara Fiehn, chair of the conference and an instructor in NIU’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

“Because we’re primarily women, and I hate to stereotype us, but gee, we’re just not particularly interested in gross stuff,” Fiehn added. “And if we’re not aware that’s what boys want to read about, then we don’t buy it and so it’s not available. Then, the boys say, ‘Eh, this library doesn’t have anything worth reading.’ ”

Such an outcome concerns Fiehn, who worked several years as a school media specialist in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

“If we don’t consciously pay attention to what boys want to read or make that available to them,” she said, “we’re doing a disservice to boys.”

The distinctions are well-defined.

Most girls prefer fiction and read for pure pleasure, Fiehn said. Most boys, however, gravitate toward non-fiction and read to obtain information they can apply directly to their lives.

“They read to find out more factual information about the things they’re interested in,” she said. “If they’re interested in sports, they tend to read books about sports heroes or how to improve their abilities. If they’re interested in animals, they’ll read about animals. More boys than girls get really hung up on dinosaurs, and they know incredibly in-depth things about dinosaurs.”

Cognitive differences along the gender lines also play a role in bridging the gap, she said.

“We know that, from a maturity level, most boys are not ready to read at kindergarten. There seems to be a year-and-a-half lag between boys and girls at the entry level to school,” Fiehn said. “We need to make sure we have books to engage these boys as early as possible, which means a lot of picture books that are about things that boys like.”

Speakers were chosen specifically for their contributions to books that boys like.

David Wiesner, who has illustrated more than 20 books for young readers, has created some books with no words at all. Three of his works have won the prestigious Caldecott Medal.

Mark Crilley writes and illustrates graphic novels – a modern take on comic books – that feature his character Akiko. The first in the series, “Akiko on the Planet Smoo,” was published in 2000. The ninth, “Akiko: Pieces of Gax,” was published in 2006.

Sylvia Carol Branzei-Velasquez’s non-fiction “Grossology” books include “Grossology Begins at Home,” “Hands On Grossology” and “Grossology and You.” Burleigh’s non-fiction books include “Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth” and “Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindberg.”

Kathleen Duey has written more than 70 books of historical fiction, fantasy, adventure and survival tales. Joseph Bruchac draws on the hometown – the Adirondack Mountain foothills town of Greenfield Center, N.Y. – and his Abenaki ancestry.

Michael Sullivan, named New Hampshire Librarian of the Year in 1998, has written books for educators. Titles include “Fundamentals of Children’s Services” and “Connecting Boys with Books: What Librarians Can Do.”

“We introduce teachers and librarians to well-known authors, give them a chance to meet them and to learn how they go about their craft and what kinds of things they think about when they’re doing it,” Jernberg said. “We hope teachers leave with ideas on how to use literature in their classrooms and librarians leave with ideas on how to connect with teachers and the curriculum.”

For more information, call (815) 753-3005, e-mail ceduexternal@niu.edu or visit www.cedu.niu.edu/oep/children_lit.html.

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