It happened every year in fifth grade, with every novel, without fail. Either the boys would moan, “Why do we have to read another GIRL book?!,” or the girls would groan, “Not another BOY novel!” Admittedly, at the outset, some books naturally seem to appeal more to boys than to girls, and vice versa; why don’t we just read novels that outwardly appeal to everyone? Are there benefits to reading books that primarily interest one gender or the other?
1. Builds Relationship Skills
God did create boys and girls differently, both physically and temperamentally; however, He didn’t create us in a vacuum. Boys and girls have to interact with each other, so it’s important for the students to better understand what makes each one “tick.” The novels selected for fifth grade, as well as for the other grades at Cary Christian School, allow the teachers to help our students have a better understanding of the differences God created in boys and girls.
2. Bridges Common Lessons
Several fifth grade novels (e.g., Where the Red Fern Grows, Rascal, Summer of the Monkeys) feature boy main characters doing what are historically considered “boy” activities: hunting along river bottoms with their trusty dogs, wilderness living, and getting into “jams.” But what girls in today’s world are not also interested in adventure, in running freely through the prairies, in taking care of wild animals? Can’t girls learn the same lessons from the novels as do the boys? Don’t the escapades in which the boys find themselves, and the ways they escape from their mishaps, appeal to girls, as well? Do the problem solving skills the boys exhibit give the girls some insight into the male brain and why boys do what boys do? Bottom line: once we delve into the books and start adventuring, neither boys nor girls consider these novels to be “boy” books!
3. Breeds Appreciation for Gender Strengths/Differences
Similarly, some fifth grade novels (e.g., The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Secret Garden) feature girl protagonists, and the boys started their moaning before we even opened the books! Once, however, they get the “pre-read teacher hook” (what happened to people accused of witchcraft in colonial U.S. days, in the case of Blackbird Pond; or what exactly is cholera, and how did it affect people; and why would a perfectly healthy pre-adolescent boy think he’s dying, in the case of The Secret Garden), the boys are also hooked and eager to read. In those books, boys have the opportunity to see the feminine and caring side of girls, a little bit of romance, and the strength girls use to work through adversity. We discuss how girls in these books work through their (similar) problems in different ways than the boys worked through problems in the other novels. Why? What God-given characteristics do you perhaps see in more abundance within the girl protagonists? Within the boy characters?
By the end of the year, we all have a little bit better understanding of what it’s like to grow up as a boy or a girl, and we more fully appreciate the differences God created in each. Prayerfully, my students truly understand the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover!”