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For the love of books

Winterbourne’s Coleton Benham, like many boys, had trouble reading at a young age. Having discovered that linking his interests to the choice of reading material boosted his reading skills, he’s been eager to help others.

Coleton Benham created Books 2 Boys as a result of his own struggles with reading and now encourages boys to give a variety of books a chance. He’ll be handing out books to some young WMHA players this weekend.[Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Coleton Benham created Books 2 Boys as a result of his own struggles with reading and now encourages boys to give a variety of books a chance. He’ll be handing out books to some young WMHA players this weekend. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
At school, the Grade 4 student’s strong suit has always been math, said his mother Jenny Benham, but he surprised everyone when he started a reading program of sorts for boys just like himself.

Books 2 Boys aims to get young boys to read and, more importantly, enjoy it. Benham gets in touch with families of young boys through contacts and his Books 2 Boys Facebook page. Then, via letters, encourages them to give a variety of books a chance depending on each child’s reading ability and interests.

At his own home, books are a sought-after staple. Benham is always increasing his collection with trips to the bookstore to buy children’s favourites such as those in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Canadian books about hockey (Rink Rats, Brady Brady) are numerous: as a sport loved by many boys, it’s a good genre to start with, he said.

“If you like hockey that’s all you need. [The books say] ‘Get outside! Get outside! Build something!’”

His mother’s friend got him in touch with a school in northern Canada where many kids don’t have a diverse collection of reading material. Now, he’s sending a package of books to the students. He is also in touch with a boy in Toronto who doesn’t like to read. Benham recommended books for him and sent encouragement.

Concerned with the statistics on boys’ literacy, Benham’s family offers full support.

“Coleton has done a lot. He’s done a food drive, he helps out with local hockey and he said ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could start writing these letters to other boys, to get the names of boys who aren’t reading?’ He always writes a letter to say why they should be reading these books,” his mother explained.

While it’s a novel approach, the issue Benham is tackling is anything but new. Numerous studies demonstrate the gap between young female and male readers with boys lagging behind in their early years.

In 2013, Today’s Parent Magazine quoted a University of British Columbia (UBC) study which showed parents spending more time on literacy activities with daughters rather than sons, suggesting that for some children the gap begins at home. Girls are already ahead in literacy entering the first grade, the study stated.

The Ontario Ministry of Education funded an inquiry project to address the gap called the Road Ahead. A 2009 report looking at data from 2005 to 2008 showed boys were underachieving in literacy according to Education Quality and Accountability Office testing. Girls in Grade 3 scored 68 per cent in reading and 74 in writing versus boys who scored 55 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. In Grade 6 reading and writing, girls scored 73 and 76 per cent while boys scored 60 and 58 per cent.

The project argued for eight improvements to approaching boys’ performance in literacy including increased social interaction, greater choice in reading material, focused and precise instruction for teachers, and instruction that uses a variety of material to keep boys’ interested.

Benham’s goal now is to get in touch with more kids through his Facebook page, also called Books 2 Boys. When it comes to the true joy of reading, it’s not just about the boys, he added.

“There’s one girl in my class who doesn’t like to read that much but she’s good at it. Lots of girls don’t like to read but they are good at it.”

This weekend Benham will give back locally to the Woolwich Minor Hockey team he volunteers with. As a gift to mark the end of the season, Benham is giving out Brady Brady books to the players; the Canadian series of hockey-inspired children’s books by Mary Shaw and Chuck Temple were created to encourage reading. The authors have even donated several autographed copies and Benham plans to give them out this Sunday.

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