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Why You Need to Stop Limiting Boys’ Reading Choices

Let’s cut right to the chase. Don’t limit boys’ reading choices as it may lead to reading problems such as loss of motivation and loss of literacy development.

Today we are going to take a look at the reasons limiting a boy’s reading choices is a bad idea and why you need to stop.  I will tell you a story about our trip to the library and explain what happens when unreasonable limits interfere with a boy’s desire to read.

When I see people limit boys’ reading choices and I think about all the problems this causes it really bothers me because it has a big impact on boys’ learning.

Reading is wonderful.  It is a joy.  It provides a lot of important information and much of our learning involves some sort of reading.  Not only is it enjoyable, it is also very valuable and can make a huge difference in a boy’s life.

So I was just a tad upset the other day when we went to the library and this happened . . .

If you want your boys to read, stop limiting their reading choices. Read this story and learn why you need to stop arbitrary limits and how being allowed to choose is linked to achievement.

Why You Need to Stop Limiting Boys’ Reading Choices

My son and I went to the library the other day and there was a woman there with three young boys.  I would say they were around four, seven and nine/ten in age.  Each boy was so excited to be at the library.  They were interested in a lot of different books and were talking in hurried, loud voices about what they were going to get.  They were asking the librarian for help finding the books they wanted.

There is an excitement to picking out your own special book and slowly opening the cover.   Limiting what they read takes this away.

Boys who choose their own books will read more books. Period.

Then the mother stepped in and put limits on the number of books and what books they could check out.  Boo hiss.  I guess I can understand reasonable limits – well, not really – and these limits did not seem reasonable to me.  Two books.  Really?  Two.  Why two?  That doesn’t even seem to be enough books to get through a week.

I have a hard time understanding choosing to limit the number of books a child is allowed to check out from the library.  I guess if they get lost or if you incur fines that would be an issue but both of those things can easily be remedied by keeping track of your checkouts.

It is not respectful to deny your boy the joy of reading by limiting his choices.

The more a boy reads the better he gets at reading.

Then, and this was the biggie for us, she refused to let the older boy get any book he wanted unless it was a chapter book.  He asked for books, she said no.  He said he would enjoy a Transformers guidebook, she said no.  He asked if he could get a book on Minecraft.  Her response was, “Is it a chapter book?” “I gave you a simple task to read a chapter book. Can’t you understand what a chapter book is?”

The more books a boy reads the more vocabulary he is exposed to.  It doesn’t matter if he reads comic books, non-fiction books, or magazines—he is learning new words.

A boy may find his passion, his life’s calling, while browsing through a wide variety of books.

Unfortunately, it went on and on.  She yelled (really yelled) at him across the library and then, when he said he had a chapter book at home she said “then why did we even come here tonight?”  Ouch.

Exposing boys to books and print on a regular basis is imperative. They need to be around books a lot in order to feel comfortable with them and want to pick them up.

Allowing a boy to make his own choices shows that you trust his judgment and that you value his decisions.

With all the information out there about the crisis in boys’ learning and especially in boys’ reading I was saddened to see this happening.  The boy wanted , really wanted, to read. I wish this was an isolated incident but unfortunately I see it all too often.

Letting boys pick the books they want to read means they may actually read them.

Reading helps with speech, communication, comprehension, writing, grammar, and so much more.  You don’t necessarily know which book is going to work the best—but your boy might.

My son was very upset and couldn’t believe it.  I said “Maybe the mom is having a hard day.”  “No,” he said in a quiet voice, “That is how it is for them.  They can’t choose.”

Limiting a boy’s reading choices could lead to him hating reading. If you have a boy who hates reading please see What to do if Your Boy Hates Reading to turn that around as soon as possible.


If you want to encourage boys to read, open up their reading choices and stop imposing limits that do more harm than good.

Limiting a boy’s reading choices can be harmful for many reasons as outlined above. In addition, a study on reading said that choice  can actually be linked to achievement. “According to Hunt (1996/1997), a reader “who finds a really good book … that has ideas he truly wants to learn about, frequently will outdo his own instructional level of performance.””

In this same study they say that “some books may be very difficult to read, but because they are so interesting students decide to read them anyway” (Tompkins & McGee, 1993, p. 278).”   Being able to choose may actually lead them to read books that you would never pick for them but that will allow them to learn a lot.

In conclusion, reading is a personal experience.  It really is. The whole point is to get boys to read because reading can be helpful and valuable to boys.

Don’t make reading into something a boy “has” to do.  Reading is enjoyable and fun, it is wonderfully delightful. Letting him choose his own reading materials will get him reading more and that is a very good thing.

See also: The Five Finger Rule and Why it is Bad for Boys.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program of raising boys who love to learn.  Hey, a good way to do this would be to let boys make their own book choices! 🙂

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Monday 17th of June 2019

I just read this post and completely agree. Although I've always been an avid reader, the library was the ONE place where my mom said, "Get as many as you like." I remember walking out of our library every week with a stack of books as long as my arms. This may be a case of the chicken and the egg. I don't recall if I loved reading before or after her lavish attitude towards our library visits. Today, I'm a reading specialist and it pains me to see teachers "assigning" class-wide chapter books. Ugh! That's the biggest turn-off-, especially for reluctant readers. Every aspect of most children's lives today are controlled; from their "play date" appointments to organized sports to over planned family vacations. Children have less and less say and control of themselves and their choices. Let's at least allow them to read books that interest them.

Sheila Rogers

Friday 21st of June 2019

Hi Amy, Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I'm so happy you read the post and agree. I'm sure you see a lot as a reading specialist! I totally agree, as you can imagine, that assigning class-wide chapter books is a poor idea. To turn a phrase a bit, just as one size fits all is a misnomer, so is one book fits all. That almost never holds true. I also have some articles on the site about your other points as well. Children need autonomy and choice, not to be over-scheduled and dictated to most of the time.


Sunday 17th of August 2014

This is a great article Sheila! I buy books for my daughter Sumi all the time and I'm not a fan of limiting the # of books she gets to read, but some restriction is needed as we don't have the budget for our thirsty little reader. :D

I don't limit the # of library books unless we can't carry them.

I love books and have done so since I learned to read. I always read something, I always study something.


Sunday 17th of August 2014

Hi Gabi, I was more talking about how a lot of people think boys should read more and yet they limit what they are allowed to read. By that I meant that some seem to place a high value on chapter books (and I see that a lot) but won't let a child select a magazine, manual, or non-fiction book instead. As he got older we used examples found in books (or in public for that matter) as ways to have good conversations about what we believe and why we act the way we do. Thanks so much for sharing, Sheila


Sunday 17th of August 2014

Sorry I'm tired and I omitted an entire sentence lol: *(One of them was the worst I had ever seen. It had pictures of trolls)**


Sunday 17th of August 2014

I love books and reading and our house is already filled to the brim with books for the kiddos. We have books at their level in every room and they love to just go and sit quietly, or bring a book over they want to read. When we go to the library we let them pick out books to bring home and I will never limit that number - well unless the library does!


Sunday 17th of August 2014

Hi Clare, I love that you put the books where they can use them and reach them. We are huge book people and always had shelves my son could access. We did hit library limits more than once but that is all part of the learning as well when it comes down to it.


Sunday 17th of August 2014

What a great article Sheila! The only time we ever limit our boys is if they already have books out, or if we're walking because books can get heavy lol I always have the rule that they must pick one book we can read together, and as a treat one long book they would like me to read to them, it could be a chapter book, or a non-fiction book, their choice. After that, they're allowed to choose whatever they want. I love seeing their selections. We make frequent trips to the library, so they are constantly getting fresh material to read. Our library is actually one of 25 in the system, so while there are a ton of books available in the system, our library only stocks so many so we've learned to think ahead and request books we know we want to read. I've even got my youngest making requests for certain books, so we place a hold on them and then he gets to pick them up when they come in at our library.


Sunday 17th of August 2014

Hi Alli, Oh yes, I know all about trying to carry them all and we have maxed out our cards more than once :) We like having fresh material to read all the time too and use ILL frequently.


Thursday 14th of August 2014

I love this for so many reasons. Respect is such an important number one reason to not limiting books. We have tried so hard to remember children need respect to learn how to respect others. We allow our son to read anything he can pick up. Although, we do limit some books that have unkind language we would rather he not use. It is easy for now, because we can modify the story as we read in order for him to hear a suitable way to act. He will act out books all day long. Today, it was the Beauty and the Beast book we read last night. :)


Friday 15th of August 2014

Thanks Marie, I agree with your comment on respect--children need to feel it and see it. I understand the concerns about content. I have found that my son and I have some of the best and deepest conversations about what our family believes and how we feel it is important to act by seeing certain things in books.