Frances Willard Elementary School student Rayvon Bagley is particular about the type of books he likes.
“I like the ones that are kind of cartoonish and not the ones that really look like the human kind,” the 9-year-old Rock Island boy says.
DreShawn Randolph, 7, a first-grader, likes books about dragons, while Ricardo Mendoza, 8, likes the "Black Lagoon" adventure series.
Frances Willard teachers Mike Carton and Mark Sabbag say it doesn't matter what type of books the boys like — it matters that they are reading for fun.
“We’re trying to make reading cool here for the guys,” said Carton, a third-grade teacher. “The more they read now, the more they will read later.”
Encouraging boys to read more is the driving force behind "Guys Read," one of two new after-school programs at the Rock Island elementary school.
The program, started several months ago by Carton and Sabbag, is aimed at boys in first- through third-grade.
The teachers also want to provide a positive influence on the students and have some fun.
According to data from the Illinois School Report Card, 24 percent of students at Frances Willard met or exceeded proficiency in reading in the 2011-12 school year. That number slightly increased to 25 percent in the 2012-13 school year.
Frances Willard serves a high percentage of students from low-income households, with 87 percent of the children receiving free or reduced-priced lunch. Research shows a correlation between poverty and lower proficiency in reading.
During the "Guys Read" monthly meetings, the boys have a snack, talk about books they’ve read, pick out a new book to take home and talk about “guy stuff.”
A recent snack was pretzels and peanuts. As Sabbag passed out the peanuts, he told the boys that some people like to eat both the shells and the peanuts.
“Eww!” several boys said.
“Hey, that’s what guys do,” joked Sabbag, who teaches second grade.
The boys can read anything that strikes their fancy, whether it’s a newspaper, magazine, comic book, book or manual.
They have a good-sized collection to choose from. Spread out across a large classroom table are books ranging from the "Berenstain Bears" collection to "The Magic School Bus" series and a book about baseball player Jackie Robinson.
“I like that we get to check out books and have snacks,” Ricardo said. “We get to talk about the books we want to check out and read at home.”
Carton said the boys typically like nonfiction books, or ones with "explosions" and insects.
During a recent session, the boys also worked together on a Lego project using a manual to help them build it.
"Guys Read" is a web-based, nonprofit literacy initiative created by Jon Scieszka, author of the “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” to raise awareness of the problem of boys’ literacy and to offer them reading that they will enjoy.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, girls in fourth, eighth and 12th grades consistently outperformed boys in reading.
On his website, Scieszka wrote that boys biologically are slower to develop than girls and often struggle with reading and writing skills early on.
Sabbag said that kids today have a lot of distractions that keep them from reading.
“I think it’s a challenge for any kind of student, not just boys, because now we have so many technology things that can take away from that process of having that love to read,” Sabbag said.
Carton said it’s too early to tell if the club is making an impact on the boys’ academic skills, but said they are definitely talking about reading more and more.
“If they’re interested in reading now, by the time they’re in sixth grade, and you think about how many more words they will have read, then that’s where we want to be,” Carton said.
"Girls Read," too
Not to be outdone by the boys, a group of girls meet in third- and fourth-grade teacher Becky DeJonghe’s classroom for the “Girls Read” club.
Each table in the classroom is covered in a pink tablecloth as the girls sit around and talk about what they want to be when they grow up.
As DeJonghe chants “Girls Read,” the girls yell back, “Girls Rule!”
The girls each take turns getting a snack and then listen quietly as DeJonghe reads the book “Each Kindness” aloud.
The girls club started soon after Carton and Sabbag began the boys club, DeJonghe said.
“We celebrate reading and we talk about why we like being girls,” she said. “We try to make sure we get the message out to the girls that they can do anything.”
During the first meeting, she asked the girls what books they wanted to read and what activities they would like to do.
The girls wanted to read together and learn how to read the directions in cooking, she said.
The group is so popular that it has grown to 30 girls, DeJonghe said.
“These girls are so excited about this, even though it’s not like we do anything magical, it’s just being with other girls and having fun,” she said. “We laugh a lot.”
Third-grader Faith Zulu, 8, said she likes the "Junie B. Jones" and "Captain Underpants" book series.
Faith said she enjoys being in the club because she gets to talk about the books she likes to read with the other girls.
Both reading groups have received donations to create "boys only" and "girls only" sections in the school's library that features books that the children are interested in.