A boy might not spend all day helping his father repair a washing machine, but he might well spend fifteen minutes studying the ups and downs of an adjustable wrench while looking over his dad’s shoulder. During moments of intense concentration (albeit few and far between) a boy will ask: ‘What makes this work?’ ‘How do you pound a nail?’ ‘Skate board?’ ‘Text?’ ‘Shoot a puck?’ ‘Whistle?’ Boys want to know how to do things and more than that, to be good at doing it. We’re talking about peer credibility.

How does this translate into reading material? I’m not suggesting buying a book from the ______for Dummies series—unless the child is really interested. After all, reading is reading. But I think a well balanced novel or story should have elements of instruction— short of a full blown service manual—on how things work. Here are a couple of samples from my young reader novels:

Background: Nick a junior counselor at a summer camp is trying to saddle a horse for the first time in Wa-Tonka! Camp Cowboys.

After supper on Friday, Mack asked Nick to saddle Beauty, a huge, round, sofa-on-legs kind of horse. She gave Nick trouble with the bridle. Whenever he got the bit near her teeth, she would lean her couch of a body against him.

Watching Nick struggle for a while, Mack finally offered some tips. “Get the bridle and bit in your right hand, Nick. Then reach under and around the horse’s head. That leaves your left hand free to tickle her tongue and guide the bit into her mouth. Simple.”

Sure, Nick thought, you’re not standing next to the leaning tower of pizza. But he tried it anyway. Beauty easily lifted him off the ground. Hanging on with one hand, Nick used his free hand to shove a finger into the corner of the mare’s mouth. The bit popped in and he pulled the bridle over her ears. It was simple, Nick thought. If you did it right.

Background: Zan exhausted after a long canoe paddle struggles to carry his canoe to the next lake in, Can Do, Zan.

Zan caught his toe on a root. He lurched forward and the canoe tipped forward, balancing on his shoulders. Parallel to the ground, the long craft was much easier to carry. So, that’s how you’re supposed to do it, Zan thought. It’s like carrying a long board. Once you find the middle, it’s easy.

NOTE: You might want to try a ‘How To’ sequencing exercise with your student: Mower Start Sequence