Wanted: Boy Books

While trying to wrap up the pre-nap story time with my toddler boy today, and while absently reading Goodnight, Moon in a mock-enthusiastic voice for the third time in a row, I started to wonder what on earth I’ll be reading to him in, say, three years.

Right now my problem is only how to put him in his crib without the kicking and shrieking that normally accompanies the end of reading time.  We have stacks and stacks of toddler books that he loves, and as soon as I put one down, he grabs another insistently.  He’s not much of a talker yet, but he will ask for books by name if they aren’t in plain sight ("Cars Cars Cars!  Night-night Moon!").

But the problem I foresee in a few years is that I have no idea what to read to an older boy.  For young boys, there are great protagonists in picture books like Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Day the Babies Crawled Away.  Even the little fur creature in Little Fur Family (an awesome book that can be hard to find in stores, but is worth ordering online) has great adventures out in his wild windy wilderness.  And for older girls, I have no problem thinking of long lists of great chapter books with female protagonists.  But I come up blank when I try to think of, for instance, the boy-book equivalent of The Secret Garden (no way is it Little Lord Fauntleroy).  Is there a male counterpart to Anne of Green Gables?  It’s not that I wouldn’t read these books to my son if he wanted me to, but I kind of doubt he’ll be that interested.  Will I be stuck reading Captain Underpants until he’s old enough for Harry Potter?  Are there fewer great chapter books for school-age boys in the lower grades, or does it only seem that way to me because I’m female, grew up with mostly sisters and had daughters first?

If you’re male and loved to read as a child, what did you read?  What would be on your list of must-read books for a five- to ten-year-old boy?

28 thoughts on “Wanted: Boy Books

  1. When I was in th 5-10 category my mother would take us to the library and my brother and I would max out our library cards every two weeks. I remember liking:

    Frog and Toad books
    Dr. Seuss
    The Great Brain books
    stuff by Roald Dahl (especially The Twits)
    Encycopedia Brown books
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales
    Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer
    stuff by Richard Scarry
    The Westing Game

    I like Captain Underpants, and I didn’t get into Winnie-the-Pooh until I had boys of my own; I started reading Winnie-the-Pooh to our newborn and I think Winnie-the-Pooh is excellent. Some books I didn’t know about when I was a kid, but like now (and would have loved then), are some of the stuff done by Edward Gorey and the Treehorn books by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey.

  2. I’m a little older than you guys, but when I was a kid, I never tired of Doctor Dolittle. And just a little bit older, I ate up all the Sherlock Holmes stories, too.

  3. The Great Brain books are good, pioneer-era books for boys. I also think Robert Louis Stevenson can’t be beat!

  4. Ahhh! I loved The Great Brain and the Westing Game (and later Sherlock Holmes). I completely forgot about them. Although the Westing Game really isn’t a male-character-driven book.

    I’ve never read Dr. Dolittle or RL Stevenson. I was just never interested in animal books or pirates. Maybe I’ll give them a try.

  5. I dont know if they’re still in print, but the Boxcar Children was a series my brothers and I liked, as well as Shel Silverstein’s (awsome) poetry books.

  6. Robin Hood stories,
    King Arthur stories,
    Thornton Burgess,
    Lloyd Alexander,
    Simplified classics, like Prince and the Pauper or Ivanhoe,
    Newbery books
    Comic books
    D’Aulaire’s myths, greek and norse

  7. Yes, Roald Dahl cannot be over-recommended. I also recommend Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, the classic by Mordecai Richler.

  8. Get the Bone comics by Jeff Smith, available in a single bound volume.

    If you want to make your young one cry, go with Where the Red Fern Grows or Old Yeller. Who can help but shed a tear or two for dead dogs?

    I liked Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Like Slinky, it’s fun for a girl or a boy.

    And a hearty amen to The Great Brain books. My brothers and I all read them at about the same time. My brother actually had me and my little brain convinced that he truly had a great brain and could concoct an escape from any punishement or manipulate our parents into doing anything. His schemes rarely panned out.

  9. Coraline is great. A bit dark for lower-grade kids, though, I would think. Neil Gaiman said in an interview that the book tends to be a lot more disturbing for parents than kids, though, so maybe not.

  10. I spent several years working in public libraries and then I was the kids book clerk at a big university-town bookstore…

    I second the Great Brain books, and Roald Dahl kicks 10 kinds of butt.

    Something I recommend widely to everyone I know: Diana Wynne Jones. She’s been writing British Kids Magical Realism since the 80’s (or possibly the 70’s). Start with any of the Chrestomanci books. She tends to have boys, or boy/girl pairs, as her protagonists. Some Harry Potter fans have accused her of copying JK Rowling, not realizing that it is VERY clear that Rowling read a lot of DWJ in her young adulthood. Neil Gaiman is a fan of hers.

    Rosemary Sutcliff writes historical fiction about Britain from the first humans to arrive until the medieval era. More boy protagonists – lots of Roman centurions or kids stranded when the Saxons plundered their village kind of thing.

    John Christopher – the tripods trilogy, as well as a number of others. I think he might have written Day of the Triffids, too?

    Robert Lawson – Rabbit Hill, Ben and Me, Mr. Revere and I, Captain Kidd’s Cat (sad, that one. He does hang, after all).

    Robinson Crusoe (abridged or otherwise).

    Is Peter Dickinson’s kid stuff still in print? I don’t think the Happy Hollisters mysteries are, but they were great.

    I’m enjoying the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books (Lemony Snicket).

    Don’t discount some of the girl-hero books. My DS grooved on “Little House in the Big Woods” when I read it to him. Pooh has also gone over well.

  11. Ah, I was trying to remember who wrote those tripod books. They were serialized in comic form in Boy’s Life magazine and kinda freaked me out for awhile. Also just remembered Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.

  12. Box Car Children is a great series, Hardy Boys too, and White Fang. Harry Potter of course. I’ve been reading The Hobbit to my kids and they are enthralled with it.

  13. My brother must have read me Sam the Firefly a thousand times when he was six. All of the Dr. Seuss books were read repeatedly. Then it was on to the Brothers Grimm. Then of course Henry, Ribsy and Henry and Ribsy – Beverly Cleary And I can’t say enough about the Hank the Cowdog series by John Erikson. Of course there was always the space books, any he could find.

  14. It’s Alan’s fault for not closing his html tags. Luckily I, Supergenius, am here to save us all.

  15. No more.

    I remember really liking Runaway Ralph and The Mouse and The Motorcycle. I also liked My Side of the Mountain. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was a favorite, also. When I was a little older, I loved Watership Down. I had a second grade teacher who read it abridged to our class, which seems a little odd, looking back at it.

  16. let’s see…

    First Grade: all I can remember is reading a whole series of Tom Swift books, which turns out to have been the third generation of such books. They are probably terrible, but I loved them. I had books that I had to read for school but I can’t remember what they were. Started reading Beverly Cleary books.

    Second Grade: lots of Beverly Cleary inlcuding Ralph the Mouse books and Henry and Beezus. Started into Great Brain books and The Three Investigators. Started the Black Stallion series of books and eventually read most of them. Also a rather terrible book that was strangely popular called How to Eat Fried Worms.

    Third Grade: More Great Brain books, John Christopher books and The Dark is Rising Series. A Wrinkle in Time as well, I believe. Read some Roald Dahl such as Danny Champion of the World, but not nearly as many of his books as my brother did.

    Forth Grade: The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and more John Christopher.

    Fifth Grade: The Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    My mom, who has read all the Harry Potter books tells me that not only would I have loved them as a child but that I would love them now. I am waiting for my own children to be old enough to enjoy them with me.

  17. Just say NO to Captain Underpants — support good literature!

    For that matter, the Boxcar Children get very old very fast, although I have nothing against kids reading them.

    You’re in luck — three years ago, while visiting relatives in Alaska, I made a list of books for my 11-year old nephew. I’m in Alaska now, and wondered out loud whether that list still existed — Kristen’s sister said, “Yes, it’s taped to the refrigerator,” and went next door and retrieved it. The list was specifically fantasy/sci-fi for 11-year old boys. Here it is (many of these titles have already been recommended)

    Susan Cooper — The Dark is Rising series
    CS Lewis — The Chronicles of Narnia
    Isaac Asimov — Foundation Trilogy (which has more than three books now)
    + short stories
    Anne McCaffrey: Harper Hall Trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)
    Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451
    Lloyd Alexander: The Prydain Chronicles (The Book of Three,The Black Cauldron,The Castle of Llyr,Taran Wanderer,The High King)
    also The Westmark Trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel, The Beggar Queen)
    Madeline L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time series
    Ursula K. LeGuin: The Earthsea Trilogy (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore)
    John Christopher: The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire, plus the prequel When the Tripods Came
    JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    Richard Adams: Watership Down
    Ellen Rankin: The Westing Game
    Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth

    Since you asked for ages 5-10, here are some further recommendations for books starring boy detectives/inventors/scientists:

    the Danny Dunn series
    the Alvin Fernald books by Clifford Hicks
    the McGurk Detective Agency series by E. W. Hildick
    the Matthew Looney books by Jerome Beatty Jr.
    the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron
    the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series
    Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kastner
    The Furious Flycycle by Jan Wahl

    Btw, I’m crossposting this at 500by12 because I haven’t been reading to the kids on vacation.

  18. I should mention that I would have loved Ender’s Game in 5th or 6th grade had I known about it then. I also left out the David Eddings books, but I probably didn’t start those until later.

  19. Oh, Man! Prydain is INCREDIBLE. I loved them in 6-8th grade, and reread them as an adult when I found them in a yard sale. They were even better!

    I also devoured the John Christopher books (tripods, Burning lands trilogy, and “The Lotus Caves”).

    These might be more for older kids, tho…


  20. (Threadjack) Alan, I do not debate the simple fact that Steve is a supergenius; however, you’re comment 23 comes dangerously close to blasphemy–nay, it crosses the line–and I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to stop your journey to apostasy and crappy rap music. Wu-Tang Forever.

  21. (Threadjack) Pris, I think Steve’s supergenius exceeds that of the GZA, but not the RZA. And certainly no that of ODB (R.I.P.).

  22. Re: Adam of the Road
    I looked at it on Amazon. Here’s my favorite review, the one that really makes me want to read it.

    “this is the absolute worst book i have ever been forced to and have ever read. i would like to add that i made a very strong attempt to get more interested in the plot of this book because it was a school assignment, but jeez, this was cruel and unusual punishment. when i think of this book, the word that comes to mind is “torture”. i like a number of books and i love to read, i usually don’t have a problem with book assignments, but this was just…just really mean. If you are smart, you will take my advice and stay far away.”

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