I have come across this site before while looking for information on saws and other tools. The site name cracks me up, but they do have some good stuff. This list is from 2009.
As a boy, one of my favorite times in school was when we’d get a new Scholastic News book “catalog.” I would pour over the pages picking out which books I wanted and filling out the order sheet. And as soon I got them, I was lying under the covers with my nose buried in a book.
Unfortunately, not all boys have that kind of enthusiasm for reading. For several decades now, boys have scored lower on reading assessment tests than girls. Boys also take longer to learn to read than girls, are less likely to actually read and to value reading, and are more likely to label themselves as “non-readers” (up to 50% of high school age boys consider themselves as such). Non-reading boys do poorer academically and end up as non-reading men (women read almost twice as many books as men).
What’s the problem? Some of it may be biological (boys’ language skills develop slower that girls). But a lot of it is sociological. Boys may see reading as a passive and thus sissy activity. Boys also lack male reading mentors-their librarians and teachers are often female, and it’s mom that reads to them. And in the name of gender-neutrality, teachers are foisting books on boys that they simply do not like.
But parents are to blame too, often trying to make their sons read “important books” to build their character. Dad loved some long tome as a boy and wants junior to come to an equal apprectation of it.
But reading experts all agree that boys need to be allowed to pick the books that really interest them. Of course it’s okay to make suggestions to your son about things he might like-boys very much value the opinion of other boys and men in making their reading selections. So here are 50 books that many boys and young men will really love. We’ve included some classics, but we also threw in some more modern and accessible choices-after all, not every boy has the desire or the aptitude to dive into Dickens.
Finally, while we had boys about the ages of 9-15 in mind when we made this list, I’ve always considered the distinction between adult and young adult literature to be an unfortunate and artificial one. Putting together this list I remembered just how good these books are, and I can’t wait to read them again as a man. Whether you’re 12 or 52, grab one of these books and a bag of cookies and head out to the treehouse.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Set at a boys prep school on the eve of World War II, A Separate Peace centers on the friendship of Phineas and Gene. Phineas’ seeming perfection creates a jealously in Gene that results in a tragedy that will forever change both of their lives. A piercing look at both the light and the shadows of friendship and humanity. Every boy wishes he were Finny but knows he’s more like Gene. This book has stuck with me ever since reading it as a young man and remains one of my favorite until to this day.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel C. Beard
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The story of a boy who’s boring life is interrupted by the appearance of something strange and unusual that transports him to a magical place. It’s a premise that underlies a myriad of children’s books, but few are as creatively constructed as The Phantom Tollbooth. Young Milo finds a tollbooth in his room, gets in his toy car and drives into another dimension. Boys will love the strange adventures Milo experiences, while older kids and adults can enjoy the witty satire and clever puns.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
One of the great American novels. Young Huck Finn escapes from his abusive father by taking off on a raft down the Mississippi River. He is joined by Jim, an escaped slave. The two set off on a grand adventure full of close calls and interesting characters. With both wit, action, and fun, coupled with an undercurrent of serious themes, Huck Finn is a multi-layered masterpiece for young and old.
The Last Mission by Harry Mazer
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Known as a war book, The Red Badge of Courage is really a coming of age story set on the battlefield. Young Henry Fleming leaves his mother to fight for the Union Army. His question of whether or not he’ll have the courage to stand and fight is answered in the negative when he flees from his first skirmish. Fleming resolves to redeem himself during the next battle. A story not only of the tragedy of war, but the struggle to replace pride, weakness, and rationalization with bravery and personal honesty.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Johnny Dixon Series by John Bellairs
If you’ve got a kid that love scares, suspense, and mystery, don’t get em’ mediocre schlock like the Goosebumps series. Check out the books of the wholly under-appreciated John Bellairs. In the Johnny Dixon series, Johnny is somewhat of an outcast who finds a friend and mentor in Professor Childermass. Together they investigate dark and spooky mysteries. Bellairs’ writing is thoroughly engaging, his plots rich and his characters endearing. Also check out his two other equally good series featuring Anthony Monday and Lewis Barnavelt.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis
A fantasy world, talking animals, magic, good and evil….C.S. Lewis packed a treasure trove of interesting themes into his seven book masterwork. The books tell the story of group of children’s adventures, travels, and battles in the world of Narnia. While the stories have become known as a Christian allegory, CS Lewis denied writing them with that intention. And they can be enjoyed both by readers looking simply for an engrossing tale and those searching for deeper layers of meaning. The only question is, what order should you read them in?!
Canoeing with the Cree by Arnold Sevareid
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What is the truth of human nature? Away from society, freed from the constraints of external authority, how would men, boys, really act? Not too well, according to William Golding. A group of shipwrecked boys must forge a new life on a deserted island as they wait and hope to be rescued. But the pretense of civilization quickly devolves into savagery. While the boys fear the attack of a beast, it is their inner beasts which will cause their destruction. It’s a dark book, not the kind one delights to pick up and read over and over again. But every boy must read it once.
Heat by Mike Lupica
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Holes by Louis Sachar
Sent to “Camp Green Lake” for a crime he didn’t commit, Stanley Yelnats finds himself at a juvenile detention facility located in a hot, dry, wasteland. Stanley quickly learns the daily routine; get up every day and dig a five foot deep by five foot wide by five foot long hole. The camp’s warden tells the boys that the digging is designed to reform their wayward characters, but Stanley soon discovers that she has some other purpose in mind. With both depth and realism and action and magic, it’s an extraordinarily good page turner.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B White
While often overlooked in favor of White’s other classics-Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little-this is my personal favorite, and a great one for boys. A classic story of the relationship between father and son, father and son swans that is. Louis is a trumpeter swan born without the ability to make a sound. Unable to honk and attract the swan he loves, his father steals a trumpet to give his son a voice. Incredibly grateful, Louis works to repay his father’s debt. Swans don’t seem that manly, but this is a great book about individuality, courage, and overcoming life’s challenges.
The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
It’s incredible that S.E. Hinton starting writing this book when she was 15, but it certainly explains her uncanny ability to capture the angst, alienation, emotion, and immediacy of adolescence. Such pitch perfect tone has rightly catapulted The Outsiders to classic status. Say “greasers and socs” or “Ponyboy and Soda” or “Stay gold,” and everyone immediately knows what you’re talking about. While every young man will probably be assigned this book in school, it’s a great book to read on your own when you’re not thinking about turning the themes into a term paper.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
To Kill a Mockingbird byHarper Lee
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen
The 11 year old son of a couple of “puke drunk” parents is sent to live with some distant relatives, the Larsens, on their family farm. Befriended by his 9 year old and Tom Sawyer-esque second cousin, Harris, the two have a summer of humorous adventures as the narrator gets thrown head first into life in the country. Harris’ wild, boyish spirit is infectious and helps the narrator kick off his shoes and the reader to live vicariously through the both of them.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
What list for boys would be complete without something from Rudyard Kipling? While The Jungle Book certainly gets more fanfare, for my money I’d recommend Captains Courageous. It’s the perfect story for our times. A rich, coddled, spoiled boy named Harvey Cheyne falls off a steamship and is picked up by a fishing boat. His snootiness is forced to give way to the new realities of his life-on this boat, if a man does not work, he does not eat. These salty fishermen give Harvey a kick in the pants and an actual punch in the nose, and soon he learns to put his shoulder to the wheel, embrace both responsibility and adventure and work hard. The tale of brat turned man is one we all can cheer. With archaic dialect and language and a lack of real “action,” the story is not as accessible as more modern books, but the dedicated boy will be richly rewarded.
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Every boy wonders and hopes that his toys secretly come alive when he isn’t watching. For his birthday, Omri gets an old cupboard from his brother and a plastic Indian figurine from his friend. He is unable to unlock the cupboard until his mom gives him a key she has held onto since her childhood. Omri is in for the surprise of his life when he discovers that locking the Indian, and then other figurines in the cabinet brings them to life. His initial excitement is short-lived however, as he must struggle to keep the secret of the cupboard’s magic, come to the realization that he’s playing god with real people, and decide what to do with his “creations.” It’s the kind of magical, well-written book that will weaken the resistance of even the most reluctant reader.
The Blue Star by Tony Earley
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Journeying back to America from the West Indies in 1942, 11 year old Phillip is blinded and set adrift when the boat on which he rides is torpedoed by Germans. Phillip ends up on a life raft with Timothy, an old black ship hand, and Stew Cat. Exiled together on a small island, Phillip must deal with his blindness, overcome his prejudice towards his fellow castaway, and learn how to survive and stand on his own two feet. A classic tale of adventure, tolerance, self-reliance, and friendship.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden
The American Boy’s Handy Book for the modern age. Sturdy, well-designed, and tactilely (is that a word?) pleasing, the book contains fun hands-on projects like making secret inks and a bow and arrow, how-to’s on various games like marbles and chess, and interesting boy knowledge about clouds and poems and battles. Of course one criticism of the book is that it seems like nostalgic men buy and read it more than actual boys, but it’s worth a purchase even on the slimmest chance that it will at least momentarily unhook your kid from the tethers of his Xbox.
The Little Britches Series by Ralph Moody
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Did you ever try to run away from home? Did you tie a red bandanna to a stick, throw in some Oreos, and head down the street? You probably didn’t get very far, but you always wondered what it would have been like to strike out and keep on going. My Side of the Mountain is the story of boy who not only hears the call of the wild, but heeds it. Who not only hides out in the wilderness, but thrives there. 15 year old Sam Gribley takes up residence in the hollow of a tree and learns to survive along along with a pet falcon. Need I go on? You had me at falconry, My Side of the Mountain, you had me at falconry.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Girls have Nancy Drew; boys have the Hardy Boys. Follow brothers Frank and Joe as they investigate the exciting mysteries in Bayport (an amazingly crime-infested town).Although they frequently encounter great dangers, their pluck and, of course, hardihood, allow them to emerge unscathed and solve every case. The series has gone through many iterations, but the ones published between 1927 and 1959, largely written by Leslie McFarlane, are absolutely the best and the only ones worth reading. Beginning in 1959, the books began to be revised in effort to make them more PC, remove anything too violent, and attract readers with a shorter attention span. The result were sanitized, dumbed down books that McFarlane considered “gutted.” So buy the vintage books or those from Applewood Books which has reprinted the original 1-16.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
There are times where the movie is so famous, so classic, that people almost forget that a book version exists. Such is the case with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But while the movie (the original, of course) is a genuine gem, the book, as it always is, is even better. Dahl has a knack for taking the things that fill kids’ imaginations and building a story around them. Every boy loves candy, and every boy would love to tour a candy factory as fantastical as Willy Wonka’s. Charlie Bucket gets a chance to when he finds 1 of the 5 golden tickets that allow entrance into this world of wondrous, sugary delights. A book with a message that everyone can get behind: Snotty brats will eventually get their comeuppance while the good in heart will be justly rewarded.
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
Clive Barker for the younger set. In this engrossing fable, ten-year old Harvey is bored with his life until a strange being shows him the way to the enchanting and magical Holiday House. Each day cycles through all four seasons, and the children can celebrate Halloween every evening and Christmas every night. It seems like a place of endless fun and excitement, but of course, not everything is as it seems…..
That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
For a lady, S.E. Hinton sure knew how to tap into the mind of a teenage boy. In That Was Then, This Is Now, she returns to her favorite subject-seemingly parent-less boys trying to find their way in an unkind world. Characters from The Outsiders show up in the story as do the similar lines between Socs and Greasers. But while this book is not as good as that classic, nor is it a trite regurgitation of it. The plot instead is quite compelling-two boys, Byron and Mark, who are life-long friends with a bond like brothers, reach a crossroads in their friendship. Mark is being pulled into the violence and crime of the streets, while Byron wants to make something of himself. Their friendship is changing and Byron must decide a question that pains every man, “When does loyalty end?” Believable and real right up until the not so-happy ending.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Heart of a Champion by Carl Deuker
Blue Skin of the Sea by Graham Salisbury
Next to Gary Paulson, Graham Salisbury was one of my favorite authors as a boy. Blue Skin of the Sea is set in Hawaii in the 1950s and 60s and follows the life of a teenager named Sonny Mendoza and his cousin, Keo, as they come of age. Despite coming from a family of a long line of fishermen who braved the ocean for their living, Sonny fears the ocean, but doesn’t know why. At its core, Blue Skin of the Sea is about the self-realization every young man must go through as they make their way from boyhood to manhood. At least that’s what I got out of it when I read it as a 12 year old.
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Old Yeller is a great book that is often obscured by it’s cinematic counterpart. But instead of popping in the DVD, give your boy the book to read. Often remembered as a story of the bond between a dog and a boy, it’s really a coming of age story. 14 year old Travis Coates lives with his family in the hill country of Texas during the 1860’s. When his father must leave home for a time, he leaves Travis to “act a man’s part” and take care of the family. He does his best, but comes to need the help of, and love, Old Yeller, a dog who wanders into their lives. But when Old Yeller gets rabies, Travis learns firsthand one of the most difficult virtues of true manhood-sacrifice.
The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay
Okay, so I’m a little biased about this one. But I honestly think our book is a must-read for boys and young men. It’s never too early for a boy to start thinking about and learning what it means to be a man. Even if you’re good parents, it’s hard to think of everything a boy needs to know. Help your son learn essential classic skills and manners and become part of the generation that will revive the lost art of manliness.