Books worth reading are worth reading twice; John Morley
September 6, 2005 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Boys do like to read. At least mine do. What are some great, good, or fun and interesting books that a boy should read? Or have read to him?

I have three sons who all like to read or listen to books being read by us (the parents). I'd like to know what you think are the 'must' reads for boys. Along the lines of classics like Gulliver's Travels and more modern series like the Harry Potter books. If you have an idea, I'd also like to know what age of child you think is good for your reccomendation. Thank you!
posted by LadyBonita to Media & Arts (77 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
For short reads, nothing beats some twisted Roald Dahl like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel, but especially The Twits.
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2005

I'll second Roald Dahl and add James Herriot and Hatchet.
posted by saladin at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was a big fan of Robert O'Brien's The Silver Crown. Amazon rates it as appropriate for ages 9-12. And, For the same age group, I also liked Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia and Doris Buchanan Smith's A Taste of Blackberries, though these are both sad books. For something more fun, maybe Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach or Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms.
posted by justonegirl at 8:06 AM on September 6, 2005

The Oz books (Baum wrote another 13 after Wizard), Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, Beverly Cleary, Eleanor Estes, Edward Eager, Marguerite Henry, Laura Ingalls Wilder if they were okay with mostly reading about girls (Farmer Boy is about her husband as a boy). I read all of these in grammar school
posted by brujita at 8:07 AM on September 6, 2005

Pinkwater! Especially Lizard Music. A Wrinkle in Time is fun as well.
posted by glenwood at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2005

I think the Chronicles of Narnia is good for kids in 3rd grade and up. Especially if they have already been through the Harry Potter series and Tolkein. One of the Narnia books going to be a major motion picture (Disney) this holiday season, so I imagine a lot of kids will be reading C.S. Lewis for the first time early next year.
posted by mds35 at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2005

Captain Underpants.

How old are your boys?
posted by mecran01 at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2005

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper is what I was reading in fourth grade, a Harry Potter fan should love it. Also check out the works of Lloyd Alexander; The Black Cauldron got all the attention but I was more into the Westmark series.
posted by hob at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2005

When I was a kid, my favorite book (by a long margin) was The Phantom Tollbooth. I've forced it down the throat of my nieces and newphew, as well, and they love it too. It's the smartest kids book I've ever read.

I'm in my 40s now, and I still re-read it every couple years.
posted by curtm at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2005

If you'll take the advice of a former tomboy, I'll recommend the The Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. I loved those books in 3rd grade and I can't wait to read them to my own boys.
posted by bibliowench at 8:16 AM on September 6, 2005

Pinkwater is great stuff. Dahl is great stuff. If I had kids, I'd try to turn them on to the classics. How old are your boys? I think it would be hard to miss with The Mutiny on the Bounty. Fantastic adventure, and ought to be good for kids by the time they're 8-10. Maybe Rudyard Kipling's Kim? When I was a kid, I loved Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers, but I think I was exposed to them in abridged versions.
posted by jdroth at 8:19 AM on September 6, 2005

posted by matteo at 8:28 AM on September 6, 2005

Great list - I've read and enjoyed most of these.

I loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, A Wrinkle in Time, Mathew Looney books, Treasure Island, Encyclopedia Brown (DAMN YOU BUGS MEANEY!), and Danny Dunn.
posted by plinth at 8:31 AM on September 6, 2005

Another former tomboy here (former? who am I kidding). The tripods trilogy is a thumping good yarn. John Wyndham (eerie sci-fi) and Robert Fisk are also great pre-teen/early-teen reads. Dunno where you are but you can always find battered wyndham in UK secondhand bookshops. Ursula LeGuin rocks, (wizard of earthsea)although the dragon books do go on a bit.

In a more reflective mode, anything by Robert Cormier used to captivate me (probably for 13+ I'd guess).
posted by handee at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2005

Ender's Game, Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Cormier (for high schoolers and mature middle schoolers), Gordon Korman.

Don't discount "girls' books" -- I read and enjoyed all of Judy Blume's books as a kid.
posted by callmejay at 8:33 AM on September 6, 2005

Oh yeah MRS FRISBY is BRILLIANT. I read it again last year. Another one tha's just come to mind - The Mouse and his child by Russell Hoban is great on so many levels.
posted by handee at 8:34 AM on September 6, 2005

Second for Roald Dahl. Genious.
posted by Acey at 8:34 AM on September 6, 2005

John D. Fitzgerald's The Great Brain series.
posted by cribcage at 8:35 AM on September 6, 2005

YES! Phantom Tollbooth seconded!
posted by mds35 at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2005

The Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Homeward Bounders by Diane Wynne Jones.
posted by OmieWise at 8:47 AM on September 6, 2005

Homer Pickle by Alfred Laurence
posted by aspenbaloo at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2005

I started on things like Isaac Asimov's "Lucky Starr" series, some of John Christopher's stories (I think; something like the Tripods?), and a few similar "nice" SF-type authors - which got me completely hooked on the genre - when I was about 10.

I also enjoyed the stuff that others have mentioned, but also:
Enid Blyton's Famous Five, Secret Seven, etc. stories , as ar her Magic Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books...good for younger children too, although I think that they're frowned on nowadays as they're not very politically correct!
posted by Chunder at 8:55 AM on September 6, 2005

Recommended for kids 10-13:

My Side of the Mountain is amazing.

Where the Red Fern Grows might make them cry, but it's beautiful.

The Pushcart War is one I read over and over as a kid.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is another classic.

And my all-time favorite was The Cricket in Times Square.
posted by hamster at 8:59 AM on September 6, 2005

Once you geet past the picture book phase (do we ever...?), here are some my and my son's favorites: Anything Tokein; start with the Hobbit. Or, start with an easier and just as fun read: Eragon by Christopher Paolini (who wrote this between ages 15 and 18, I believe). Eragon has a partiularly fine dragon, and is written in today's English in words boys like me like. Anything by Robert Louis Stepheson, but particularly Treasure Island and Kidnapped. If your boys like mysteries, the Hardy Boys series is still going on, and still cool for an early reader. Ender's Game -- adult science fiction that boys love, about a boy who saves mankind. Huckleberry Finn -- which is best to have read to you before high school ruins it with interpretation. From a boy's perspective, it's less about "The Great American Story" complete with race relations questions, and more about a boy who gets to take off his shoes, smoke a pipe and float the Missippi. Virtually any book about King Arthur, the older big thick ones are best. Another suggestion: Hit up your librarian for a list of good adventure books that have been made into movies (like Treasure Island, Lord-of-the-Rings, etc.) Show the movie, then read the book. It always is worth it. And if you want to get daring, find a good movie of Henry II, then have the boy read the St. Crispan's Day speech. At about 8, my son got so into Henry II he actually was asking if there were any other "books by Shakespear." A final thought: I enjoy downloadable audio books (I get mine from So my son (now age 15) and I can both listen on car trips, etc. Listening together now is almost as good as reading to him was, and is a lot less tiring. Eragon and Ender's Game are both available that way. I'm sure many of the others are as well.
posted by rabbus at 9:01 AM on September 6, 2005

My 5 year old is really enjoying having "My Side of the Mountain" read to him right now. I read it myself at about age 9. Before that we worked through a bunch of Beverly CLeary books, like Henry Huggins, Henry and Beezus, Ramona the Pest, etc. As a kid in the 80s, I was a big sucker for lots of stuff written in the 50s, like those Cleary books, plus "Henry Reed, Inc." and other Henry Reed books. The Tripod series mentioend above are by John Christopher- great starter sci-fi for kids.
posted by chr1sb0y at 9:05 AM on September 6, 2005

J P Martin's Uncle books, which I read from ages 7-11. They're a bit hard to find, and likely to leave your children with a very unusual sense of humour.

From age 7 on, I inhaled far too many Danny Dunn and Nicholas Fisk (handee, is that who you meant?) books. They may be too intensely 1960s-1970s for these days.

I wish that Walter Moers had been writing when I was a kid. The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear and A Wild Ride Through The Night are works of insane hilarity. They're for pretty advanced readers, though, and Bluebear is a massive tome.
posted by scruss at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2005

Farmer Boy, from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, is going over like gangbusters with my 5-1/2 year old nephew these days.
posted by scody at 9:12 AM on September 6, 2005

The Alvin Fernald books by Clifford B. Hicks.
posted by kindall at 9:12 AM on September 6, 2005

I would like to second Gordon Korman which was mentioned before. I grew up on his books, they are hilarious without being childish. The one I remember most was "No Coins Please".
posted by dripdripdrop at 9:14 AM on September 6, 2005

I loved Sid Fleischman's books when I was a younger. Particularly 'Chauncy and the Grand Rascal.' I found that last year and reread it and enjoyed it just as much.

'Wrinkle in Time', 'Treasure Island' and before I could even really read on that level, 'Sherlock Homes.' I think Conan Doyle actually taught me to read, in a sense.
posted by umberto at 9:17 AM on September 6, 2005

Response by poster: Fantastic! You've all reminded me of some of my own childhood favorites and mentioned many more that I've never heard of before. Keep them coming! My boys are elementary school ages, one reads at a pretty high level for his age - in any case ages 5 to 20+ will work as I'll keep this list *forever*. We've recently read some Don Quixote and parts of The Odysessy, and are currently reading Where The Red Fern Grows. I'm not into sci-fi or fantasy much but I'm pleased to be reminded of how much boys (in particular) love those genre's.
posted by LadyBonita at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2005

Ender's Game by Orscon Scott Card.

And don't forget Stephen King. I think I love books today because I read a lot of Stephen King as a young kid. The short story collections are a good place to start, Skeleton Crew especially.
posted by xmutex at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2005

I second the Prydain Chronicles. Great adventures, great storytelling, great ethics. I read these as a youth, and they had a great (and positive) influence on me.
posted by alms at 9:27 AM on September 6, 2005

'The Owl Service' by Alan Garner. I remember nothing about it except that it involved china, and that I used to get it out of the library at least once a month. So I must have loved it.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:29 AM on September 6, 2005

For some terrific historical adventure, try Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray and Johnny Tremain by (I think) Esther Forbes.
posted by orange swan at 9:29 AM on September 6, 2005

In addition to a lot of the books already listed, I loved the Three Investigators series as well.
posted by babar at 9:41 AM on September 6, 2005

Good god, 101 recommendations and no Hardy Boys?

Frank and Joe's adventures taught me quite a bit as a young boy. I read every single one that the library had, which was near 100.

They're honest, hard-working, brave kids.

[Aside: At a recent library board meeting, I made some "Nancy Drew" comment and all the ladies there pooh-poohed Nancy as elitist and were Trixie Belden fans as girls. *shrug*]
posted by unixrat at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2005

- Marguerite Henry
- Albert Payson Terhune
- Jack London
- Lynn Reid Banks
- Gertrude Chandler Warner
- E. B. White
- Madeleine L'Engle
- Christopher Paolini (I've read Eragon and am looking forward to Eldest)
- Natalie Babbitt

And most of the previously recommended (Where the Red Fern Grows, Ender's Game, Little House series, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume).
posted by deborah at 9:46 AM on September 6, 2005

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I can't recommend it more.
posted by incessant at 10:01 AM on September 6, 2005

Oh my gosh, yes, the Hardy Boys, Jack London, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Phantom Tollbooth. Are the Boxcar Children still around? My nephew used to like those. Also, Black Beauty, Charlotte's Web, Treasure Island, the Black Stallion (there was series of these, I think - series were always my favorites as a kid. And now, I suppose, in some ways), Misty of Chincoteague (also a series).
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:19 AM on September 6, 2005

I bet they would love Snowcrash.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 AM on September 6, 2005

How about Friday's Tunnel, February's Road, and Ismo, by John Verney? They're all OOP, I believe, but my little small-town library was able to interlibrary-borrow them for me recently. Great adventures featuring clever, witty kids.

And OK, not so PC, but the Leatherstocking Tales (James Fenimore Cooper) are great "ripping yarns" for boys.

And we mustn't forget the unforgettable Rafael Sabatini. Captain Blood—need I say more?

And Roughing It by Mark Twain has to be the funniest true adventure story ever written. My high school English teacher had our class in paralytic convulsions when he read us the episode of the escaping tarantulas.
posted by bricoleur at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2005

This is going to end up being a me-too list, but I loved the Encyclopedia Brown books, the Three Investigators books, Roald Dahl, and the Prydain books when I was a young nerd fella.
posted by willpie at 11:01 AM on September 6, 2005

Another shout-out here for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Treasure Island. Those were two I loved growing up.

I also loved the Encyclopedia Brown books.
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2005

My Side of the Mountain is excellent, and was so important to me as a boy. I'm ashamed I forgot it.
posted by OmieWise at 11:15 AM on September 6, 2005

The Jungle book, the Just So Stories, and the series beginning with The House with the Clock in its Walls.

Every child must read Kipling and Stevenson. If they are over ten, give them some adult stuff like Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, Mark Twain, etc.
posted by ewkpates at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2005

I absolutely loved the McGurk mysteries, by E. K. Hildick, when I was a lad. The "Young Wizards" series by Diane Duane is excellent too, esp. the first book "So You Want to be a Wizard."
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:02 PM on September 6, 2005

I'm a girl, but loved "boys" type books.

DragonLance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracey Hickman are AWESOME.

Also, when I was younger (like 8) I liked "The boxcar children" series by Gertrude Warner. Mysteries but much better than the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.

Also, "Choose your own adventure" books ROCK. Most have a boy as the main character. It's cool because you are the main character and you decide what steps to take and that decides your "ending" of the book. So cool.
posted by aacheson at 12:27 PM on September 6, 2005

The Philip Pullman series His Dark Materials! You'll probably enjoy them too - very well-written (better IMO than Harry Potter/Chronicles of Narnia), and lots of "shades of grey" morally (like real life).
posted by dbmcd at 12:27 PM on September 6, 2005

Another vote for Mrs. Frisby, Tolkien, and anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs, esp. the Tarzan and Barsoom series'.
I was enthralled by Jules Verne as well.
posted by Manjusri at 12:42 PM on September 6, 2005

Nearly forgot some classic SF and fantasy works. In particular some of Heinlein's juveniles may appeal.

Christopher Stasheff's "Warlock" series. The "Enchanter" series by L. Sprague DeCamp and Fletcher Pratt. The Amber books by Roger Zelazny.

Any of these should be good for teens.

And, well, he may enjoy some of Piers Anthony's stuff. To an adult reader it's pretty schlocky, but I remember quite enjoying the "Incarnations of Immortality" series when I was in high school, particularly the first couple of books. Some of his books are a bit risque in spots so I'd advise them only for older teens.

Also Asimov's "Foundation" series. Harry Harrison's "Stainless Steel Rat" books perhaps.
posted by kindall at 12:44 PM on September 6, 2005

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin was one of my absolute favorites.
posted by Sibrax at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2005

With a boy of 8 I have to agree with the Roald Dahl recommendation. He has read them all and just loves re-reading them. Search out them all - don't just stop at Charlie & Chocolate Factory - Danny Champion of the World is a real find.

Also have to agree with the Narnia chronicles - especially coming from Lewis's birthplace ( Holywood, Northern Ireland).

I am surprised that Lemony Snicket is not up here yet. We (yes me too) can't wait for Book 12 to come out - it is really catching on here in the UK

One last one - Lion Boy
posted by calvinorr at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2005

Definitely Hatchet. Indian in the Cupboard. Shiloh. Follow My Leader. Lots of Bradbury - Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Farenheit 451 - His stuff isn't as sci-fi as it seems, and it's easy to read out loud since he writes a lot of short stories.
posted by geeky at 1:53 PM on September 6, 2005

Two British authors: Arthur Ransome and "B.B." (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) Both wrote books about outdoors activities: camping and sailing for Ransome, and hunting, fishing -- and occasional forays into fantasy -- for "B.B." Start with Swallows & Amazons (sailing, friendship and adventure on Lake Windermere) for Arthur Ransome, and either The Little Grey Men (three gnomes go travelling) or Brendon Chase (three boys run away from school to live off the land) for BB.

My sister and her husband had part of Swallows and Amazons read out at their wedding. That kind of book.
posted by Hogshead at 2:00 PM on September 6, 2005

I read all of Beverly Cleary's Henry Reed and Ribsy books, and devoured anything Dahl. At around 12, I picked up and loved the Hitchhiker's Guide series, which made me a lifelong DNA fan.
posted by me3dia at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2005

Penrod and Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington. There is an expurgated version of the former, I think by Dutton, which should be avoided. Otherwise, not to be missed.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:08 PM on September 6, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone. I'm thrilled with the list and very encouraged that my boys will have plenty of quality reading for years to come. Since school let out this afternoon we've been looking over several of the links provided and making a comprehensive list of everything posted here - the boys are excited, especially as a school Read-a-Thon was announced today and they plan on winning the Grand Prize (turning the principal into a human hotddog!?!).

You've been terrific; I appreciate the great responses. If you have more to post, I'll keep updating our list.
posted by LadyBonita at 3:47 PM on September 6, 2005

The Hardy Boys? Bah! The Three Investigators is where its at. (Reminder - name first-born son 'Jupiter'.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:52 PM on September 6, 2005

Damnit, I saw the Hardly Boys and missed babar's post through the red haze.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:53 PM on September 6, 2005

I can't believe no one has mentioned Watership Down - it's sad , yes, but also epic and of great moral value - for what that's worth.
posted by dirtmonster at 3:53 PM on September 6, 2005

Forth-ing My Side of the Mountain.
posted by blag at 3:56 PM on September 6, 2005

Criminy. Did we leave out The Wind in the Willows?

How many of us who lived inside My Side of the Mountain ever lived that on the outside? Anyone?
posted by bricoleur at 4:33 PM on September 6, 2005

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going and Feed by M. T. Anderson are two of my favorite recent YA novels.
Both have high-school-age male protagonists, great writing, and thought-provoking ideas, and they will make you laugh out loud but have some sadness as well.
posted by exceptinsects at 4:35 PM on September 6, 2005

The White Mountains by John Christopher.
posted by bingo at 5:27 PM on September 6, 2005

Depending on age; "One for the Morning Glory" by John Barnes. Great fun and well written, but might be for older kids.
posted by dazed_one at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2005

I recommend biggles. Basically flying stories set in world war 1.
posted by dhruva at 6:57 PM on September 6, 2005

Good Night Mr. Tom is an awesome book, I still reread it now and then.

I reccomend anything by Katherine Patterson, Bridge to Teribithia, Of Nightengales that Weep, The Master Puppeteer.

Also, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Ursula Le Guin is fantastic too. A Wizard of Earthsea would be a good place to start.

I would also encourage you to seek out some fairy tales, particularly some that are "modern". They are often great fantasy but with really interesting twists.
posted by mulkey at 7:21 PM on September 6, 2005

How about "Guys Write for Guys Read"? It's a sampler of works by guys, for boys and young men. IIRC, NPR interviewed the editor, Jon Scieszka, earlier this year.

I was particularly struck by the inclusion of an autobiographical Stephen King story -- the one about how, when he was a boy, his obese babysitter would tackle him, sit on his head, and let out room-clearing farts.

See? It's a guy thing.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:34 PM on September 6, 2005

Alexander Key is another good author for boys in the early teens, as is William Sleator.
posted by kindall at 9:38 PM on September 6, 2005

As previously stated, Roald Dahl, L. Frank Baum, Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. Le Guin (and The Earthsea Quartet in particular) are all great reads, as are Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials is an excellent antidote to C. S. Lewis's sly religious propaganda), Philip Reeve (The Hungry City Chronicles) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl).

I like Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series, and I believe he's popular with kids coming out of Harry Potter, so keep him in mind. Neil Gaiman, who collaborated with Pratchett on Good Omens, also wrote a fun and charming novella for young readers titled Coraline.

Michael de Larrabeiti's The Borribles recently came out in the US and he's worth checking out. (The book is a major influence in the work of China Miéville, one of my favourite modern writers, and a talented new voice currently reshaping the panorama of fantasy literature.)

Scott Westerfeld is another hot new writer with a few YA science fiction novels to his credit: Uglies and Pretties, as well as the Midnighters series.

Your kids might also want to give Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy a go, I have heard good things about him, though I haven't yet read any of his books.
posted by Goblindegook at 1:26 AM on September 7, 2005

geeky wrote: Lots of Bradbury - Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, The MartianChronicles, Farenheit 451 - His stuff isn't as sci-fi as it seems, andit's easy to read out loud since he writes a lot of short stories.

Shame on me for forgetting Ray Bradbury. I wholeheartedly second this—Bradbury's early work is amazing.
posted by Goblindegook at 1:54 AM on September 7, 2005

calvinorr is so right about Danny, Champion of the World.
Also, My Side of the Mountain seventeenthed or whatever. My mom taught grade school and swore by that book for boys who were reluctant readers.
posted by willpie at 12:16 PM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: My continued thanks. I'm pleasantly amazed.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:46 PM on September 7, 2005

Kenneth Grahame's: The Wind in the Willows is great calmative at any age.
Jules Verne's: Around the World in 80 Days.
Miles Franklin's: My Brilliant Career for some Aussie classicism.
I took a week off school at age 7 to read Enid Blyton's Bimbo & Topsy.
For a young teen - SE Hinton & Agatha Christie books; Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird; JD Salinger: Catcher in the Rye.
And Kurt Vonnegut is compulsory somewhere along the teen line imho.
posted by peacay at 9:00 PM on September 7, 2005

The Amazing Voyage of Prince Jen

Best. L. Alexander. Ever.

And how about some books about mice (all kids love stories with mice):

The Mouse and His Child

About a clockwork toy mouse and his clockwork toy mouse father: an amazing journey story. Knocks stupid Fivel into a cocked hat.

Or, Redwall by Brian Jaques.

P.S. don't you think that the Hardy Boys' dad was kind of a deadbeat? I mean, he's always "out of town working on a case." Good thing the case the boys start investigating on their own "turns out to be connected!" or they might not see him at all.
posted by sol at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2005

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