books for boys
May 23, 2014 2:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm slowly building up a library of amazing books for my three sons. What books do I need to make sure to include? Are there boy equivalents to Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Meg Murry, Matilada, et al?

I've been amassing a collection of Children's/YA books for my future kids since I was practically a kid myself but while there's no shortage of plucky heroines and brave/intelligent/compassionate young women, I fear the boys are a bit underrepresented. Now that I'm starting to read chapter books with my oldest kid (4 years old), I'd like to make sure we have a library full of books he and his younger brothers can really get into if and when they're ready. Which book characters make for amazing role models and/or really resonate with boys? All age ranges/reading levels are good.
posted by logic vs love to Education (41 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
The Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan are really great. Also: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (male protagonist) and the Junie B. Jones books (female protagonist but delightfully bonkers and not traditionally-female).
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

The boy equivalent of Matilda is Matilda.

Most (all?) of the rest of Dahl's books have male protagonists, and they're all wonderful.
Shoebag is like what if Kafka were a kid and not soul-crushingly depressing
Harry Potter
Encyclopedia Brown
Stuart Little
the Wayside School books
Trumpet of the Swan
posted by phunniemee at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

This question... Confuses me... Because generally speaking the shortage of role models for young children in children's literature is with strong female characters, not male. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Holes, the Cat in the Hat, etc, etc all have great protagonists, period. Are you thinking that you'll be doing some disservice to your son by encouraging him to connect with female protagonists if that's what you have on hand?
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

My son (not much of a reader apart from manga) liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I also introduced him to John Bellairs, which he liked.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2014

I have yet to meet the child that doesn't love Ramona Quimby.
posted by epj at 2:54 PM on May 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also, what resonates with boys is what you expose them to in a positive context. That applies to all children, actually. Balance is good, sure, but there is seriously no reason you can't encourage your son to admire and respect female characters at this age.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:54 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

While (for whatever reason, take your pick) girls are perfectly okay identifying with protagonists of either gender, boys typically will only read books that feature a male protagonist. However, this probably only applies to the boys who have trouble "getting into" reading. Reading is hard, and is also something that girls tend to master earlier than boys. There are definitely differences in cognitive development between boys and girls. Girls also tend to identify more with character development; boys typically like lots of fine detail about machines and stuff like that. But if you have a strong reader then it doesn't really matter, as they will eat anything up.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:56 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

You and I probably have a similar collection of children's/YA books that overly represent females. Here are my favorites that have males as leads, or co-leads:

Black Stallion
My Side of the Mountain
Bridge to Teribithia
Misty of Chincoteague
Farmer Boy
Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys
Ol' Yeller, to round out animal tragedies
Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel
My Father's Dragon
Half Magic
Boxcar Children
The Giver
posted by umwhat at 3:01 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for any confusion... I'm not just looking for good books with male protagonists, but with the kind of male protagonists that a young boy can really look up to. Maybe it's just me and my book nerd childhood, but I don't think I'd be the person I am today without some of the role models I met in books, and they're almost all female. I definitely have no problem reading books to my boys that feature female characters, but I don't assume they will be drawn to the same things I was drawn to as a young girl, and I feel a little clueless about what they will be drawn to.
posted by logic vs love at 3:03 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a guy and always loved Sara Crewe (Little Princess) and the folks in the Secret Garden. I also always liked the Little House on the Prairie Books (I see Farmer Boy mentioned above). Frances Hodges Burnett also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy, which I still enjoy re-reading.

The Bronze Bow is a Christian book, but as an atheist, I still like it and involves a strong male lead. Good Night, Mr. Tom, again with mainly male characters, is a fantastic book for perhaps somewhat older children (10+?). Tom Swift in his various incarnations across the years is a solid, stereotypical boy's book full of technology, though the newer ones were never as good and the older ones feel dated. I LOVE Chris Crutcher (sports books, but usually with a focus on independence and character - lot of tough themes, mainly for teenagers/10+). Also loved the John Christopher Tripod Series - focuses on a group of 2 boys and 1 girl.

Older books that my Dad read as a kid and introduced me to for perhaps somewhat older kids - John R. Tunis (sports books), Marguerite Henry (horse books - fantastic - Black Gold I remember in particular).
posted by traveltheworld at 3:09 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

My son is a big trucks and trains boy-boy, and he loves the Beezus and Ramona and Little House On The Prairie and Wizard of Oz books. He actually seems to prefer female protagonists, based on what holds his attention.

But here's some of the alternates we love:
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
The Phantom Tollbooth
Harold and the Purple Crayon
the Captain Underpants series
Encyclopedia Brown
Mr. Popper's Penguins
The Great Brain books

YMMV, of course
posted by Mchelly at 3:12 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a kid, I liked protagonists who used their brains. Examples that haven't been mentioned yet: Which is not to give short shrift to some of the other amazing classics which have already been mentioned. I still reread The Phantom Tollbooth every now and then and have given copies to adult friends.

Really, there's an amazing world of children's and young adult literature out there and your kids will find their own, once you help them to get started.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:13 PM on May 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

To clarify my answers after your follow-up:

Hatchet, Black Stallion, My Side of the Mountain, Boxcar Children, My Father's Dragon: Boys who, for whatever reason, were on their own and had to learn to survive without help. Especially in Hatchet and My Side of the mountain - they had to learn to plan to live in the wilderness. These boys were my heroes, right up with Laura Ingalls and Caddie Woodlawn.

Bridge to Teribithia
Misty of Chincoteague, Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys, Farmer Boy, Yearling, Ol' Yeller, Rascal: Boys who showed patience with animals

Half Magic, Boxcar Children: Boys on adventures who helped their younger siblings - good role models

The Giver: just amazing

All of these books (except the horse books) were books given to me by male relatives or ones the boys in my class did book reports on, so I think they're boy-approved.
posted by umwhat at 3:15 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

William Sleator wrote a ton of YA books that deal with science and feature male (and female) protagonists. And Neil Shusterman has quite a few too, although they tend to skew a bit older to the pre-teen side.
posted by tacodave at 3:23 PM on May 23, 2014

My favorite and the first real book I remember reading as a young boy was Incident at Hawk's Hill by Allan Eckert. The book won the Newberry Award.
posted by perhapses at 3:24 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

James and the Giant Peach
posted by harrietthespy at 3:24 PM on May 23, 2014

I haven't read them, but apparently the Hardy Boys are the male equivalent of Nancy Drew.
posted by aniola at 3:32 PM on May 23, 2014

Anything by Beverly Cleary. Everything by Mark Twain. Encyclopedia Brown was fun for logic.
posted by vapidave at 3:33 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Stick Dog books seem to me to be fairly gender-neutral, for obvious reasons.
posted by Dansaman at 3:50 PM on May 23, 2014

Yes to Henry Reed!
posted by mmmbacon at 3:56 PM on May 23, 2014

I'd like to put in a plug for the Wishbone Classics series -- classic lit/adventures-of-a-boy-and-his-dog-and-their-friends written in a kid-friendly way. Bonus: It was also a TV series, and many of these episodes are available on YouTube.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:29 PM on May 23, 2014

Definitely Then Again Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume. I remember loving it when I was young and even though I'm a girl, but then I love all of Judy Blume's books.
posted by Blitz at 4:35 PM on May 23, 2014

Roald Dahl's already been mentioned, but here's a specific vote for his Danny, Champion of the World. Boy and father, hijinks and mischief.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:27 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen Homer Price mentioned yet. Also Beverly Cleary wrote several books featuring boy characters--Henry Huggins and Otis Spofford.

My mom read "Little Britches" by Ralph Moody to my brothers and me and we all enjoyed it.
posted by auntie maim at 5:36 PM on May 23, 2014

The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones is fantastic. I think most of the POV characters are boys.
posted by cheesegrater at 6:00 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have an 8 year old boy. His favourites (to read alone) over the past year or so have been:

Harry Potter (the first one)
How to Train Your Dragon (the series)
Geronimo Stilton (the series)

We've read together:

The Hobbit
Danny, Champion of the World
Little House on the Prairie

In the past few years he has also enjoyed:

The Captain Underpants series
Catwings series
Flat Stanley
Charlotte's Web
posted by Cuke at 7:01 PM on May 23, 2014

Emile and the Detectives!
posted by latkes at 7:11 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of great stuff by Avi at various levels.

As they're getting older, The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy is wonderful (complex sentences, but very compelling)

Journey to the center of the earth, perhaps.

And I'll give you an odd one, too: we're partway through The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. I don't think it was intended for kids, but what a great boy story.
posted by spbmp at 7:46 PM on May 23, 2014

I'm a cis male and loved the Ramona Quimby books.
Seconding Homer Price and John Bellairs.
Robert Peck's Soup books.
Quality varies because they were written over a stretch of years by different authors, but: Three Investigators.
posted by usonian at 10:01 PM on May 23, 2014

For the men I know, the books that have been formative in the way books like Anne of Green Gables and L'Engle stuff were for me include:
- Ender's Game
- Flinx books by Allen Dean Foster - space orphan with an empathic dragon
- the Hobbit

I just asked a group of seven men, and they said they didn't really have books like that, that they got that experience from video games and movies. I know for my dad it was the classics - Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Lad a Dog.
posted by linettasky at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2014

My son, a non-reader if ever there were one, liked:

Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials Omnibus
CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia Set
Edith Hamilton's Mythology

and the only book he'll read with regularity now is Sherlock Holmes.
posted by kinetic at 4:40 AM on May 24, 2014

Once your sons are older I can report that one of the boys I went to school with did every book report type assignment on some aspect or other of The Hobbit and Lord of the rings if he could get away with it. This was over several years from age 10 onwards.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:05 AM on May 24, 2014

I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was in grade school. I also liked the Hardy Boys, though I suspect the gender roles in those stories are pretty bad.
posted by sporknado at 5:05 AM on May 24, 2014

Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, too. Also Jules Verne and Tolkien.
posted by sporknado at 5:07 AM on May 24, 2014

We are completely in love with the Henry and Mudge books. Great for independent reading or storytime, and my husband and I love them as much as our kids do. Also Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, and Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy.

Also, all boys over here but they love them some Ramona.
posted by gerstle at 8:09 AM on May 24, 2014

Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:30 AM on May 24, 2014

I love this Mac Barnett and Adam Rex series

Also the Alvin Ho series is really solid, with a Chinese-American protagonist who starts off every book afraid of something (camping, girls, bugs).

Jacqueline Woodson is one of those amazing prolific authors you can follow from picture books to young adult novels. Compassionate, thoughtful protagonists are her calling for sure.

When you're ready to branch into young adult novels, A.S. King has written some of my very favorite books. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is award-winning and fantastic, but everything she writes is absolutely remarkable.

Happy collection development!
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2014

Someone up above mentioned it - The Giver!
posted by raspberrE at 11:23 AM on May 24, 2014

Treasure Island, and once they're older, Kidnapped, are delightful, thrilling adventures and work very well on tape too.
posted by latkes at 6:49 PM on May 24, 2014

I'm looking forward to introducing my boy to Daniel Pinkwater.
posted by judith at 1:13 AM on May 25, 2014

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