Books With Stories About Gentle & Kind Male-Identified Kids
January 11, 2019 7:26 AM   Subscribe

We are looking for chapter books or story books that have protagonists or prominent characters who are male-identified (boys or men) who are gentle and kind. We are struggling to find these narratives, and so often read stories with female-identified characters ("feminist girl books.")

We read a lot of books out loud in our home. Currently graphic novels and chapter books are a huge hit. We just finished the Zoey and Sassafras series and loved it because it was feminist, about kindness, there were not side plots of stories that were fat shaming, sexist, homophobic, etc. We have read and own all of the Flamingo Rampant books, and even those we sometimes find to be a bit too binary, ironically. We have struggled to find books with "boy" characters who are not into fights, being tough, etc. We loved The Sandwich Thief and even that had some language that we didn't like (I.e. "Big Bobby" as a way to describe a kid who is larger and eats a lot). For the queer/trans* focused books, a lot of them are in the genre of "you're different, people are not great to you, but they come around by the end/you feel good about yourself at the end." Are there books with gentle boys/men who just happen to be and the focus is not on that? Most books we love that carry the strength and kindness we like seem to be about feminist girls. Sara Varon's New Shoes was pretty great but didn't involve human characters. Thank you.
posted by anya32 to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

Will I Have a Friend?
posted by Melismata at 7:33 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]

There's obviously some of the "you're different" going on, but consider the Wonder series. Wonder (not his name, sorry, don't remember) himself is decent, kind gentle, etc. But then there are follow-ups that tell the story from the point of view of Jack (the bully) or other characters. When you see Jack's point of view you get to see him sort of fall out of his kindness and find it again. He gets his own Brand New Day to be better now that he knows better (again).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:33 AM on January 11

I'm going to have to look at my notes and get back to you, but here's what I have off the top of my head:

I'm assuming you already know The Story of Ferdinand, but you didn't mention it so I figured I would.

Teddy's Favorite Toy is a positive story about a boy who likes dolls.

Sparkle Boy is very sweet, but in all honestly a little boring.

The Katie Woo series is pretty great. The early chapter books of Katie Woo and Friends and the Pedro spinoff are very gentle and kind. They have typical first grader adventures.

What James Said is a really easygoing picture book about friend disputes. The boy character is a secondary character, but I like that they work out their problems in a kind way that is realistic and not preachy. I keep trying to fit this into a storytime, but it's a little too long for a crowd.

This list is very promising.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:44 AM on January 11

The main boy and girl in the Magic Tree House books are both resourceful and kind.

The graphic novels set in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe show a pretty wide variety of ways to be, and there are lots of kinds of kindness on display by lots of kinds of genders. (I'd recommend watching the TV show first though, if you haven't. The first 2-4 episodes feature a character that expresses some "girls can't do that" opinions that are pretty instantly squashed. He grows a lot, and quickly. Everything else is great.)

We've just been reading Black Beauty as a bedtime chapter book, which unfortunately shows people treating animals poorly but also shows men and women showing real gentleness and care to each other and to animals.

If you're okay with manga, the single dad to the main character in Yotsuba is the definition of wholesome masculinity, as are the other male characters that are in the story.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:48 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

I won't jump in again, but yes, we love Ferdinand very much and we love saying "hegemonic masculinity" - or at least I do). I didn't list all of the books that we have read, but I do not mind duplicates or community validation! Thank you all.
posted by anya32 at 7:49 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

Henry Huggins! I haven't read them in a long while, but they're still hard to keep on the shelf.

The Mr. Terupt series is also fun! It might skew a little too old for you? But it's a readalike for Wonder.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:56 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]

We love the Frog and Toad series (do boy amphibians count?). Toad is quirky yet he and Frog have a wonderful friendship and being kind and considerate is a big part of the relationship. Even though my 11 year old son has graduated to YA novels he still enjoys reading those with me. Lobel says so much with so few words.
posted by beccaj at 7:57 AM on January 11 [14 favorites]

The Phantom Tollbooth? Milo is a calm, sensible, kind kid.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:59 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]

Waylon! One Awesome Thing (2016), by Sara Pennypacker. Centered on a thoughtful & somewhat anxious 4th-grade boy. Supposed to be the first in a spinoff series--it includes some minor characters from Pennypacker's excellent Clementine books--but there's only one so far.
posted by miles per flower at 8:09 AM on January 11

Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:12 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Encyclopedia Brown?

William Wants a Doll

Professor Lupin
posted by brujita at 8:19 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I don't remember what happens in it, but I remember loving The Mouse and His Child. Stewart Little was pretty decent to his family and friends and vice versa. And The Wind in the Willows, when the mole smells home and the rat... Oh, it's heartrending. The water rat is the absolute model of male kindness and sweetness for all time. But then there's the badger, with his violent class warfare, and toad and his entitled joyriding. It's a mixed bag, that book.

If the kids aren't into kindhearted male rodents for some reason, there's also The Wouldbegoods, a bunch of siblings, all ages and genders, all modeling solidarity and kindness to one another.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:39 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sacher. It's a sequel to his also-great Someday Angeline, but can be read just fine as a standalone.
posted by prewar lemonade at 8:44 AM on January 11

The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Chapter book but with illustrations throughout. Bonus: you can watch a pretty well-made movie from it once you're done reading it.
posted by headnsouth at 8:48 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Danny Dunn series.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on January 11

The House with a Clock in its Walls.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

I haven't got all the way through it yet, but can anyone verify "The Mysterious Benedict Society" for the main protagonist remaining kind throughout?
posted by turkeybrain at 9:10 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I loved The Mysterious Benedict Society book series as a middle-schooler! They feature 4 very unique "gifted" characters, 2 boys and 2 girls. One girl's very practical, resourceful, and physically capable. The other girl is snarky and intelligent. One boy is sensitive and has an eidetic memory, and the other boy has fantastic intuition and emotional intelligence. As I recall, the plots are highly creative and convoluted (I made the mistake of writing a book report on the first book, which produced a very confused teacher) but a lot of fun.

On preview, turkeybrain has it! I don't want to spoil entirely, but rest assured, there's a satisfying emotional resolution that wrestles with ethics and morals in a kid-friendly way.
posted by devrim at 9:20 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

The Unsinkable Walker Bean series by Aaron Renier has the protagonist Walker as an inventive boy who wants to figure things out, help people, be kind to his friends, save his beloved grandfather, all while having adventures with pirates and sea monsters. His friend Shiv just wants to play music. There are men (and women) of all kinds in the two books.

The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo series by Drew Weing has investigative reporter kid Charles Thompson trying to understand the monsters in his closet and city, who we find out actually have as much right to be there as him!

Isle of Elsi is a free kids web comic by Alec Longstreth with R.J. Jr and his friends in a dragon-age town. R.J. is kind and clever.
posted by jillithd at 9:23 AM on January 11

I just read the Greenglass House books, by Kate Milford. They are mysteries. The protagonist, Milo, is a sweet adopted kid who has a loving relationship with his parents and is on a quest for self-discovery (in addition to solving the mysteries at hand).
posted by the_blizz at 9:23 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I think The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater fits this category. Link goes to Wikipedia, which describes the (s)plot!
posted by sucre at 9:29 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

The main character of The Goblin Emperor is a gentle and kind boy. It does heavily use fantastic and unusual language - the glossary in the back is helpful - so whether this is a good fit depends on your patience for that.
posted by Jorus at 10:17 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I love Yatsuba&!

The cartoon Bunny Drop (Usagi Drop) is a really mellow cartoon about a single guy that adopts his grandfather's 6yr old. They make friends with a single mom who has a rambunctious boy - but he's treated with much sympathy and patience and clearly due to his dad leaving. (Rather than "boys will be boys"). There's many instances too, of the boy being kind and thoughtful .I.e. People are complex and contain multitudes.

My four year old binge watched it while sick - the storylines were reassuring (a storm, getting sick, going to school, losing a tooth). He identified with both kids - including picking up that the boy behaved poorly when he was sad or mad, and deeply admiring the girls ability to chop veggies and jump rope. I also like that the new dad asks for a demotion to better care for the kids and meets a bunch of super involved proud dads! There's a manga too. Read ahead as when the little girl is a teen she falls in love with her "dad". The cartoon goes nowhere near this.

Chi's Sweet Home is about a kitten and a little boy - super cute, and had been anthologised and is available in four volumes in Amazon.

We came across all these our library.

James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beverly Cleary?
posted by jrobin276 at 10:27 AM on January 11

The Superfudge series by Judy Blume is wonderful! Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first book.
posted by silverandlilac at 10:55 AM on January 11

It's not a book, but it fits in your wheelhouse otherwise so well I'll recommend it, just in case you haven't already come across it yourself: the cartoon Steven Universe. Not just the titular character, but his dad, basically a sweet musician/hippie type who is Steven's main male caregiver (his mom is kind of dead, but he also has a bunch of lesbian space rocks for moms). I haven't watched a ton of it, but it's very popular.
posted by praemunire at 11:02 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Driven by illustration more than words, Julián is a Mermaid might be right up your alley.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 12:01 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this is what you're looking for exactly, but the various James Herriot books—All Creatures Great and Small, etc.—strike me as being in this vein. He comes across as a very nice person in the books, they also deal with animals in a very kind way, I don't recall any sort of violence or much conflict in that sense. I think they are suitable read-aloud books that won't drive the person doing the reading totally mad. (At least, they don't seem to have driven my parents mad. That part's on me.)

There's an illustrated short story collection, if that's of interest. Or there's Moses the Kitten and several similar-length books, one features a dog, another a pony, etc., which go further towards more illustrations, but is still written in full sentences. You may need to be prepared to explain some British English-isms and spellings, e.g. "draughty" instead of "drafty".

My recollection is a few of the stories—particularly in the Cat Stories collection—deal with death, so you might want to pre-read and skip parts accordingly if that's not something you want to trigger a discussion of.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:12 PM on January 11

My Father's Dragon, actually a series of three.

You probably already read all the Elephant & Piggy books about a thousand times, but just for the record: it's very clear that Gerald is a boy and Piggy is a girl, and that they are best friends who are very kind with each other and clearly equals in everything.

The Guys Read anthologies have a potpourri of short stories that you might like. They are specifically marketed for boys and largely have boys and men as protagonists.

Mr. Popper's Penguins is goofy and fun and feels fairly fresh even though it's from 1939.

Nate the Great is pretty great.

For the early readers, the Positive Power easy readers by Rodale are pretty good. The stories are not boring, they are #relatable, and they feature a variety of protagonists.

The Golden Goblet is a great adventure story set in ancient Egypt. If your kid gets into Egypt at some point, this is a great tie-in. While there is scary stuff in there, and the child protagonist faces hardship, he deals with it by being a good, honest, hardworking kid and doing the right thing.

Neither is one of the best books of the year, as far as I'm concerned, in that it uses mixed-up animals to discuss exclusion and bullying. It's not for your specific question, but if you like books about identity, this is a winner. (It also works in Pride storytime with a conservative crowd.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:52 PM on January 11

If comics are all right, definitely the Witch Boy series by Molly Ostertag.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:03 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]

Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh
James and the Giant Peach
The Trumpet of the Swan
The Indian in the Cupboard
posted by Ideefixe at 2:13 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Little Men's Demi Brooke is perfect, although he's not the protagonist.

There are potential problems with that book, like Jo tying little Teddy to a bedpost in lieu of a playpen or the like.
posted by jgirl at 2:16 PM on January 11

Little Men was published in 1871 and baby cages didn’t hit the market until 1888.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:52 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Little Men was published in 1871 and baby cages didn’t hit the market until 1888.

Yeah, that tying thing crops up as an issue if you read Amazon reviews. I think some other stuff.

Tommy Bangs is one of my favorites in that book, and he is very gentle and kind in a different way than Demi is. So is Emil.
posted by jgirl at 2:55 PM on January 11

Anne of Green Gables!!! For that matter, get your hands on the CBC miniseries with Megan Follows. What man is more gentle and kind than Matthew Cuthbert?

Jess Aarons in “Bridge to Terebithia” is a different kind of gentle, kind boy—he bickers a lot with his siblings, but his friendship with Leslie brings out the very best in hob. (CW: major character death)
posted by epj at 4:00 PM on January 11

Oh my goodness, no recommendation yet for "My Side of the Mountain"?
posted by cocoagirl at 4:18 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite childhood books was Andrew Henry’s Meadow. The main character is a kind and curious boy whose many inventions sometimes inconvenience his family. He runs away and builds his own house as well as houses for many other neighborhood kids who have run away for one reason or another. It may be too short and/or young for your request, though.
posted by mefireader at 4:27 PM on January 11

The Brothers Lionheart, and basically everything else by Astrid Lindgren.
I have to admit I haven't read the Brothers to my kids, because I can't without crying. But it is an amazing book.
posted by mumimor at 5:40 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

When we read My Side of the Mountain, my kid really noticed all the animals he killed. Not a bad thing, but maybe not what the asker is going for.

Horton Halfpott, by Tom Angleberger, is a sweet, lovely character.

Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew, by Ursula Vernon, is a delightful chapter book about a timid shrew who goes on a grand adventure in spite of himself.

Oh, and the Tashi stories by Anna Fienberg might be right exactly up your age group's alley!
posted by gideonfrog at 6:02 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons -- however the biographies can get a bit intense (mentioning the child abuse Beethoven suffered, etc.) so definitely either pre-read so you know if you want to skip things or save for middle schoolers who are ready for those issues.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:00 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I haven't read this one yet, but The Prince and the Dressmaker is getting excellent buzz -- it's about a genderqueer young prince whose parents are trying to marry him off, and his dressmaker BFF who helps him dress as the most fashionable lady in high society.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

My 5 & 7yos and I read the Thieves of Ostia a few months back. The main character is a girl, but she befriends a gentle boy whose father is a kind, patient intellectual. Her father is also kind. I don't know about the rest of the series, but that book generally discusses a wide range of human experience, including grief, homelessness, religious persecution, and slavery. It does also have a beheaded dog, so it's not a great series for super sensitive kids.
posted by linettasky at 8:10 PM on January 11

We enjoyed The Raft. It's about a boy discovering the quiet and gentleness of nature and also his artistic talent as he summers with his grandmother at her riverfront home. Plus the main character is allowed to go off adventuring on his own during the day; my 7yo appreciated the idea of that independence.
posted by vignettist at 8:38 PM on January 11

The first Witch Boy book does have some stuff in there about challenging tradition, but I think that's part of the package for a lot of people.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:28 PM on January 11

It's a bit older fare, and you'd have to deal with sci-fi sexuality, but Becky Chambers Wayfarers books are a possibility, (just finished Record of the Spaceborn Few today.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:30 PM on January 11

Bud Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Enchanted Forest series by Patricia Wrede is one of my very favorites. Cimorene, an improper princess, is the focal character of Dealing With Dragons, but Mendenbar (King of the Enchanted Forest) is one of the focal characters in Searching For Dragons, Telemain (a wizard) is one of the focal characters in Calling on Dragons, and Daystar (Cimorene's son) is the narrator of Talking to Dragons. They are all thoughtful, kind, intelligent, resourceful, men.

In The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea, Pidge and his little sister Brigid go on a quest to help protect the world from the Morrigan. A lot of the plot is driven by Pidge's thoughtfulness and kindness and relationship with his little sister.

The Squire's Tale and all the other Gerald Morris Arthurian books retell Arthurian myths from the perspective of Sir Gawain and his squire, Terence. They do knightly things and there's stabbing and adventure and such, but a lot of the plot is driven by how decent Gawain and Terence are, at heart.

A Kiss For Little Bear
posted by ChuraChura at 10:32 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

We're loving the graphic novels Mighty Jack and its sequel Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. It does feature some monster slaying and the like, but the premise of the story is that early-teen Jack is the primary caretaker during the day for his younger sister, who has autism, while their single mom works 2 jobs. His love for his sister leads to most of the main events of the story. And the other main character is a girl who is more adventuresome and skilled than Jack is, but they cooperate and work well together without making it a "a girl is better than you" kind of thing.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:54 PM on January 12

A Boy Called Bat is about a boy on the autism spectrum who adopts a new pet. Super cute and gentle.

Sees Behind Trees is a very gently told historical fiction story of a native american boy living it what is now New York.

Both books were well-liked by my students when I read them aloud.
posted by mai at 8:22 AM on January 13

ken in mary O'hara's Flicka trilogy
posted by brujita at 10:11 PM on January 13

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