Great Books for Boys
In our country, girls and women read much more than boys and men. According to the Pew Research Center’s report “A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013,” women are more likely than men to have read a book in the previous 12 months. Education reporter John Hechinger of The Wall Street Journal summarized the reading gap in 2008, “Boys’ literary depth is an abiding concern in educational circles. Boys have persistently lagged behind girls in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an influential federal test for gauging achievement. The gap widens by the time they reach 12th grade. Many experts attribute the lag to the time spent with the printed page. In a survey of bookstores this year by Simba Information, a publishing-industry market-research firm, only 2% said boys made up most of their children’s book customers. … In an age when the Internet is pulling many away from books, boys in particular spend more time than girls do on computers and videogaming.”
Girls and young women also score consistently higher in literacy skills assessments than their male peers at every grade level. Since the greatest predictor of academic success for any individual is proficiency in reading and writing skills, it means that, at least in our society, boys are at a considerable disadvantage.
It should not be assumed that this development has anything to do with so-called innate differences between boys’ and girls’ intellects. In most nations, both industrialized nations and “third world” countries, the literacy statistics are reversed; that is, in most other countries, boys score higher on literacy skills assessments than girls. There are many reasons why boys score lower here than elsewhere. Our society prizes sports prowess more than it does intellectual achievement. We have very few male national leaders who witness the importance of education in their lives. Many boys do not have a familial male role model who reads.
The bottom line is that our boys are not reading enough. The more they read, the better their vocabularies and comprehension skills, the more they will be able to write and communicate, the more they will learn and grow in critical and creative thinking skills. Boys need to read magazines and newspapers, books and e-books of nonfiction and fiction, and they need to do more than the skimming many boys engage in on the Internet. Much of the material on the Internet, although it is technically reading material, does not provide strong content or comprehensive substance. Often, it is not monitored and has no quality standards. It’s great for overall breadth, but not for in-depth reading. And, it is only through consistent in-depth reading that young people can develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to enrich their personal lives, compete successfully in the workplace, and become responsible citizens in our democracy.
One of the best ways to get and keep boys reading is to offer them interesting and entertaining books that will energize them to read further. Some titles to try are The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke and Graham Salisbury’s Night of the Howling Dogs, Under the Blood Red Sun, and Blue Skin of the Sea. Also check out the thrilling fantasy series by the young author Christopher Paolini: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance. Christopher wrote these books as a teenager, so boys you know may find his own story interesting. Visit his website Alagaesia.com.
Chris Crutcher’s young adult realistic fiction novels are also very popular. Read about Chris and his novels on his website ChrisCrutcher.com.
Old favorites from Harry Mazer fly off the shelves, especially: A Boy No More; Heroes Don’t Run: A Novel of the Pacific War; and A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor. Also recommended are these titles for teens: Godless by Pete Hautman; The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman; and Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Two great nonfiction titles for boys are: Tales of the Dead: Ancient Greece by Stewart Ross and Genius: A Photo Biography of Albert Einstein by Marfe Ferguson Delano. And don’t forget the many titles in the Eyewitness Books series which cover numerous subjects of high interest for boys.
Nonfiction books by award-winning author and illustrator David Macaulay have interested boys for decades: The Way Things Work; Pyramid; Castle; Cathedral; City; Mill; Unbuilding; Ship; Underground; The Way We Work; and many more!
For younger boys try picture books: Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka, A Blue So Blue by Jean-Francois Dumont, Zen Shorts by Jon Muth, and What’s Going on in There? by Geoffrey Grahn.
And, for middle-grade readers look at the following novels: the Chet Gecko Series by Bruce Hale; Hermux Tantamoq Adventures by Michael Hoeye; Sea Legs by Alex Shearer; Scrib by David Ives; and The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or Pirates Galore by Sid Fleischmann; and Rick Riordan’s series of books about the young half-god, half-human Percy Jackson whose adventures thrust him into the stuff of Greek myth. Start with The Lightning Thief then read the others in the series.
Two of our favorites to add to your “Great Books for Boys” list. The first, Adam Canfield of the Slash, a middle-grade novel written by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, proves that a great book for boys does not need to have a “star” athlete as its protagonist. Winerip convincingly creates a middle school atmosphere full of adventure with a cast of likeable kids, a reprehensible principal to boo, a hero-boy to cheer, and everyone’s favorite Latin teacher to love and respect.
The second pick for boy book favorite is Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys compiled by Jon Scieszka. As one of the most favorite of boys’ favorite authors, Jon is, like many children’s authors and illustrators, deeply concerned about the state of literacy and libraries in our nation. A former schoolteacher, he has been concerned about boys’ reading habits for years and has decided to do something about it. Jon created GuysRead.com – a website devoted to getting boys reading. It is a great site to find book recommendations from guys for guys. And, if you want to find out more about Jon and his GUYS READ website, check out Jon’s interview.
The Conquerors written and illustrated by David McKee
The Good Rainbow Road by Simon Ortiz, illustrated by Michael Lacapa
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site written by Sherrie Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenfeld (Chronicle, 2011).
Into the Forest written and illustrated by Anthony Brown
Jamari’s Drum by Eboni Bynum and Roland Jackson, illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
Mercy Watson (series) by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Mudball written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Robot Zot! written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by David Shannon
Shark vs. Train, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. (Little, Brown, 2010).
Traction Man Is Here! written and illustrated by Mini Grey
Truckery Rhymes written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, 2013).
Middle Grade Fiction
Artemis Fowl (series) by Eoin Colfer
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Broken Song by Kathryn Lasky
The Convicts by Iain Lawrence
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Heck Superhero by Martina Leavitt
I Funny by James Patterson (Little, Brown, 2012). Sequels available.
King of Middle March by Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket
Timmy Failure (series) by Stephan Pastis (Candlewick Press).
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (Random House, 2013).
Under the Sun by Arthur Dorros
Whales on Stilts by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus
Young Adult Fiction
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, 2009).
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
Feed by M. T. Anderson
The Fire Eaters by David Almond
The Living by Matt de la Peña (Delacorte, 2013).
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer by Eleanor Updale
Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown, 2010).
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda Lab, 2014).
Talk by Kathe Koja
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (Knopf, 2013).
Ballpark: The Story of America’s Baseball Fields written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee
Hot Jazz Special written and illustrated by Jonny Hannah
Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing written and illustrated by James Rumford
Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick
Middle School/High School
Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack
George Washington: An Illustrated Biography by David A. Adler
Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People by Albert Marrin
The Race to Save Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose
Here In Harlem: Poems for Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers
Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Phillipe Lardy
Graphic Novels are the newest category of books for young people and they are extremely popular with boys. But don’t think less of them because of their comic book style—they are great for that “visual” child!
The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney
Binky Adventure (series) by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press).
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Lunch Lady (series) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopf).
Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by David Wisniewski
One Dead Spy: The Life, Times, and Last Words of Nathan Hale, America’s Most Famous Spy by Nathan Hale (Amulet Books, 2012). This is the first of the Hazardous Tales (series), all of which are about American history.
Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and His Search for Soft Trousers by Raymond Briggs
Zeus: King of the Gods by George O’Connor (First Second, 2010). This is the first of the Olympian series.
© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance