“The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.” – Huckleberry Finn
Why a list of books for boys?
The list below is a compilation of books that inspire and feed the spirit of a growing young man. Adventure, creativity, wildness, danger, virtues, and more. I have purposely selected books that have not been watered down over the years and have unique ideas, images, stories, and writing style which capture the attention of dad’s and their sons. All of the books in the list my family or I have read. Some I have included at the request of my boys, particularly my eldest who is a voracious reader.
As a side note, I did not read very much at all when I was a boy. Actually, until I became an adult, I could count the number of books I had completed on one hand. So, many of the books I am discovering for the first time with my boys. Time and time again I find the best books are the older ones. The literary style and certainty of the authors thoughts and beliefs, as well as the time periods many of them were written in, make them stand out from the doldrum reads today.
Boyhood, Adventure, and Historical Reads
Originally published in 1890, back when kids only had the great outdoors and their imagination to keep them entertained, this book has activities for the truly adventurous boy. Like most of the books I have picked, it has a bit of danger to many of the activities. Also, the illustrations are all done by hand and for some reason they seem to connect better to the spirit of a boy. Maybe it’s because so much of their world is still pencil and paper.
This is the greatest compendium I have seen of virtuous stories and poems. It’s probably best when parents use it as a study guide. There are other version of the book, one for really young ones and another, larger compendium to have on hand for the whole family. Read more about William J. Bennett and the story behind the book here.
A book as great as it’s title. The cover is just excellent. The book has stories of heroism and bravery as well as crafts and games. It is also a great resource for things every boy should know, from the Greek Alphabet to the rules of chess. There is a Daring Book for Girls as well which also appears to be well done and has some things boys should know. Since it’s release several other similar books have been written though I haven’t read them.
Holling C. Holling is a fantastic author and illustrator. All of his books are excellent reads. This book follows the lives of New York city children who take a trip out west with their uncle who owns a ranch. Along the way they learn all about the west and grow from green horns to bronco riding lasso wielding ranch hands.
Along the same lines of his Book of Cowboys, this book wonderfully illustrates the lives of the Indians. Complete with tales of buffalo (American Bison) hunting, whale hunting, making arrow heads (knapping), canoe building and more. It’s a great way to learn about the skills of survival that were lived everyday by original inhabitants of America.
The sheer amount of work that was required by children in the early days of our nation is astonishing. The true skills and freedom and un-coddled nature of boyhood is something we rarely experience today. This books covers in great detail the hard-working, tough nature of a boy back when.
The Landmark Series of Books are great educational reads. Our family only has the newer editions but we have heard that the older ones are better as they are closer to the time period and haven’t been censored with political correctness.
Another great series of books which covers the childhood our American heroes. The books cover a wide range of people, from Ben Franklin to Sacagawea, from Neil Armstrong to Rosa Parks. Best of all they are easy reads that delve into the early, formative years of famous Americans.
This is one of my favorite books. We used to read this every night before putting the boys to bed. The stories are great and short and always align with a particular proverb. They have several other books as well such as Prudence and the Millers and Missionary Stories with the Millers
The title and cover do not do this gem justice. The two children in the book visit grandma and grandpa and each night, after they have completed their chores, hear a story about a “Bee” that if they are not careful will sting. The bees are virtues such as “Bee Gentle”, “Bee Polite”, “Bee Thankful”. Each story usually involves someone who did not listen to the buzzing of the bee and were stung, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Fun, Easy Reads
My youngest loved the Dragons of Blueland and the other books in this series. He wasn’t much of a reader early on, so any book he took notice of really stood out. The stories are wonderfully illustrated and tie together very well.
More than just an exciting story about a young boy who discovers an old, very realistic, small castle in his attic that eventually transports him to the middle ages, this book paints a clear picture of life in the middle ages and the virtues of a knight. We see several characters overcoming their fears and there are plenty of plot twist that keep the reader engaged.
Not to be confused with Rin Tin Tin the dog, Tintin the comics tell the story of a young Belgian reporter and his faithful companion, Snowy, who travel across the world to as they become entangled in case after case. There isn’t much about Tintin that is particularly noteworthy, as he is a level headed individual. However, all of the surrounding characters are great (not necessarily moral), leaving Tintin as the constant the reader can attach to. Think of Tintin like Sherlock Holmes but over the top comical.
A great collection of adventures with the Hollister children where good always triumphs over evil and virtuous actions always put the kids ahead, even when the choice is difficult. They are set in a simpler time but the action is pretty fast paced. Get a bunch because the kids will want to read through them pretty quickly.
Before Eddie Murphy’s version, and several others before him, Doctor Dolittle was a favorite children’s classic. He has a number of adventures that require him and his furry and feathery companions to overcome their fears.
I haven’t read the Redwall series of books but both of my sons recommended them. There are over twenty books in the series and each deals with a different time period and generally involves timid creatures learning to be heroes for the sake of defending Redwall.
A hilarious book written in the 1940’s about a boy named Homer Price who tends to get mixed up in all sorts of situations. The stories provide a look into living with common sense and virtues but in a comical manner.
Novels and Heavier Reads
Originally told to his daughters on long car trips ad-hoc, Richard Adams eventually put this tale to paper and it quickly became a classic. Just because it is about rabbits doesn’t mean it isn’t a true adventure story.
With the release of the Lord of the Rings movies, all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books have surged in popularity. The Hobbit is a great starter read to jump into the world of Tolkien; and a vast world it is. For many young readers today, his writing style may be a bit long and descriptive. However, for children that enjoy serious depth in their stories, Tolkien books are the perfect fit. Obviously there are a ton of moral lessons that can be gained from any adventure book. Spoiler ahead if you haven’t read the book: I think the best lesson is that even good, incredibly brave men can fall prey to temptations that they are not prepared for which is exactly what happens to Thorin Oakenshield. Like many men who have seen their heroes wrapped up in scandals or serious crimes, it’s hard to take the story with the ending. Other than all of the songs the dwarves sing (sorry fans) the book is amazing.
Watching the movies is fine, but the books contain so many details that were left out of the movie or can only be caught by readers. Like the Hobbit and all of Tolkien’s books, the patient reader with an expansive imagination will be taken on a journey that Tolkien created over a course of 15 years (give or take). The depth of the stories are just amazing.
All seven books in the series are incredible and are best known for the allegorical depiction of Christianity. If starting the series, I would begin with the Magicians Nephew. It is the first in the historical order of the story.
Contrary to what many may assume, the Sherlock Holmes stories are not difficult reads. They are fun and adventurous and Sherlock and Watson are a great duo. They may be for more mature readers due to some of the content (Sherlock is a bit of an addict) and there are murders and sometimes grisly details. The plot twists and turns keep you guessing as you try to solve the puzzle before Sherlock. Good luck!
Dicken’s classic story of a naïve orphan boy with a heart of gold. Though Oliver finds himself alongside many ruthless criminals, and constantly abused and taken advantage of, he refuses to become like them.
All of Jules Verne’s novels are excellent and he is a master at painting a picture of the surrounding world. Around the World in 80 Days will help children understand where countries are in relation to each other on the globe as well as some of the peculiar quirks of different cultures.
Boys and Their Furry Companions
A touching story about a boy and his mischievous raccoon and a very, very understanding father.
I vividly remember how close I came to crying when watching the movie of this as a kid. It’s such a touching tale.
Not to be confused with Black Beauty. This is the tale of a boy who befriends a wild horse on an island after a shipwreck. Adventure, suspense, and it ends on a happy note unlike so many stories about boys and their pet friends.