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"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Literary Testosterone - 30 Must-Read Classics for Teenage Boys

This is a follow-up to Maureen's question about recommendations for 12 and 13 year-old boys. Without getting into a big discussion about gender stereotyping, let me just say that in general boys at this age tend to read books that are more action and adventure oriented, while girls enjoy reading more about relationships.

Case in point: I teach The Hobbit and Les Miserables to my eighth graders each year. Both boys and girls love these books. But when I look at the few students who didn't like them, I have more girls who didn't like The Hobbit, and more boys who didn't like Les Miserables.

The books I'm about to recommend for boys are also great for girls to read, and there are many books not listed here that boys would like. I think boys should read Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott, but I don't think most boys would pick these books up on their own. The following books are titles and authors that I think most boys would enjoy, and that contain themes that are valuable for teen and pre-teen boys to think about.

  • Anything by Ray Bradbury: I think of Ray Bradbury as a modern-day Edgar Allen Poe, and his books are perfect for teenage boys. There's always something to talk about after reading Ray Bradbury.
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Along with Treasure Island, probably the perfect action/adventure story.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings - Lord of the Rings lite; lots of fairly innocent fun; not much depth, but a good read.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell - An excellent introduction to talking about political systems.
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White - Classic story of King Arthur.
  • The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. - This book is a hidden gem--important spiritual themes, connections to Chaucer and the middle ages. I once had the opportunity to interview the author with my eighth graders after we finished studying it - they loved the interview and the book. Don't miss it.
Science Fiction
  • Flatland by Edwin Abbott - A brief fairytale-ish book that explores mathematical concepts like the fourth dimension. Fun and educational.
  • The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov - A sort of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire set in space; great plot twists. A true classic of the genre and very accessible to teens. The first book in the series is Foundation.
  • The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov - A great murder mystery set in the future. Combines elements of science fiction and classic mystery stories into one.
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - I hesitated to put this on the list because it contains some profanity and a few disturbing elements, but every single student of mine who has read this has loved it. Without exception. Read this with your kids so you can talk about it with them.
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Before Michael Crichton's version, the author of Sherlock Holmes had already written about a lost island of dinosaurs.
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney - A terrific time travel story; the amount of historical detail in this book is mind-boggling. Part mystery, part romance, part sci-fi, it really defies categories.
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - Pulitzer winning novel of the battle of Gettysburg; would be great to read in conjunction with an American History class. After they finish, show them the movie Gettysburg.
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas - Look up swashbuckle in the dictionary and you'll find this book. Young readers may need help understanding church politics.
  • Mr. Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat - a great precursor to Forester's Hornblower series or Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series. Fun and easy to read.
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - Classic medieval adventure.
  • The Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterton - The gentle, intelligent Father Brown makes a great role model for boys, and gives them a healthy portrayal of a priest.
  • Anything by Agatha Christie - Her books are continual favorites of my students, especially the novels featuring Hercule Poirot. Make sure they read Curtain (but only after reading four or five other Hercule Poirot mysteries first).
  • The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters - Brother Cadfael is a monk in the thirteenth century who always seems to end up in the middle of murder investigations. The first book is A Morbid Taste for Bones.
Assorted other titles:
  • Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling - Terrific coming of age story set at sea.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Explores many issues, but one key issue is the definition of courage.
  • The Ox-bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark - Not only a great Western, but an insightful exploration of justice and vigilantism. Perfect for discussing over the dinner table.
  • Hondo - Every boy should read at least one Louis L'Amour novel in his life, and Hondo is one of the best.
  • Shane by Jack Schaefer- The all-time greatest Western ever written (in my humble opinion). Another must-read for pre-teen or teenage boys.
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey - A nonfiction account of survivors of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This can be a frightening book for young readers, so use your own judgement.
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - Nonfiction account of a rural veterinarian; another perfect book for boys.
For more titles for both boys and girls download my Books to Be Tasted Junior High Reading List. You may need to sign up at FreeIQ to download it, but the account is free.

Also, I'm currently developing a summer reading group for junior high and high school students and their families that I plan to launch in the next week or two. Stay tuned.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:53 AM

Comments on "Literary Testosterone - 30 Must-Read Classics for Teenage Boys"


Anonymous Maureen said ... (Wednesday, May 16, 2007 11:16:00 AM) : 

We're off and running with this list, Nick. One of my sons has read 22 books from the Hornblower series, "The Lost World" and "Ender's Game", so I know your list will be right up HIS alley!

I'm just finishing "To Kill A Mockingbird" and will pass that along as well.

Linked to this post at Literary Testosterone

Thanks again!


Blogger Nick Senger said ... (Thursday, May 17, 2007 8:40:00 PM) : 

You're very welcome! Thanks for the link.


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