50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men

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As a boy, one
of my favorite times in school was when we’d get a new Scholastic
News book “catalog.” I would pour over the pages picking
out which books I wanted and filling out the order sheet. And as
soon I got them, I was lying under the covers with my nose buried
in a book.

Unfortunately,
not all boys have that kind of enthusiasm for reading. For several
decades now, boys have scored lower on reading assessment tests
than girls. Boys also take longer to learn to read than girls, are
less likely to actually read and to value reading, and are more
likely to label themselves as “non-readers” (up to 50%
of high school age boys consider themselves as such). Non-reading
boys do poorer academically and end up as non-reading men (women
read almost twice as many books as men).

What’s
the problem? Some of it may be biological (boys’ language skills
develop slower that girls). But a lot of it is sociological. Boys
may see reading as a passive and thus sissy activity. Boys also
lack male reading mentors – their librarians and teachers are often
female, and it’s mom that reads to them. And in the name of
gender-neutrality, teachers are foisting books on boys that they
simply do not like.

But parents
are to blame too, often trying to make their sons read “important
books” to build their character. Dad loved some long tome as
a boy and wants junior to come to an equal apprectation of it.

But reading
experts all agree that boys need to be allowed to pick the books
that really interest them. Of course it’s okay to make suggestions
to your son about things he might like – boys very much value the
opinion of other boys and men in making their reading selections.
So here are 50 books that many boys and young men will really love.
We’ve included some classics, but we also threw in some more
modern and accessible choices – after all, not every boy has the desire
or the aptitude to dive into Dickens.

Finally, while
we had boys about the ages of 9–15 in mind when we made this
list, I’ve always considered the distinction between adult
and young adult literature to be an unfortunate and artificial one.
Putting together this list I remembered just how good these books
are, and I can’t wait to read them again as a man. Whether
you’re 12 or 52, grab one of these books and a bag of cookies
and head out to the treehouse.

Hatchet
by Gary Paulsen

Pretty much
every boy’s favorite book. When the pilot of the small plane
of which he is a passenger crash lands in the Canadian wilderness,
13-year-old Brian Robeson must survive with only his wits and a
hatchet. Utterly alone, Brian must learn to rely on himself. Gripping
and vividly told, every boy pictures himself in Brian’s shoes
and wonders whether he would have what it takes to survive.

A
Separate Peace
by John Knowles

Set at a boys
prep school on the eve of World War II, A Separate Peace
centers on the friendship of Phineas and Gene. Phineas’ seeming
perfection creates a jealously in Gene that results in a tragedy
that will forever change both of their lives. A piercing look at
both the light and the shadows of friendship and humanity. Every
boy wishes he were Finny but knows he’s more like Gene. This
book has stuck with me ever since reading it as a young man and
remains one of my favorites until to this day.

The
Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

Take Rudyard
Kipling’s The
Jungle Book
, replace the jungle with a graveyard and the
animals with ghosts and you’ve got Neil Gaiman’s The
Graveyard Book. The book begins with the mention of the murder
of a family, but quickly moves on from there and is not a gruesome
tale inappropriate for youngsters. The sole survivor of the murder
is an 18-month-old baby, who toddles away to a graveyard. Here the
cemetery’s ghosts and ghouls adopt the boy, give him a name
(“Nobody” as he’s like nobody else in the graveyard),
protect him from the still on the loose killer, and teach him the
life lessons that only the dead can know. It’s takes a graveyard
to raise a child, and the cemetery is a great home, but eventually
Bod, as they call him, must deal with the world outside of its borders.
Spooky, magical, and engrossing, it’s a must for all boys who
like ghost stories (so pretty much all boys). Be sure to check out
Gaiman’s other great books like Neverwhere
and Anansi
Boys
.

The
American Boy’s Handy Book
by Daniel C. Beard

Long before
The
Dangerous Book for Boys
became all the rage, there was the
American Boy’s Handy Book. Every father and grandfather
should have this on his shelf, waiting there for a boy to pull it
off and start leafing through. Dozens of awesome (and unlike another
book, some actually dangerous) hands-on projects for boys to tackle
from how to build kites and forts to how to rear wild birds and
trap animals. Originally published in 1882 and still a must for
every boy today.

The
Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster

The story of
a boy who’s boring life is interrupted by the appearance of
something strange and unusual that transports him to a magical place.
It’s a premise that underlies a myriad of children’s books,
but few are as creatively constructed as The Phantom Tollbooth.
Young Milo finds a tollbooth in his room, gets in his toy car and
drives into another dimension. Boys will love the strange adventures
Milo experiences, while older kids and adults can enjoy the witty
satire and clever puns.

The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

One of the
great American novels. Young Huck Finn escapes from his abusive
father by taking off on a raft down the Mississippi River. He is
joined by Jim, an escaped slave. The two set off on a grand adventure
full of close calls and interesting characters. With both wit, action,
and fun, coupled with an undercurrent of serious themes, Huck
Finn is a multi-layered masterpiece for young and old.

The
Last Mission
by Harry Mazer

The classic
tale of the collision of a boy’s idealistic view of war with
it’s ugly reality. Yet the book manages to avoid being a tired
cliche. 15-year-old Jack Raab lies his way into the Army Air Force
and finds himself flying bombing missions over occupied territory.
On his 25th mission, his last mission before being sent home, his
plane is shot down, and he is taken prisoner in a German POW camp.
A fictional story and an easy read, but historically accurate and
realistic in its details. Be sure to check out other books by Harry
Mazer; his A
Boy at War

series is a painless way to teach boys some history.

The
First Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook

If you have
a son in Scouts, he’ll definitely dig this book. Today’s
Scout manual is definitely watered down compared to the first edition.
The first edition manual is crammed with info on tracking and trapping
animals, building shelters from scratch, and sailing. Additionally,
it has stories of bravery and adventure that inspire boys to be
great men. Something today’s manual is sorely lacking.

Red
Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane

Known as a
war book, The Red Badge of Courage is really a coming-of-age
story set on the battlefield. Young Henry Fleming leaves his mother
to fight for the Union Army. His question of whether or not he’ll
have the courage to stand and fight is answered in the negative
when he flees from his first skirmish. Fleming resolves to redeem
himself during the next battle. A story not only of the tragedy
of war, but the struggle to replace pride, weakness, and rationalization
with bravery and personal honesty.

Read
the rest of the article

April
22, 2010

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