A few months ago I wrote a blog post of read alouds for girls after my sister-in-law asked for suggestions. That post spurred a good number of requests for a similar list for boys. In fact, "Can you suggest books for my boys?" is a question I've been asked countless times over the years.
I don't know exactly why but statistics appear to indicate that:
- Boys take longer to learn to read than girls.
- Boys read less than girls.
- Girls tend to comprehend narrative texts significantly better than boys.
- Boys value reading as an activity less than girls.
The beauty of read alouds for the six to twelve set is that a child can understand the spoken word at a much higher level than the written word. You can introduce deeper, more interesting books through read aloud time.
I'd also like to suggest that Dad get in on read aloud time at your house. I believe one reason boys value reading less than girls is that they view it as a "girl activity." Seeing and hearing Dad read lets boys know that it's a "boy activity" too. I know dads are super busy, but I'm only asking 15 minutes a night. Dad, if you can do that you'll make a HUGE difference in your son's life.
Now for a few suggestions to take to the library or put on your buying wish list. (Click on book titles to read reviews. Note: may contain affiliate links.) I tried to put them in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest.
Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls by Caryll Houselander
Twelve simple, yet deep, short stories for younger children that could easily be read at bedtime. Originally written in the 1950's, these stories may appear quaint to some modern ears, yet they are timeless in the way they present Catholic values and Faith through the eyes of children. If you want to keep going after finishing this book, make sure to get ahold of More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls by Caryll Houselander and/or Catholic Stories for Boys and Girls (Volumes I through IV) from Neumann Press.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien
This book was the all-time favorite of my youngest son, my reluctant reader, in grade school. When we read it the first time, he'd wake up in the morning and beg for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh first thing. As soon as lunch was over, "Mom! Read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh!" As soon as dinner was over, "Mom! Read!" At bedtime, again, "Mom! Rats! Now! Please!" Other favorites of my reluctant boy reader included Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
I absolutely love The Tale of Despereaux. If you haven't read it, go right now to the library or bookstore and get it. After you've had a chance to read it you could even share it with your son. Bravery, chivalry, honesty, selflessness and all kinds of virtues are extolled and yet not preachy -- just a plain good story. You can't get better than that. For something completely different (and a little comic relief), follow up with Homer Price by Robert Mccluskey.
Stuart Little by E. B. White
Mice seem to be an ongoing theme here, but I just can't leave out Stuart Little. He is, after all, no ordinary mouse. Somehow he is born to a human family in New York City. As you may imagine, a small mouse will have all kinds of obstacles to overcome in such a situation, including the family cat and operating the washer. Yet he overcomes them all with enthusiasm, kindness, and joy. I did feel the ending was lacking, but still enjoyed the universal story of finding your place in the world. White is also the author of the excellent The Trumpet Swan and the classic Charlotte's Web.
Glory of America series by Joan Stromberg - These are easy, yet thoroughly enjoyable, reads for sons. The author chooses child protagonists that young readers can connect with ease. Each story is uplifting and centers around an American saint. So, you learn a little American history on the way too. My son at 14 wrote his own book based on this series. Titles specifically for boys are Thomas Finds a Treasure, Willy Finds Victory, and Jose Finds the King (authored by Ann Ball).
The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton by Nancy Carpentier Brown (Editor)
The Father Brown Reader is Nancy Brown's retelling of four short stories from The Father Brown Mysteries by G. K. Chesterton. I could see that she worked hard to retain Chesterton's original language while making it understandable for children. I personally found this book engaging and a joy to read aloud. I had already read the original Father Brown Mysteries, yet I still found myself on the edge of my chair waiting to see what would happen. And the illustrator, Ted Schluenderfritz, did an outstanding job as well! If you like this book, there is a sequel: The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Dahl is the king of dysfunctional families in child fiction. Charlie's family is far from perfect and are poverty stricken, but they all truly love one another. Charlie is the epitome of goodness. The other children in the story are strikingly different from Charlie. You might say they epitomize the Seven Deadly Sins. In the end, Charlie's selflessness, kindness, and loyalty give us a sweet ending to the story. If you enjoy this book, and you're not put off by Dahl's quirky writing, try James and the Giant Peach next.
Redwall by Brian Jacques
While the rats are good guys in Nimh, the rats are quite the opposite in the Redwall series. The mice are monks and live in an abbey. Even so, this is not a Christian-themed book. There is no mention of God. Yet, the books clearly portray revenge and holding a grudge as wrong. There are many examples of self-sacrifice for the greater good. There are even incidents of redemption, where an evil character repents and makes the choice to love others and live in peace. Plus, it's just a good fun adventure for boys. If you like the first book, continue with the rest of the series.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
If you haven't picked up A Christmas Carol since childhood you really should give it a consider. You'll be amazed at how well it rolls off the tongue. Charles Dickens has a good sense of humor, which makes it fun to read as well. It's also a short read so you could easily read it during the 12 Days of Christmas for added meaning. If you want to continue with the theme, you can't go wrong with O. Henry's short story Gift of the Magi.
The Great and Terrible Quest by Margaret Lovett
(My review here.)
I found this story to be fun and enjoyable. I also loved that it is a story with strong characters who are good examples for our own lives. The protagonist, a ten-year-old orphaned boy left in the care of his cruel and despicable grandfather, has a heart of gold. In spite of his personal difficulties, the boy is generous and kind to anyone in need, even though it means serious hardship for him. I believe such fantasy stories help give us the strength to do the right thing, right here in the real world. If you enjoy this book, you may also enjoy The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli.
Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse by Kaleb Nation
A fantasy book filled with magic, mystery, and suspense set in an interesting, imaginative world. I also found parts of it laugh-out-loud humorous. Interestingly, the book is often compared to Harry Potter, yet Kaleb had never read HP before writing Bran Hambric. I know this because Kaleb was in an online homeschool teen writing group I lead many years ago. Like Kaleb himself, his book is a joy. If you like Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, follow up with the sequel Bran Hambric: The Specter Key.
Dragon Rider by Cornelia FunkeWhat boy doesn't love dragons?! A charming read, Dragon Rider's 500 pages weren't even a smidgeon of a concern for us. The characters, most of which are dragons, are well developed. The heroes and villains are easy to love or hate. Boys tend to love fantasy and this is one that is easily enjoyable by younger boys. If you enjoy Dragon Rider, check out the author's book Inkheart. It's a different genre, and for a little older audience, but still a very good read.
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
From the classic Little House on the Prairie. This is the story of Laura's husband Almonzo and his childhood in New York on the farm. We had so much fun reading this book from the trip to the fair, to the children left on their own for a week, to Almonzo's love of horses, to the showdown at school between the local bullies and the new teacher, and more. I hope you'll go on to read the rest of the Little House books upon completing Farmer Boy.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I first introduced this classic to my sons as an audiobook read by Richard Thomas. It was a story so well loved, that it was listened to and read several times in our family. It is a story that is best read out loud because of all the emotions it brings out, from pure joy to pure agony. It deals with love, determination, hard work, integrity, courage, and death. Similar books to check out are Old Yeller by Fred Gipson and Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis - You can't go wrong with this classic series. If you only buy one set of books, this is the set to buy. It rolls off the tongue so easily when read aloud. I love that it can be read over and over again throughout the years. It can be read to a child when he's 6, again at 10, and again at 17, and be loved equally at each reading. The beauty of this is that your child will understand it at a different level each time. At 6 it may nothing more than a lovely story about a lion. At 17 it's still a lovely story but the deep theology woven throughout it is understood.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
I'm a George MacDonald fan. And, I'm in good company as MacDonald was also a favorite of C. S. Lewis. Combine this book with its sequel The Princess and Curdie for one of the best stories ever written for children. Curdie, though just a 12-year-old boy, is fearless and valiant. In the first book Curdie, along with the princess, is instrumental in saving the kingdom from a goblin plot. The second book focuses more on Curdie than the princess. It chronicles his internal struggle, fall from grace, and eventual redemption.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men is the companion piece to the well-loved Little Women. Jo, the fun and mischievous sister in Little Women is now married and charge to the boys (who are just as mischievous as Jo was in her youth) at Plumfield Estate School. What isn't there to love in reading about the antics of a house full of jolly, rambunctious boys?! If you find you enjoy Little Men, follow up with the sequel Jo's Boys.
Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last by Paolo A. Belzoni
(My review here.)
First, a warning. There are graphic war scenes in Belisarius and it does touch on the fact that some characters lack character. That is to say, some of the males are womanizers and some of the females have a past. However, a book written with only perfect characters is worthless. How do we learn from their mistakes if they don't make them? How do we learn that we too can be heroes if the book's hero is too far beyond our grasp? These are all great topics that can be discussed as you read aloud. This is a well-written, enjoyable piece of historical fiction that we enjoyed a great deal at my house. If you like this book, follow up with the sequel Belisarius, Book II: Glory of the Romans. The third, and final, book in this series is currently being written by Paolo.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
When my oldest son was just a little guy, he listened to the audio version of The Hobbit over and over again. As a 26-year-old man, he still has a love for Middle Earth. My guess is that I'll find him reading it aloud to his own son when he's a wee bit older (18 months might be a little young yet for The Hobbit). It is a complex book to read aloud and will take some time. There are a lot of characters to remember and the syntax is a bit archaic. Yet that is part of the reason it is attractive to the listener -- it makes a child to really think about what he is hearing. Plus, there is the moral story woven throughout. And, really, what is there not to love about fantasy, hobbits, elves, dragons, and adventure?! Of course, once you've tackled The Hobbit, next on the list is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
These titles are just the tip of the iceberg -- there are so many great books out there for boys to love. Perhaps I'll revisit this topic again in the future. In the meantime, if you have suggestions you would add to this list, please share in the comments below so others can benefit from your experience.