After 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter, I thought the boys were getting rather left out. Having never been a boy, this list didn’t come as naturally. But, being the mother of a boy it seems equally important. Basically, I want my son to be a confident, thoughtful, compassionate, strong-minded, and virtuous man like Mr. Knightley, not a weak, desire-driven, selfish cad like Willoughby. So here goes (with some help from Daniel)…
1. The Once and Future King by T.H. White: I cannot wait to read this to Benjamin. This retelling of the King Arthur story is delightful and full of important questions of honor, justice, and manhood. Also, there’s adventure galore and falconry. So, what more could you want?
2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings is the foundation for a huge amount of modern fantasy literature, movies and video games. It would not be exaggerating to say that even the genre of “fantasy” became nearly synonymous with the general aspects of Tolkien’s world. Beyond the fantasy genre, LotR has influenced everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars. Despite this far reaching influence, Tolkien’s imagined world remains unmatched in depth, history, richness, and detail. But more important than all of this, The Lord of the Rings teaches virtue in an incredibly powerful way. Of course, there is Aragorn; wise, strong, courageous, and skilled in warfare. But, despite what the LotR movies would have you believe, Tolkien was not enamored with war. Battles make up a very small percentage of his books and he does not romanticize fighting. The true heroes, Sam and Frodo, are neither physically strong or all that knowledgeable and they spend almost no time engaged in any sort of physical combat. Their great feat is their faithfulness to the task given to them, their courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for others.
3. Beowulf: Get yourself the Seamus Heaney translation and introduce your son to some epic Anglo-Saxon manhood. There are dragons, monsters, and really strong guys who can rip monsters apart with their hands. But it’s not really about brawn, it’s about honor, courage, responsibility, and sacrifice.
4. The Iliad by Homer: Just in case Beowulf didn’t thoroughly saturate your kid with epic poetry, read him the Iliad. It’s kind of a classic.
5. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: I’m not a huge fan of the YA Fiction “coming of age” story, but this one is pure gold. On the surface, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows Jody Baxter, a young boy living in backwoodsy Florida, and his friendship with a deer, but there are deeper themes of family, sacrifice, and the painful process of growing up. There are enough bear hunts and snake bites to keep any boy’s attention but this fine novel can wring tears from a grown man.
6. Anything Jane Austen: I know, I know, you think they’re just for girls, but you’re wrong. The heroes of Austen’s six novels don’t slay dragons or hunt bears but they are fighting everyday battles of self-sacrifice, honor, and compassion. I hope Benjamin grows up to be a chivalrous Mr. Knightley or a noble Colonel Brandon and I want him to understand the consequences of acting like a rakish Willoughby, Henry Crawford, or Wickham: everything gets ruined, especially the cad’s own soul. These novels aren’t about weddings, they’re about virtue. A thorough knowledge of Miss Austen’s novels also won’t hurt a young man’s ability to win the heart of his lady love.
7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: It’s no secret that these books are favorites in the Stewart household. When I was pregnant with our firstborn I said to Daniel in a horrorstruck voice, “What if our kids don’t like Harry Potter?!” We decided to just dismiss the thought because it’s too ghastly to consider. So, many fine male characters, friendship Aristotle would approve of, a view of evil that’s thoroughly Augustinian, beautiful depictions of sacrificial love, and a high view of family are just a few things that the series has to offer.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: First of all, I can’t believe I left this series off the girl’s list. They’re worthy of a place in every kid’s childhood. Benjamin’s almost three and I really want to give these wonderful books a try for reading aloud at bedtime.
9. The Boy Scouts Handbook: Daniel tells me that an old-timey version of this book about gaining cool skills was one of his favorites as a child. I think it’s important for young boys (and girls) to be outdoorsy savvy.
10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: OK, so I should confess that I haven’t read this one, but Daniel wrote his thesis on it and says it’s a must read, so it makes the list. The theme of Man vs. Nature is sure to appeal to your young man and the book also includes ships, whales, and sharp objects. Most boys really like the idea of going into the wild and being tested by the forces of nature, or at least that’s what I’m told.
Here’s some more titles highly recommended to me that I didn’t include in the list because it’s been too long since Daniel or I have read them: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (more man vs. nature), The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Montecristo is also really great), Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Got any suggestions? What would be on your list?
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