Top-Ten Boy Books - How To Get Our Boys Reading Again
By David Skuy
Boys don't read - hundreds of reports and newspaper articles have made that clear.
The mantra of the literary community is to just get boys to read anything, even the back of a cereal box.
This message ignores the fact that literacy is not the real problem. Boys can read - they just choose not to. The dumbing-down of literature will not solve the problem of boys not reading. We need to inculcate a love or reading. Let's not lower the bar and endorse mediocrity. Let's raise it. Are you happy when your kid is reading a comic book? Or would you prefer he bury his nose in Tom Sawyer?
Below is a list of great books every boy should read before they're twelve, books that will capture their imagination and motivate them to read more. It's a mix of old and new, and guaranteed to get a big thumbs up.
1. Chasing Vermeer
A terrific action and mystery story surrounding the disappearance of a priceless work of art. Two kids find themselves at the centre of an international art scandal. Boys will be drawn to the story's dramatic conclusion, as the heroes solve a crime that left the FBI baffled.
2. Tiger, Jeff Stone.
Five young monks in China, trained by a kung-fu master, are forced to flee the safety of the temple to find some secret scrolls. Each monk has mastered a different form of fighting, all of which comes in handy as they battle their way closer and closer to their goal. Tiger is full of action, but also speaks to such issues as self-reliance, friendship, loyalty, and truthfulness. The author does a fine job of incorporating Chinese culture, an element that many boys will be attracted to.
3. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
I have included these two masterful tales from Mark Twain as a single entry, but each deserves its own spot. Tom Sawyer is the lighter of the two, although the book's ending involves an accused murderer whom Tom confronts in a cave. Carefree adventures are combined with humour and drama to make it a perfect read for any boy. You might want to wait until your son is 10 or 11 before you introduce Huck Finn. Huck drifts down the Mississippi with Jim, a run-away slave. Again, action, adventure, and humour are combined, this time against the backdrop of American slavery. Tom Sawyer makes a guest appearance.
4. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells.
Younger readers will miss the subtleties of this classic allegory of time travel and the decay of English society. They will certainly love reading about the Morlocks, the subterranean descendants of the working class, and the Eloi, the simple-minded representatives of the bourgeoisie. Wells was a master storyteller, and his clear, easy style make this book very accessible. Boys won't put this one down, as they learn, along with the time traveler, the truth about London's strange inhabitants.
5. Operation Red Jericho, Joshua Mowill.
This book is written as a spy-journal, with lots of detailed maps and secret clues. The story is somewhat complex, which might make it more suitable to readers 10 and up; it's lots of fun, however, and there's never a dull moment. It's also a very beautiful book. You might need to pay a bit more, but your boy will like the look-and-feel.
6. Touchdown Pass, Clair Bee.
Touchdown Pass introduces readers to one of the great characters in American fiction - Chip Hilton. Clair Bee wrote the Chip Hilton series in the fifties and early sixties. This is the first book. Under no circumstances buy the new edition - stick with the original. You won't find the original in book stores. Go to AbeBooks.com or the used book section of Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, and it's easy to find (and cheap). A bit Pollyanna in tone, and perhaps dated, Clair Bee practically invented the genre of the sports series.
7. Hockey Stories, Leslie McFarlane
Leslie McFarlane was the best-selling author of many of the Hardy Boys books. He wrote these stories in the 1930s, and they have just been re-released. The tone and terminology are slightly dated, but the themes are timeless.All the short stories have a quirky, humorous side that makes them fun and worthy of a read. This one is suitable for younger boys, even strong-reading eight-year olds.
8. Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Who hasn't heard of this one? Yet, it's not easy to find in bookstores. This is the first of a series. The rest of the Tarzan books are definitely B-list material. This one is not. It's a magnificent book - compelling and exciting. The romance elements are vague enough to be appropriate for any kid. The length suggests a reader who is 10+.
A young boy, wrongly accused of stealing, is sent to a youth detention centre. He is forced to dig holes in the ground, along with his fellow inmates, supposedly to build character. Instead, the evil warden is using the kids to find a priceless treasure. This is a story about friendship and loyalty, and the character development is noteworthy. It is also a major motion picture (not as good as the book!)
10. Off the Crossbar, David Skuy
Perhaps this is a biased entry, since it is my own. The main character is Charlie Joyce, a boy who arrives in a new town after the tragic death of his father. A terrific hockey player, he tries out for the school team. This marks the beginning of his troubles, as some of the kids don't want the 'new kid' to play. It's full of fast-paced action, climaxing in a hockey tournament. Charlie battles - on and off the ice - first for a spot on the team, and then to keep everything together, as infighting and rivalries threaten to destroy the team's chances. A book for boys who love sports.
About The Author
David Skuy is the author of Off the Crossbar, a sports novel for boys. He is also a noted lecturer, speaking to parents and kids about literacy and sports.