The greatest books for boys are foundational texts. Greek mythology gives insight into human nature and valorizes masculine virtues. There are now Minecraft comic book editions of the Old and the New Testament. And a boy has to learn his national history and heroic myths.
For adventure, you can’t go wrong with the American classics, from Mark Twain to Jack London. I first read Huckleberry Finn at the age of eight in translation and White Fang afterwards.
At the library or a used book store, look for books that were printed more than a few decades ago. You can’t appreciate how politically “corrected” children’s books have become until you compare them with something that’s fifty-plus years old. Furthermore, the poz is more blatant with hot-off-the-press publications, where they will go as far as sneaking in overt homosexuality. Ask me in the comments if you want to know of one example. The obligatory diversity ruins every story and you will never see a recently published book with an illustration of a White boy and girl next to each other. Liberals really do want to destroy your son and daughter.
The one qualitative difference between great books for men rather than for boys, is women. A young boy’s psycho-social development is focused on his becoming a man in relation to other boys, therefore a great book for boys might omit any reference to women entirely as superfluous and distracting. War and adventure stories, for example. Or coming-of-age friendship tales such as Stephen King’s short story The Body, better known by its film version Stand by Me — no girls allowed.
If women appear in a boy’s book, they should be fixed characters like a mom or a teacher; if an authority figure, she ought to be comic relief. When a story features a girl as a developed character, the boy’s attitude to her should be rendered as one of amused and occasionally annoyed mastery, though despite it all, instinctively protective — like with a sister. Nuanced and complex portrayals of women are for adult readers.
Here are several books I recommend for boys, some of which might not be familiar to Anglosphere readers. Plot summaries include spoilers.
Roald Dahl, Short Stories. Dahl was a Welsh novelist (1930 – 1990) whose prose carries echoes of Dr. Seuss — similar touches of surrealism, as well as its own wry looseness in language. Representative short stories:
- George’s Marvellous Medicine — Can’t stand bossy (and smelly!) old hags? This tale has the antidote: our hero concocts a potion to make his witchy grandmother nicer and hilarity ensues.
- The Filling Station — An account of growing up with one’s widowed father in a trailer behind dad’s auto-service garage. A big meadow, a bunk bed, a wood stove in the winter, and greasy clothes from helping dad in the shop. What more could a boy want?
Beowulf. Specifically, the version authored by Michael Morpurgo. The narrative emphasizes loyalty to friends and benefactors, courage, honesty. Cowardice and abandonment of kinsmen are singled out for scathing treatment.
Karl May, The Winnetou Trilogy. Written by German author Karl May in 1893 and set on the American frontier, the trilogy follows a greenhorn’s development into the famed Old Shatterhand and his ultimately tragic friendship with the Apache warrior Winnetou. Loved it as a ten-year-old. I’m not otherwise familiar with the genre; any other old-school great Westerns for boys out there?
Henryk Sienkiewicz, In the Desert and the Wilderness. The novel was written in 1911 and it describes the adventures of two children of the British Empire’s emissaries, Stan and Nell, following their abduction by Sudanese rebels. Travelling with their kidnappers, they encounter a lion and the Arabs agree to hand the rifle to Stan, knowing that he is the only one with the skill take down the animal. Understanding the weight of his responsibility, Stan kills the lion and then slays all of his captors.
At the completion of their journey through Africa in search of a British garrison, he and Nell are reunited with their families and Stan’s father gives him a memorable lecture on killing:
Listen, Stan, don’t deal in death lightly, but if someone threatens your homeland, the life of your mother, sister or the life of a woman placed in your care, put a bullet in his head with no questions asked and don’t burden yourself with any remorse.
Ferenc Molnar, The Paul Street Boys. The plot centers on the battles between two gangs of boys over a vacant lot in Budapest. Janos Boka is the leader of the protagonist group. Ernest Nemecsek, the book’s main character, is the smallest and weakest of the boys but arguably the bravest. Due to a misunderstanding he is demerited by his gang, a dishonor he takes very seriously. To redeem himself, he wades through a pond on a cold day to spy on the enemy gang and catches pneumonia.
Despite his illness on the day of the decisive battle, Nemecsek runs away from home and fights, contributing to victory. He collapses after the battle and Boka carries him home, where he dies while his father is unable to break away from a fussing customer. Once back outside, Boka runs into the leader of the opposing gang, who says that he came to see how Nemecsek is doing. The 1906 novel foreshadows the incipient Great Brother Wars.
Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin. Written in the 1950s by the Belgian cartoonist, this series of comic books follows the eponymous young reporter and his wacky cast of supporting characters on their exploits around the world. You’ll enjoy entertainingly frank racial stereotypes, yet Tintin finds a way of making friends with good people everywhere. The physical and verbal comedy is guaranteed to have both the kid and the adult splitting their sides with laughter.