Read Aloud Books with Boy Appeal

Boys, as a general rule, prefer somewhat different books than girls. Surprise! Even from earliest years, they tend to want more action-oriented tales than their sisters, and besides adventure and battle stories they enjoy reading about heroes and villains and humorous stories with zany plots. They also most often disdain romance. But the biggest difference between my five sons’ and four daughters’ reading habits, at least in the early years, is that the girls would happily read books with male or female protagonists, while my sons, especially the youngest two, aged 11 and 8, will only read or listen to books with male main characters or with a combination of boys and girls. Some boys may happily read The Little House books or Anne of Green Gables, but Paul and Ben will have nothing to do with such classics.

On Memorial Day I asked my four youngest sons for their recommendations of good read aloud books. My 13 and 15 year old daughters chimed in as well, but every book here passed the boy test. As I said, my girls have almost always enjoyed boy read aloud books, but the reverse has not been true.

We chose to begin with short chapter books rather than picture books, and I’ve arranged the titles from simplest to more difficult, more or less. Finally, we created this list with PK-6th grade children in mind. (Note: As I was writing up the brief annotations, I realized just how many of these books have been made into movies. I suppose that’s not surprising, since they are such great tales. But almost universally, the movies are vastly inferior to, and sometimes even unrecognizable from the originals. So instead of repeating it below multiple times, I’ll just say here – stick with the books!) 

Read-Aloud Books with Boy Appeal 

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain (Alice Dalgliesh): “There are no bears on Hemlock Mountain. No bears, no bears, no bears at all!” Or are there?

Winnie-the-Pooh; The House at Pooh Corner (A. A. Milne): Every child should grow up listening to the adventures of Pooh, Piglet, and Christopher Robin! Milne’s poetry books are also essential: When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six

Thornton Burgess’s animal stories: Burgess was a naturalist who wrote stories such as The Adventure’s of Reddy Fox and The Adventures of Buster Bear in the early decades of the 20th century. His animals are anthropomorphized, but he still conveys truths of nature and gently teaches character lessons.
(Consequences of telling falsehoods, etc.) Ben absolutely loved these as a preschooler.

My Father’s Dragon (and Elmer and the Dragon; The Dragons of Blueland) Ruth Stiles Gannett:  – The first was a Newbery Honor Book in 1949. This one has a zany storyline which appeals to young boys.

Encyclopedia Brown series (Donald Sobol): Easy to read short mystery stories which kids will solve as they pay close attention to details and use reasoning to deduce answers.

Hank the Cowdog (Actually, first my kids mentioned these, and then they said I shouldn’t include them because nothing beats the dramatized CDs read by the author. Now, if I could just read them with the correct Texas accent and sing the songs the way author John Erickson does, they might approve. But as it is, my recommendation here is to check out the audio versions from the library.)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling): Fabulous! “How the Camel Got His Hump,” “Elephant’s Child,”  and others. Kipling’s command of language is delicious! Must be read aloud for maximal enjoyment of his delightful word creations.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Richard Atwater). I’ve not seen the new movie by this title, but from the reviews, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the book. Stick with the print version which will tickle the funny bones of your little guys at the misadventures of the house painter, Mr. Popper, and his troop of penguins.

Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress. (Oliver Hunkin/John Bunyan): My entire family loves this book which does a remarkable job in retelling Bunyan’s classic, staying faithful to the style as well as the content. Also, the illustrations are wonderful, though they may be too scary for some young children. If you want to dig more deeply into this book, Emily at the fantabulous Redeemed Reader website has created an reader’s guide to use alongsideDangerous Journey.

The Chronicles of Narnia series (C.S. Lewis): No explanation needed here. Tim has read these over and over to our children. He does skip The Last Battle, which has mixed-up theology though.

Owls in the Family (Farley Mowat): Hilarious, mostly true story about a Canadian boy who adopted two owls.

Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox (Marguerite Henry) Departing from her usual horse stories, Mrs. Henry tells the delightful tale of Cinnabar, a red fox who supposedly lived in George Washington’s day, his gourmet loving wife, Vicky, and their pups, Rascal, Pascal, Merry, and Mischief. One of my favorites! (Oh, wait – aren’t these all?)  

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car (Ian Fleming. Yes – THE Ian Fleming who wrote the James Bond books!) The book bears no likeness at all to the Disney movie, so give this a delightful story a try. It makes for great read aloud fun, especially if you can manage to read it outdoors on a lovely summer afternoon! BUT – and this is important – apparently the current version out has exchanged the marvelous, nay, essential,  illustrations by John Burningham for something else. Try if at all possible to pick up a copy with the original drawings. (OK – can you tell I grew up reading this one back in the ‘60s, and am so happy to own the same edition we had back then?)

Star of Light (Three Go Searching, many others) (Patricia St. John): Patricia St. John (pronounced “Sinjin”, believe it or not) was a missionary in Morocco for many years, who was also one of the very best authors of children’s Christian literature. Star of Light tells of a young North African boy who sets about to rescue his handicapped baby sister from their cruel stepfather.

Homer Price and Centerburg Tales (Robert McCloskey): Step back into small town America of the 1940s with these fun short stories, though Homer’s adventures are a bit out of the ordinary. McCloskey’s illustrations (he also did Make Way For Ducklings, to give you an idea) complete the fun.

Henry Reed, Inc. and series (Keith Robertson): Henry’s father work overseas in some diplomatic capacity, so he gets sent every summer to live with his aunt and uncle in rural New Jersey. Henry and his neighbor, Midge, have some fun times with their entrepreneurial and scientific adventures. My family particularly enjoys Henry Reed’s Journey, which chronicles a cross-country car trip, partly for its out-of-date, but quirky vintage settings.

Trumpet of the Swan (E. B. White): Louis is a Trumpeter Swan who can’t make a sound, so his father steals a real trumpet to give him a voice. The rest of the book tells how Louis earns enough money to pay back the music store and win the heart of his love, Serena. Even though it has romance, it is not mushy, and so funny that young boys will stick with it. My favorite E. B. White book.

Redwall series (Brian Jacques):  Paul has devoured this series, a set of fantasy books involving small animal characters who live in a non-religious pseudo-Medieval world. Tales of good vs. evil, quests, and battles.

Door in the Wall (Marguerite de Angeli): Robin, who has been left lame after surviving a serious illness during the time of the Plague, is rescued by a monk and goes to live in a monastery while he waits for the return of his knight father. Read to discover how Robin literally and figuratively finds the Door in the Wall.

The Railway Children (Five Children and It, others) (E. Nesbit): Most of Edith Nesbit’s book are rollicking fantasy stories with magical objects or creatures, though the wishes never turn out quite like the children think they will. The Railway Children is different, though, and has no fantasy element. In all of the books, written in late 1800s and early 1900s, the siblings are resourceful and closely bonded, though not at all perfect. C. S. Lewis said he was influenced by E. Nesbit’s books, and he even includes the Bastable family (The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The Wouldbegoods) in The Magician’s Nephew.

Half-Magic (Edward Eager): If you like the magical fantasy books of Nesbit, you might also enjoy Edward Eager’s stories, written in the 1950s, which pay tribute to Mrs. Nesbit. Things never go quite as expected with these wishes either.

Summer of the Monkeys (Also good – Where the Red Fern Grows) (Wilson Rawls): The hero, of this story sets out to try to capture 29 monkeys that have escaped from a circus train into the Ozark Mountains. Set in the 1800s. Moving and humorous. It’s been a while since I’ve read this one aloud, but it’s on the docket so my youngest boys can enjoy it.

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers,  and others (Ralph Moody) Fabulous autobiographical series. Ralph's father died when he was 11, leaving him the Man of the Family (another in the series). The Moody books which teach what it means to be a man, how to take responsibility and work hard, and other essential life lessons are some of Tim's favorite books to read to our sons.

Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne): This was Paul and Ben’s favorite read aloud a year ago. And yes, there is a romance which made them cringe, but it mostly takes place right at the end.

The Twenty-One Balloons  (William Pene Du Bois): Professor William Waterman Sherman who had tired of teaching young children mathematics, sets sail in a hot air balloon to spend at least a year away from civilization. What he discovers when he crash lands on Krakatoa will delight and amuse readers. Wonderfully inventive. Won the Newbery Award in 1948.

Snow Treasure (Marie McSwigan): True story of how Norwegian children helped smuggle out the country’s gold bullion on sleds directly in front of the eyes of the Nazi invaders. Published before the war was over. Wonderful story of courage and adventure.

Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away Lake (Elizabeth Enright): Cousins discover a derelict lakeside community which is now a ghost town, except for the eccentric elderly brother and sister who still live in their rambling, decaying Victorian house. Great fun.

The Gammage Cup (Carol Kendall): Definitely loved by my daughters as well as my sons, but they all recommended this adventure story about the Minnipins, outcasts from a conformist culture. Upper elementary or junior high.

Diary of an Early American Boy (Eric Sloane): Noah Blake’s 1805 diary embellished with Eric Sloane’s detailed line drawings and background information. Walk through the year with Noah as he and his father build a mill and work around their New England homestead. So tool- and boy-oriented, that the first time I read this I thought it would be a real bore for Mom, but it wasn’t.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien): I just finished reading Tolkien’s wonderful yarn to Paul and Ben. A dangerous mission; battles to be won or lost; good vs. evil; well-developed characters. Absolutely marvelous.

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson): Pirates, buried treasure, mystery. Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins. You can’t get more boy-oriented than this one.

A few helpful resources:

"Stalking the Elusive Boy Reader" by Janie Cheaney at Redeemed Reader

"Book for Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts all Day" by Marie Gerber, published by the Institute for Excellence in Writing

"Ten Books You Must Read to Your Son" and "Ten Books You Must Read to Your Daughter"
by a young Catholic mom. I'm not crazy about all of these selections, but then, I don't expect anyone to like all of mine either. 

Older posts about books:
Book Lists (books about books)

Family Reading

Building a Home Library


Anonymous said…
Woohoo!! I have several of these (granted most are packed away), and you've reminded me of several that I read as a kid. However, my ratio of girl to boy book is nowhere near close to being even (poor Daniel). Thank you so much for this post. I voted but then I goofed when trying to leave a comment in your previous post.

Jessi Thornhill
SarahD said…
Great list! Thank you! I've got a growing reader (growing in stature and reading ability!) who will love these suggestions. Interesting that Tim doesn't read "The Last Battle." I would have to agree with you on that one...
Anonymous said…
Thank you Anne, and other contributing Wegeners! These should keep us busy all summer. My boy-who-has-heard-a-lot-of-Little-House thanks you too. :)

Kristen Wegener said…
I'd add three more books to this list.

It's a Jungle out there
Life is a Jungle
Jungle Call

All by Ron Snell about his life growing up as an MK in the Peruvian jungle and eventually going to Moody and IU.
Anne said…
Yes, I don't know how we neglected to put the Rani books on! But the problem is where do you stop once you get going? There are so many other great books with boy-appeal!

Another author we could have included is P.G. Wodehouse, a favorite of all my sons, excepting Ben who doesn't quite get the humor. But then I guess Wodehouse belongs on a list for junior high and above. Jonathan is currently relieving the tedium of our May-June blueberry picking duty by reading us The Girl on the Boat by Wodehouse. It certainly makes for more eager laborers.

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