Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead

10 Books You Must Read to Your Son

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?

22 Comments so far
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Your son is adorable!

Those are really interesting titles. I dont really have any suggestions cause I’m not a mother yet, so I still have time to think of them.

Comment by Jeyna Grace

Thanks! He’s a riot.

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

Love this list. Now only if my nephew could grow a little bit older to be able to appreciate me coming up with all the Hobbit voices.

PS. your family is like the cutest family ever.

Comment by Cassie

Not sure if I should confess this because it makes us sound beyond nerdy but Daniel read all of Tolkien to Benjamin starting when he arrived home from the hospital and began with the Silmarillian. Now it’s on the internet and I can’t take it back🙂 I’m sure your nephew will love your painstaking attention to each hobbit’s voice🙂

And thanks!

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

The Aeneid is a must. Vergil’s epic hero is humbler, more devout, and ultimately more human instead of god-like Achilles, who is certainly awesome, but kind of out of our reach.

I would suggest the Redwall series as precursors to Lord of the Rings. It builds a good foundation and is easier to read earlier.

Kipling’s poem “If”

Finally, when he’s a middle adolescent, give him Russian literature. If he has any inkling toward self-aggrandizing pity, this will be quickly clipped by true soul suffering of Russian mystics, hedonists, and social revolutionists. Start with “Notes from the Underground.”

Comment by thompsonface

Yes! All good ideas. I need to reread the Aenied. And I have the first Redwall book but I’m not sure if his attention span is quite ready for it. Hopefully soon because those are great. And how did I forget the Russians?! Maybe it’s my subconscious guilt that I never finished The Brothers K.

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

The Once and Future King is my all-time favorite! I would add The Wind in the Willows, I have really happy memories of my dad reading that out loud to us. Also on the girl’s list I would add Catherine, Called Birdy. It’s not technically a classic, but my mom and I read it together and both loved it.

Comment by Jane

You were the first person to recommend The Once and Future King to me! And I loved Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice. Good suggestion!

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

We are struggling through this with my 5 year old son. He just still doesn’t have the attention span if there aren’t pictures. My 8 year old daughter is loving it though!!

Comment by Anapam

Good suggestions! All of these are great books, but I worry that they might be a little dense for a more fidgety boy. I know children have an easier time with comprehension when they’re being read to rather than trying to tackle the book on their own, but might you have any tips for keeping boys and girls engaged during read-aloud time?

Another great adventure book for an adolescent or advanced pre-teen is Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. It’s got King Arthur, Robin Hood’s gang, knights, damsels, and villains. I read it my senior year of highschool and loved it.

Something that a younger boy or girl would be able to handle are Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Especially good for an animal-lover.

Comment by Heidi

I’ve never read Ivanhoe but I love all things Arthurian so I’ll have to get my hands on it! And I remember really liking Jack London books as a kid. Great ideas.

As for advice about fidgety kids during reading time…let me know if you find some!🙂 I’ve got the fidgityest little guy around, haha. He’s turning 3 next week and now he can sit through books like Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad, etc with no problem but if there’s no pictures…forget it. On a good night he can sit through a chapter of Little House on the Prairie.

The only tips I can think of are to make reading time a special time when your attention is completely on the kids and to give squirmers something for their hands to do. My little guy is constantly squirming and moving his hands so sometimes giving him a stuffed animal to snuggle and play with helps him not get distracted. But I long for the day when his attention span is long enough that we can read chapter books aloud to him.

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

Guardians of Ga’Hoole, at least the first few before they went on, and on, and on, and on some more.

Comment by Sonya Cronin

I haven’t even heard of this! Thanks, Sonya!

Comment by carrotsformichaelmas

If it helps to inspire, Laith couldn’t sit still for a story without pictures to save his sweet little life until he hit about 3 and 3/4ths. I actually remember the moment I started reading him The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I felt like something very magical and secretive was going on (and I myself felt powerful anbd sneaky and like I was hanging in the air)…and I think we read a good third of the book that afternoon while Bela crawled around on the floor. It was bliss. It was that parenting moment I had always dreamed of (of which I had…)

Anyhow. Now we are working through the Wind in the Willows at night, but Bela is so uninterested. We’re about halfway through so I don’t want to quit, but I may try to find something better for all. (like the Chronicles?)

Chapter books the boys (and little baby girl, I assume) have loved over the past few years include: The Incredible Journey (we all LOVE this one and have read it more than once – most children love animal tails), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang :The Magical Car (quirky and dry and packed with light adventure), My Side of the Mountain trilogy (more animal and nature stories, favorites of my childhood), the Chronicles, of course, and some old retro/vintage chapter books that were from my mother’s childhood library, like taking a dip in the 50’s, 60’s (Secret of the Old Post Box, Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, The Pink Motel, Jeptha and the New People.)

I would highly recommend all of these.

Also, just for transparency’s sake, Bela is 3 and one half and cannot sit still to save…

He actually likes to throw things at us, bite us, and cause all kinds of trouble while we read chapter books. I’m trying to find simple, animal stories to ease him into it. Any advice? He loves animals, and is hardly ever human.

I DO hope we can see you all in March! Zach just (TODAY!) got a job teaching science and doing a garden at a charter school in a tiny little town about half of an hour south of San Antonio. So, I do hope we will be buying a little home and filling up the outside with raised beds, as you all have. I am so inspired by your set of gardens.

Comment by Amy Robertson

[…] 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son […]

Pingback by A Dinosaur Birthday « Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead

Ok so of course this is not for bedtime reading but I will tell you what works best for reading chapter books during the day – play dough. My 3.5 yr old son sits quietly while I read chapter books to his 7 and 5 yr old sisters and does some listening himself! During the warmer weather I read to him while he plays in the sandbox. The girls never needed it but my son really needs to have something to do with his hands. Just found your blog today – love it!

Comment by Mandy

I think every boy (and girl) should read Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. A lot of the thoughts children have, but never share with the adults in their lives are addressed in this book. I loved it!

Comment by Shelley

All of Terry Pratchett’s young adult stuff, especially Tiffany Aching but start with Nation
Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
The Giver by Lois Lowry

I also want my son to read Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy, but I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

My husband suggests A Day No Pigs Would Die, I haven’t read that one. Our son is young yet, so it’s mostly Seuss at this point.

Comment by Karen Elb

Two books/series I recall with great joy are:

– “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, by E.L. Konigsburg
– “The Black Stallion” series, by Walter Farley

I read the former with my kids, as it was read to me in school when I was young. My daughter loved the latter, as did I as a young boy.

Comment by Paul

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. It’s an awesome series that is like a cross between Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. The boy has a prophecy to fulfill but he is in a magical land full of mythical creatures. A must read for any boy!

Comment by Dawn

Also Hatchet by Gary Paulson. It is about a young man surving in the wild after he survives a plane crash.

Comment by Dawn

Thank you for this reading list! My son is 20 months old and he LOVES when we read the Harry Potter series to him. He also loves all the Dr. Seuss books. He seems to be fond of books with a lot of percussive words. I am fascinated with Greek Mythology and it would be great to introduce my son to Homer’s works : ) Great suggestions!

Comment by Mama Bear Matters

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