If you had told me 15 years ago years ago, that I would be embarking on a quest to find good books for boys -- with strong male characters, action and adventure -- I would have launched into a tirade about the ridiculousness of bringing gender into picking a book. I would have railed about how there's a dearth of strong female characters and we have a duty to encourage people to read the ones we have and to create an audience for more. If anything, I would have said, young boys need strong female characters even more than young girls. I would have ranted about how boys miss out on some of the best literature -- Austen! Woolf! Bronte! -- just because it's "girly." Never mind, I would have shouted, how so much of the standard required reading is by male authors! Dickens! London! Shakespeare!
You would have backed away slowly as I continued to rage.
(My ability to whip into a frothy rant is part of my charm. Michelle will tell you.)
Some of my most memorable rages came in my teen years, however, I could -- and likely would -- have delivered that speech as late as even, oh, five years ago.
And then I had The Boy. And another boy, my little Beastie. And they came out, I swear, wrestling and making finger guns and generally making me eat every word I ever ranted about gender norms being only something we learn from society, damn it.
We, of course, read a little of this and a little of that. They love fairytales of all sorts, though their preferences there explain the situation. Jack and the Beanstalk is requested a whole lot more than Cinderella. Goldilocks and those big bears always win out over Sleeping Beauty, but neither of them can hold up to the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf.
The Boy is learning to read and I've been thinking ahead to chapter books. He won't be reading them for a few more years, but we like to read them together and also, I like to be prepared and know what I'm recommending. For all my teenaged ranting about gender not being an issue in picking books, I have to admit, my knowledge of "boy" books is limited.
I'm pretty sure they'll like Farmer Boy and some of the early Little House books -- but I doubt they'll ever love These Happy Golden Years as I do. I have no hopes that they'll read the Anne of Green Gables books. (SIGH) But I can't wait to share Matilda and The Witches and all the rest of Roald Dahl's books. The Wizard of Oz series is excellent (and has female main characters!), and of course, there's Harry Potter, Narnia and Middle Earth to explore. Jack London is an obvious choice, as is Gary Paulsen, starting with Hatchet.
But there I found myself stuck and so I went to the library and started poking around the Newberry Award shelves. So far, I've discovered lots of boy orphans or almost orphans having adventures in medieval times: Adam of the Road, The Door in the Wall and Crispin. (And, interestingly, the first two were written by women.) I loved The Graveyard Book, too. These definitely will be ones I recommend to The Boy in a few years. They're interesting, well-written, filled with action and yet manage to share a few lessons. Also -- and here's the whole reason I'm searching out these books -- I feel like the main characters are ones my boys might relate to, see themselves in, connect with. Connections make reading enjoyable, I think, and making my kids love reading is one of my life goals.
So, what else should I be checking out?
And while I'm asking questions, what long-held beliefs were smashed for you by having children?