The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance

Great Books for Boys

The recent Reading at Risk survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts revealed that over the past twenty years, teen reading has declined so much that young adults have gone from being the population group most likely to read literature to the group least likely to read literature. And, the gender gap in reading by young adults has widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women fell from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men dropped from 55 percent to 43 percent. Simply put, in our country, girls and women read much more than boys and men. Girls and young women also score consistently higher in literacy skills assessments than their male peers at every grade level. Since the greatest predicator of academic success for any individual is proficiency in reading and writing skills, it means that, at least in our society, boys are at a considerable disadvantage.

It should not be assumed that this development has anything to do with so-called innate differences between boys' and girls' intellects. In most nations, both industrialized nations and "third world" countries, the literacy statistics are reversed; that is, in most other countries, boys score higher on literacy skills assessments than girls. There are many reasons why boys score lower here than elsewhere. Our society prizes sports prowess more than it does intellectual achievement. We have very few male national leaders who witness the importance of education in their lives. Many boys do not have a familial male role model who reads.

The bottom line is that our boys are not reading enough. The more they read, the better their vocabularies and comprehension skills, the more they will be able to write and communicate, the more they will learn and grow in critical and creative thinking skills. Boys need to read magazines and newspapers, books of nonfiction and fiction, and they need to do more than the skimming many boys engage in on the Internet. Much of the material on the Internet, although it is technically reading material, does not provide strong content or comprehensive substance. Often, it is not monitored and has no quality standards. It's great for overall breadth, but not for in-depth reading. And, it is only through consistent in-depth reading that young people can develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to enrich their personal lives, compete successfully in the workplace, and become responsible citizens in our democracy.

One of the best ways to get and keep boys reading is to offer them interesting and entertaining books that will energize them to read further. Some newer titles to try are The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke; Graham Salisbury’s Night of the Howling Dogs, Under the Blood Red Sun and Blue Skin of the Sea and also the thrilling fantasy series by the young author Christopher Paolini –Eragon and Eldest and a new title to come.   Christopher wrote these books as a teenager so boys you know may find his own story interesting – visit his website at

 Old favorites from Harry Mazer's fly off the shelves, especially: A Boy No More; Heroes Don't Run : A Novel of the Pacific War; and A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor.  Also  recommended are these titles for teens: Godless by Pete Hautman; The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman; and Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Two great new nonfiction titles for boys are: Tales of the Dead: Ancient Greece by Stewart Ross; and Genius: A Photo Biography of Albert Einstein by Marfe Ferguson Delano. And don’t forget the many titles in the Eyewitness Books series which cover numerous subjects of high interest for boys. 

 For younger boys try new picture books: Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka, A Blue So Blue by Jean-Francois Dumont; Zen Shorts by Jon Muth, and What's Going on in There? by Geoffrey Grahn.  

And, for middle-grade readers look at the following novels: the Chet Gecko Series by Bruce Hale; Hermux Tantamoq Adventures by Michael Hoeye; Sea Legs by Alex Shearer; Scrib by David Ives; and The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or Pirates Galore by Sid Fleischmann.

Two of our favorites to add to your "Great Books for Boys" list. The first, Adam Canfield of the Slash, a middle-grade novel written by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, proves that a great book for boys does not need to have a "star" athlete as its protagonist. Winerip convincingly creates a middle school atmosphere full of adventure with a cast of likeable kids, a reprehensible principal to boo, a hero-boy to cheer, and everyone's favorite Latin teacher to love and respect.

The second pick for boy book favorite is Guys Write For Guys Read: Boys' Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys compiled by Jon Scieszka. As one of the most favorite of boys' favorite authors, Jon is, like many children's authors and illustrators, deeply concerned about the state of literacy and libraries in our nation. A former schoolteacher, he has been concerned about boys' reading habits for years and has decided to do something about it. Jon created – a website devoted to getting boys reading. It is a great site to find book recommendations from guys for guys. And, if you want to find out more about Jon and his GUYS READ website, check out Jon's Verizon Enlighten Me interview.

More new books for boys recommended by The Horn Book

Picture Books
Traction Man is Here! written and illustrated by Mini Grey
Once upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Mudball written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
Into the Forest written and illustrated by Anthony Brown
Jamari's Drum by Eboni Bynum and Roland Jackson, illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
The Conquerors written and illustrated by David McKee
The Good Rainbow Road by Simon Ortiz, illustrated by Michael Lacapa

Middle Grade Fiction
King of Middle March by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Broken Song by Kathryn Lasky
The Convicts by Iain Lawrence
Under the Sun by Arthur Dorros
Heck Superhero by Martina Leavitt

Young Adult Fiction
Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer by Eleanor Updale
The Fire Eaters by David Almond
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner
Talk by Kathe Koja

Non-fiction: Elementary Grades

Ballpark: The Story of America's Baseball Fields written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee
Hot Jazz Special written and illustrated by Jonny Hannah
Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick
Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing written and illustrated by James Rumford

Non-fiction Middle School/High School
George Washington: An Illustrated Biography by David A. Adler
Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People by Albert Marrin
The Race to Save Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose

Here In Harlem: Poems for Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Phillipe Lardy
Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson

 Graphic Novels are the newest category of books for young people and they are extremely popular with boys.  But don’t think less of them because of their comic book style—they are great for that “visual” child!

Ug:  Boy Genius of the Stone Age and His Search for Soft Trousers by Raymond Briggs

The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney

Master Man:  A Tall Tale of Nigeria by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by David Wisniewski

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

 © 2007 Mary Brigid Barrett