Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane


Henry Fleming is a young soldier serving in the Union army at the height of the Civil War.  In his first battle, faced with a fierce onslaught of enemy fire, Henry does the unthinkable and flees from the fight.  Ashamed by his cowardice, Henry regretfully longs for a combat wound-- known as a “red badge of courage”-- to show the world that he really is capable of bravery.  As the War drags on, it’s almost inevitable that Henry will be offered a second chance.

One of the most impressive parts of this little book is its accuracy in depicting the multiple combat scenes.  While Mr. Crane was born after the conclusion of the Civil War, he is said to have interviewed hundreds of survivors in order to weave their experiences into the story.  “The Red Badge of Courage” is one of those great works of fiction that literally brings history to life, and I’d recommend it to any young men in search of something new (or in this case, something old!)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Animal Farm, by George Orwell


In a secret meeting on the farm, an aged pig named Old Major declares that humans are the enemies of all domesticated animals.   Upon Major’s death two younger pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, make it their work to free the other animals from Farmer Jones.   A series of epic battles takes place, and eventually the animals earn their right to self-govern.  Animal Farm should be an idyllic place, although it quickly becomes apparent that no form of government is without its share of political intrigue…

Without giving away any of this excellent plot, it’s important to know beforehand that George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” as a critique of communist governments, particularly the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.  Several of the plot points were based on real-life events during the Russian Revolution, so it’s important to read carefully to get the most out of this book.  No matter your level of interest in history or politics, though, “Animal Farm” will get you hooked from the first page.  It’s a wonderful story that causes you to actually think, and it’s an absolute must-read for young men.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Misty of Chincoteague, by Margeurite Henry


This book begins with the sinking of a galleon off the coast of Virginia over three hundred years ago, a real-life tragedy which released dozens of Spanish ponies onto the shores of America.  Centuries pass until the modern day when we meet two children, Paul and Maureen Beebe, who are saving their money to buy a Chincoteague pony.   Each year the residents of Chincoteague work together to pen up a number of the wild horses, and the Beebe children find themselves the proud new owners of a foal named Misty.  As much as they love and care for their new animal, however, it becomes quickly apparent to the children that some wild things weren’t meant to be tamed…

“Misty” is one of those classics that you might not be able to find in a bookstore today, but I guarantee there’s a copy waiting in your local library.  Now seventy years after it was first published, the book still carries the same meaning for a new generation of readers.  If you make the effort to search out and read this book, it probably won’t be long before you’re hunting for one of the sequels as well…

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Armada, by Ernest Cline


Zach Lightman is living every high school kid’s daydream…he was bored in class one day, just staring out the window when suddenly a UFO appeared!   The particular ship looked to be straight out of a popular video game called Armada, in which the players log online to collectively defend the Earth from alien attack.   As the ship takes Zach away, he’s as surprised as the rest of the world to learn that the game is actually a secret government training program.  The world is about to come under attack, and it’s up to Zach and the rest of the Earth Defense Alliance to defend us!

Mr. Cline’s writing in “Armada” is just as fast-paced as it was in “Ready Player One”, so even the most reluctant young adult reader will be quickly drawn in.  My favorite part, however, is the amazing storyline where a popular video game basically comes to life.  What do you think the story would be like if any other game turned out to be real?  Super Mario Brothers?  Call of Duty?  Who knows, maybe there’s another great story waiting for you to come along and write it…

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien


Bilbo Baggins is a respectable, reserved Hobbit who lives a quiet and comfortable life in a land called The Shire.  Adventures and other nonsense are frowned upon here, so it comes as quite a surprise when a wizard named Gandalf arrives to enlist Bilbo’s help on an epic quest.  When Bilbo finds himself attached to a company of dwarves seeking the return of their ancient treasure, he naturally starts to wonder if he’s made the right decision to leave home.  After a series of near-death adventures, though, which include encounters with trolls, goblins and a magic ring, Bilbo proves himself to be a truly indispensible member of the traveling party!

“The Hobbit” is a one of my favorite classic novels, and one that I end up re-reading every few years.  Yes, you could just as easily go out and watch the movie adaptations but take my word, you’d do well to sit down and read the book first.  The level of detail that Mr. Tolkien wove into this book, which serves as an introduction to an amazing place called Middle-Earth, is simply astounding.  “The Hobbit” is arguably one of the best, if not the best, fantasy novels of all time.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen


“The Lawn Boy” is a twelve-year-old young man with a true entrepreneurial knack.  When he comes into possession of his grandfather’s old riding lawn mower, he quickly turns a single chore into an awesome moneymaking venture.  In no time at all the Lawn Boy builds a monopoly on yard care, and then begins to look for ways to invest his hard-earned cash.  His business seems to encounter a number of unexpected turns…including a questionable investment in a prizefighter, as well as an unexpected run-in with the Mob!

One of my favorite parts about this book is the way that Mr. Paulsen doesn’t really offer a name for his character, other than “The Lawn Boy”.  I’m not sure if he did this intentionally, but the lack of a name combined with a first-person narrative made it very easy for me to identify with the Lawn Boy.  I’d be willing to bet that any hard-working boy who reads this book would quickly imagine himself being able to corner the market on lawn care too!

At only 90 pages, “Lawn Boy” is a lightning-fast read for all ability levels, and what boy isn’t interested in making money?   Give this book to any kid and you might be surprised by how quickly he starts asking for extra chores….for a small nominal fee, of course!  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Lump of Coal, by Lemony Snicket


Finally, here’s a holiday story told from a different perspective.  At Christmastime, a living lump of coal falls off a barbecue grill and wishes for a miracle to happen.  This particular lump of coal wants to be an artist, but is rejected by a local gallery.  He’s also unsuccessful in finding work at a restaurant, and is about to give up when he runs into a man dressed as Santa Claus.  Finally, through a strange turn of events, the lump of coal finds himself in a position to become the perfect Christmas gift.

This book is a true Christmas miracle, a holiday story without any type of preachy message.  It’s a book about fitting in where you can, and like all of Lemony Snicket’s other books the author has a way of building rapport with the reader.  Children who pick up this book will not be talked down to, but rather taken along on a short but special holiday journey.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Keep reading!