Sunday, December 24, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

Otto Lidenbrock is a German professor who believes that there are several volcanic tubes spread across the Earth which lead directly to its core.  Searching for irrefutable proof of his new theory, Otto takes his nephew Axel and their guide Hans deep into the caves beneath Snaefellsjokull, an active volcano in Iceland.  There, much to their disbelief, the three explorers encounter a number of natural hazards and even some prehistoric creatures!

Mr. Verne first published this book in 1864, and I think that one of the reasons behind its longevity is its outlandish plot.  Of course it was written back in a golden age of science and exploration, when academics were making major leaps of progress in all fields of study.  Most of Mr. Verne’s books have strong elements of science and discovery worked into the plot, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them to readers of all ages.  Upon reading “Journey to the Center of the Earth” for a second time, however, I found myself marveling at our modern levels of scientific progress.  Could it be possible that today’s generation might have its own young Jules Verne among us, a budding author who’s already hard at work writing stories about genetic engineering or deep space exploration?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard

“Big Red” was a champion Irish Setter; from the moment Danny saw him, he knew Red would be his dog.  Danny was just a lowly trapper, a boy who knew more about the ways of the woods than fancy kennels and dog shows.  But when the two meet for the first time, they quickly become inseparable and Red’s owner entrusts him to Danny’s care.  In the harsh wilderness that Danny calls home, Red proves to be a reliable, loyal companion…even when faced with a legendary enemy!

Mr. Kjelgaard is the prolific author of more than forty novels for young men, and it seems as if I’ve done him a disservice by waiting so long to include him on this list.  Although he was born over a hundred years ago and many of his books have now gone out of print, a good number are still available in retail shops today.  “Big Red” was even made into a Disney movie, a sure sign of its powerful and moving story.  These animal-focused books were some of my favorites growing up, so do yourself a favor and start searching for some of Mr. Kjelgarrd’s writing yourself! 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris

This autobiography tells the story of Willie Morris, a 9-year-old boy growing up in rural Yazoo City, Mississippi.   When Willie falls in love with a lively puppy named Skip, the two of them grow up together in a small town which seems to have no shortage of adventures.  Although this book is more of a reflection on the author’s childhood than it is a plot-driven story, I’d still have no hesitation recommending it to young readers.  After all, reading a memoir like “My Dog Skip” will invariably cause children to think about the imminent responsibilities of life in the real world, as well as how they’d like to remember the present.  If you love dogs (and who doesn’t?), I’d recommend you order a copy today.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Jessie Owens is a lonely, artistic boy whose only friend is his tomboy neighbor, Leslie Burke.  While exploring a creek near to their homes, the two decide to form an imaginary land where they can disappear from bullies at school.  This land is called Terabithia, and both Jessie and Leslie rule over their loyal subjects.  All is well in this secluded, magical land…at least, until the peace is shattered by an unspeakable tragedy.

One of the reasons that I like this book so much is because it’s such a painful read.  Young men often have a hard time coming to terms with their own emotions, and it’s reassuring that there’s at least one strong literary character who they can use as a role model.   I don’t want to give away any of the story here, but watching Jessie struggle with his emotions sends an unspoken message to boys that it’s okay to feel a certain way.  “Bridge to Terabithia” is a powerful, unforgettable story that all young men should read at least once in their lives.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman

Prince Horace is a spoiled brat, one who’s constantly causing trouble in an attempt to get his father’s attention.  He’s a kid who’s in serious need of a good spanking, but since he’s the prince no one can raise a hand against him.  Instead, his family has taken in an orphan boy named Jemmy, whose sole purpose in life is to receive punishments on behalf of the prince whenever Horace misbehaves.  It’s a horrible life and Jemmy longs for his freedom, which suddenly comes one day when Prince Horace decides to run away from the castle!

I read this book for the first time in second grade, and one of the main reasons it appealed to me back then was because of how Prince Horace’s unfair arrangement was laid bare from the beginning.  Imagine, being punished for doing absolutely nothing wrong…or even worse, having someone intentionally do something wrong in order to get you in trouble!  This unjust way of life is immediately identifiable for anyone who’s ever had the thought that “life isn’t fair”, and it’s no wonder that Mr. Fleischman was presented with the Newbery Award for his great story. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

White Fang, by Jack London

This book is about a rough dog named White Fang, who’s actually three-quarters wolf.  Born in the wilds of Canada’s Yukon Territory, White Fang survives by moving between Indian tribes, ferocious wolf packs and even a dog-fighting ring.  White Fang’s struggles finally come to an end when a gold prospector buys the dog and brings him onward to California.  There, a warm, sunny retirement awaits…or does it?

One of the things I like best about Mr. London’s writing is the fact that he doesn’t shy away from depicting the grisly realities of life on the frontier.  Tough men headed west expecting to live a tough live, and by all accounts they weren’t disappointed.  This book is written in a similar style, although I do have to say that the depictions of violence and cruelty aren’t too excessive.  If anything, this book is an accurate depiction of what frontier life must have been like, and it doesn’t hurt one bit that the main character is a heroic dog! 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

S.O.R. Losers, by AVI

The South Orange River (S.O.R.) School has a great reputation in sports, to the point where they’ve never lost a game this season.  That winning record is about to change, however, when some non-sporting kids decide to form SOR’s first soccer team.   When their overeager parents force the team to continue on after their first blowout loss, the kids rack up an impressive losing record that only serves to bring these misfits closer together!

Growing up, I read a ton of sports books by awesome authors like Matt Christopher.  While these books were great, most of them were usually about talented kids who excelled on the playing field.  Avi’s book is much different, because it shows that sports can still be beneficial for those of us who weren’t blessed with a ton of athletic ability.  Be sure to pick up a copy of this classic, and I guarantee you’ll be laughing out loud until the final whistle!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L'Engle

Meg Murry is a brilliant student, although all her friends and teachers tend to regard her as a troublesome kid.  Her parents are scientists, and her genius father has been inexplicably missing for several months.  One stormy night, Meg and her brother Charles are having a late snack when their eccentric new neighbor, Mrs. Whatsit, bursts in with an amazing announcement.  Mr. Murry is apparently still alive, although his research has somehow caused him to be propelled off through space and time into a mysterious fifth dimension known as a tessaract.  Armed with this new knowledge, Meg sets off with Charles and her school friend Calvin in an attempt travel through space-time and rescue her father!

I’ve never been a huge reader of science fiction, but this book is an example of a story that transcends the genre.  It’s been a perennial favorite for readers of all ages, no doubt due to its amazing story and well-thought-out plotline.  I’ve made it a personal goal to read further on into Ms. L’Engle other books in the series, collectively known as “The Time Quintet”, and if you’re looking for an amazing adventure then you’re more than welcome to join me!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The BFG, by Roald Dahl

Sophie is a young girl who lives in a crowded, noisy orphanage.  Her ordinary life is interrupted one late night when she sees a large, cloaked person on the street outside her building.  Shocked at being discovered, this person carries Sophie off to his homeland in Giant Country!  There, Sophie and the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) quickly become friends, and find themselves on the frontlines of a coming war between England and the other, evil giants!

One reason that I liked this story (even though it included a girl as the main character!) was that Mr. Dahl challenges the reader to reconsider their preconceptions.  Most giants that we’ve read about before are evil, and based on this story it looks as if that notion is correct.  But what happens when one of them is secretly good, and spends his nights blowing peaceful dreams into the minds of sleeping children?  “The BFG” is an absolutely lovely adventure for readers of all ages, and I’m sure it’ll quickly become one of your childrens’ favorite books. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lord of the Files, by William Golding

During a wartime evacuation, a plane full of prep-school boys crashes on a remote island in the Pacific.  Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, quickly set to work taking care of the survivors.  The initial relief to be alive quickly passes, however, as the boys turn to focus on the day-to-day work of survival.  Conflict arises when the group breaks up into two separate, competing camps, leading to an epic ending that no reader could possibly see coming!

While this book is a classic and a staple of most schools’ required reading lists, it’s important to know in advance that “Lord of the Flies” has several disturbing parts.  Violence is not glossed over in this story, and I think that Mr. Golding shows his readers a lot of respect by not doing so.  Whenever you’re ready for it, pick up a copy and dive in.  I guarantee, this is one story you’ll never forget!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

I expect an unusual amount of adventure from my books if the main character is a boy named Huckleberry, and this classic surely didn’t disappoint.  Huck Finn lived in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a frontier town where danger waits on its borders.  When Huck’s alcoholic father kidnaps him from his new court-appointed guardian, it’s up to Huck and his friend Tom Sawyer to make their escape.  Once free in the wild, the boys partner up with Jim, a runaway slave, and set off on a mission to help him free his own family.

One fact that’s often overlooks in this classic adventure story is the downright brutality of everyday life in the frontier South.  The original book has been banned many times for its use of the word “nigger”, and subsequent versions have been edited to remove this phrase.  As with most of Mr. Twain’s other works, though, the author is not known for pulling any punches with his writing.  His stories and books are often gritty, but they are always honest.  Huck Finn, one of the best examples of Mr. Twain’s writing, is certainly no different.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

This book tells the story of Milo, a bored young boy who unexpectedly receives a tollbooth as a gift.  Not knowing quite what to do with this present, he drives through it in his toy car and arrives in the Kingdom of Wisdom.  There, he meets two troubled princesses named Rhyme and Reason, and sets off on a quest to restore order to the Kingdom.  Along the way, Milo rediscovers his love of learning while exploring the literal meaning of many common idioms.

This story is a great adventure on the surface, but what really makes the book is the epic quantity of puns inside.  Anyone who enjoyed the wacky antics of Amelia Bedelia would probably love The Phantom Tollbooth as well, particularly the part where Milo finds himself “jumping” to an island called Conclusions.  This is a smart, funny adventure for young men of all ages, and if you haven’t read it already then you’re missing out.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander

Taran is a young boy who dreams of being a grand hero, mostly as an escape from the drudgery of his real job:  that of assistant pig-keeper at Caer Dallben.  Taran’s responsibilities include caring for a mystical pig named Hen Wen, who one day runs away into the forbidden forest.  Taran gives chase, an act which leads to an epic adventure with an absent-minded sorceress named Eilonwy, a mighty prince named Gwydion, and an odd man-beast known only as Gurgi.  Together, the group faces off against The Horned King, an evil warlord who rules the land with an iron fist.

One of the reasons that I love this series is that all of the the five books follow Taran through his adventurous childhood in the land of Prydain.  The wide-ranging cast of characters is based largely on Welsh mythology, a country where Mr. Alexander was stationed during World War II.  Although Mr. Alexander wrote over forty books for children, the Prydain series are his best-known works.  If you’re looking for a way to escape the drudgery of your own “normal” life, just pick up a copy of The Book of Three from your local library and stand by to be swept away!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko

Moose Flanagan is a young boy whose family moves to Alcatraz Island for his father’s new job in the infamous prison.  When he’s not busy caring for his autistic sister, Moose becomes close friends with the warden’s troublesome daughter Piper.  The two come up with a number of money-making schemes, including convincing other kids that for a price, they too could have their laundry done by one of the world’s most dangerous gangsters…Al Capone!

Although parts of this book are just as hilarious as the title, the story is more than just a barrel of laughs.  The most touching parts are about how Moose tries his best to care for his autistic sister, Natalie, or how his parents make such huge sacrifices to provide a better life for their kids.  This book is an amazing story built around a unique setting, and it’s no wonder that Ms. Choldenko eventually wrote two sequels for us to enjoy!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mad Scientists' Club, by Bertrand Brinley

This excellent series is about an odd group of friends drawn together by their shared interests in science and technology.  Their unique talents often cause them to become involved in any number of hare-brained schemes, such as creating a remote-control sea monster in their local lake or rescuing a stranded Air Force pilot.  The Mad Scientists are a force to be reckoned with in their small hometown, and their adventures are guaranteed to have any young readers heading for their own toolshed...just as soon as they stop laughing!

These books were originally released during the 1960s and 1970s, but were re-released in 2001 after being out of print for some time.  You might have to do some hunting around your local library or used bookstore to find a copy, but it’ll be well worth your time.  I was amazed to find that several of these stories were originally published in Boys Life, a popular scouting magazine.   Even better, all of the Mad Scientists’ technology is accurately described, so an enthusiastic young reader can easily mirror their projects.  Keep a close eye on your boys after they read these books, or else you might find them trying to build their own hot air balloon!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck

This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Rob Peck, an eleven-year-old boy growing up on an impoverished Vermont farm.  While skipping school one day Rob finds himself assisting a neighbor in the delivery of a pair of calves, and he earns himself an adorable piglet as a reward.  Rob names the cute animal Pinky, and raises it to become a prize-winning pig.  As the Great Depression deepens, however, Rob’s quickly discovers that the responsibilities of running a household are much greater than raising a cute little pet.

Written in 1972, this great story was among the first generation of books to be considered “young adult” novels.  Although the book is not nearly as well-known as Mr. Peck’s popular “Soup” series, this book rivals such other YA greats as “The Outsiders” or “The Chocolate War”.  Although there are a few graphic scenes in the book, it’s important to note that these narratives about animal husbandry and butchering meat are also just descriptions of daily farm activities.  “A Day No Pigs Would Die” is probably one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and I’d recommend it for any young men who’d like to a true glimpse into the rural lifestyle. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon

Henry is one of the naughtiest boys ever, one who lacks any kind of manners or personal hygiene.  To make matters worse it seems like he’s always being held up in comparison to his well-behaved brother, Perfect Peter, and his charming sister, Moody Margaret.   Henry’s wild, out-of-control behavior naturally lands him in a number of hilarious situations…even on one special day when he tries his hardest to be absolutely perfect!

It always seems like girls of this age group have a number of chapter books they can choose between, from Junie B. Jones to Ramona Quimby, but it’s hard to find that perfect book for boys of this age.  The short chapters of the “Horrid Henry” series are perfect for first- or second graders, and even the most reluctant reader would find themselves drawn in to Henry’s crazy adventures.  I highly recommend the Horrid Henry series, even though this boy would make an absolutely terrible role model!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell

Karana is a young native girl who lives on an island off the coast of California.  Her people have a peaceful existence in their little fishing community, at least until a traveling group of Russian fur hunters engage the tribe in battle.  After her depleted tribe flees for the mainland, Karana becomes the sole occupant of her little island.  Her story is one of self-sufficiency, although over the years she is always plagued by one burning question:  will her people ever return for her?

Yes, I’m aware that the main character of this tribe is a girl, but I’m still willing to recommend it as a perfect read for young men.  It’s an adventure story first and foremost, sort of like another generation’s Robinson Crusoe.  For any boys who’ve ever daydreamed about how peaceful it would be to get stranded by themselves on a remote island, this book might be all it takes to change their mind…

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

The narrator of this story is Ishmael, an outcast from society.  While he never really explains much of his own personal circumstances, “Moby Dick” begins with Ishmael taking to the sea in the hopes of changing his life.  He signs on board a Nantucket whaler called the Pequod, which is run by an iron-fisted tyrant named Captain Ahab.  Once on the open seas, it becomes apparent to the crew that this sailing is not driven by the huge profits that come from harvesting whale oil, but rather so that their driven Captain can seek revenge on the whale that disfigured him.  The Pequod’s crew travels the high seas, searching for any sign of that cursed white whale…Moby Dick!

I’ve read “Moby Dick” several times in my life, and it’s important to know that there are many different versions of this book.  The original text by Mr. Melville is 600 pages long and steeped in detail—it’s still a fantastic read today, although younger readers might be perfectly happy with an abridged version or even an Illustrated Classics format.  Whatever version you choose, be sure to add “Moby Dick” to your reading bucket list.  Adventure awaits you on the high seas!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Pigman, by Paul Zindel

John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen are two high school sophomores with a knack for getting into trouble.  Their favorite hobby involves making prank phone calls and seeing how long they can keep their victim on the line, an activity which leads them to meet Mr. Angelo Pignati.  After a visit to “The Pigman’s” house, John and Lorraine become fast friends with this elderly widower.  When Mr. Pignati suffers an unexpected heart attack, however, John and Lorraine volunteer to keep a close eye on his house.  Unfortunately, they end up doing more a lot more harm than good…

Without giving away any of this awesome story, it’s important to know in advance that “The Pigman” is a very sad, realistic book.  Many libraries still keep it on their list of “banned” books due to its depictions of underage drinking, drug use and sexuality.  It’s kind of remarkable that this book was actually published back in 1968 since its themes are way ahead of its time, but I think that “The Pigman” will quickly become a favorite to any young men in search of a haunting, mature read. 

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!