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

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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!