In a post on my old blog (the now defunct ordo-amoris.com) I wrote about how we are failing to give our boys a reason to learn, how boys are motivated by honor and how our society has left them without hope, and how one antidote to the problem may be using great literature to motivate our sons to pursue honor.
But what books should they read?
I recently asked a group of longtime homeschooling mothers, women I highly respect, what books they recommended for boys. The following is what I gleaned from raising my own sons combined with suggestions from these moms.
I have broken the list down into 3 parts: fiction, poetry, and biographies. With a few added additions this is a fine list for girls also but girls are much more motivated than our boys, in general.
Noticeably missing from the list are books I would classify as Victorian moralism. The group of women I surveyed almost unanimously agreed that moralism is antithetical to real heart change. My friend Chris put it this way, “Moralism looks good on the outside, which makes mothers feel more comfortable with their children: if they look good on the outside, I must be doing things right. It is just another kind of legalism. But in a world out of control and chaotic, one is always willing to sell their liberty for tyranny that will bring order. It's an old, old story.”
Our goal is not to produce self-righteous prigs like our old friend Eustace Scrubbs before he met the dragon (See: The Voyage of Dawn Treader) but rather to motivate our sons by the examples of true heart change whether that heart change is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional mouse Reepicheep. When we read of these sorts of characters we don’t feel smug and good, we feel challenged and even ashamed. We question our own motives and behaviors. In the best cases, we repent.
2. The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle (Sir Gerhard and Sir Nigel. Not as well-known as his Sherlock Holmes books, but for illustrating honor they cannot be beat. Check the public domain for these other Doyle books)
3. The 39 Steps etc by John Buchan (all Richard Hannay books. People often love 39 Steps but don’t realize there are at least 3 sequels. Greenmantle is next followed by our family favorite Mr Standfast.)
5. Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli
6. Sugar Creek Gang by Paul Hutchens (I highly recommend seeking out the originals rather than the updates.)
8. Little Britches series by Ralph Moody
"Son, there is no question but what the thing you have done today deserves severe punishment. You might have killed yourself or the horse, but much worse than that, you have injured your own character. A man's character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn't do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth."
That is just a small taste of the riches available to your sons in Ralph Moody’s books.
11. Ivanhoe and others by Walter Scott
12. Redwall series by Brian Jacques
13. The Princess & Curdie and others by George MacDonald
14. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
15. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Don’t underestimate the power of this book for boys. They naturally like Mr Darcy.)
17. The Marsh King by Walter Hodges
18. GA Henty (In spite of the fact that Henty is formulaic fiction; he does manage to tell the kind of stories boys love. Some of his books are even good literature. At least read a few Henty’s: The Boy Knight, In Freedom’s Cause, etc.)
20. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
1. Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall
2. Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy ( Great book for the athletes in the house.)
4. Childhood of Famous American (COFA) books for younger boys (Our favorites are William Penn, Francis Marion, Stonewall Jackson, Lou Gehrig)
5. Leaders in Action series edited by George Grant (Our favorites are Carry a Big Stick(Teddy Roosevelt) and Never Give In (Winston Churchill))
6. Of Courage Undaunted by James Daughtery
8. Mornings on Horseback and other books by David McCullough
1. Idylls of the King by Tennyson
2. If by Rudyard Kipling
3. Opportunity by Edward Sill
4. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson
5. The Leak in the Dike by Cary
6. The Village Blacksmith by Tennyson
7. Horatius at the Bridge by MacCaulay