“Explore, build, conquer – you don’t have to tell a boy to do those things for the simple reason that it is his purpose. But it’s going to take risk, and danger, and there’s the catch. Are we willing to live with the level of risk that God invites us to?”
John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, 2001:Thomas Nelson Publishers
Good books can help build the man. The young boy needs all the help he can get to rise up to the heights of his unique calling. Through stories that flesh out endurance, sacrifice, and fighting for the right, he can attain his destiny. A well-rounded male protagonist demonstrates to the young reader that success must be hard-won and involves taking risks and will inspire him to believe he can make a difference.
John Eldredge claims in Wild at Heart that “Life is not a problem to be solved; it is an adventure to be lived. That’s the nature of it and has been since the beginning when God set the dangerous stage for this high-stakes drama and called the whole wild enterprise good. He rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say when we live by faith. A man just won’t be happy until he’s got adventure in his work, in his love, and in his spiritual life.” (p. 238)
Fictional stories well-told can breathe on the embers that lie dormant in all boys and men, fanning the flames of their strength and power, and enabling them to rise up and do big things for their families and the good of others.
These great “boy books” offer plots and settings that show the resolution of a boy’s inner conflicts: “Do you think I can do this?” “Am I any good?” “Am I heroic?” Our world needs men who use their strength for the protection of others — men who overcome and walk out their bigger purpose.
The titles listed here represent a few stories that showcase a male character facing adventure, danger, and risk. My list is eclectic and loosely organized into recommended age categories. Keep in mind that often a good book will be a wonderful reading experiences for many age groups.
The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis – each book offers a heroic and YOUNG protagonist, e.g. Peter, Edmund, Shasta, Eustace, Caspian
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – William is off on a quest into a fantasy world
Honus & Me by Dan Gutman – one of 5 “Baseball Card Adventures” – a boy goes back in time to meet his sports hero.
The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds – a young boy must defend his family against Indian attack
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh – a boy must find out for himself if there are bears on the mountain
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – a spoiled prince and a commoner team up for adventures
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a silversmith apprentice in Revolutionary Era Boston finds his courage
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a runaway survives in New York’s Catskill Mountains
The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead – wonderful re-telling of King Arthur and Merlin
Call Me Francis Tucket by Brian Paulsen – a 14 year old faces trials in 1800’s American West
Hatchet by Brian Paulsen – a teenager must survive alone in the Canadian wilderness
Little Britches by Ralph Moody – a heart-warming saga of pioneer life in Montana in the 1800s
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – a young boy faces dangers in Palestine at the time of Christ
God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – a Dutch missionary smuggles Bibles behind the Iron Curtain
Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester – a British naval midshipman endures hardships during the Napoleonic War
Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour – an escaped American soldier evades captures in Soviet Siberia
Treasure Island, Kidnapped, or The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson