Books and Boys

Having seven sons and three daughters, and being an avid reader, I regularly consider are my children readers?  As a teacher I often hear from parents how their son is “on par” or above for his reading level, but he does not enjoy reading.  So not just for my own children but also the students that I teach, I ponder, how can I assist them in discovering the beauty of reading? The article below does not a “quick fix” or incentives for boys to become readers other than the books themselves….it is about choosing the right books.  Each book below is given a brief introduction, and surprising there are titles that I have not considered beforehand.  Dive into some rereads and some first time reads and enjoy!

https://www.crisismagazine.com/2018/10-books-every-boy-hazard
Written by Sean Fitzpatrick

Thanks to the adulterators of children’s literature, the natural anticipations when approaching forgotten classics have been skewed. Everyone expects that everything will be picturesque, nice, and most importantly, safe. For reality is far too dangerous, far too harsh a thing, and children must be protected from it at all costs. Real stories for real boys, however, refuse to deliver saccharine platitudes. These books are composed of the uncanny, unforeseeable, and unimaginable. They present a reality that is often harsh, terrible, and so far from the idyllic it is free to become adventure. The books every boy should hazard are constantly on the brink of disaster, but still bear the distant but firm promise of final resolution; deftly navigating the fine line between realism and romance—requiring caution.

I. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat

Boys hold high esteem for books of high adventure on the high seas and Mr. Midshipman Easy by Capt. Frederick Marryat is preeminently one of these, brandishing bright prose, a swashbuckling spirit, sharp humor, and a penetrating look into the humors of human nature. This naval novel is a rollicking comedy set on a British man-of-war in 1836. Mr. Midshipman Jack Easy, a young officer of nobility serving in the Royal Navy, is sent to sea to be righted of his social sophistries and navigates the brutal and beautiful realities of sailors, ships, and skirmishes with a philosophic fortitude that is hilarious to behold as he always lands on his feet and claims the last laugh. Mr. Midshipman Easy has no shortage of exotic and exciting marvels: African curses, duels involving three, ships struck by lightning, musket balls and powder kegs, death-defying cruises, heart-pounding campaigns, cloak-and-dagger villains, murderous mutinies, shark attacks, family feuds, and a thousand other delectable intrigues. As a satire, Mr. Midshipman Easy is magnificently silly and serious at the same time, embodied by the gentleman-rogue at the helm of this indomitable book teeming with laughs, lessons, and life.

II. Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton

The natural historian Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a master of bush-craft, a pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America, and an excellent story teller. Of the many wonderful books chronicling his outdoor knowledge and experiences, Wild Animals I Have Known is one of the best. In it, Seton tells the histories of such characters as Silverspot the crow, Raggylug the cottontail rabbit, Redruff the partridge and many more. Seton possesses the keen eye of the seasoned observer of nature and his writings open doors of wonder for the reader as he follows the train of Seton’s thought through his observations. Seton was also an accomplished artist and his books are liberally sprinkled with his own charming illustrations. On one level, this book is a collection of delightful and beautifully written stories. But to stop there would be to sell the author short. The writings of Ernest Thompson Seton are steeped with every true scientist’s first love: this fascinating world created by God. The more a boy becomes in tune with this “book of nature” the more he will be receptive to the truths of reality and its divine Author.

  • Recommended Edition: Dover
  • Recommended Age: 10-14

III. Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle challenges young readers to face the darker regions of history and humanity. The book follows a young German boy living in the Dark Ages who “saw both the good and the bad of men,” as Pyle removes the sheen that chivalry usually boasts and allows the cruelty that chivalry must face to show its face. Boys, like knights, must confront hardship, fear, and pain. Otherwise, they will never be able to conquer them. The whole point of children’s literature is not to force any design upon children, but to allow them to encounter things as they are and on their own. Otto of the Silver Hand presents an honest and unrestrained representation of the holy and the horrible, providing both the glorious and gritty elements so children might decide for themselves what is desirable and what is not without preaching to them for a moment. Just as the monastery was the hope for the Dark Ages by being a haven for truth, goodness, and beauty, that same Catholic culture remains the hope for the modern Dark Age, largely bastioned in good literature.

  • Recommended Edition: Dover
  • Recommended Age: 13-15

IV. The Chimes by Charles Dickens

There is no better tale to ring an old year out and a new year in than Charles Dickens’ goblin story, The Chimes. This little drama by the great storyteller deals with the temptation of Toby Veck to look back on the tragedies of a year gone by with dejection and very little hope for mankind. Suddenly, Toby finds that he has died and that he is high up among the bells in the belfry he has listened to all his life; and the bells are issuing not just chimes, but Goblins. Goblins that scatter through the world, lulling people to sleep, flogging others with whips, loading others with chains. Goblins that soar and sail through the habitations and businesses of man. Goblins that impose their impish devices mercifully and mercilessly as the Chimes ring. Dickens whisks his readers along a wild adventure as Toby is reprimanded for his loss of faith in humanity. This book rings out a tremendous moral for all who live surrounded by suffering. The Chimes is a reminder that, though the world is plagued with misfortune, ugliness, and tragedy, it remains the duty of every man to improve and advance with spirits unconquered.

V. The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

Though best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s true passion lay in creating romances of historical fiction. His greatest achievement in this realm is The White Company, a high-spirited tale of friendship and bravery set during the Hundred Years’ War in 1366 as the Prince of Wales campaigns against Spain and France to restore his control over the Kingdom of Castille. In a wayside English inn, two very different young men are recruited to join the White Company, a group of mercenary archers preparing for the impending clash of nations. As these two friends make their way to the rendezvous point with many a rollicking adventure with lovely ladies, wicked lords, bloodthirsty pirates, and whatnot, Conan Doyle gives readers a vivid vision of the past. The tale finds intense culmination as the White Company is attacked in a narrow ravine by the French and Spanish forces. Though disaster abounds, it is not enough to stop The White Company from a victorious conclusion.

VI. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1875-1940) is a good book for boys because it is neither plausible nor credible. Buchan was a connoisseur of the dime-novel thriller—or “the shocker,” as he fondly called it—and, in 1915, Buchan fashioned what would become the cast of a genre: The Thirty-Nine Steps. This spy novel is a breakneck race against all odds at a breathtaking pace, featuring the archetypal man-on-the-run with faceless foes of alarming power and precision on his tail. The Thirty-Nine Steps is a delight because it attaches more importance to pure emotion and plot motion than to plausibility. It is the type of story that is immensely pleasing to boys as it delves into the charm of the impossible. There is a very real need to believe in the impossible these days—to believe in miracles, where one man can overcome all odds and make a difference in the fate of a nation. The Thirty-Nine Steps engages and enacts this dream, and thereby serves to keep alive the hope that the impossible may, in fact, be possible.

  • Recommended Edition: Dover
  • Recommended Age: 14-16

VII. The Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke

In this engaging story of long ago, Henry van Dyke tells of the Magi, the Three Wise Men who came at Christmas, in a way both new and refreshing. Artaban, the other Wise Man, was accidentally left behind when the famous three set out and then spent the rest of his days seeking the new King whose birth the stars foretold. Artaban carries his gifts for the Child under his cloak: a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. Over the course of the story he finds himself in difficult situations and his gifts provide the means required to remedy them. Artaban parts with his gifts to save a sick stranger, a threatened child, and a friendless woman. He must part even with his pearl, pointedly called the pearl of great price in the chapter title. Artaban, like the man in the parable, sold all his possessions to buy these gems for the King; to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven. This was the expectation of faith. What he did not expect was that he would have to give these gifts to others out of love. The Kingdom is gained through the giving of it.

VIII. The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was a master of action and adventure stories for boys, and The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses delivers vigorously on every expectation. It follows a young knight, Richard Shelton, during the 15th century’s Wars of the Roses over the throne of England. As Richard investigates the murder of his father, he learns more about the outlaw band of the Black Arrow and the possible treachery of his own uncle. His suspicions force him to flee his wrathful uncle and join the outlaws against him in a mighty struggle for justice. The Black Arrow is a lively medieval story with themes and fantasies and plots that appeal highly to the adolescent imagination. Its drama gives boys an understanding of what true intrigue is, true appeal, true gravitas, and a true moral universe. Boys suffer nowadays from an insular existence. More than ever, there is need for the old romance because it is remedial, because it is real. Books like The Black Arrow do not pander through virtual reality, but challenge boys to encounter actual reality in its most vivid and livid colors

IX. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

There is in existence a few books that can cure the sickness of cynicism. These books remind men of the glory and grandeur of man and the glories and grandeurs that give meaning to mankind. The Prisoner of Zenda, written in 1894 by Anthony Hope, is one of these. This gallant book is a remedy to the heavy seriousness of cynicism because it is lighthearted. It is a fairy tale infused with the optimism of escapism, the thrill of romance, and the charm of the dashing, debonair, gentleman hero. Even the gravest of cynics must smile, chuckle, and inch to the edge of his seat in appreciation of men bristling with weapons, women swooning in their lovers’ arms, guns firing and combatants laughing, swords flashing and soldiers of fortune. Thus it runs with blazing revolvers, ancient castles, woefully grim councils, wonderfully glib speeches, daring souls pulling at brandy flasks, midnight marauding, and one of the most memorable villains of Victorian fiction. The Prisoner of Zenda is quite simply irresistible, making it a balm for this dour day and age, and worthy of its reputation for being the finest adventure story ever written, in which the struggle between good and evil is a great game and nothing seems so serious as keeping the serious at bay.

X. The Persian Expedition by Xenophon

Shortly after the close of the Peloponnesian War, a force of ten thousand Greek hoplites found themselves in a very awkward position. They were in the heart of the Persian Empire, while the army they were hired to assist had fled or deserted to the enemy. The Greek generals and captains had been treacherously slaughtered by the Persians who had summoned them to a friendly meeting. Facing their doom, Xenophon, a common Greek soldier, took command and led what is considered the most fantastic military retreat in history. The Persian Expedition is Xenophon’s firsthand account of this march of the Greeks back home against all odds. This book is more than an interesting historical work. It is a manual for leadership. Xenophon not only exemplifies strong leadership, but he also discusses the differing leadership strategies of several of the Greek generals and of the Persian prince, Cyrus, thus demonstrating much of what made the Greek civilization so great. The story highlights the Greek characteristics in contrast with their more barbaric neighbors and serves as a striking example of the Greek attitude that was both fiercely independent yet also willing to submit to a well-ordered whole.

Wrapping up the Summer with a little reading

 

fullsizeoutput_a989Summer seems to be a time when adults have more time for leisure. Perhaps our one-week long vacation that takes us from city to city, amusement park to amusement park is not truly leisure. While it’s packed with activities, we return home trying to catch our breath, as well as to catch up on our sleep before having to catch up on our work that awaits us at home or the office. Perhaps it’s best that the topic, “The Rush Into and Out of Our Vacations” be saved for a later time!

Memorial Day weekend is the time when summer reading lists come out, such as the NY Times and NPR book reviews, along with blog and Facebook posts suggesting what to read or what others are reading for the summer.  As we enter the last part of summer, many of us will take vacation time, so consider grabbing a book for your trip or the time away from the office. To help you on your journey, I would like to suggest four books: one retro novel, two current novels, one autobiography and one self-help book.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hero by Meg Meeker

Murder on the Orient Express: I have watched many Agatha Christie movies over the years and sadly did not know who she was. It was not until this past spring that I read my first Agatha Christie mystery, Murder on the Orient Express.  When I heard that Kenneth Branagh films was going to release this into a movie in November 2017, I thought now is the time to catch up on my Agatha Christie reading.

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As there has been revival of Sherlock Holmes through movies, and two television series, among the last ten years or more of CSI and other crime-type dramas, it is obvious that Agatha Christie would make a return on the big screen. What movies and television
cannot do with character development Dame Christie does very well and thus the story unfolds. Published in book form in 1934 in both the U.K. and the U.S., was another classic crime novel that had Private Detective Hercule Poirot as the main character, who solves the murder. I suggest as you get halfway through the novel you will not want to put it down but read it to the end!

All the Light We Cannot See: I read this book sometime in 2016 as part of book club, which we spent a couple of sessions discussing the text. It takes place during WWII, and as novels often do, it begins with characters that quickly fade away and others that come and go. All, however, intersect with a blind French girl, names Marie-Laure.

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In 2015 Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. The story is written with short succinct paragraphs that moves the reader and the characters along. Two aspects of this novel stood out for me as I was reading. First was how the characters deal with suffering and their surviving of a war and whether the character was French or German.  Second was how the reader engages the world through the ears of a blind girl, thus seeing the characters in a different light, as well as how Marie-Laure perceives the landscape of the war.

A Gentleman in Moscow: I recently began reading this novel, and I can say thus far it is a good summer read.  What is most surprising is the how Towles takes what a reader amormay consider a bleak life of “house arrest” and fills Count Alexander Rostov’s with life, humor, suffering and even joy during the hard times over Moscow and the people of Russia under the Soviet oppression. Towles reminds us–sometimes when we expect it and other times when we don’t–of the dangers of living during the Soviet regime and to the point of acknowledging daily life pre-Stalin and during his rule.  The teacher is always the student, and in reading about the Count, I too want to learn the ways of a gentleman. Count Alexander is attractive in his grounding in his humanity and as a gentleman, even when titles, money and family are all gone. He has been raised to know who he is and to engage those around in in their fullest humanity, whether the characters are colleagues, members of the inner Soviet bureaucracy or young children.

Hillbilly Elegy: Over the decade and one may say even longer, Americans have had to personalize who are Muslims versus an ambiguous group of people known as terrorists, as well as understanding that Black Lives Matter is not a vague group but fellow Americans, and recently in the last economic downturn turn Americans learned about the 99%,  All this to say J.D. Vance puts names and faces on another group in America, the hillbillies of Appalachia.  Each individual person who makes up this great country, all have a story. While we may not get to know many, recently, we learned President Obama’s life story as he ran for President of the United States, Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now in his own words, we learn the life of 31-year, white, male, straight, Protestant, who graduated from an Ivy League Law School.

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J.D. Vance, even with five boxes checked off for a possible privileged background, comes from Appalachia where most of his family and friends will not leave but succumb to the culture that has overcome the white working class in Kentucky and Ohio.  It is a riveting story of who this young man becomes and how he attains the life he has.  Whether from fiction or real life, the main characters have pillars in their lives that move them to greatness. We see his grandparents, his grandma, known as Mamaw and his half-sister, Lindsay, as three such pillars that give him the ability to look ahead and move beyond Middletown, Ohio, but who also keep him grounded from where and from whom he is from. Perhaps, I have said too much, but go and read it and allow yourself to get know other Americans in a personal and more human way.

Hero: Meg Meeker has written another book that all parents should read.  In her sixth book, Hero, Dr. Meeker focuses on the importance of fathers and fatherhood.  Her subtitles always get to the point and in this case what is so important about being a father? as her subtitle states, Being the Strong Father your Children Need.  In the world we live in, all around us are one parent families…Dr. Meeker’s text is not for one to go out and find spouse, but rather challenges us to introspection. Just because one is part of a two-parent family does it mean both parents are engaged with their children.  Even so, with more than 50% of families being divorced, or not married, Dr. Meeker even presents the questions for dads who are divorced, widowed, or even stepfathers.

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I recommend Dr. Meeker’s books and particularly Hero for your summer reading. While some books are geared to mothers and others toward fathers, I always recommend that both read such books, so they continue to further their knowledge about their parental roles and the importance that each has in the family. It is also a small step in assisting parents in communicating and talking about their children with one another and how each can support each other and raise their children together. So once dad is finished with this book, hand it off to mom, she will enjoy it in her own way.

Where ever your vacation takes you, pick up a book from this list as it will bring you little closer to leisure.