It’s funny, after all the stuff I heard growing up about how there were never enough role models for girls in books, but as I look back through all the old, vintage, nostalgic books I have here, most of them have female main characters, and many of them are really smart and resourceful girls. It’s not too surprising that I always liked books with girls in them, being a girl myself. I don’t think I suffered any real lack of fellow girls in books when I was young. I read plenty of mysteries where girl detectives figured out all the answers, and historical novels helped me to appreciate and connect with the lives of girls in the past. As an adult, it occurs to me that some of these brave, clever girls were the product of efforts to give girls good role models in their reading, but some were simply good, likable characters who maybe weren’t as appreciated as they might have been because their books weren’t “serious” or didn’t win awards. It didn’t matter to me as a kid, as long as I liked the characters and had fun reading the stories.
So, what about the boys in books? I’ve read articles that say that boys prefer reading books with other boy characters and that the modern focus of many children’s authors and teachers isn’t providing boys with the type of books they want to read. But, since I write about nostalgic children’s books, I wanted to point out that there are many older children’s books that are still enjoyable and have interesting boys as main characters, some of which can be good role models and others which are just fun to read.
I’m of the school of thought that a well-written book with interesting characters can be fun for both boys and girls, no matter what the main characters are, but it’s understandable that boys would like to read about other boys as much as girls like stories about other girls. Actually, I think some of the best books provide a good mix of boy and girl characters, especially ones where they have to work together to accomplish something. If you’re looking for interesting books for boys or just taking a trip down memory lane, you might enjoy 50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men.
My personal favorite books with boys are the ones listed below (as always, this is a work in progress, and more will appear here later):
Milo is just an average boy, but he dreams of perfection after finding a library book that promises him that he can achieve it in just three days with three easy lessons!
After Jeremy accidentally signs up for poetry class instead of pottery, he spends the entire year annoying his teacher and becoming the world’s best D- poet. By Gordon Korman.
Larry is surprised when he is suddenly offered a part in a series of tv commercials, and then horrified when he finds out that he’s going to be advertising underwear. Funny! By Betty Miles.
A group of neighborhood friends form a club to right the wrongs of their neighborhood but discover that there are more wrongs that they had imagined at first.
David struggles to understand his strange new step-sister as she attempts to initiate him and his siblings into the occult world and seems to awaken the poltergeist that supposedly once inhabited their house. By Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
When Brian visits his pen pal in Hawaii for the summer, he confronts a ghostly mystery based on Hawaiian legends. By Janet Lorimer.
An orphan boy with a mysterious past searches for his long-lost twin and the secret to his true identity. By Barbara Brooks Wallace.
Twelve-year-old Phineas Hall and his fifteen-year-old sister, Althea, have recently moved to Maine with their father, Professor Hall, because he got a job working at the small Vandemark College. When the patriarch of the Vandemark family dies and leaves a real Egyptian mummy to the college, Professor Hall is put in charge of the exhibit, and the kids investigate the mystery that surrounds the mummy. The book has some feminist themes, but it is told from Phineas’s point of view. It involves cooperation between Phineas and his sister, and in the end, Phineas saves the day. By Cynthia Voigt.
When Robert witnesses the murder of his nosy neighbor from where he’s sitting in the cherry tree, he struggles to convince everyone that her death was more than just an accident.
A group of school boys in Ancient Rome solve mysteries of danger and political intrigue.
A boy discovers his destiny when he helps a stranger with amnesia to complete a great and terrible quest that even he can’t quite remember.
When his father goes away to fight in the Revolutionary War and is captured, young Joey finds himself the man of his family and must try to keep the rest of his family safe while they are also in captivity with British soldiers occupying their town and even their house. By Anna Myers.
A boy and his younger sister have adventures with their eccentric grandmother in the rural Midwest during the Great Depression. Hysterical! By Richard Peck.
A boy in feudal Japan joins a theater company to save his family from starvation after a famine and learns the secret of a local folk hero. By Katherine Paterson.
A servant boy has to help his master solve the frightening mystery of a ghost that haunts a young princess amid political intrigue in Medieval Italy. By Avi.
William discovers that the toy castle and knight that his old nanny gave to him are actually magic. With the help of a magic coin, he can make himself and others small enough to enter the castle. His magical quests are exciting and teach him some important lessons about growing up.
Jermyn Graves is studying magic, but he is an unusual wizard with a skunk for a familiar. With the help of his familiar and his teacher, he solves magical mysteries. By Mary Frances Zambreno.
A boy, Robert, journeys to a far-off city and discovers his destiny as an ancient legend is fulfilled. By Maeve Henry.
Aaron, a teenage boy in Hollywood, California, is recruited to become a wizard’s apprentice. While learning magic, he also becomes reconciled to his parents’ divorce.
Boys’ Series Books
Peter Hatcher tells humorous stories about his little brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher, who everyone calls Fudge.
The focus of the books alternates between Richard “Beast” Best and Emily Arrow, two second-graders in Ms. Rooney’s classroom. Richard is a realistic boy who has his problems in school and with friends. He was held back a year in school because of his poor reading skills and has to take extra lessons to improve them, something that embarrasses him sometimes. He makes mistakes and gets into trouble, like other boys, but he cares about his friends and tries to help them when he can. By Patricia Reilly Giff.
These boys aren’t really role models, but they can give readers a good laugh! Bruno and Boots are roommates at a boys’ boarding school in Canada. Their pranks alternately get them into trouble and help solve problems at their school. By Gordon Korman.
Michael and his brother Norman grow a pair of sock-eating plants. By Nancy McArthur.
A boy (fictional) who is adopted by the famous Judge Ooka (real) helps him to solve mysteries in feudal Japan. Not for young children! Middle school and up! By Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.
The Three Investigators Series
Three friends start their own detective agency, using a hideout they’ve created in the salvage yard owned by one boy’s uncle and the free transportation he’s won in a radio contest. By Robert Arthur and various other authors.
About an orphan boy who lives with relatives in 1950s Nebraska and has adventures with his friend, Paul. By Trella Lamson Dick.