Tag Archives: boy books

Ten “Girl” Books My Boys Have Loved

Anyone who knows me knows I love to recommend books to people. I’m a children’s book nut and I like helping people find good books for their book devourers and picky readers alike. But often I feel like people who want book recommendations want to start in the wrong place, which is gender.

It’s important for all kids to be able to see themselves in the characters they read about (not to get onto a tangent, but that’s exactly why #weneeddiversebooks). Books are a mirror for our lives and help us understand our own experiences by identifying with others’ stories. However, I think it’s just as important that kids have the opportunity to read about different perspectives and that includes reading about what it’s like to grow up as a girl.

When people talk about the need for there to be books with strong female characters, the focus is usually to help girls become strong women. However, as the mother of boys, I think it’s just as important that boys read these books to learn how to respect, admire, and be understand strong women when they grow up. We do just as huge a disservice to boys when we don’t give them “girl” books as we do when we box girls into a reading corner.

So here are just a few of the many “girl” books my boys have read and enjoyed over the years. Many of them are books that are consistently on the “for girls!” lists.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Conner
Last Christmas, my sister-in-law gifted BalletBoy a very amusing picture book: Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century, signed by the author. He had a great blush. Why is she giving me this? But I knew immediately. As a preschooler, BalletBoy had loved Fancy Nancy so very much that he had announced that he planned to marry her when he grew up. We may have grown out of Nancy a long time ago, but her girly, vocabulary rich, pink-loving charms were once really enjoyed here.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Mushroom and I recently reread this one curled up in bed late at night. It’s probably no surprise that this would have been a much loved girl picture book for my anxious kid. Henkes’s world has many boy characters as well – we especially liked Owen too – but Wemberly has a special place for us.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch
This classic tale of princess empowerment is funny for boys too. My boys always thought the picture of the annoying prince who needed rescue was very amusing. I especially thought it was good for boys to see that princesses can rescue them.

Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows
Not long ago, BalletBoy noticed a newer Ivy and Bean book he’d never read and picked it up sort of wistfully before putting it back and declaring he was too old for it. However, these books about two neighbor girls with very different personalities and a close friendship was one of the first chapter book series he read independently.

Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Not that we didn’t also enjoy Henry Huggins or Ralph S. Mouse, but Ramona’s struggles from pest to older kid have been Cleary’s most loved books here. She is one of the most real characters in children’s literature, with some of the most real family relationships and struggles.

The Penderwicks
 series by Jeanne Birdsall
We loved meeting the Penderwicks again in the most recent book.
The books are so sweet and touching positive with such great sister relationships. We have read every one and loved them all.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This classic was a read aloud ages ago and both boys enjoyed Mary’s transformation from contrary to happy. They may have also really liked my poorly done accents. I highly recommend the beautiful Inga Moore version, which was the one we had.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This fairy tale with a girl power twist was a much enjoyed story for both my boys, who both liked Ella’s unlucky tale. I like the determination that Ella has to show and the way the romance evolves through the story. The boys thought the movie wasn’t all that great, but I’m pretty sure everyone agreed on
that.

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
Mushroom read this book not too long ago for pleasure reading. Wendy Mass has several more boy-centric titles, but most of her books are solidly female-centric. This light and funny one with a magical twist, with worries about middle school cliques and birthday party attendees, feels especially girl-centric. But he enjoyed it a lot and I like that the final message is so positive toward girls and boys continuing to be friends, even in middle school and
beyond.

Smile
by Raina Telgemeier
This coming of age graphic novel was based on the author’s real life and deals a lot with learning to figure out who your real friends are and how to be yourself, lessons that both girls and boys have to learn. It has a cult following among girls, but I have noticed a lot of boys reading it as well. I’m embarrassed to say that I initially didn’t give this to either of my kids, thinking that it might be to middle school girly. However, Mushroom specifically asked to read it. Clearly, he knows that “girl” books aren’t just for girls.

 

Early Readers for Boys

I gave so much attention to all the chapter books that I’ve been digging around for BalletBoy, that I thought Mushroom’s reading efforts deserved a similar listy post.  One of the nice things about early readers is that, unlike chapter books, many of the best offerings are less stereotypically gender segregated.  After all, any kid can appreciate most of Dr. Seuss, Elephant and Piggie, and the like.  And girls can probably appreciate these too, but I think they’re especially good for boys.

The Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen
Commander Toad’s ship is the “Star Warts.”  On some level, that little piece of information sums up exactly what makes this series appealing.  Yolen tells the silly space epic story of toads in space with pretty much the same attitude as the old Muppet Show sketch “Pigs in Space.”  BalletBoy enjoyed these and soon Mushroom will be able to as well.

The Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant
All the Cynthia Rylant series are excellent, but this one is the sweetest.  Henry is a boy and Mudge is his oversized, slobbery dog.  The stories are very simple, but they have that depth that you want from a little story.  Rylant doesn’t ever condescend to her readers.

The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow by Andy Griffiths
This is a easy reader that was formatted like a chapter book.  Each volume contains several extremely easy, almost phonics-based stories full of rhymes.  They’re very silly.  The drawings look like Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants kids drew them.  The pages play with type by making the words bigger or smaller or even changing the font.  It’s an innovative little idea, obviously targeted to reluctant boy readers (though my less reluctant Mushroom still enjoyed it).  Basically, I really liked this new discovery.

The (early only!) Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain
You all know I loathe the new, moralistic Berenstain Bears, right?  But the really early readers like Bears in the Night and Inside, Outside, Upside Down are classics.  And the slightly harder titles like The Bear Scouts, The Bears’ Vacation, The Bears’ Picnic, and others are also amusing and funny.  Small Bear knows all while Papa makes mistakes.  The rhymes are cute, the language is simple, but the stories are actually pretty funny.  I think there’s something sort of boyish about all the trouble Papa Bear leads Small Bear into.  But watch out for the newer ones, which are not as well written.

The Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold
These are super short, yet the stories are very amusing.  A boy named Buzz has an unusual pet, a housefly called Fly Guy, who can say the boy’s name (no surprise there!).  Together, they have adventures.  Both my boys like them well enough to read them over and over again.  Only Elephant and Piggie get more love in our house among the early readers.

More Boy Books

Having two boys, I’ve been on the lookout for boy books constantly.  About a year ago, I searched through a few options for early chapter books, which I posted about here.  Now that BalletBoy is reading chapter books himself, I thought I’d update with more options.  I’ve found even more than these, though some I haven’t read enough of to give any sort of review.

There’s an ongoing discussion, I feel, about boys and books and what makes a book more appealing to boys.  For some blogs focused specifically on boy books, you can check out Guys Lit WireThe Excelsior File or The Book Zone (for Boys).  You can also see Jon Scieszka’s website Guys Read, which isn’t updated too much, but has some good stuff.  But for now, here’s some boy early chapter books for your perusal…

Frankie Pickle series by Eric Wight
This series (which is only on its third title) features a sort of Walter Mitty-esque kid who constantly imagines himself in different, generally more exciting, circumstances.  Wight’s cartoony illustrations are cute.  The stories are simple but funny.  I’m not completely enamored of the writing, which jumped around a little as the author moved between Frankie’s imaginary world and the real world.  However, the concept is so good and BalletBoy, who has turned out to be a very picky reader, gives it a thumbs up.

Melvin Beederman, Superhero series by Greg Trine
BalletBoy passed on this series, but I sat and read the first one and found it very amusing so I’m giving it my recommendation.  Melvin is a slightly inept kid superhero who fights off some very silly villains.  It’s definitely got a lot of the sort of irreverent boy humor that appeals to fans of really silly books like Captain Underpants.

Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon
Henry is truly a villain.  He can’t do anything nice – not for his friends, his teachers, his parents and certainly not his detested little brother.  The writing is solid and the stories are very funny, but at first glance, Henry is almost too horrid.  His villainy is really only funny after you’ve read a number of these and understand how completely unrealistic both he and his “perfect” brother are.  I enjoyed these a lot and Mushroom is actually keen to read them once he’s able to.

Herbie Jones series by Suzy Kline
I’m not sure exactly what I want to say about these.  The writing is just above Junie B. level (and I really dislike Junie B.), so this isn’t a strong recommendation.  However, BalletBoy discovered some of Herbie Jones’s second grade series and really liked them.  Herbie is a mostly average, if lazy, kid. The series focuses on school and friends.  I think BalletBoy must like the sheer normalcy of it.  Suzy Kline is also the author of the Horrible Harry books (not to be confused with the Horrid Henry books above!).  I can’t even give those a mild recommendation.  Seeing that they were easier than most of the Herbie books, I gave one a try, but I was sorely disappointed.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Not to end on a mediocre note, these books are slightly on the harder end of the books I listed here, so BalletBoy hasn’t made it to them quite yet, but they’re so much fun.  They’re not as wholesomely educational as the jaunts through history taken in a certain treehouse, but they’re more fun and the writing is peppered with jokes.  The three boys have to figure their way through a number of time travel scrapes.

Boys and Books

It feels like there are a lot of conversations going on out in the blogosphere about boys and books in the last couple of weeks.  Over at The Diamond in the Window, a question about boy and girl who needed book recommendations prompted a post about boys and books and some discussion, some of which was contributed by me.  At Fonograms, the author, who also has an amazing series of lectures posted about boy books blogged about how just because the main character is a boy doesn’t make the book a “boy book.”  Then, over at YA author Hannah Moskowitz’s blog, Invincible Summer, she ranted about the boy problem in YA fiction and made what I thought were some amazing points, such as about how YA books have empowered girls by disempowering boys.

There are a lot of strands to this.  First off, while I think the boy book thing is an issue, I don’t think the situation is as dire as some might say.  There are lots of boy books across the board in children’s literature, in my opinion.  I got frustrated recently by the lack of boy books in the early chapter book aisles, but then I went out and found some so while I’m still a little overwhelmed by all the pink sparkles in that section, I’m feeling better about what there is.  YA also has a lot of great boy titles so while I get that there are a lot more sparkly vampire romances, I don’t see the dearth of options that everyone seems so keen to point out.  There should be more and we should think about how to bring boys to those titles, but they are there.  When the Invincible Summer blog entry asked when since Eragon boys were last allowed to save the world, I thought, well, Alex Rider did that in Crocodile Tears just last year.  I would also argue that Libba Bray’s amazing Printz award winner from last year, Going Bovine, is a boy-friendly title, with it’s trippy philosophical journey and slacker protagonist.

Also, I think there are larger issues at play here.  Girls will read books with male protagonists, but there is an expectation that boys won’t read books with a female protagonist and I think this is part of a larger problem our society has with gender conformity and stigmatizing boys who show any interest in anything even remotely associated with girls.  How much of this is about the books and how much is about wider questions about gender?  Do boys read differently than girls?  If so, why?

Anyway, just some thoughts to chew on.

Boy Books Found!

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about the delightful Ivy and Bean series, I complained that the chapter books shelves were row upon row of girl series with nary a boy title in sight.  Now, I’m back to report that we found a few of these elusive boy chapter books.

First, an oldie but goodie.  Mushroom and BalletBoy adore the Flat Stanley books, which we started reading more than a year ago.  For anyone who doesn’t know them, Stanley is a kid who turns flat and has adventures using his new special flat skills.  At the end of the book, he re-inflates, but later books tell about more adventures he has.  I think Stanley in Space is my kids’ favorite.  Stanley’s adventures are always silly and they usually give me a chance to do my silliest reading voices.  For some reason, I imagine Stanley’s mother with a Minnesota accent.

I have to warn that there are new editions of these that have just been issued in the last year or so with new illustrations, along with a new series called Flat Stanley’s Adventures, which is not written by Jeff Brown.  The new books are borderline horrible and the new illustrations just make me sad.  They aren’t so bad on their own, but the original illustrations, with the cut out of Stanley that kids took all over the world, seems like a deeply ingrained part of the story.  You can re-illustrate some classics, but not others.  What would Green Eggs and Ham be if you got someone else to draw Sam-I-Am?  Sure, some other clever illustrator might come up with something amazing.  But would it be right?

Next, I don’t know how it missed my attention for so long that Judy Moody’s brother has his own series.  We even caught the tail end of Megan McDonald at last year’s National Book Festival.  Well, now that we’ve discovered them, we’re fast on our way to finishing all the Stink books.  As read alouds, they only take a couple of nights, which is even quicker than most chapter books, but will be a nice starter length when BalletBoy grows into reading chapter books on his own.  Stink is just a normal kid with a funny name.  The books are filled with cute facts and silly, simple stories about smelly sneaker contests and free candy.  Also, I appreciate that the stories aren’t completely centered around school, as so many series for this age seem to be.

The first Andrew Lost book by J.C. Greenburg found its way into my hands recently.  Andrew is an inventor who can shrink himself down and have adventures at the microscopic level.  The science of the shrinking is very Phineas and Ferb, but the science of what he sees while shrunk is more like The Magic Schoolbus.  This is a hesitant recommendation.  I read the first bit and thought the kids would really like it.  There’s a cute robot and a lot of gadgetry, but it’s also pretty educational.  However, when the husband finished it as the bedtime read aloud, it was with a lot of frustration because it ended on a cliffhanger, something I don’t really expect from books these days, even series.  When I read a little more, I was also a little disappointed by how the book seemed like it was all action and very little characterization of Andrew or his cousin, Judy.  Still, the kids may want to give them another chance.

Finally, I read the first in the Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate.  This is on the shorter end of chapter books.  Roscoe is a well-intentioned first grade troublemaker.  In the first volume, he glues his whole class to their chairs to help the teacher keep order and not look bad in front of the parents and the principal.  It works until all the kids have to get their pants cut off in order to stand up.  I think this would appeal to younger kids, like mine, who also like Stink.  I didn’t love it as much as the Stink books, but this was a funny, very easy to read title.  The kids especially liked the structure of the story, where Roscoe, who has already gotten in trouble for the glue incident, tells the reader he can explain it and then unfolds the rest in a flashback.  This piqued their interest and made them immediately want to hear the details.