Moms often ask us for book recommendations for their 8-12 year old sons. This particular gender and age reader combination can be challenging for many families. Even if the boys are reading independently, many do not just dive into novels the way that girls seem to.
Keeping in mind that boys tend to love “real” things, we encourage mamas to investigate as many high quality nonfiction options that they can. Most boys tend to have a couple of clearly defined interests (horses, sports, military history, engineering, knights, etc.) and so mamas can start there. Look for nonfiction in your son’s preferred subject area. If you let him, he will chase the rabbit trails that lead into other subject areas.
Beyond non-fiction, however, there are many excellent fiction books that boys love (that aren’t fantasy). This post will always be a work in progress. We will list what we have now and then we will update it as we add more reviews in this category. This list is not exhaustive – it is just a short cut to some of our favorite books that boys love.
Books We Love To Recommend To Boys
(Click on the book title to go to our full review)
A Tree For Peter – Entertaining and inspiring for young boys and big boys with tender hearts, this charming story is one of old fashioned faith driven empowerment. A poor little boy with a good heart entertains an angel unawares and is richly blessed with the virtues of courage, hope, and joy. Sara’s boys 6 and 10 loved it equally.
Dinotopia – These James Gurney masterpieces are almost impossible to resist. The art is a feast for the eyes. The symbiotic relationship between dinosaurs and man is intriguing. The storytelling is a fascinating blend of mechanical engineering, cool science, intrigue, and “what if” type possibilities.
The Princess and the Goblin – The story fueled the creative genius of C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien, this fairy tale is often considered the archetype for modern fantasy. If read early, boys enjoy the wonder and awe of Curdie’s adventure. If read again when older, boys will see classic examples of virtue and princely behavior. This one is the very best kind of food for the moral imagination.
Henry and the Chalk Dragon – Written specifically for middle school students, this modern book with an old soul delights and entertains boys. It is funny, exciting, contemporary, and inspiring.
The Incredible Journey – When my nine-year-old son was reading this book, he would not come up for air. The story was gripping in places, hilarious in other places, and generally very intriguing. At mealtimes he would pepper the family conversation with little naturalist facts he had learned from the story. Happy ending, so no worries, mama.
Good Old Archibald – The story is classically boy: wrestling in the backyard, sliding down clothing chutes, and lots and lots of baseball. Also a story about friendship, adoption, and boy life.
The Growly Books – New books from living authors, this inventive series is absolutely wonderful for family read aloud and also for high adventure boys. While it features dressed animals, it is full of engineering, adventure, friendship, and adrenaline.
Twenty One Balloons – This imaginative story is small, full of cool illustration, and loved by boys for its emphasis on mechanical wonders.
Little Britches – I never tire of recommending these. Boys love the frontier challenges, the horses, and the father-son relationship. I think that these are better than Little House On The Prairie for boys.
The Bark of the Bog Owl – A medieval reimagining of David and Goliath, this book is the stuff that little boys are made of! Aidan is noble, courageous, boyishly boy. He has more than one adventure, wrestles in the mud with an alligator, pulls catfish out of the river with his bare hands, slays a giant, nearly gets lost in underground mines, and kills a panther. High adventure, excellent values, and beautiful writing.
Letter for the King – Throughout my reading, I was waiting for the Black Knight with the White Shield to be an evil prince who was sending Tiuri on a vile quest. Or, I was fully expecting the kindly friars at the Abbey to be some kind of anti-heroes. There were many times when Tiuri’s faith in the goodness of people was amply rewarded. And as I read with growing relief, I realized that our kids need stories like this. Our kids need to feast on stories where the heroes are heroic, and the evil is naked and blatant. Our kids need more stories like The Princess and the Goblin. And, while this is for an older crowd, this is one that is like that.
The Mysterious Benedict Society books – these books are beloved by so many boys because they combine puzzles and problem solving with mission. Boys love to think with Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance as they try to solve the problems to solve the mission.
Old Sam Dakota Trotter – A frontier story about a pair of brothers and their move to North Dakota. They rescue a thorough-bred trotting horse and have exciting adventures. Semi-autobiographical, this book reads like Farmer Boy or some other boy memoir.
The Year of the Black Pony – This frontier story has a really hard start but resolves quickly into a tender tale of step-parents, love of a horse, and farm life. My boys loved the Farmer Boy-like feel.
The Winged Watchman – This WWII story follows a Dutch family during the German occupation of Holland. The family operates the last non-electric windmill. Boys like this book because of the war details, the mechanical aspects of the windmills, and the heroism.
The Black Stallion – This story opens with an ocean voyage which ends in shipwreck. A boy and a wild horse are the only survivors washed up on a deserted island. The book divides into sections. The first part has a strong survivalist flavor. The middle section is more focused on relationships. The last portion of the book is all horse and horse racing.
The Strange Intruder is set in the Faroe Islands in the then present time (1960s). When our story opens, a whale is spotted and all of the able bodied men who are not currently on deep sea fishing ships rush out to kill the whale. Their endeavor will take more than a day, and will lead them many miles from home. While they are gone, a fishing boat signals the lighthouse that it is in distress. The situation is dire as the cliffs and rocks make rescue nearly impossible, and the whale spotting emptied the island of any men or teenage boys and boats who could help. In an exciting twist, we find out that the fishing ship captured a starving polar bear which they were hoping to sell (still alive) on the mainland. Needless to say, that polar bear becomes a substantial problem.
Enemy Brothers – A WWII story about brothers, war, and trust. Gritty, passionate, and complex, this is for an older reader.
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain) – The son of non-readers, Alexander’s family could not understand why Lloyd would become an author. Readers of his Prydain Chronicles are just glad that he did! Fantasy and knightly tales, this story is beloved by slightly older boys who enjoy getting lost in Arthurian legend or fantasy.
Bambi – Felix Salten’s Bambi is not Disney’s Bambi. Salten tells the story of the life of a deer with great respect to a deer’s nature and the rhythms of Nature itself.
Jungle Book – Disney borrowed the character list and a small piece of the plot, but this book is pure Kipling. “This isn’t just a story about talking animals. It is about the wisdom of the jungle.”
War Horse – Morpurgo does an excellent job of telling this story through the eyes of a horse. The horse, Joey, tells a moving story of separation, tragedy, and triumph against the backdrop of WWI.
The Inquisitor’s Tale – Loosely informed by The Canterbury Tales, this is the story of three children each of whom has a divine gift that makes them outcasts but also heroes. Jeanne, like Joan of Arc, is a child touched by Divine Grace, and has visions of the future. Massive in size and as strong as Paul Bunyan, William has superhuman strength, but also incredible intelligence. Like famous Jews of that time, Jacob has the gift of healing. He uses herbs and prayers to miraculously heal people (and dragons). Recruited by a Viking-like monk, the children are on a mission to save something absolutely worth saving.
Favorite Authors for Boys
S. D. Smith – All of it. In this video essay, Sam explains what is at the heart of his writing. And it is so good. The Green Ember books are a growing world of books that are exciting, full of virtue, and are made up of darn good story telling. Sam understands darkness and what it takes for light to overcome. We have a couple of the books reviewed and we will be revewing all of them as quickly as we can.
N. D. Wilson – Any of it. A student of the classics, Wilson’s writing is more sophisticated than it first appears, extremely exciting, and deeply moral. We are building a whole section of our website dedicated just to Wilson’s varied and excellent writing. For now, start here with our Wilson author page. **Special Note, Leepike Ridge is Wilson’s first book. It is entirely unlike his others. Diane and Sara both love Leepike Ridge and think that it is special. It does not have fantasy elements and so families who wish to stick with more “real like life” types of books will be pleased with this one. PLEASE do read the review, however, there are a couple of things that you may wish to know going in.
We have a list for little girls too!