In my attempt to be the best children’s librarian ever, I pretty much only read children’s book. My friends and family find this frustrating and have stopped asking me if I have read the latest piece of adult fiction/non-fiction/memoir/etc. My nieces and nephews find it thrilling. I am trying to balance recent books with timeless classics. Both of these “classic” books would make great holiday purchases for boys in your life and often appear on “Books for boys who don’t like to read” lists. Girls will, of course, like them, too, but are often easier to please in the area of reading.
My Side of the Mountain
by Jean Craighead George
The world said goodbye to Jean Craighead George in 2012, but we have fortunately been left with a long list of titles to keep us remembering why we love her so. My Side of the Mountain is about Sam Gribley, a young teenage boy who is dissatisfied with his crowded life in New York City. So, he runs away to his family’s land in the Catskill Mountains. Sam is knowledgeable about survival skills and doesn’t run away out of petulance or a misunderstanding of what he will face living off of the land. As a result, the reader learns survival skills and gains Sam’s appreciation and respect for nature. Plus, there is a cool falcon in it.
Stay with me for this metaphor, but I felt like Sam when reading this book. If current children’s fiction is Sam’s New York City, then reading this book is a departure. In a good way. And I can appreciate nature with the best of them, but I am not a camper or hiker. I frankly expected to be bored by this book, being used to reading modern children’s books with magic, robots, suspense and the like. But I wasn’t bored. I was engaged and wanted to know how – HOW – Sam was going solve the mystery of creating a wood stove from river clay. My 7 and 10 year old nephews listened to the audiobook after I did and I’m happy to report that they enjoyed it even more than I.
by Gary Paulsen
Hatchet was written almost 30 years after My Side of the Mountain and it contains more of the elements we have become accustomed to in modern children’s literature – suspense, plane crash, family drama…you get the idea.
Unlike Sam, Brian does NOT wish to survive off the land and is not prepared to do so. Unfortunately, he has little choice when he is the sole survivor of a plane crash and all he has to help him is the hatchet his mother gave him right before he boarded the plane. This book has some pretty frightening situations and does not shy away from some of the more gory details. Which, again, kids will love.
Both of these books are riveting in their own right, hold up well despite being written in the late fifties and eighties, and best of all, have sequels so young readers can keep up with these characters’ stories.