Adventures in Reading: Three from Slightly Foxed

Posted July 12, 2020 by Lory in brief reviews, publishers / 18 Comments

Do boys read differently than girls? There is lots of controversy and research on the subject, which I will not go into here. However, with my own boy-child I have found that even though I was determined that in our reading together he would not be limited to stereotypical “boy books,” and he has in fact enjoyed some of my childhood favorites including Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and The Little White Horse, what he really loves are books about boys having exciting adventures and fighting bad guys. In spite of zero encouragement at home, an attraction to military tactics, weaponry, and large, powerful vehicles appears to be innate, so the best I can hope for is to guide this interest into as positive a direction as possible.

Fortunately, Slightly Foxed has come to the rescue, with some books that are absolutely perfect for his reading interests, and on a more elevated literary plane than Asterix and Obelix. (Girls may certainly like them too, but finding books for girls is not currently my problem.) As often happens, I started by reading to him but then he took them away from me because he couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. As long as his hunger for reading is stimulated, I don’t mind giving him a jump start.

The Little Grey Men by B.B. was a big success a few years ago. A group of gnomes leave their home on the banks of the Thames to go in search of their missing brother, giving rise to excellent opportunities for adventure. Stories about small beings braving the dangers of a hostile environment, with cleverness and persistence out-doing brute strength, are very appealing to children, and the little men amply satisfy that need.

Though a story about gnomes may sound fanciful, it is firmly grounded in the world we know; the book provides a vivid depiction of the natural setting and an unsentimental attitude toward the harsh realities of life, along with the humor and magic that children also adore. The Slightly Foxed Cubs edition, published along with two companion books, includes the indispensable illustrations by the author himself, which bring this enchanting world to life in exquisite detail. The set would be a marvelous addition to any family library.

Right now, having crossed the Rubicon into teenagehood, we are reading The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff, a brilliant writer who may be unfairly ignored by snooty adults who look down on “children’s books.” It’s my firm opinion that any truly great children’s writer is worth reading at any age, and Sutcliff is a case in point. Her subjects are fascinating, her evocation of the historical past incredibly convincing, her characters alive and vibrant, and her writing beautifully crafted. All that, and an exciting adventure story, in this case about two young Legionaries confronted by treachery and conspiracy in the fading days of Roman Britain — I could not ask for a better way to shape my young reader’s literary taste and experience.

Sutcliff writes of how human beings in all ages have wrestled with the great moral quandary, the question of how to live — where to direct our loyalty and our enthusiasm, how to use our inner forces in the right way. She does not give easy, pat answers, but points a way through the gift of narrative, the ongoing story in which we all share. It’s wonderful that this and the other three “Roman novels” are being reprinted as Slightly Foxed Cubs — the first two are now available, with two more coming in September. With the usual quality binding and design, and incorporating the splendid original illustrations by C. Walter Hodges and Charles Keeping, it’s a set to cherish for all lovers of good literature, young and old.

From the Slightly Foxed Editions series of memoirs came Going Solo by Roald Dahl, which lasted only a couple of chapters for us as a read-aloud before my son seized it and stayed up late to finish. I knew it would be a success, with Dahl’s trademark dry humor joined to a real-life tale of adventure from his own youth, first going to work in Africa for an oil company and then as a pilot in the RAF, but I didn’t know he would devour it quite so quickly.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Stories of lions and snakes, air battles and plane crashes hold irresistible appeal for my adventurous boy, and though Dahl may not stick entirely to the humdrum facts, when he writes in such a witty and engaging style, who wants to complain? Anyone who relishes a good story well-told will be charmed by Dahl’s memoir, and by its companion volume, Boy — both now available in the lovely uniform binding of Slightly Foxed Editions.

So if, like me, you are always searching for good books to read for a boy in your life, there are a few ideas for you — and if you just want something good to read for yourself, or for another adventurous reader, they will be splendid for that too. Thanks again, Slightly Foxed, for always delivering the very best reading adventures.


A copy was received for review purposes from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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18 responses to “Adventures in Reading: Three from Slightly Foxed

  1. These look to be handsome editions, and I’m ever so slightly envious of you for having them, Lory, but above all glad that your boy-child is enthused enough to read them for himself (however frustrating that may be for your enjoyment).

    I enjoyed The Little Grey Men too, and Twitter keeps bringing Brendon Chase to my attention. It’s Rosemary Sutcliff’s centenary this August and I’m trying to fit in a read before then of one of her novels at least — which may push out that foreign language read this month… Ho hum.

    Our son, now in in his late thirties, was only diagnosed as dyslexic at uni, to our chagrin — yet despite being a slow reader the first novel he polished off was Midnight’s Children and he’s now ploughing through Jack Zipes’ translation of the Grimms’ Tales. So proud of him.

  2. I was a bookish boy who hated football (which was king in Tennessee in the 1950s and 1960s) and who at one point got called a sissy by his 6th grade teacher–and yet I loved adventure books with battles and fighting. I read all the Hardy Boy books but remember being turned off by Nancy Drew because there was too much about romantic relationships in them. I just say this to let you know that your son will know what he wants and needs if you present him with options–and that, given that he has you for a mother, he should grow up non-sexist. But to a degree (and I’m not talking about trans girls here, where the dynamics are different), my experience is that there are more than social factors at play in the stories that children gravitate towards.

    I read an account from some educator who talked about an experiment where boys were given a toy kitchen and girl were given toy soldiers–the boys turned the kitchen into a battle station and the girl started working out relationships between the soldiers. Maybe nurture is still at work in this outcome but I’m tempted to think that nature plays a role as well. The good news is that the toxic effect of any general gender predilections can be undone with good parenting.

    • That is hilarious about the experiment! Some things may be inborn as tendencies but what matters is what we do with them. My son — who goes to a Waldorf school where handcrafts are taught to all children from first grade — is also great at sewing; he wanted a pair of pants for martial arts, so he sewed them himself. In the school culture it’s totally normal, but I can imagine in another setting it might still be considered a strange thing for a boy to do. It does matter what environment we offer, and especially what possibilities we cut off through our attitudes.

      • I love this Waldorf example. Good for them and for your son. And I’m sure that I was made to feel ashamed of a number of things by culture that would be different today. Why feminism was one of the most significant historical developments that I can think of.

  3. Yes! When my son was younger he loved Sutcliffe and Dahl. Also Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, The Borribles, and then Ender’s Game.
    He and my daughter had the same toys–the main ones were a train set and a set of plastic dinosaurs on a paper-mache “land” we made. The girl had dino families, while the boy made them fight. The trains met up and talked in the girl’s hands, while in the boy’s they ran headlong into each other.

  4. Rosemary Sutcliffe is brilliant and he might then enjoy Barbara Willard if you can find her. Also Diana Wynne Jones’ Chronicles of Chrestomanci.

    • I think I read Barbara Willard long ago but alas those are among the books I left behind. He has read DWJ but is not such a rabid fan as I am! I’m waiting to try Deep Secret on him till he’s a little bit older.

  5. What beautiful editions! I am quite envious; I love Sutcliff and I have never even gotten to read the BB books. Sutcliff is a wonderfully adventurous author, and IMO her historical fiction can’t be beat. (Also, the first chapter of Going Solo is one of my favorite things!)

    My younger daughter loved Thomas the Tank Engine and had a lot of the little engines. We got her a wonderful bunch of track so she could build sets and drive them around, but she hardly ever used the stuff and pretty much seemed to consider them as train-shaped people to make stories with. I played with cars and trains myself as a kid, and was kind of exasperated that they never did anything with them.

    • It’s all individual of course. What is sad is when kids get boxed in and told they can’t play or pretend what they want.

      • Jean @ Howling Frog

        Yes indeed. I was so sad when a friend came over one day and said she wished her mom would buy her Legos, because Legos were for boys. I said Legos were for people who like Legos. (The Thomas-loving kid graduated to loving Legos — even now at 17.)

  6. Those look like great recommendations. I know it’s a small sample, but having homeschooled my kids of both genders, I honestly couldn’t see any difference in their reading preferences. My eldest son did indeed love Boy and Going Solo. But he also loved Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest series even more than his sister, who we considered the target audience. Any well written book with engaging plots and lovable characters is fair game.

    • I never tried Ramona on my son but he might have enjoyed her too. He liked The Mouse and the Motorcycle (see above re: large, powerful vehicles).

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