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.