Monday, June 29, 2015

The Literature of Honor for Boys

Instilling Honor in Boys Through Literature

Last month we learned that we are failing to give our boys a reason to learn. We learned that boys are motivated by honor and that our society has left them without hope. We also learned that one antidote to the problem may be using great literature to motivate our sons to pursue honor. But what books should they read?  I recently asked a group of longtime homeschooling mothers, women I highly respect, what books they recommended. The following is what I gleaned from raising my own sons and also the suggestions of these moms. I have broken the list down into 3 parts: fiction, poetry, and biographies. With a few added additions this is a fine list for girls also but as we have seen our girls are still motivated, more motivated than ever before, it is our boys who are struggling.

Noticeably missing from the list are books I would classify as Victorian moralism.  The group of women I surveyed almost unanimously agreed that moralism is antithetical to real heart change.  My friend, Chris,  put it this way, “Moralism looks good on the outside, which makes mothers feel more comfortable with their children: if they look good on the outside, I must be doing things right. It is just another kind of legalism. But in a world out of control and chaotic, one is always willing to sell their liberty for tyranny that will bring order. It's an old, old story.”  Our goal is not to produce self-righteous prigs like our old friend Eustace Scrubbs before he met the dragon (See: The Voyage of Dawn Treader) but rather to motivate our sons by the examples of true heart change whether that heart change is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional mouse Reepicheep.   When we read of these sorts of characters we don’t feel smug and good we feel challenged and even ashamed.  We question our own motives and behaviors.  In the best cases, we repent.


1.     Men of IronOtto of the Silver Hand  others by Howard Pyle
2.     The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle (Sir Gerhard and Sir Nigel. Not as well-known as his Sherlock Holmes books, but for illustrating honor they cannot be beat.Check the public domain for these other Doyle books)
3.     The 39 Steps etc by John Buchan (all Richard Hannay books. People often love 39 Steps but don’t realize there are at least 3 sequels.  Greenmantle is next followed by our family favorite Mr Standfast.)
4.     The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, In Freedom’s Cause by GA Henty and others dealing with Scottish liberty.
5.     Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli
6.     Sugar Creek Gang by Paul Hutchens (I highly recommend seeking out the originals rather than the updates.)
7.     CS Lewis The Chronicles of NarniaThe Space Trilogy, The Screwtape Letters. (Don't forget The Abolition of Man by Lewis describes in depth our dilemma.)
8.     Little Britches series by Ralph Moody  
"Son, there is no question but what the thing you have done today deserves severe punishment. You might have killed yourself or the        horse, but much worse than that, you have injured your own character. A man's character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep                   himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn't do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin.  A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth."  

That is just a small taste of the riches available to your sons in Ralph Moody’s books. 
9.     Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling (Kipling is a among the best authors for boys.  Try Jungle Book,  Just so Stories and Stalky and CO.)
10. Sir Gawain and the Green KnightThe Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and others by JRR Tolkien (Don’t miss Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham.)
11. Ivanhoe and others by Walter Scott
12. Redwall series by Brian Jacques
13.  The Princess & Curdie and others by George MacDonald
14.  The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
15.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Don’t underestimate the power of this book for boys. They naturally like Mr Darcy.)
16.  Rolf and the Viking Bow by Allen French (French is an author worth searching out.)
17.  The Marsh King by Walter Hodges
18.   GA Henty (In spite of the fact that Henty is formulaic fiction; he does manage to tell the kind of stories boys love.  Some of his books are even good literature.  At least read a  few Henty’s: The Boy Knight, In Freedom’s Cause, etc.)
19.  The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (This is NOT a feminine series. The hero is Pa.  Is there a better book for boys than Farmer Boy?)
20.   Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe


1.     Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall
2.     Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy ( Great book for the athletes in the house.)
4.     Childhood of Famous American (COFA) books for younger boys (Our favorites are William Penn, Francis Marion, Stonewall Jackson, Lou Gehrig)
5.     Leaders in Action series edited by George Grant (Our favorites are Carry a Big Stick (Teddy Roosevelt) and Never Give In (Winston Churchill))
6.     Of Courage Undaunted  by James Daughtery
7.     Christian biographies such as Borden of Yale, Jim Elliot, Eric Liddell, Hudson Taylor etc.
8.     Mornings on Horseback and other books by David McCullough


1.     Idylls of the King by Tennyson
2.     If by Rudyard Kipling
3.     Opportunity by Edward Sill
4.     The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson
5.     The Leak in the Dike by Cary
6.     Casabianca by Hemans
7.     The Village Blacksmith by Tennyson
8.     Horatius at the Bridge by MacCaulay

The Literature of Honor for Little Boys

I often get questions about good picture books for younger children and I notice that my choices are usually archaic in the sense that new authors and new stories have flooded the market. This list will reflect the books that my boys loved when they were little about last Friday.  I will try and stick to books that meet our theme of illustrating honor and not just books that we loved.

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman

This is the Quintessential book of honor for little boys! If you like this, and you will, then you will also want to look for others by this duo such as:

The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur

Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle

There are 3 Obadiah books by Brinton Turkle and they are superb. Timothy used to ask me to read these over and over again and the pictures illustrate all the joys of adventuring AND coming home.
Obadiah the Bold
Rachel and Obadiah
Brandy just blogged about these last week.

The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward

Andy and the Lion By James Daugherty

Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor
Henry the Castaway

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone
This is a not-to-be-missed series by Edward Ardizzone. Tim will warm your heart and enliven the imaginations of your little boys. There are 8 Tim books. You will want to read them all.

Billy And Blaze: A Boy And His Horse by C.W. Anderson

My older guys are already collecting these for their little boys and last Thanksgiving there was quite a stir when one of them came home from McKay's with a few of these. There are 9 Billy and Blaze books.

Lentil by Robert McCloskey
My boys love this book!! I am not even sure why but it is a huge favorite around here.

The Monkey and the Crocodile: A Jataka Tale from India
This is a book by one of our favorite authors. Galdone has many books retelling fairy stories and they are all quite good.

Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel

Anything by Lobel is excellent!! What could be more honorable than the friendship between Frog and Toad?

A Bear Called Paddington and others by Michael Bond

Corduroy by Don Freeman
Mr. Freeman's books have a particular pathos that I find compelling and sweet.

The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley

The Church Mouse series is excellent in every way. As to honor, the mice are known to give Churchillian speeches!

This list could go on forever and I tried to avoid the obvious choices like the wonderful  Little Bear books by Elsa Holmelund Minarik, Winnie-the-Pooh who is a bear with much honor, the Beatrix Potter stories which I trust you not to miss, or the lovely and honorable Virginia Lee Burton books. I would suggest that you eschew more modern choices until you have read through some of these oldies!

Feel free to comment on other choices which I have missed.