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Not Your School’s Reading List 8: Adventures, Spies, and More for Young Boys

Not Your School’s Reading List 8: Adventures, Spies, and More for Young Boys

At Intellectual Takeout, we strive to offer not only commentary on current events but also tangible advice for engaging with our increasingly chaotic world. That’s why we’re proud to present this ongoing series of literature recommendations.

Whether you’re reading the more challenging books to a 6-year-old or handing all these tomes off to a 12-year-old, these books are perfect for your son, grandson, young brother, cousin, or neighbor. From learning about history, getting engrossed in a classic story, or finding a new pastime like chess, even the most reluctant reader will find these texts to bring hours of entertainment.

Read the previous list here.

1. Alexander Grin. Crimson Sails. 1922.

“Written by Russia’s Alexander Grin in 1923, this short fantasy novel introduces readers to Soll, a hopeful young girl who has been ostracized in her village. When a mysterious storyteller informs her of a massive ship with crimson sails that will come for her, Soll becomes even more isolated from her neighbors, who view her as feeble-minded. In a surprising twist, her prophecy comes true in a most unexpected way.”

2. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Farmer Boy. 1933.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved story of how her husband, Almanzo, grew up as a farmer boy far from the little house where Laura lived. … Here Almanzo and his brother and sisters help with the summer planting and fall harvest. In winter there is wood to be chopped and great slabs of ice to be cut from the river and stored. … Almanzo wishes for just one thing—his very own horse—and he must prove that he is ready for such a big responsibility.”

3. Esther Forbes. Johnny Tremain. 1943.

“Fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain, an apprentice silversmith with a bright future ahead of him, injures his hand in a tragic accident, forcing him to look for other work. In his new job as a horse-boy, riding for the patriotic newspaper The Boston Observer and as a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, he encounters John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren. Soon Johnny is involved in the pivotal events of the American Revolution.”

4. James Ramsey Ullman. Banner in the Sky. 1954.

“Josef Matt, the only man to ever try to conquer this last summit of the Alps, met his end in the pursuit. Now his son, Rudi, dares to complete the same task in memory of his father. Setting off with his father’s red shirt, Rudi must courageously pass through the same chasm that took his father’s life and finish the challenging climb in order to plant the shirt at the peak.”

5. Jean Craighead George. My Side of the Mountain. 1959.

“Every kid thinks about running away at one point or another; few get farther than the end of the block. Young Sam Gribley gets to the end of the block and keeps going–all the way to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There he sets up house in a huge hollowed-out tree, with a falcon and a weasel for companions and his wits as his tool for survival. … Sam learns to live off the land, and grows up a little in the process.”

6. Howard Fast. April Morning. 1961.

“When you read this novel about April 19, 1775, you will see the British redcoats marching in a solid column through your town. Your hands will be sweating and you will shake a little as you grip your musket because never have you shot with the aim of killing a man. But you will shoot, and shoot again … and you begin to shout at the top of your lungs because you are there, at the birth of freedom.”

7. Elizabeth George Speare. The Bronze Bow. 1961.

“This gripping, action-packed novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community.”

8. Murray Chandler. How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. 1998.

“This is a chess book for everyone, from eight to eighty, beginner to master. In a clear, easy-to-follow format it explains how the best way to beat a stronger opponent (be it a friend, clubmate – or Dad!) is by cleverly forcing checkmate. Delightful and instructive positions from real games are used to show the 50 Deadly Checkmates that chess masters use to win their games.”

9. Conn and Hal Iggulden. The Dangerous Book for Boys. 2006.

“In this digital age, there is still a place for knots, skimming stones and stories of incredible courage. This book recaptures Sunday afternoons, stimulates curiosity, and makes for great father-son activities. The brothers Conn and Hal have put together a wonderful collection of all things that make being young or young at heart fun—building go-carts and electromagnets, identifying insects and spiders, and flying the world’s best paper airplanes.”

10. John Hendrix. The Faithful Spy. 2018.

“The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fight against the oppression of the German people during World War II. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was shocked to watch the German church embrace Hitler’s agenda of hatred. … Bonhoeffer eventually became convinced that Hitler and the Nazi Party needed to be stopped—and he was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to do so.”

Intellectual Takeout does not necessarily endorse any particular publisher. All credit for these descriptions goes to the original sources.

Image credit (left to right): Free SVG, CC0 1.0; Flickr-Bosc d’Anjou, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Look and Learn-Eastman Johnson, CC0 1.0; Devotion to Our Lady, PDM 1.0



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  • Avatar
    February 23, 2023, 11:36 pm

    Bonhoeffer was a self described practical atheist. He did not believe in the incarnation or the resurrection or the inerrancy of scripture. The German people certainly did not view Hitler as their oppressor.

    • Avatar
      F4 crew chief@DS
      February 24, 2023, 1:15 am

      DS your comment is tripe.

  • Avatar
    February 24, 2023, 3:15 am

    One addition I would make, no two:

    Paul Revere's Ride, David Hacket Fischer. Te story of events and policies leading up to the War for independence. Being an historian he throughly researched that entire period and is very thorough. He brings forth many details about a good number of the individuals who played their parts as the beginning of that war pressed forward. Very readable, seems to be written so as to be accessible to a 12 year old yet interesting and challenging enough to satisfy any mature adult. From my perspective (exensive study of that period and tose events for some years now) if one ONLY read one book on this period of time and event, this would be it.

    Perhaps too well known for this list is Kipling's Captains Courageous, a very gripping tale of a spoilt wealthy child as he meets disaster, is unexpectedly rescued, then put to work as a dorymate on a Grand Banks fishing schooner. He does about ten years worth of growing up in a few months.

  • Avatar
    September 16, 2023, 9:33 am

    Thank you for this terrific list. I’ve taken a job as a Library Assistant in a district and am astounded by how many books look like safe reading. For example, a book called Frankie and.Bug looks like a harmless book about friendship between sixth graders, but themes include drug use, aids, gender, dysphoria, and the gay lifestyle of 1980s California. A parent would think from the title cover that the book was simply a story of friendship.

    Your list give me a guide of what to suggest when kids ask me for good books. I would add Horacio Alger’s books. They’re downloadable for free on Project Gutenberg, but Ragged Dick is still published. Well, these books might have formulaic plots, they teach about real history as experienced by children in the 19th century, the virtue of hard work, the idea of community and charity, and how to deal with bullies.


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