SALT LAKE CITY — Boys are readers: all of them. Some have already discovered the books that speak to them; others have yet to be given the right books — the ones that they love and that turn them into lifelong readers.
On his website guysread.com, author and first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka writes, “Research shows that boys are having trouble reading and that boys are getting worse at reading. No one is quite sure why. Some of the reasons are biological. Some of the reasons are sociological.”
Scieszka goes on to say, “But the good news is that research also shows that boys will read — if they are given reading that interests them.”
It’s not just the books themselves, it’s the characters — characters with whom they can identify and connect, and because of whom they can form opinions about life. A good book helps us understand the world and a great one teaches us how to live in it.
Here are 12 fictional characters that have proven themselves favorites of boys. There are many, many wonderful books and characters for boys, but these are my top picks and a great starting point if you’re looking to hand your son something to read.
Little boys (0-8)
1. Harold, “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson
Harold and his classic story of creating his own nighttime world with his crayon is perfect for little boys. Harold shows a boy what fun imagination and art can be. He’s also a great example of problem solving — always making things work no matter what happens.
2. Bartholomew Cubbins, “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” by Dr. Seuss
Brave, honorable, courageous Bartholomew; as a page boy to a greedy, arrogant king, Bartholomew must hurry to clean up the mess made by the royal magicians after an odd request from the king. Bartholomew stands up for what is right and demands that the king apologize and make things right.
3. Max, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
Every boy should have this book on his shelf. Max gives a boy the freedom to live in and expand his imagination. As a boy reads and explores Max’s world of hilarious monsters and wild jungles, he knows that life is more exciting when we think beyond the normal.
Young boys (8-13)
1. Charlie Bucket, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl
Charlie is one of the sweetest, most relevant characters in literature for young people. He is a champion of humility and hard work. He wins the day and the chocolate factory by being steadfast, honest and trustworthy. He’s not flashy or arrogant. A great lesson for all boys.
2. Percy Jackson, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan
Percy is a very relatable character. He’s a boy who gets in trouble and struggles in school, but one who has a great moral core. He does what’s right and fights hard for his friends. He also loves his mother and deals well with a father who left him.
3. Zader Westin, “One Boy, No Water” by Lehua Parker
Zader is a typical 11-year-old trying to fit in at school, working hard to get into a good prep school and hanging out on the beaches of Hawaii. But Zader is also an adopted kid with a very unusual allergy to water. While dealing with the strangeness of who he is, Zader remains loyal, big-hearted and honest. His story is also a great example of how the love of family sustains us no matter what.
Early teens (13-16)
1. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
Ender is taken from home and placed in an elite soldier-training school in a world preparing for war. He is a wonderfully complex character. He’s a leader and a loyal friend, but the best part of Ender’s story is his struggle — struggling to fit in and battling the rivalry of his peers, fighting his own insecurities and fears, and balancing the pressure placed on him. Ender must fight to find who he will become.
2. Phillip, “The Cay” by Theodore Taylor
After the Germans invade his island home, Phillip and his mother flee to safer ground, but along the way they are shipwrecked. Phillip survives but is injured and as a result is now blind. His only companion is a black man named Timothy. Phillip is a great example of learning to get to know who people are, looking past stereotypes and prejudice. His adventures demonstrate the importance of wisdom, the difficulties of growing up and the need to allow others to help us.
3. Taran the assistant pig keeper, “The Prydain Chronicles” by Lloyd Alexander
This beloved fantasy series and its main character, Taran, have captured the hearts of readers since 1964. Taran is a lowly pig keeper, but he knows he is destined to be much more. He is a true hero, wanting only to help people and conquer evil. His endurance and bravery are as memorable as his adventures.
Older teens/young adults (16-21)
1. Atticus Finch, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
This American classic teaches so much about human nature, and Atticus Finch is a standup example of a good man and father. He is compassionate, kind and nonjudgmental. While soft-spoken, he still commands respect and exudes intelligence; not to mention he is honest and decent.
2. Augustus Waters, “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
In this brilliant, humorous, edgy book we meet teen Augustus Waters, cancer survivor. He’s bold, carefree and a deep thinker. When he falls for fellow Cancer Kid Hazel, together they discover what it means to love and to live.
3. Hans Huberman, “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
Hans Huberman may be one of the best father figures in all of literature. He is quietly patient, reverently understanding and as solid as a man can be. He helps Liesel, his foster daughter, through the toughest time of her life in one of the toughest periods of history. If more men strived to be like Hans, the world would be a much better place.
Who is your favorite fictional character for boys? Come share on my Facebook page.
*About the Author: Teri Harman
Teri Harman, author and book enthusiast, writes a biweekly column for ksl.com and also contributes book-related segments to Studio 5. Her debut novel, "Blood Moon," comes out June 22, 2013. Find her online at teriharman.com.*