engaging and worthwhile books. Here are some good recommendations (many were found in my go-to-resource, BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER by William Kilpatrick):
TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN by Philipa Pearce. (for ages 12-14) Review from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER: "This novel is widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of children's literature...critic Humphrey Carpenter has noted that TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN is, in essence, a reversal of PETER PAN. In Pearces's novel, a boy has to come to terms with the fact that time cannot be stopped, that change and growth and loss are part of human existence...Tom's brother has measles, and so Tom is forced (unhappily) to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle...one night he hears an old grandfather clock strike thirteen. When he goes down to investigate, he decides to step outside, and he discovers himself in a beautiful garden rather than a paved driveway...he meets a pretty young girl named Hatty. After many puzzling visits, he begins to realize that each one occurs at a different point in time in Hatty's life...she perceives him as a ghost who appears only after long absences...The author resolves these mysteries in a satisfying and moving conclusion. Tom's experiences cause him to leave his angry, self-preoccupied life behind, and learn something about love, time, and the importance of memory." The descriptive writing and plot in this book made a huge impression on my older son. To this day, he sites it as a favorite.
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. (ages 12-14) A survival story about a thirteen-year-old boy, Brian Robeson, who is flying in a small plane to visit his father. The pilot of the plane has a heart attack, but Brian manages to guide the plane to a lake and emerges unhurt. Alone in the forests of Canada, he learns to survive. There is never a question the situation is desperate, the author's tone is never sentimental, as Brian learns patience, self-reliance, the value of hard work, and a respect for nature. Even reluctant readers will get into this story - a favorite of my younger son!
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding. (Ages 14 and up) Before there were THE HUNGER GAMES, there was Lord of the Flies. William Kilpatrick says, "This is an ugly book (though beautifully written). But if the ugliness in LORD OF THE FLIES is related to something deep within human nature, how can we afford to look away? It suggests that what we call civilization is a very thin layer of order covering passions and emotions that could easily rip it apart...a cautionary tale meant to shock us into an awareness of the fragility of moral and political life." The story involves a plane crash on a tropical island, a group of British schoolboys, and a power struggle. Without the protection of the adult generation, the older children find themselves drawn into all the sins of their parents' world - blind ambition, vanity, greed, and hate. I read this one aloud to my kids. It was a hard book to get through (emotionally), but spurned some really good discussion. (Lord of the flies website here)
THE ARTHURIAN TRILOGY by Rosemary Sutcliff. A masterful retelling.
The Light Beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail
The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The Road to Camlann: The Death of King Arthur
THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE by Susan Cooper. Susan Cooper, in her five-title Dark Is Rising sequence (steeped in Celtic and Welsh legends), creates a world where the conflict between good and evil reaches epic proportions. She ranks with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in her ability to deliver a moral vision in the context of breathtaking adventure. My husband really enjoyed reading this too!
The Dark is Rising (Newbery Honor); Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; The Grey King (Newbery Medal); Silver on the Tree.
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain. Another great recommendation from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER by William Kilpatrick: "In the famous 'Notice' at the beginning of this book, Mark Twain warns that anyone 'attempting to find a moral' in the novel 'will be banished'. As usual, Twain was being humorously ironic, since this American classic is shot through with profound moral dilemmas...full of adventure and comedy, this novel is far more complex and thematically rich than its predecessor, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (which should be read first as preparation...When Huck and the runaway slave Jim head out on the Mississippi on their raft, they encounter a series of events that shows the corruption and hypocrisy of what is often call 'respectable' society...Huck, a child, and Jim, a slave - the weakest member of this society - are forced to use their wits to survive." A favorite of my older son.
DAVID COPPERFIELD, by Charles Dickens. This is truly the best coming-of-age book any boy could ask for. It's language is old fashioned and daunting at first, but a mature reader should do fine. I'm happy to say my youngest - who is still a challenged reader - was finally motivated, at the age of 19, to get through this 1,000-plus-page classic. And he loved it! The quote I'm sharing about this book is something I read years ago, by an Orthodox monk, that lead me to realize the influence that good literature could have on my children's souls:
"A boy can read something like David Copperfield, which describes a boy growing up: not some kind of monk or ascetic hero, but just an ordinary boy growing up in a different time .... It's true that this is a worldly book about people living in the world - but that world is quite different. Already you get a different perspective on things: that the world has not always been the way it is now; that the standard which is now in the air is one kind of world and there are other kinds; and that this is a different, normal world in which, although the element of sex is present, it has a definite role. You get strength from seeing what was normal in that time, from the way Dickens describes this young boy growing up and falling in love. He is embarrassed to be around the girl and never thinks about dirty things because nothing like that ever comes up; whereas if you read any contemporary novel that's all you get. This book shows a much higher view of love, which is of course for the sake of marriage, which is for the sake of children. The whole of one's life is bound up with this, and the thought never comes up in this book that one can have some kind of momentary satisfaction and then pass on to the next girl. David Copperfield is full of dreams of this woman, how he is going to live with her and be a big man of the world. It is assumed that he has sexual relations after he is married, but this is involved with what one is going to do with one's whole life." -Fr. Seraphim Rose (You can read more from "Forming Young Souls", HERE)
THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS series, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Do I really need to say how much enjoyment your boys (and ANYONE) will get from these?
THE SPACE TRILOGY by C.S. Lewis (again, from William Kilpatrick: "Before C.S.Lewis wrote the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, he became concerned with an ideological frame of mind he called "scientism". According to Lewis, scientism was the belief that technology would liberate mankind from the moral traditions of the past; the end result would be the elevation of certain scientists to the status of godhood, with the power of life and death over the whole human race....The three novels that constitute THE SPACE TRILOGY dramatize the conflict between scientism and the moral tradition of the West."
Out of the Silent Planet - A Cambridge University scholar named Ransom accidentally stumbles onto a scheme in which two men, one a scientist and the other a huckster with intellectual pretensions, prepare to travel to Mars and plunder its rich and strange culture.
Perelandra Ransom is brought to Venus, where he finds a new Adam and Eve, who are being tempted by the evil scientists from the first novel.
That Hideous Strength The cosmic struggle between good and evil takes place on Earth, as a scientific institute comes close to asserting its power over the world.
CARRY ON, MR. BOWDITCH by Jean Lee Latham. (Newbery Medal) Fascinating biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, an eighteenth-century nautical wonder and mathematical wizard. (This can also be read aloud to younger middle readers, who are studying Earl American history. As a family, we were excited to visit Salem, and try and picture how it would have looked during this brilliant young man's lifetime.)
ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. (The "granddaddy" of all adventure stories). In his own words, Robinson Crusoe tells of the terrible storm that drowned all his shipmates and left him marooned on a deserted island. Forced to overcome despair, doubt, and self-pity, he struggles to create a life for himself in the wilderness. From practically nothing, Crusoe painstakingly learns how to make pottery, grow crops, domesticate livestock, and build a house. His many adventures are recounted in vivid detail, including a fierce battle with cannibals and his rescue of Friday, the man who becomes his trusted companion. Full of enchanting detail and daring heroics, Robinson Crusoe is a celebration of courage, patience, ingenuity, and hard work.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (high school and up) This story concerns a single day in the life of a Soviet prisoner, Ivan, in the Soviet gulag, a prison camp in remote and frigid Siberia, where prisoners are stripped of everything - freedom, possessions, health. But there is one thing that cannot be taken away: a man's soul. "It should be read both as a reminder of the continuing plight of political prisoners and as a humane celebration of the oral and spiritual dimensions of human nature." - William Kilpatrick.
FATHER ARSENY, translated by Vera Bouteneff. A narrative comprised of encounters with Father Arseny, a former art historian and priest imprisoned in the Gulag. An intimate testimony of what it means to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Father Arseny became Prisoner No. 18736 in the brutal 'special sector' of the Soviet prison camp system. In the darkness of systematic degradation of body and soul, he shone with the light of Christ's peace and compassion. I wept, reading this aloud to our teens. We all loved this book.