Great Books for Brainy Boys
Do you have a bright boy in your life? Lucky you!
BUT it’s hard to keep a bright boy fed with books. So many MG and YA books have pink covers, or touchy-feely romance, or feature bearded manly-men: my boys just couldn’t relate to these stories.
You know how kids can be fussy eaters? (“I don’t like broccoli/tomatoes/mushrooms?”) They’re exactly the same with books.
But it’s really important that kids learn to love reading. If nothing else, a book is a battery-free boredom-killer. A book can be carried anywhere and shoved under your little darling’s nose the moment he becomes restless.
But books are more than entertainment; they’re education. Books teach without even trying. From stories, kids learn facts, coping strategies and how to see the world through another’s eyes. In today’s techno-focussed society, words are super important; if you’re unable to communicate ideas, its pretty hard to hold down any well-paid job. Today, being brain-fit is more important than being physically-fit.
Here’s a list that might help.
Full disclosure: my boys are in their late teens. In their middle grade years (ages 8 – 10) they were competent, not voracious readers. I had to work real hard to find stories they liked. One son likes character-focussed novels; the other is (still) crazy about science, and for the longest time he’d only read ‘how to’ manuals. (I remember reading him the dishwasher plumbing manual for bed time reading!)
But now they’re both advanced readers, in the top streams at their university/schools and while they still have strong preferences, they’ll read across genres. I compiled this list of books with their help.
I’ve put in links to the Amazon pages of all the titles, so you can read a bit more about them.
Please note: this list is by no means complete. I’ve left out most of the mega hits, like The Hobbit, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, as I’m sure you’re already aware of them. Plus, of course there are plenty of other wonderful stories I’ve left out, or just haven’t discovered yet. This list is mostly speculative fiction (horror, sci-fi and fantasy) as I found my science-focussed son engaged best with this genre.
If you’re looking for further ideas, try Zac Harding’s blog: https://bestfriendsarebooks.com – or ask a librarian
Younger Readers (8 – 10)
Animorphs – KA Applegate
Goosebumps – R. L. Stine
- These are science-fiction/horror-lite series, and both have an enormous number of titles. One son insisted on reading them in order, which I found real stressful, because do you think the library had them all available at the right time?
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Roald Dahl
“What keeps the elevator up?” asked Charlie.
“Skyhooks, of course,” said Mr Willy Wonka.
When Our Jack Went to War – Sandy McKay.
Based on the true story of Sandy’s great-uncle in WW1. This book is really good for kids with shorter attention spans, as it’s interspersed with cuttings from newspapers, so the formatting helps retain the interest.
The Prankster and the Ghost – R. L. Stedman
This is my book, so I guess this could be shameless self-promotion, but I wrote this with my kids in mind. The idea came about from my son’s school camp: within the first hour, one kid had their arm run over by the bus, another had a trip to ED, and my son was convinced the camp was haunted.
The Horse and His Boy – C. S. Lewis
The story of Shasta, runaway slave and his talking horse. A stand-alone adventure set in the Narnia world, this was the only one in the series my kids warmed to, but they both loved it.
Middle Grade (10 – 13)
Horowitz Horror – Anthony Horowitz
These are really good horror stories for kids, but be aware that they may induce delicious terror in the child-reader. So I don’t recommend these for binge- or late-night reading (unless you want to be woken by a kid with nightmares). Horowitz also wrote the Alex Rider series for older kids, about a spy academy for teens. TBH my kids didn’t really relate to the Rider series, “they’re too predictable”, but others may enjoy.
The Cherub Series – Robert Muchamore
Another series about teen spies for MG – YA readers. These stories are the ultimate in formulaic, binge-reading, so once a kid is hooked they’ll be gagging for the next in series. One of my sons hated these books, but the other devoured them, so again, worth a try. There are heaps of titles in this series – definitely a bonus when you’ve got a holiday planned. Just be aware that Muchamore writes about real-life issues, like trafficking. Younger children may not be ready for this type of content, so I do suggest caution.
The City of Ember (3 book series) – Jeanne DuPrau
A story about a civilisation surviving underground. This was made into a neat little movie, starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, and is a well-written exciting science-fiction dystopia for younger readers.
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
An absolute, must-read classic for intelligent MG and YA readers: time travel, space travel, a brain-box kid and his older sister. This is part of a series, but you don’t need to have the entire series to enjoy this outstanding adventure.
When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
An award-winning adventure about time travel. Miranda receives anonymous letters that seem to be able to predict the future. This story is full of puzzles and plot twists. It’s based on an idea in A Wrinkle in Time, so its good to read them together.
Cosmic – Frank Cottrell-Boyce.
The story of an unusually tall 12-year-old who’s mistaken for an adult, and how he pranks his way into becoming an astronaut. This isn’t a simplistic read, but if you’ve a kid with a good attention span, they’ll love this story. Cosmic (and Cottrell-Boyce’s other works) make very good audio books, great for long car journeys.
Johnny Maxwell Series – Terry Pratchett
More information in this blog post.
Under the Mountain – Maurice Gee
See this blog post here. Fantastic story, disappointing movie.
Chrestomanci Series – Diana Wynne Jones.
This was the series that got me hooked on reading, when I was only 9! My favourite in the series is still Charmed Life, about orphan Cat and the mysterious enchanter Chrestomanci, but Witch Week is also great, and even now I laugh out loud when I read it. This series introduces the concept of multiple worlds and discusses causality, so it’s a thought-provoking read for science-fiends.
Older Readers (13 +)
I think my kids enjoyed the books here precisely because they are NOT written for kids – most were written before YA was a ‘proper’ genre.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Great fun to read aloud and surprisingly accessible; we laughed our way through this book.
The Invisible Man – HG Wells
A classic, and still a fantastic story. A man walks into a bar, his face wrapped in bandages …
The Day of The Triffids – John Wyndham
Wyndham’s novels are written in a rather dry, reportage style, which my son loved. If your child enjoyed the Triffids, they’ll be happy, because there are others to try: The Kraken Wakes, Chocky, The Midwich Cuckoos. (My son also loved The Trouble With Lichen, but I couldn’t stand it!)
The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
I know, right? But my 13 year old totally loved this book, the idea of the puzzles and the fast-paced story-telling kept him hooked.
The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater
My boys weren’t massively into this series, but it will certainly appeal to some boy readers. More info in this blog post here.
The Foundation Series – Isaac Asimov
My son devoured this series when he was 14, and it’s still one of his favourites. The combination of science and world-building in Asimov’s books makes these books deeply appealing to young people. Apologies to all Asimov fans, but I find reading his books as exciting as watching paint dry. The ideas are great, but it’s hard work to reach them (plus he’s as sexist as hell), so I wouldn’t expose a teen to Foundation until he or she is a truly competent reader.
And then …
Well, once a kid is says he’s enjoying Asimov, they’re on their own, and good luck keeping up with them!
photographs from pixabay and deposit photos – used under license