Raising Boys {Who Have Worthy Heroes}

Who do your boys admire? emulate? talk about constantly? want to be when they grow up?

What a blessing it is when our little men seek to be like their fathers, grandfathers, pastors, and teachers. Sometimes my boys' heroes are men they've only met in words on a page: Jesus, Martin Luther, David Livingstone, King Tirian, George Mueller, Odysseus, the Apostle Paul.

The books our boys read shape their idea of heroism. It forms who they become. If this is true for our children, it is true for us, as their parents. We are formed by the books we read and the people of honor we encounter. Clearly this begs the question: What are our kids reading? What are we reading? What are they most captured by? What are we most enraptured by? If time spent is any indication, it would prove that books and literature do not serve as some of the greatest influences of young ones today..

In this age of conflicted comic superheros and scandal-ridden celebrities, many of our future men are perhaps, for the first time in many generations, confused about what truly defines heroism and manhood? I cannot adequately plumb the depths of this topic here, but I do want to end our week of “Raising Boys” posts with a look at this final aspect of boyhood: How our boys define heroism and honor...specifically through  the books they read.

A child's instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting; a child always stands for the good militarism as against the bad. The child's hero is always the man or boy who defends himself suddenly and splendidly against aggression. The child's hero is never the man or boy who attempts by his mere personal force to extend his mere personal influence. In all boys' books, in all boys' conversation, the hero is one person and the bully the other. That combination of the hero and bully in one, which people now call the Strong Man or the Superman, would be simply unintelligible to any schoolboy.

-G.K. Chesterton

I recently found these thoughts by Cindy Rollins very encouraging. I hope it serves to guide and edify your family as well, as we seek to place before our children, worthy heros of admiration, and a love for the written word:

The current trend – to just get children reading no matter what kind of material we have to throw at them – is dangerous and our sons are especially vulnerable...But Thomas Spence of the Wall Street Journal recently suggested that we not appeal to our sons’ basest instincts; rather we should motivate our boys with the concept of honor.  Honor motivates boys and it is not a bad ideal for girls either.

Literature clothes honor and makes it compelling to our children. Who doesn’t want to be brave after meeting the mouse Reepicheep in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?   The sad truth, however, is that in our quest for easy answers we often mistake moralism for the moral imagination.  Moralism is a kind of legalism. It cleans the outside of the cup while leaving the inside dirty which allows us to feel smug and self-satisfied.

Our goal, as teachers, is not to produce self-righteous prigs like another of our old friends from Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb – a boy C.S. Lewis describes as not having read the right sorts of books – but rather to motivate our children by examples of true depth of character, whether that character is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional Hobbit Frodo.  When we read of these admirable spirits we don’t feel smug, we feel challenged and even ashamed.  We question our own motives and behaviors.  In the best cases, we repent.

I have tried to concentrate on books you may have overlooked; as a consequence I have left out many beloved friends. I didn’t even mention The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, Little House in the Big Woods, or Farmer Giles of Ham but I know you love them too. I didn’t get a chance to warn you not to intrude on a book while reading out loud; let it work its own magic. This list represents many happy days for me with a group of ever-growing boys and a pretty little girl.  I hope it will provide inspiration as you endeavor to lead your students to the table of worthy ideas.

1. Men of Iron, Otto of the Silver Hand and others by Howard Pyle. By others I mean search the highways and byways and find anything you can by Pyle. You will be pleasantly surprised by what you have been missing.  My son James claims Men of Iron as his favorite childhood book.

2. The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle. This book far surpasses Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes using the criteria stated above. It creates a longing for the deepest streams of honor when read with Doyle’s Sir Nigel and Sir Gerhard books. These are my husband’s favorite books.

3. The Adventures of Richard Hannay by John Buchan.  Although none of us agree on which of Buchan’s books we like the best, we all agree his books make our top 10 list. I love Mr. Standfast the best but the boys usually pick Greenmantle.

4. The Railway Children or any book by E Nesbit. You cannot go wrong with Nesbit. CS Lewis read her books as a child. What further proof do you need that she passes the imaginative literature test?

5. The Black Fox of Lorne and others by Marguerite de Angeli. These are great books for middle school students.

6. Little Britches or Father and I were Ranchers by Ralph Moody. Absolutely not to be missed under any circumstances. Beat yourself with reeds if you have failed to read at least one of these out loud in your class or family.

7. Madelaine Takes Command by Esther C Brill. Here is a book for girls which boys will love also. This true story illustrates all the qualities of true femininity and humble leadership in time of need.

8. Rolf and the Viking Bow and others by Allen French.  French is another author whose extra works often get overlooked.   You will not be sad you searched for some of his other titles.

9. Stalky and Co and others by Rudyard Kipling. Don’t forget to read Kipling’s poems. He had an excellent ear for meter and a robust mood.   At the top of the imaginative literature list would have to be his excellent stories of India:  The Jungle Book and Just so Stories.

10. The Marsh King by Walter C Hodges. King Alfred!! Need I say more?

11. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Highly imaginative realistic and fantastic stories of the kind of childhood we all wish we could have had and we can have when we open the pages of these books.

12. The Sugar Creek Gang by Paul Hutchens (older version only.)  It is true these books may not deserve to sit on a list with the likes of John Buchan and Howard Pyle but as a mother I can testify that they did more to instill manliness in my sons at a young age than almost any other books I can think of.  They inspire without preaching.

13. Mythology.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that children love mythology and some of our best literature has come from the tales of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen. Rosemary Sutcliffe, Howard Pyle, Tolkien, Nathaniel Hawthorne and many, many more authors have plied their writing skills on these tales. The pathos alone is worth the ride.

14. Penrod by Booth Tarkington. Hilariously funny books. Penrod is something of a bad boy with a good heart.  Consider these books medicine for the soul.

15. Scaramouche and all others by Rafael Sabatini. Warning:  all of my children acted a little silly for a while after reading Scaramouche; they fancy themselves French actors for several months. Old Hollywood turned Sabatini books into those great Errol Flynn Swashbucklers.

You can read the entire article by Rollins, here.

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Thank you for joining me this week in celebrating the unique privilege of raising boys. I trust you have been blessed! Have a wonderful weekend. See you next week...I have a fun giveaway in store for you. :)