Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Literature for Boys

Some thoughts from my husband, Kevin, the father of my little men...

We are doing our best, by God's grace, to raise three young men (nine years, seven years, and seven weeks). We purposefully fill our home with books - practically every room in our house contains tomes just crying out to be picked up and devoured - and we intentionally have scheduled times that we read together daily and times where we read individually (but still together). In addition to this, we encourage our sons to play outside daily for hours, whether it is sunny or snowing. We find that this combination of limiting video-based entertainment, and encouraging book-reading and physical activity expands their imaginations incredibly.

Now doing these things is not enough, for our sons could be reading for hours a day, and still end up unmotivated, directionless narcissists. It is also important to be picky when it comes to selecting the books that they will be reading. There are three things that we look for in literature for our sons: (1) A main character that is decidedly moral and courageous, and thus, heroic (2) Illustrations that are gripping, but not objectionable (e.g. gory, seductive) (3) A setting that will teach our sons about geography, various civilizations and their mythologies, a particular event in history, or all of the above.

All of that said, a book doesn't have to abide by all three points in order for us to let our children read it. For example, we're okay with our sons reading particular "Star Wars" books for while they don't fulfill our desire to teach something about real history or geography, they do still present main characters that do the right thing, even when it comes to sacrificial action. Books that meet criteria one and two are crucial for us, while three is a bonus! We believe that what our sons read will shape their character, so we want them reading about men that will make a difference!

Upon the conclusion of reading literature that meets this criteria, we find that our sons immediately want to get dressed up like the main characters and run outside to reenact what they just read. Books such as: The Hobbit, Sentinel: City of Destiny, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Adventures of Tintin, Swiss Family Robinson, Going Along With Lewis & Clark, Farmer Boy, The Bible, and Little Britches protect our sons from a cultural-induced slumber and propel them into a world of epic heroes, fierce battles, and harsh trials. Thorin & Bilbo, Jadan & Jerol, Captain Ahab, Lewis & Clark, Almonzo & Royal, and Moses & Aaron have had many adventures in our back yard. It is our belief that young boys that imagine themselves as adventuresome heroes can easily imagine and thus become men of strong Godly character.

One such book that overwhelmingly meets our criteria is Beowulf: Grendel the Ghastly. This, of course, is based on the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic poem, but has taken only the first of Beowulf's three battles as its subject. Michelle Szobody does a wonderful job of adapting this 3,000 line, 1,200 year-old poem into a work that is appropriate for children ages 7-12, and Justin Gerard's illustrations take a very dark subject matter and make it beautiful while maintaining the integrity of the story.

Book One tells of King Hrothgar and his newly assembled feast-hall, Heorot, built to further spread his fame in Denmark. The construction of this building initiates great celebration in the kingdom, a thing which Grendel, an evil monster, hates dearly. For the next twelve years, the kingdom is terrified by this beast, and instead of fame and joy, Heorot is filled with death and despair. In the land of the Geats, the courageous prince Beowulf heard of Hrothgar's plight, so he and a band of men came across the sea where Beowulf personally defeats Grendel armed only with his valor. Once again, Heorot is turned into a hall of feasting andd celebration, and Beowulf is personally rewarded by Hrothgar and his queen, Wealhtheow.

This book has plenty of helps for parents. Footnotes throughout help the reader understand how to pronounce difficult names, and an appendix at the back defines key words. If you've never read Beowulf, but have heard that it contains pagan elements, don't worry. The original author of the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf wrestled with Christianity in a pagan culture too. And Szobody gives credit to God in her adaptation as well.

My sons and I look forward to the release of Book Two - Beowulf: The Monster's Mother!

9 fellow travelers shared:

Joy said...

Thanks Kevin! Your insight is much appreciated.

I'd completely forgotten about the Adventures of Tin Tin. I'll have to look for those at the library today.

Grafted Branch@Restoring the Years said...

Have y'all gotten around to Johnny Tremain and Carry on Mr. Bowditch yet? They're two of my favorite.

Thanks for your suggestions. I'm going to look them up even though I'm decidedly NOT raising any men. ;) Because, someday, they may be.

Carrie at dumptrucksandteacups said...

This is a great post... thanks for sharing your vision in reading with your boys.

Merry Christmas!

Rebecca M said...

This is a super post. My husband and I are always on the lookout for great reads for our boys!
What would you say is the reading level of the Beowulf books?

Mindy said...

Thanks to your hubby for sharing! And I love your new profile pic! It is precious!

Anonymous said...

Thank your your time to explain. I have never introduced myself, but Elise's sweet blog has brought me MUCH encouragement. My husband and I are homeschooling our children (sons ages 6, 4 and 2 months...daughters ages 2 and 2 months). We also love great books and being outside extensively.

Congratulations on your new love. I guess you can see above that we have newborn twins.
Mary Brooke in atlanta

Christine said...

Thanks Kevin! We also look for great living books for Colin that meet the same criteria. I will check out that book!

Karly said...

Thank you for this!

Audrey said...

Thank you so much for this post Kevin. With 6 sons, I am always learning how to keep them moving forward, busy, etc. Boys need to be "doing" most of the time, dont they?

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