Summer Reading for the Kids


Thanks to Drew Klavan, Rob Long, Ursula Hennessey, and the many Ricochet readers who have made suggestions, the summer reading list for the three teenaged Robinson males has begun taking shape:

The mandatory pile

One brand new copy, purchased at the full retail price, of Andrew Klavan’s most recent book for young adults, The Long Way Home


Graveyard Book

Microbe Hunters (One of my boys loves science. We’ll see if he loves science writing.)

Sink the Bismarck (The best way to introduce the boys to history, I figure, is by way of the Department of Blowing Things Up.)

The Once and Future King (I’ve been meaning to read it myself since I was about 15.)

The optional pile

Two additional copies, used, of Andrew Klavan’s most recent novel for young adults, The Long Way Home

A couple of books from the Hornblower series

Another couple from the Great Brain series

Kim. Also a collection of Kipling short stories, most certainly to include “The Man Who Would be King.”

Chronicles of Narnia

If I may, a few remaining questions, the first of which goes to Mrs. Hennesey: Ursula, you spent a decade as a professional sports writer. What sports books would you recommend? Books in which teenaged boys could lose themselves (which is what they’ll have in mind) while being exposed to clean, straightforward prose and a skillful narrative (which is what their father has in mind)? Sports books–it’s tricky ground, I find. Sports writers tend to write for newspapers and magazines, getting their work into print while their audience still recalls the game or match or contest about which they’re writing. Books? Not so much. There’s John McPhee on Arthur Ashe and Bill Bradley, and then there’s David Halberstam on rowing. But those aren’t books by sports writers. They’re books by writers who happened to take six months off to write about sports.

As you’ll see, Ursula, I’m desperate.

My next question I direct to my esteemed colleague, Mr. R.C.B. Long. Kim? Really, Rob? Jeepers. The story is set in a world, the Raj, that went out of existence seven decades ago, the narrative makes heavy use of dialect, and the story line (as I recall) is pretty darned complicated. Maybe some Kipling short stories instead? Or would you contend–and who knows? You’ve met all three of them–that my not particularly literate boys could pull themselves together and make it through Kim on their own, unflogged by their male parent? I’m asking for summer reading suggestions here. If you insist on Kim I will certainly pick up a copy–but let the boys know that it was your idea.

This is your last chance to take it back.

There are 27 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Editor

    Peter, there’s only one way to get the boys to read Kim.

    Pay them.

    But it’s worth it. It’s got it all: violence, Buddhism, espionage, dastardly Russians. What else does a book need? Get a copy with some notes in it, explain the basics of The Great Game to them, and let them have at it.

    You owe it to the Raj, Peter.

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  2. Profile Photo Member

    I can’t believe I forgot to recommend Torpedoes in the Gulf. Until I was introduced to this book, I was completely unaware that Pearl Harbor was not the only time WWII reached America. TV documentaries focus exclusively on the war in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific… as do public school history books.

    All Americans should read this book to understand that German U-boats were sinking merchant vessels along our own coast. Incidentally, my grandma told me a U-boat was spotted inside Mobile Bay while she worked for the Army Corps of Engineers. Americans need to understand that wars can reach our shores.

    As for sports books, I recommend The Junction Boys.

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    I’d say Lord of the Rings if they haven’t read it would be better than Chronicles of Narnia, which I feel is aimed at a slightly younger audience.

    Also Chaim Potok’s The Chosen is an excellent book about a young Jewish boy growing up in New York during WWII and deals with the the Zionist movement and its Jewish proponents and detractors. My father, who worked a Los Angeles yeshiva for several years (he was the only goy there), introduced me to this excellent book in junior high and I had to read it for a high school AP Comp/Lit class. Truly excellent.

    Also, I’d say Orwell is a must read for youngsters to see the true face of communism and totalitarian government.

    A nice lighthearted but whip smart read are the books from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which are some of the funniest books I have ever read and teenagers are at the right age to appreciate Adam’s marvelous wit.

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  4. Profile Photo Member

    Peter, as far as science goes, one of my favorite authors is the French biologist J. Henri Fabre. His books on insects are a joy to read. The Insect of World of J. Henri Fabre is a classic and would probably be a good starting point. His experiments are egaging, not to technical, and represent a good view of the sense of wonder involved in scientific investigation.

    I read it as part of my freshman biology course at Thomas Aquinas College, which was accompanied by actually going out and observing insects and doing experiments. My godmother, who is a Dominican Nun teaching elementary and junior high in France, has read passages to her students who are enthralled with the text. It’s a great read.

    Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny would be a great read too. Never too early to get those kids thinking philosophically about politics (although I have no doubt you have been doing that since day one).

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  5. Profile Photo Member

    And for history, how about Is Paris Burning?

    It is really long though.

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  6. Profile Photo Contributor

    Peter, here’s my all-ages sports list:

    A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein. I have always loved Bobby Knight, although I was once the victim of a high-decibel scolding from Coach Knight because of a story I wrote about him. However, he is also remarkably kind. For example, he searched for my lost rental car keys on the grounds of an Outback Steakhouse in the pouring rain for 45 minutes.

    The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski. About the amazing coaching (of life and basketball) that happens at a Catholic high school in Jersey City, NJ.

    Anything by Matt Christopher. My fourth grade boys devoured these.

    Once More Around the Park by Roger Angell. Angell’s stuff in the New Yorker (when I could stand to read that magazine) made my heart leap. He’s also the stepson of E.B. White. It’s a collection of baseball writing.

    A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee. About Bill Bradley’s Princeton career. I loved this book when I was 15. Go figure.

    The Life You Imagine by Derek Jeter with Jack Curry. Both “authors” are truly good people. My 6th grade students really took to this book.

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  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    Peter, some possibilities:

    Orwell – 1984 or Animal Farm

    Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

    Steinbeck – The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights

    Shelley – Frankenstein

    HG Wells – The Undying Fire

    Beowulf (I like Heaney’s translation) or any of the epic poems

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  8. Profile Photo Contributor

    Peter, I’m totally with you on Harry Potter. I couldn’t get through the first one, but I’m only admitting that because you did first. My best reader students — and the ones who reminded me of myself at their age — all love Harry Potter. I was mesmerized by the Chronicles of Narnia and the Hobbit (but not the others). I have no advice, other than to let it go. Millions of boys all over the country won’t read anything at all. One of my brothers, for example, told his Harvard interviewer that the last book he read was Sports Illustrated. Needless to say, he didn’t get in, but he’s now read more books than anyone in our family combined.

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  9. Profile Photo Inactive

    1984 or better, Animal Farm (it’s short and funny) are great suggestions. OTOH, keep them away from Brave New World. Frequent use of the word “pneumatic” with an idiosyncratic meaning might unsettle their adolescent male minds. If you know what I mean.

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  10. Profile Photo Member

    For the baseball fan, John R. Tunis’ The Kid From Thompkinsville (and keep buying if that one takes.) Set in the late 1930s It may be a bit dated but the issues addressed haven’t changed. Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory Of Their Times, a verbal history of Baseball and America of a century ago, tells such tales as Germany Schaefer stealing first base.

    Robert Heinlein’s juveniles hold up pretty well if the boys don’t fall about laughing over astrogators using slide rules. Try Have Spacesuit, Will Travel or Citizen Of The Galaxy, RAH’s take on Kim.

    Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything covers the history of the Scientific Method and how we got from Newton to Hawkings. A secondary virtue is its demonstration that every fifty years seems to reveal that 75% of what we thought was settled science is inadequate or just plain wrong.

    Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is a very enjoyable trip through elements of the mythology of Britain, as is Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Sterling North’s Rascal relates a year (1918) in his childhood during which he raised a baby raccoon named “Rascal.” Wonderful evocation of America on the home front and boyhood.

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    2nding Ursula. My tween daughter read the Chronicles of Narnia a couple of times on her own before devouring the Harry Potter series multiple times. She loves both, and readily admits that Narnia is better written and has more depth; but Potter is more fun. It’s just an easy, rollicking good time. I wouldn’t set up an artificial competition between the series (like some parents do between books and television) so that Narnia and LOTR come to be viewed in their minds as the un-Harry Potter. When they’re older, bored of Potter, they’ll be more inclined to pick up better literature in general, including Narnia or LOTR. I think John’s idea of listening to the audio books on a roadtrip is a great idea. That…or just read them aloud to the family. Either way, the collective enthusiasm will help draw them in.

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  12. Profile Photo Contributor

    May I propose one final question for consideration?  I’ve read a couple of the Harry Potter books—forced myself through them, actually.  They seem to me self-evidently inferior to either the Chronicles of Narnia, for a true sense of beauty, for engaging and utterly unforgettable characters, and for the sheer fun of corking good stories, or to the Lord of the Rings, for the creation of a detailed, complete and beautiful alternative reality.  By comparison, the Potter stuff strikes me as—thin.

    But my kids?  They’ve read and re-read all the Harry Potter books—one boy has read them all twice—but won’t pick up either the Chronicles or the Rings.

    The acid waters now dissolving what remains of western civilization are now lapping at my very own household.  What is a despairing father to do?

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  13. Profile Photo Contributor

    A cornucopia of marvelous suggestions. Thank you all. (You know what’s embarrassing? How few of these titles I know. And I used to think of myself as fairly well-read. Ah, well, a lesson in humility: Ricochet, good for the soul.)

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  14. Profile Photo Inactive

    They’re teaching Harry Potter in graduate schools now, and that’s not just another eye-rolling moment brought to you by zitbrained accademics. A lit professor I respect a lot has convinced me the series has virtues. (I gave up on the books after the first; the movies, however, have gone from good to great as the series progressed.)

    Potter is way more hip than Narnia. It also compliant with the post-Britannic, post-Christian zeitgeist. However: the world-building is pretty thoughtless. It cracks me up when they celebrate Christmas at Hogwarts. Lots of questions go begging in those scenes. So, it’s inconsistency can be both bad and good. Still, I think Potter is mostly harmless, and its inability completely to put a disappearing spell on the echoes of Christian culture make a compelling, if maybe unintended, point. A point reinforced by the ending.

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  15. Profile Photo Member
    Peter Robinson: But my kids? They’ve read and re-read all the Harry Potter books—one boy has read them all twice—but won’t pick up either the Chronicles or the Rings.

    The acid waters now dissolving what remains of western civilization are now lapping at my very own household. What is a despairing father to do? · May. 28 at 6:50pm

    I assume they’ve seen the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia movies, no? If not, they would be a great way to turn the boys onto the books (more likely onto LotR). One of my friends in high school, who had never read a bit of Tolkien devoured LotR after seeing Fellowship of the Ring.

    If you go on a road trip, you could pick up audiobooks of Narnia and LotR and have mandatory, no-iPods-allowed listening session in which they are forced to try the books. (A task that sounds fairly daunting, no doubt). My family used to have read a loud nights at the dinner table, which turned me onto some good books.

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  16. Profile Photo Coolidge

    From the Dept. of Blowing Things Up is Torpedo Junction by Homer Hickam Jr. about the U-Boat war off America’s coast in 1942. It reads like a novel but is real history woven together from primary source documents on both sides. Riveting.

    For you Peter, the book A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille has two very good appendices (one for adults and one for kids) containing must-read classic book titles. I’ve not seen such a helpful resource as this book in a long time.

    Jack Levin’s newly-released illustrated Gettysburg Address is vivid. I just received it as a gift from the kids for my birthday. Good stuff.

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  17. Profile Photo Contributor


    May I add to your growing pile of teen reads Life of Pi. My daughter, 13, will be reading that this summer. I think it was one of the best reads I’ve ever had. And I have found her interest more easily peaked by good contemporary fiction. I leave the weightier material to school. And it’s nice when we read the same books.

    Now here’s a little dicier recommendation, because it isn’t about sports and it does involve an extramarital affair, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. An autistic teen fights his fears to solve the death of a dog, unearthing family secrets. Gets you in his head and is long on teaching empathy.

    And a very dicey recommendation for an older teen, Slam by Nick Hornby. (“About a Boy” and “FM”) Older boys will like him because his central characters are always adolescents, or arrested adolescents. A sixteen-year-old London skateboarder faces the realities of young fatherhood. Not his best, but funny, sad, affirming and a conversation starter. Falls toward an endorsement of two parent families, by way of the alternative.

    Incidentally, my daughter loved Hatchett and has read all Gary Paulson.

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  18. Profile Photo Member

    Interesting list of books. I now have a full cart at…thank you! The best summer reading for me was when I was 16 and living in France for 3 months. I went to the book store and…what do you know, they were all in French! Except for books like Watership Down, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, etc. So, I loaded up on anything written in English and read dozens of classics that summer that I otherwise never would have read. I was shocked to discover that I loved them.

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  19. Profile Photo Member

    Um, I don’t remember this: “One brand new copy, purchased at the full retail price, of Andrew Klavan’s most recent book for young adults, The Long Way Home”

    In fact, I distinctly recall that you were to purchase two brand new copies so that neither son would have to wait to read the book. That would translate, in generic Summer reading book list instruction form to “One brand new copy for each offspring, purchased at the full retail price, of Andrew Klavan’s most recent book for young adults, The Long Way Home”

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  20. Profile Photo Member

    For boys (and girls too, although there are precious few girl characters here), I highly recommend Bertrand Brinley’s wonderful Mad Scientist Club books, including the posthumously-published “The Big Kerplop.” Fair warning, though: you may just wind up raising an engineer.

    Going beyond Tolkein and Lewis, Edward Eager’s “Magic” books were already very dated by the time I read them in the 70’s, but it’s still hard to imagine a kid (and particularly a boy) who wouldn’t eat up “Knight’s Castle.”

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  21. Profile Photo Member

    Oh, good grief, I can’t believe I left out Robert A. Heinlein’s “juveniles.” The best is “Have Space Suit, Will Travel,” but any and all of them are cracking good adventure stories with more than a little solid instruction in science, history, and ethics tucked in for the ride.

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  22. Profile Photo Member

    I remain a fan of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I re-read it last summer and found it just as charming then as I did when I first read it, along with the rest of my fourth-grade class (what a teacher I had, to assign that book!). L’Engle wove a lot of Christian themes into the book, though not quite as obviously as Lewis did in his Narnia books. It might split the difference between Narnia and Middle Earth for your boys.

    I also recommend The Three Investigators series of books. You’ll have to pick them up secondhand, or off of eBay, but they’re worth the small amount of extra work to get them. They are geared for younger teenaged boys, used Alfred Hitchcock as a recurring character, and are quick reads.

    If either of your sons are baseball fans, George Will’s Men at Work is a fantastic book, perhaps the best book on baseball ever written.

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  23. Profile Photo Inactive

    We had a similar reading system in the summers, and I believe there may have been a reward system involved as well. (No we did not use the word “bribe”) First of all, all of my boys liked “Hatchet” and read most of what Gary Paulsen wrote. 2 of the 3 devoured the Harry Potter series, though one won’t admit it now. I am sure that by now you have more than enough suggestions, but I thought I would throw out a couple more that I don’t think anyone else mentioned. I seem to remember the boys enjoying “Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War” by Michael Shaara. And for something a little different, “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. “A Walk in the Woods” is a great read although it is also a good one for books on tape in the car, especially with Bryson reading it.

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  24. Profile Photo Inactive

    And a word of advice….In our eagerness to get them reading and to share our favorites with them I think we sometimes suggested books too early. “Caine Mutiny,” by Herman Wouk, was a good example in our household. They read it in high school, but they appreciated it later on in college. I think “Moby Dick” is like that for many people. Being capable of reading the book and having an appreciation for the book are not necessarily the same thing. The timeline varies from child to child, and from book to book, but I think it is an important consideration.

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  25. Profile Photo Inactive

    Finally, a response from from son (recently graduated from college):

    He did mention “Caine Mutiny,” he felt that you should read it more than once in life anyway….

    “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

    Although Fitzgerald is often on high school reading lists, “This Side of Paradise,” wasn’t on his and he thought it was the best one for them to read.

    Same for Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

    Sports (rowing of course):”The Amatuers: The Story of Four Young Men and their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal,” by David Halberstam

    “Assault on Lake Casitas,” by Brad Alan Lewis

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  26. Profile Photo Inactive
    Peter Robinson: I’ve read a couple of the Harry Potter books—forced myself through them, actually. They seem to me self-evidently inferior to either the Chronicles of Narnia, for a true sense of beauty, for engaging and utterly unforgettable characters, and for the sheer fun of corking good stories, or to the Lord of the Rings, for the creation of a detailed, complete and beautiful alternative reality. By comparison, the Potter stuff strikes me as—thin.

    “Oh noooooooo! My precious, precious Harry Potter! I’m sorry, baby, mama still love you. You’ll always live in my heart now matter what those other people say about you.”

    Okay, now that I’ve soothed, Harry’s wounded pride. Yes, Harry does have feelings because he is real. He came alive for me when I first listened to Jim Dale reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Prior to that, I’d been very leery of the series since I’d heard so many religious people expound on the demonic properties of the franchise. But when I had a chance to check out the audio book from the library, Jim Dale (perhaps the best reader who ever lived) made that world come alive. I was hooked and went…

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  27. Profile Photo Inactive

    …and bought the next two books. After I consumed those in a week, I started jonesin’ for the 4th book and had to wait a god-awful year until it came out. Thus began a pattern of consume a book in 2 days. Buy the audio book. Listen to the audio book. Wait 2 years for the next one. Re-listen to the audio books right before the new book came out. Wait on edge the day the book came out and jump at the sound of the doorbell hoping it was the book being delivered.

    The beauty of the series is that each book grows in maturity with the character. The first book is simpler. The main character is just turning 11. As he get’s older, the writing gets more complex, the topics heavier, the characters more nuanced.

    Do I compare Harry to LOR or CON? No way! They’re different. As to conservative values, I was pretty amazed that a Brit like Rowling could illuminate so many flaws in modern leftist thinking. The battle against evil is hard and many times solitary with unimaginable sacrifices. Denial of evil or appeasement don’t work. Rowling was not afraid to illustrate that.

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