60 Classic Books For Middle Grade Boys

Here’s a list for the boys: those 8-12 year old middle grade boys with their burgeoning desire for adventure and love of facts. There are a lot of classic adventure stories on this list, tons of exciting historical fiction, some mysteries, some fantasy, and some humor. All these books are good, clean fun that parents can feel confident handing to their sons to peruse (or devour, depending on the kid).

The books on this list are generally arranged by difficulty level with the easiest books coming first.

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Bears on Hemlock Mountain
Books for middle grade boys

Are their actually bears on Hemlock Mountain? In The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Jonathan finds out when he ventures up the mountain alone in this easy to read, exciting story.

Beverly Cleary’s Henry and Ribsy books are simple but humorous stories about one of the best-loved plots in children’s literature: a boy and a dog.

A crippled boy, a wise monk, a journey, an adventure. The Door in the Wall is a great historical fiction novel with themes both about trusting God and pushing oneself to personal heroism.

McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm is a collection of hilarious tall tales. McBroom has a large, happy family and a miraculous one acre farm. Boys crack up at these tall tales.

In the tradition of Charles Dicken’s Prince and Pauper, The Whipping Boy is a story of swapping places. A funny, exciting story of an unlikely friendship.

Clyde Robert Bulla wrote the perfect chapter books for 8 year olds: exciting historical fiction stories complete with illustrations to hold interest. Riding the Pony Express and The Secret Valley are two favorites with boys.

Boys who enjoy mysteries will love The Boxcar Children Books. These four caring siblings help solve problems while always looking out for one another. The first 19 books in the series were written by the original author and are the ones worth buying.

Freddy is a pig-of-all-trades: detective, football player, politician, lawyer. Thesetalking animal stories are classics of the innocent, humorous older variety.

The Happy Hollisters are a large, cheerful family who love to help others. As they travel around the world, they solve mysteries, make friends, and always smile. Lots of clean outdoor family fun in this series. See my full review here.

Prince Martin Wins His Sword is the first in this quartet of books written in the time-honored epic style of the Iliad. These great books inspire courage and loyalty. Read my full review here!

Red Sails to Capri is a thought-provoking story about superstition and truth. It’s also gently humorous in places, describes a truly inspiring friendship between two young boys, and a great introduction to Italian culture.

In this Newberry Medal winner, a cricket, a mouse, and a cat form an unlikely friendship. The Cricket in Times Square truly captures the flavor of New York City.

This adventure story by Ian Fleming of Bond fame is always a hit with boys! In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a family heads off on a trip with their magical car; along the way they’ll encounter dastardly villains and some scrumptious French desserts.

In the same style as her more famous Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her husband’s childhood in Farmer Boy. Boys will enjoy this account of life on an American farm with all the requisite animal training and feasting.

Owls in the Family is a hilarious boyhood memoir from naturalist Farley Mowat. My kids laugh until they cry at the escapades of Farley and his two horned owls, dogs, gophers, pigeons, and other animal friends.

Follow My Leader is a heart-warming classic about a young boy who is blinded in an accident. As he adjusts to life without vision, his family and friendships are his anchor. This book is great for building awareness about disabilities, blindness, and guide dogs.

Five for Victory is the first in Hilda Van Stockum’s beloved Mitchells series. This World War II era American family must pull together to build a victory garden, help their mother, and, maybe, capture a spy.

By the Great Horn Spoon! is a Gold Rush era novel by Sid Fleischman, who has a talent for humorous adventures. A boy and his butler set out to make their fortunes and general comedy ensues.

The Redwall books are always a favorite with middle grade boys. Mice, badgers, and other forest animals engage in epic quests, battles, and feasts.

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey is clean, old-fashioned small town fun. Homer captures bank robbers, helps the stuttering town sheriff, and makes hundreds of donuts in this comedic classic.

In Snow Treasure, a group of Norwegian children and their families come up with a daring plan to smuggle their country’s gold out of Norway- right under the Nazi’s noses! This is a tale of courage that is loosely based on a true story.

The Green Ember is the first in a fantasy series by a Christian author. These tales of a rabbit’s quest and journey are reminiscent of Narnia and Redwall.

The Good Master describes Jansci’s happy life in Hungary, which is stirred up when his family takes in his wild cousin Kate. This is a great story about family relationships, Hungarian Catholic culture, and family love changing a person.

The Singing Tree is the sequel to The Good Master, and a truly beautiful and memorable story about World War II. Not at all a typical war novel, this book focuses on the toll the war took on the tiny Hungarian town where Jansci’s family lived. Jansci’s family illustrates incredible Christian compassion as they open their farm to townsfolk, refugees, distant relatives, orphan children, and even a group of Russian prisoners of war.

The Chronicles of Narnia is, of course, a must-read for middle grade children. I believe in reading them in the original publication order: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, then Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and last of all The Last Battle.

The Winged Watchman is a fantastic World War II historical fiction adventure about the underground movement in Holland. Despite the suffering and poverty of life under Nazi rule, one boy finds courage to be a hero and save a downed RAF pilot.

Big Red is just one of many wonderful outdoor adventure books by Jim Kjelgaard. These books are at once action-packed and exciting while also inspiring an appreciation for the beauties of nature and all animals. Irish Red, Outlaw Red, Snow Dog, and Stormy are all favorites.

Tintin, boy reporter, is always finding himself drawn into hair-raising escapades by his cast of quirky friends Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and Thomson and Thompson (with a p). Funny and clean, these do contain some very inventive “cussing” along the lines of “billions of blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon.” There is also some alcohol abuse by Captain Haddock, portrayed as a negative habit.

Swallows and Amazons is a favorite series of mine. Check out my full review here!

King of the Wind is the story of the origin of a great grandsire of Arabian and Thoroughbred horses: the Godolphin Arabian. It’s also the story of a quiet boy who believed in this horse despite the superstition that his markings were bad luck. Master writer Marguerite Henry captures the atmosphere of Morocco in a powerful way.

Adam, after losing his father and dog, sets off on a journey across England, determined to find them. Adam of the Road is an enjoyable historical fiction book depicting life in 13th century England, especially for a wandering minstrel.

Shipwrecked on an island with a wild stallion, Alex must rely on his wits and courage to help them both survive. The Black Stallion is a timeless adventure story about the special friendship between a boy and a horse.

The Toothpaste Millionaire is a great introduction to the concept of entrepreneurship. Two middle schoolers envision and develop a successful toothpaste business.

The Melendy children have boundless curiosity and creativity. These four siblings work as a team whether building a dam to make a swimming pond, planning a play, or adopting a sibling. The Four-Story Mistake and Then There Were Five have great themes about sibling relationships and older adoption.

In My Side of the Mountain , Sam feels stifled in the city. He decides to move to the mountains and live alone. Can a boy survive alone and forage for food in the wilderness? Maybe with a little help from a peregrine falcon!

Beorn the Proud is an exciting story about two countries and two faiths colliding when a Viking boy and an Irish girl meet. This is one of Catholic Publisher Bethelehm Books‘ Living History Library, all of which are excellent historical fiction titles for this age range!

Enemy Brothers is a thought-provoking historical fiction novel about World War II. Amidst the turmoil of World War II, an English boy who was kidnapped as a baby and raised in Germany is recovered by his birth family. Thoroughly indoctrinated in Nazism, Max hates his family at first. But their Christian love and patience win him over eventually.

Red Hugh is Irish historical fiction about a Prince of Donegal who heroically resisted English oppression of Ireland. This is a nail-biting novel of intrigue and adventure.

Based on what is known of the dog who accompanied Lewis and Clark, SeaMan is an account of westward exploration through a lovable Newfoundland’s big black eyes.

The Great Wheel chronicles the adventures of an Irish lad who ends up in Chicago helping build the first Ferris wheel for the Chicago 1893 Exposition.

Bush Boys on the Move is part of a wonderful series by an Australian Catholic priest. Sadly out of print, these are worth buying used.

In The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs, a father challenges his dissatisfied son to find the seven wonders of his home town instead of longing for adventures abroad.

Johnny Tremain is one of those classic historical fiction war books boys love. This book follows the events leading up to the American revolution through a silversmith apprentice’s eyes.

In The Sign of the Beaver, a 13 year old frontier boy, already scared to be home alone, loses the family rifle. He finds unexpected help, friendship, and wisdom from the nearby Indian tribe.

The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is a story of small heroisms in Italy during World War II. A fascinating story about a young boy and a diminutive donkey, this book brings attention to a little known part of World War II: American action in Italy.

North to Freedom is another World War II novel: a classic about a boy who has spent almost his entire life in concentration camp and escapes. Thought-provoking and touching story that makes the reader appreciate freedom and peace.

The son of American diplomats, Henry has spent most of his life outside his homeland. This quirky boy returns home for a summer in small town America, and general mayhem ensues. Henry Reed, Inc. is a classic “summer” book that keeps readers laughing throughout.

In The Mysterious Benedict Society, four exceptional children are recruited to defeat a psychopath bent on using mind control to gain world domination. This book is full of puzzles and mystery. Read my full review here.

Tom Playfair: Or Making a Start is in the classic school story tradition, but with a Catholic twist. This book is the beginning of a trilogy written by Father Finn, a Catholic priest, inspired by the boys at his boarding school. These wholesome stories encourage sports, friendship, Latin, and virtue.

That Football Game: And What Came of It is another Father Finn book, this one about priorities and suffering, with the usual themes about good friendships and the importance of academics.

In The Great and Terrible Quest, a near feral boy finds himself swept up in mission to find the true king. This book has an amazing mystical undertone combined with an action-packed quest and a sprinkling of mystery.

Outlaws of Ravenhurst is one of those inspiring historical fiction Catholic books I believe every child should read for perspective. Set during a time when hearing Mass was a rare joy, this exciting story sheds light on persecution in Scotland.

The Good Bad Boy is a simple book in the school story tradition, describing the 8th grade year of a Catholic school boy. This book gives a positive depiction of Catholic private schools as they once were, rich with Catholic culture and tradition.

The Hobbit is, of course, a classic that all middle grade boys should read. Tolkien’s books about the struggle between good and evil are timeless and important.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is Newberry Award winning historical fiction book set in 15th century Poland. A young boy and his family must protect a precious crystal from a mad tartar villain. A little slow in the beginning but the excitement builds as the story goes.

Little Britches is the first in a fantastic American memoir by Ralph Moody. In this first book, Ralph and his family settle out west and Ralph learns to ride and be a real help to his father. Great father/son relationship depiction.

Animal lovers always enjoy Lad: A Dog by Terhune. This clever collie protects his family from robbers. Based on Terhune’s own experience with his pet collies.

The Ruins of Gorlan is the first in the popular Ranger’s Apprentice series. Will is disappointed at first to be apprenticed to a quiet ranger instead of a bold knight, but soon learns that there is more than one way to serve bravely. This fantasy series has great friendships, lots of adventure, and a little humor.

Where the Red Fern Grows is another classic dog story that every boy should read. This is a great tale of loyalty, friendship, and making the right decision even when it’s difficult. Note: sad ending.

Banner in the Sky is a great story about a teenage boy who is determined to honor his father’s memory by climbing the great Citadel mountain. Can he succeed where his father died trying?

G. A. Henty wrote a plethora of informative, interesting historical fiction books about a variety of wars and countries. Some favorites here include Beric the Briton, In the Heart of the Rockies, and The Cat of Bubastes.

In The Red Badge of Courage, a young soldier runs away from battle. Later, he conquers his fear and rejoins the army, hoping to be wounded to erase his cowardice. This is a heavy novel dealing with war, death, and psychology.

Midshipman Quinn is a collection of four novels starring a young English midshipman fighting in the Napoleonic wars. Septimus Quinn’s quirky, clever personality adds humor this wartime historical fiction novel.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch conveys a good deal about navigation, sailing, and ships. This is an interesting story, but does have some tragic parts with several characters dying.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is the first in a great fantasy series called The Wingfeather Saga by a Christian author. Check out my full review here!

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an American classic, depicting a simple, adventurous type of boyhood unknown now.

Coming up on its 150 year anniversary, Treasure Island is as exciting now as it was at its first printing. This tale of pirates, treasure, betrayal, and greed is a true adventure novel.

The Eagle of the Ninth is a fine historical fiction novel by Rosemary Sutcliff. It follows Marcus, a Roman youth who is determined to uncover the mystery of what happened to his father’s legion. Skillful writing and attention to detail really bring Sutcliff’s novels alive. Read my Guide to Sutcliff for clarity about which of her novels are appropriate for children.

Enjoyed this book list for middle grade boys? Have a daughter? Check out my companion list 50 Classic Books for Middle Grade Girls!

Want a printable version of this list? Click below to go to a FREE download!

Review of “The Penderwicks”


The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, published in 2005, rapidly established itself as a modern children’s classics, garnering awards, rave reviews, and immediate bestseller status. Though published so recently, its plot and style is more reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright or E. Nesbit’s books. The focus on simple outdoor fun, lack of electronics, and four creative, intelligent sisters seem to belong to a different era than the twenty-first century. However, there are a few elements in the book which do give away its more modern origin, and these happen to be the same elements which the Catholic parent will want to know about before offering the book to their children.

PROBLEMATIC ELEMENTS

The most concerning component of the story is the message about lying. The two middle sisters agree to lie to their father and older sister about nearly letting the littlest Penderwick get gored by a bull. They repeatedly lie about this episode, maintaining that their little sister was caught in a rose bush. I was really hoping that eventually the plot would show the girls learning some sort of lesson about lying, but alas, no. The message about lying here is certainly that one can lie with impunity and no guilty conscience.

Another detail I disliked was a subplot about Rosalind, the oldest Penderwick at 12, having a huge crush on Cagney, the 19 year old gardener. I found this both ridiculous and inappropriate, but fortunately the author did intend a positive message here, as Rosalind discovers she is being foolish: “I’m an idiot, [Rosalind] thought. I’m only twelve years old -well, twelve and a half,- and Cagney’s much too grown-up to be my boyfriend.”

This leads into another negative aspect of the book: the name-calling. Skye, the 11 year old, has a hot temper and is the worst culprit, saying things like: “Darn that Dexter. Double darn that lousy rotten no-good creep.” She also calls her littlest sister a stupid idiot and midget. However, there is character development about her learning she needs self control: “She sat up and swung her arms around wildly. This controlling her temper wasn’t going to be easy.” The 10 year old, Jane, calls names such as “fish head” and “silly git” playfully while practicing soccer. This is portrayed as meant merely in fun.

The final element parents might want to know about is a vampire reference which I found quite needless and out of sync with the feel of the rest of the book. At one point the four year old, Batty, is described as “playing vampires with Hound.” She “leap[s] over Hound’s water bowl, shrieking, ‘Blood, blood!'”

POSITIVE MESSAGES

On the positive side of the scale, by and large the book contains positive messages about being courageous, pursuing your dreams, loyalty to family and friends, kindness, and forgiveness. The four sisters each have a unique, strong personality to which tween girls will easily relate. Rosalind is kind and responsible. Skye is independent, hot tempered, and smart. Jane is a creative, aspiring writer. Batty is a dreamy animal lover.

I appreciated all the positive interactions between Mr. Penderwick, a widower, and his four daughters. Although a tad absent minded, Mr. Penderwick is a refreshingly loving, affirming father figure who is always willing to listen. He also notices and empathizes whenever a daughter is upset and encourages each daughter to develop her particular talents.

Mr. Penderwick is a foil to the neighbor boy Jeffrey’s overbearing mother who tries to force him into military school when he really wishes to be a musician. I thought this part of the plot was handled exceptionally well. The Penderwicks encourage Jeffrey to be honest with his mother, and have the courage to tell her that he wants to attend a Music Conservatory instead. Jeffrey and his mother are able to come to a compromise thanks to the Penderwicks’ advice.

TAKEAWAY

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would probably allow my tweens to read it, then discuss the problematic elements.  If your children are well versed in children’s classics like Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, and Narnia, they will particularly enjoy the literary references Birdsall sprinkles throughout the pages of her books. If they haven’t yet read these classics, maybe The Penderwicks will inspire them to try them!