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downers: boy books

Now that Finn is reading, our house is littered with chapter books. From what I can tell, the offerings for young male readers fall into one of two camps: 1) mind-numbingly dull or 2) soul-crushingly terrifying.

You might think a lot of things in life are boring. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t know shit about boring until you’ve read 72 volumes of the Magic Tree House series. Those books are so bad that they will make you start hating things you used to think were cool, like time travel, Morgan Le Fay, and trees.

I thought I found a way to get around reading the Magic Tree House books by borrowing them on CD and playing them on long road trips. Bad idea, if a human is doing the driving. You’d be better off trying to drive after eating a whole roasted turkey and chasing it with a bottle of Nyquil.


do not operate heavy machinery while reading

But I’ll take boring over scary, any day of the week. I want to cry when I think that my boys could turn out like the kids in “Captain Underpants,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and “Stink,” who blow up toilets, rob unsuspecting neighbors, and engage in mail fraud. The boys in these books don’t really talk. Instead, they retort, or quip. It’s really hard to keep your kids from saying “stupid” and “idiot” at home when they’re reading those words in books that you’ve bought for them.

As an aside, the effort to stop my kids from saying the word “stupid” reached a nadir last month when my four-year old Tate began saying the word “doopid” as a workaround.

Me: “Tate, what did you say?? Did you just say ‘stupid’?”

Tate: “No mommy.” (Rolling of eyes). “I said DOOPID.”

Point is, I’m done with those crap books. Instead, I’m eager to introduce Finn to the chapter books I loved as a kid. Like the Ramona books, by Beverly Cleary, or the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. Later, perhaps some Robinson Crusoe or Alexandre Dumas—Athos was such a badass, and Lady de Winter! The best. Anyway, it was with these classics in mind that I bought a copy of “Little House on the Prairie,” and started reading it with Finn three nights ago.


The good news is that Finn seems to dig the book, in spite of the long paragraphs about the dappled light on the prairie grass, and door carpentry. The bad news is that as a kid, I never realized how old-fashioned the book is in terms of gender dynamics. Ma basically does whatever Pa tells her to do, even though it’s clear from the get-go that Ma is ten times as smart as Pa, and also, not too keen on the idea of a long wagon ride to the middle of nowhere.

Yeah, Ma puts up with a lot. Later in the book they’re building their log house and Pa drops a fucking LOG on Ma’s foot, and Ma has to soak her foot and put on her own bandages while Pa parties with a neighbor and does a bunch of fiddlin’. I mean, if Tom dropped a log on my foot while he was building our log cabin, I…I don’t even know. But know this: I certainly wouldn’t be putting on my own damn bandages. Most likely I’d limp away in anger and then get eaten by a bear. But at least I’d have my self-respect.

Antiquated gender roles aside, Finn’s not the only one who’s digging on this book. The thing about reading Little House on the Prairie as an adult female is that you realize that Pa, being an alpha male, is totally hot. I mean, look at this illustration.


uh, yes. i’ll take two

Not sure he’s got a ton of brains, but Pa is a doer, and I like that in a man. I also like that he’s a provider. The older I get, the more I want other people to take care of me, because I’m tired. Let’s not forget that when he dropped that log on Ma, Pa was building a log cabin. BY HIMSELF. And when the family was crossing the river in the wagon and they started sinking, he tossed the reins to Ma and jumped in the water and basically pulled the ponies to safety. Hot. If they made this book into a movie today, I’m pretty sure Chris Hemsworth would make an awesome Pa.

But back to the book. When Pa goes hunting with his gun, he gets it done. He PROVIDES. He brings back a prairie dog and two rabbits and some other vaguely rodent-like animal that I can’t recall. All I remember is that Ma makes gravy out of whatever it was.

No one can make cornmeal cakes with prairie dog gravy sound as delicious as Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can hardly wait for the later books when they make baked beans with salt pork. I don’t even know what salt pork IS, and my mouth is watering onto my keyboard right now. Anyway, what was I saying. Right. Pa gets it done for his family. And as an adult female, I really dig that about Chris Hemsworth. I mean Pa.

I’m really excited for the later books. I don’t remember them clearly but I DO remember the TV show, and so I know there’s lots of Mary being blind and Carrie being a rascal and a love interest named…Alfonzo? No. ALMONZO. That’s not a name. That’s a candy bar. But anyway, I’m excited. For Finn.

64 Comments Post a comment
  1. You are totally right about the books. My son is probably a little older than yours, but I remember the endless series of Magic Tree House books. Luckily he could read them on his own! My son loved Redwall! has many of the books he’s read through the years if you want more ideas.

    February 18, 2014
  2. Isn’t it amazing how they managed? I keep imagining the log cabin with icicles on the inside when it was super cold and taking baths in the winter. Brrr. Thor would make an excellent Pa. My issue with the books is how self deprecating Laura is about her ugly brown hair.

    January 12, 2014
  3. Ugh, I’m fighting this same battle with my 3 boys. Fantastic post, I really enjoyed it!

    October 14, 2013
  4. Meredith J #

    I alos logged on to mention Phantom Tollbooth, but that’s already here. For you, I recommend “Confessions of a Prarie Bitch” by Alison Arngrim – Nellie! Fun read. Heads up, she and Melissa Gilbert are good friends!

    October 8, 2013
  5. I heartily recommend Farmer Boy! This isn’t an “add-on” book, just a switch from Laura’s life to Almanzo’s; aside from all the food, I’d bet your boys would love the stories of the games they played growing up. (And if you want hot, look up Manly; he was a good-looking man!)

    I don’t even know if you can find these books any more but I loved The Borrower series when I was young. I think the author is Mary Norton; they were about little people who lived in the walls and borrowed all sorts of “big people” things to live their lives.

    I read all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books – dated, yes, but fun. If the boys like mysteries, see if you can find The Three Investigators or Encyclopedia Brown; I remember those as fun reads.

    September 29, 2013
    • do you mean the real manly, or the actor who played manly on the show. because my recollection of the actor on the show is that he didn’t look very smart, and also, had a poof of blond hair. hardy boys! definitely.

      October 17, 2013
  6. Great post! We are currently on the fourth novel Starting from the Little House in Big Woods, (there’s nine of them!), am reading them to my nearly 5 year old daughter and nearly 7 yr old son at night before bed and while baby has her bottle- they love them! Your post really made me laugh out loud about Pa :o) too funny

    September 26, 2013
    • we have stalled after book 1. but i am eager to try farmer boy before giving up altogether

      October 17, 2013
  7. How about the Bruce Coville books? I’m a girl (well, woman now, I suppose!) but my brother and I both loved them as tweens. Especially the My Teacher Is an Alien series. And Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. And if he likes magic (and classics) you might try E. Nesbit. Also good: Richard Peck.

    Or you could always continue the “downer” trend and reduce him to a sobbing mess with Where the Red Fern Grows.

    September 26, 2013
    • we have the bruce coville monster book, on the recommendation of a friend who has three boys…will have to start it soon

      October 17, 2013
  8. I tried to use the “Doopid” excuse once, too. My mom wasn’t buying it. Great blog! I look forward to reading more!

    September 26, 2013
    • this mom is buying it, because she can’t think of a good excuse why you can’t say something that rhymes with a bad word

      October 17, 2013
  9. Kate #

    Gordon Korman!!! He is such a boy writer but very funny and sweet. Go back to the MacDonald Hall series. I have very fond memories of them

    September 26, 2013
    • first i’ve heard of them. i’ll check them out

      October 17, 2013
  10. I have just come across your blog and really appreciate this blog post. I have 2 boys and 2 girls, all of whom devour books with such a voracious appetite it is hard to keep up with them. My daughter (Laura . . . of course) loves the Little House series, but I hadn’t thought of reading it to my boys. Great suggestion. I remember the stage when the girls loved “The Rainbow Fairies” series, scores of books with exactly the same plot. Enough to drive one crazy.

    September 23, 2013
    • anything with the word “rainbow” in it scares me. tate went through a my little pony phase and neither tom nor i have recovered

      September 24, 2013
  11. Donna in Doha #

    My son is 8 and has been reading chapter books for over a year. We (oops, he!) loves Roald Dahl books. When I asked Sam why he like reading these books he replied “They have juicy words.” Enough said.

    September 23, 2013
    • love roald dahl. unfortunately we went through those too early, when he was too young to appreciate the irony. but maybe good that we read them too early, because then he couldn’t really appreciate how evil roald dahl baddies can be

      September 24, 2013
  12. Mari #

    It is heartening to know that boys’ books are no better than the girls’! If you have any doubt check out the bazillion different versions of the rainbow fairy series. I cringe every time Elsa brings yet another home from library day at scool. They have really beaten the goblins and fairies to death for me.

    Someone told me about franklin pig series (old) but I haven’t checked it out. I have also tolerated the mercy Watson books ( also about pigs… Hmmm).
    Good luck. Thanks for the laughs!

    September 21, 2013
    • you know, this makes me wonder why pigs make such good protagonists. maybe because they are supposed to be smart? not sure. my personal favorite pig (after wilbur of course) is the pig in “chester the worldly pig”

      September 24, 2013
  13. I say, go with “doopid.” I would be rejoicing if I could get my 2 year old to say, “You are doopy!” to his big brother instead of “You are poopy!” Besides, changing the beginning sound of word to make a new word is actually showing that your 4 year old has got some solid phonemic awareness skills, which are important to his literacy development and could possibly one day allow him a greater appreciation for quality children’s literature. Hence, less Magic Tree House when it’s his turn.

    September 20, 2013
    • definitely less magic tree house for my little one, since my husband sold them all while i wasn’t looking

      September 24, 2013
  14. I remember The Time Quartet series (A Wrinkle in Time being the first book) by Madeleine L’Engle being fantastic when I was a kid. Also, the Austin Family and Polly O’Keefe series by her are excellent as well, although maybe a titch too old for your kids. If memory serves, all the series have strong female protagonists, which is great. The Time Quartet and Polly O’Keefe series are loosely linked as well, i believe.

    September 20, 2013
    • I hadn’t heard of those other l’engle books. Thanks Matthew

      September 20, 2013
  15. essence and ego #

    Hahaha! This was a funny post. I totally agree with you on the crappy chapter books that kids read today. I have a son who is 18 months and for the last two Father’s Days I bought my husband classics like Treasure Island and another “boy book” to read to Ben once he’s a bit older. We really hope he loves the classics over the garbage that’s put out today. Glad to here that Finn like the Little House series, those were great. I also liked the Box Car Children series.

    September 20, 2013
    • essence and ego #

      * hear and likes. I do know how to spell and type. And I even proofread.

      September 20, 2013
    • That’s a good idea for a Father’s Day gift. If I tried it I would get stoned of course

      September 20, 2013
  16. Your literature lust reminds me of my husband’s nasty relationship with little Sal’s mom in “Blueberries for Sal.”. Everytime we read that, he managed to work in the song “Stacy’s Mom Has Got it Going On” but with poor Little Sal’s mom in the leading role.
    I can’t blame him though. After reading the same book for nearly 3 years, you have to get your kicks where you can.
    Pa and Ma were a bunch of horndogs IMO. That made the movie realistic, right? I mean who wouldn’t be randy after working from dawn till dusk churning butter, minding kids, and darning socks?

    September 20, 2013
    • This is a very funny comment. Thanks for the laugh

      September 20, 2013
  17. Christie #

    The first Magic treehouse you read is tolerable… Until you read another one and realize the same book again. Have they read My Father’s Dragon? I love a book with a map. the hobbitt is great if you’re reading to them. And then I love harry potter, although they get dark after a couple books.

    September 20, 2013
    • “Then everything was still. Absolutely still.” Gah

      September 20, 2013
  18. Heidi #

    Love it! If you’re enjoying the food in Little House you are going to drool reading Farmer Boy again. Almanzo obviously loved to eat. You’ll also get some good mileage out of pointing out the hard manual labor Almanzo did on the farm and comparing it to our children today and their measly contributions in the home. Speaking of hot men, the teacher literally WHIPS some bullies into shape! Somewhat disturbing, but oh so manly. I found while reading those books we had to have lots of discussions about our country’s history with Native Americans and the policies that led to some of the events the Ingalls family faced.

    My 8 year old has loved the Redwall books, that’s a great idea, also don’t forget Indian in the Cupboard. I would re-read Dumas before pointing him in that direction, aren’t they a little racy? But Robinson Crusoe was a big hit, as well as Jules Verne, The Hobbit and Swiss Family Robinson. He’s into the Warrior series by Erin Hunter now, but I totally feel your pain, it’s hard to keep an avid reader away from junk. And if you love books on cd, track down the audio version of Redwall – it made a round-trip drive from corner to corner of our state completely bearable and was engrossing and wonderfully acted with Jacques as narrator and a full cast of voices for the characters! I even came home and caught up on ironing so that I could do something mindlessly productive while listening to the last 90 minutes.

    September 20, 2013
    • I love the idea of using classic literature to shame modern children into making bigger contributions at home. I cant believe people actually read Farmer Boy, i assumed it was an unsuccessful spinoff, like Alcott’s “Little Men.”

      And hell yes Dumas is racy–see the sexual tension between the aforementioned athos and lady de winter. yeow. but they are boys, they won’t even notice it over the swashbuckling

      September 20, 2013
  19. Sarah #

    Hilarious as always. Have you tried The Phantom Toolbooth by Norton Juster. I can’t wait until my kids get old enough to read that one. I’m not sure about the hotness factor though…..

    September 20, 2013
    • Sarah I’m so psyched I wrote this post, just for the recommendations. Phantom tollbooth is so old school and I missed it as a kid, so we will check it out

      September 20, 2013
      • I actually clicked on the “comment” button just to recommend The Phantom Tollbooth. I’m thrilled that another person here can vouch for its awesomeness. I’m also a little jealous that someone beat me to it. I like to be first!

        I also really liked the Wizard of Oz and Chronicles of Narnia books when I was a kid, but rereading them as an adult was a little mind-numbing. So that really isn’t much of an endorsement, is it?

        September 20, 2013
      • Well it is to the extent I’m procuring them for my kids. Phantom tollbooth, check

        September 20, 2013
  20. I so love reading your blog and some of my favorite memories of my childhood are of reading the LIW books. We live in New England and for years whenever we’d travel to upstate (Canada border) New York, we’d stop by the Wilder family farm outside of Malone New York. It looks like it would have been a happy place to grow up. I love books that have locales you can visit. Thanks for the memory, and good luck with the book search. I’m on the other end and prepping a grandchild library for any year now.

    September 20, 2013
    • P.S. Good looking men who get it done are EXTREMELY hot!!!

      September 20, 2013
    • when i was in my anne of green gables phase (age 9-28), i used to want to visit Prince Edward Island SO BADLY. i was pretty sure i’d run into gilbert blythe there

      September 20, 2013
  21. HA. I was rolling with laughter at my desk this morning. Pa has never looked hotter than in that book. I’ll take two too! Thanks for starting my morning off with a laugh. Happy Friday!

    September 20, 2013
    • the guy who played pa on tv was pretty hot, but i can’t picture him doing half the stuff in this book. in the book he just built a fireplace after collecting two wagonloads of river rock. what?

      happy friday!

      September 20, 2013
  22. Meg #

    You want books with hot guys? The Hardy Boys. “Dark haired, eighteen-year-old Frank and blonde, impetuous Joe” They ride motorcycles, they save drowning people, they have a jet boat and they are kind to their “plump, ruddy friend, Chet.” And don’t get me started on their dashing father, Fenton Hardy, who clearly should be played by Liam Neeson.

    September 20, 2013
    • hardy boys were next on my list, and now I can’t wait to read them!!! Liam neeson makes me crazy

      September 20, 2013
    • the bit about the ruddy friend made me laugh out loud

      September 20, 2013
    • Randlut #

      Be careful what decade you’re in. Oldest ones probably a little racist. Ones from the eighties & early nineties I thought were a little dark for really young boys.

      September 22, 2013
  23. Janis Gabriel #

    : I am with you here, so I am glad I have girls, as there is a plethora of choices for little girls.

    September 20, 2013
    • Really? This interests me. The girls’ books look scary in their own way

      September 20, 2013
  24. You gotta check out The Boxcar Children series. The originals anyway. Somehow it seems they made them into a franchise (100 of them!) but the starters were written by a 1st grade teacher and I found them all riveting. I also recommend the Mary Poppins and Dr. Doolittle books. Nobody hunky in any of these but they are all keepers.

    I totally thought I wanted to live on the prairie after reading LIW books as a girl. (Do I recall correctly that they liberated Ma a bit in the TV series?). I also totally wanted to be an army nurse after reading about Clara Barton so perhaps my grip on the realities being described was a little loosey-goosey.

    September 20, 2013
    • Janis Gabriel #

      I loved the Boxcar Children series and am glad that other people know of it. I tried to get my eldest daughter to try it, but apparently it’s not cool enough yet. She said the same thing about My Side of the Mountain and she loved it, so maybe she will come around for this one.

      September 20, 2013
      • gotta get them before they are old enough to know about cool. at six I think I’m already too late unfortunately

        September 20, 2013
    • fortunately my kids do not require hotness so I will add these to the list. thanks dear

      September 20, 2013
    • Randlut #

      I love Mary Poppins as well. They are MUCH edgier than the Julie Andrews movie

      September 22, 2013
  25. Hilarious post! Thanks for making my day! I also have 2 boys so know exactly what you are talking about!
    p.s Pa DOES look hot! lol

    September 20, 2013
  26. MH #

    Loved the Little House series.. and good for Finn for digging it!
    My 9-year old son won’t even give it a glance. He started reading Judy Blume – the boy books that is: Tales of a fourth grade nothing, Superfudge.. Double Fudge and Fudgemania are next in line.

    Speaking of Blume books, having Korean parents and not ever getting the “talk”, I am very grateful for [Are you there God, it’s me Margaret] & [Forever]. I learned so much in the 5th grade from Aunt Judy.

    September 20, 2013
    • I LOVE superfudge. Plus Finn has an annoying younger brother so it’s perfect. Thanks for the reminder. Judy Blume for president!!

      September 20, 2013
    • Except that I remember one of those Judy Blume books gave me a lifelong fear of scoliosis

      September 20, 2013
  27. Sdpfeiffy #

    You must read Farmer Boy (also by LiW) with the boys. The food narrative porn in that book is breathtaking.

    September 20, 2013
    • Is this the book about Almonzo?

      I remember in one of these books they get oranges at Christmas. Citrus never sounded better

      September 20, 2013

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