We Recommend: 11-Year-Old Comic-Book-Loving Boy Edition

It's time, once again, for We Recommend, in which  readers ask for suggestions, and we try our very hardest to come up with the perfect book in answer (and then you guys come up with even more amazing choices in the comments). Looking for a recommendation? E-mail us! We're very agreeable.

OK, people, this time it's serious.

That's right: a challenge.

A very smart friend has a very particular 11-year-old son. I've met him and I can say that he's funny and quirky and tough to charm, everything you might want in a reader (if you're the kind that likes a challenge). Oh, and he has more than a passing acquaintance with the Pokémon phenomenon. But perhaps I ought to let her tell you herself:

He has read Jeff Smith's Bone 14 times from start to 1,134-page finish. He has also read the Percy Jackson series all the way through 8-9 times. He'd be happy to just keep rereading them forever. ("mom, the reason why I don't want to try new books is that I'm content with what I have") 
He has read all of Tin Tin and Asterix a few times over. Likes most smart graphic novels/comic book series–even ones aimed for adults. He's read all the Unshelved series over a number of times. Also endless DC and Marvel, and a good number from the Horrible Histories series (british–very good.) Humor and history–especially ancient and to a lesser extent medieval history–he loves. 
Lately he reread D'Aulaire's Greek myths and has (to my great surprise) read a couple of the Padraic Colum Homer.
He hated The Hunger Games and The Giver. Wasn't into those books about art–Vermeer whatever, Blue whatever. All those were assigned in school.  I buy him books he should like–smart riffs on superheroes, history–and he makes snap judgments based on the titles and covers. Ugh! 
And I don't know if it's still true but last year he would open a book, read the first page, and say "no main character as narrator" and discard it. 
I just bought him, on a rec. from twitter, the first of the Cronus Chronicles. It sounds perfect for him but I just don't know if he'll cotton to it. 
You've got your work cut out for you, darling.
Wow. Now first of all, we have something really excellent going for us. What, you ask? It is this: we are not his mother. We're that much closer already. But then things get stickier. Because we have to, you know, recommend something. I admit it, I've talked you readers up quite a bit, along with tooting my own horn when I had a chance. So now we've got to make good: what is the right book for this gentleman?
It's got to have history. It's got to be at least a little bit funny. A first-person narrator couldn't hurt. A comic book feeling to things might help. My gut says to avoid like the plague anything with romance and/or sentimentality.
Hmm.
I thought maybe The Lord of the Rings? Except maybe not—it's not quite goofy enough. I thought maybe The Bronze Bow? It's an awesome book, as I remember, and it's for sure set in ancient times. But I remember, too, after reading it telling my parents, "Gee, Jesus must have been a pretty good guy," which is not so much the thing to tell your Jewish parents, as it turns out. So for him? I don't know, it's a pretty great book but it's going to bring up some conversations about Jesus. And it's not so funny, really.
The Golden Ass went through my head. Funny? Yes. Ancient times? Sure. But it's too dirty for a mom to give her 11-year-old son.
And then I thought, to hell with history! Just give him something funny. How about The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
But that's not really what he was looking for, is it.
Time was running out! And I am not so well read in this…genre…as I wish I were. Especially not among contemporary books. So I did what any sane person would do when faced with a challenge like this. I asked my kids.
169871

Diana says Talking to Dragons. It's a fantasy set in what she thought were medieval times. First person male narrator. According to the author, it owes a lot to Rocky and Bullwinkle. For those of you who know it as book four of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, it turns out it was the first one the author ever wrote, but it was then followed by four "prequels."
Phew. So there you go. We came up with one good possibility. Now readers, please!, in the comments—give it your best shot.

24 thoughts on “We Recommend: 11-Year-Old Comic-Book-Loving Boy Edition

  1. Okay, I just read the first volume of a series of graphic novels/comic strips about an intrepid wombat. The book is called Digger and is by Ursula Vernon. Pretty good stuff.
    A non-graphic novel…Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Also the Bromeliad trilogy by Pratchett — Truckers, Diggers and Wings. I think they are available in a one-volume set. And, another Pratchett trilogy (can you tell I love Terry Pratchett?) Only You Can Save Mankind.
    If he were a little older, I would recommend Joe Hill’s series Locke and Key but there is some gruesome stuff…

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  2. Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a great read, as is A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. I think they’d both go over great. Funny, great story, all tat. Other suggestions: Heart of a Samurai (true story to boot!) by Margi Preus, Boom by Mark Haddon, The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell, and City of Ember by Jean DuPrau. I hope some of those work out!

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  3. Jack Whyte’s series retelling of the Arthur myth from the perspective of Romans building a new life in England as the empire collapses is close I think. Compelling first person narrator, history that is about the transition from ancient to medieval times, maybe not quite funny enough?

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  4. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny. The first-person narrator for the first half (also available separately as The First Chronicles of Amber) is a smart-ass nigh-immortal master swordsman from the One True Dimension who has incidentally lived through all of Earth history since the Black Plague. In the context of the series, the intrigues of his royal family can be viewed as the prototype for the familial intrigues of the Greek and Roman deities. If this young man doesn’t like the Amber series, I’m totally off my game.
    Also check out the Madwand series by Zelazny. T.A. Barron’s Merlin series might be appropriate as well. Try Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series if you don’t mind atheism (you’ve probably heard of The Golden Compass), LOTR, the Narnia series if you don’t mind the Jesus-allegory lion, and one of my all-time personal favourites, the Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia McKillip. H2G2 is never a bad series to try to get a young man hooked on, and anything by Terry Pratchett is a good bet, as Sarah mentioned. David Weber’s Empire from the Ashes is soft scifi of a sort he might enjoy, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is excellent contemporary fantasy. Finally, Timeline by Michael Crichton might appeal to his interest in history.

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  5. Jonas, man, are you sure? Amber? At eleven? I dunno. A little early. It’s the greatest first-person fantasy book I’ve read, but I don’t think I was eleven . . .

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  6. This doesn’t fit all the criteria, but since I’m not his mom, maybe I can recommend it anyway? What’s popping into my head is “Science Fair” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is hilarious and while it is not set in the past, I believe it does have a first-person narrator, and if he gave it a TRY, maybe he’d LIKE it.
    Ok, maybe I sound like his mom after all. But I promise I’m not.

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  7. I think the Patricia Werde (as cute and appealing as the series is) is probably not the right pick. Sorry, Diana. It’s just so girly.
    I agree more with the Terry Prachett suggestion above. And with the Hitchhiker’s Guide. And how about the Robert Asprin Myth series to round that out. And has he read some Neil Gaiman?
    Has he read Meanwhile? Or Amulet? Probably, since he’s a graphic novels nut. It’s a little off-genre, but what about The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda? Or… what about The Search for WondLa? It’s driving me nuts that that book didn’t get even more buzz than it did.

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  8. The Alchemyst: The Immortal Life of Nicolas Flammel has a great mix of adventure along with historical people and mythical creatures (some he’ll recognize from Percy Jackson). And maybe the Peter and the Starcatchers series–also by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson–which is a re-imagining of the Peter Pan story and has a lot of humor, adventure and pirates! Both series are very popular with my 5th grade class.

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  9. i have this son – he is now 13 but essentially the same set of obsessions including the Horrible Histories. I heartily second and third the Pratchett and Neil Gaiman recommendations. I think that Pratchett is a brilliant choice for boys of this age and disposition. Another big hit were the P.B. Kerr “Children of the Lamp” series. And Adam Gopnik’s “The King in the Window”.
    Hawthorne’s “Wonder Book” speaks to the mythology buff that is a Percy Jackson lover. Oh, and there are graphic novel versions of the first few of Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider books that my son liked very much.
    And John Bellairs – The House with a Clock in it’s Walls is scary good and The Trolley to Yesterday has lots of good history stuff.

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  10. I just finished the Percy Jackson’s and I feel like I should be able to just spout answers, but it’s harder than it sounds.
    First, with the obvious – The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. Only the first is out yet, but same author, Egyptian mythology. Seems perfect.
    Second, seconding the Pratchett. Really any Pratchett. I would suggest Soul Music and the one about newspapers because they offer an obvious, humorous take on a bit of our history, but I also love all the death books.
    Third, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which I think is just perfection on a page.
    Finally, something I haven’t read, but have heard lovely things about: Ranger’s Apprentice. Another series. I think there are two-ish out.
    Good luck!

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  11. Chiming in only to support these two: Robert Asprin Myth series (funny, funny stuff) and Terry Pratchett, “Only You Can Save Mankind” series. I personally liked The Graveyard Book but there was not that much overt humor so if that is required it might be more of a miss.

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  12. If the narrator can be female, I’d recommend the Kiki Strike series (set in the present, but the girls generally kick butt and have all sorts of strange adventures) and the Cabinet of Wonders, which is the first book of the Kronos chronicles (it’s set in the past, has a lot of history (16th-century Bohemia) AND magic)! Both of these series are first person narrarators (I think).
    The Mysterious Benedict Society society might be worth a try.
    Also, try the Starbuck Twins Mysteries by Kathryn Lasky. They have a lot of Sherlock Holmes/19th century England references even though the kids live in modern day. They aren’t super heroes per se, but they do have telepathy.
    Oh, and by the way, my sister went through the reading things a million times and being happy with the books/series she already knew (for her it was Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events). There was so little we could do to steer her to other books, but she eventually just grew out of it on her own.

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  13. I have to agree with the above comments that Patricia Wrede is not only girl-centric but also likely to be “easy reading” for our boy (I’m reading it now in fact). I’ll second Gaiman and Pratchett, and add in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, and anything by Daniel Pinkwater.

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  14. My older brothers loved Asterisk and Tintin and then were crazy about The Hitch hiker’s guide so that was my thought too… I don’t know/haven’t read any of those other books! Does anyone think he might like The Once and Future King? My brothers and I all enjoyed Lloyd Alexander’s books about Taran the Wanderer… I really enjoyed Mary Renault’s historical novels when I was that young but they do have “adult” content….

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  15. I’d second the Robert Asperin Myth series. Funny and first-person.
    If you’re looking for young teenage boy eye-candy, you can’t go wrong with Edgar Rice Boroughs. Any of the Tarzan or Mars books. No, not much humor, but some 1st person narrative and lots of action.
    The Jungle Books are awesome for this age as well.
    Lastly – Soon to be released (available on pre-order) Jane Jones: Worst Vampire Ever

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  16. I’ll second the Mysterious Benedict Society. He might also get a kick out of early Heinlein juvenile science fiction from the 50s and 60s — Have Space Suit Will Travel comes to mind.
    I also *very* strongly recommend The Dark Is Rising series. Amazing, chock full of Celtic lore and history, and pitched at just that age range (Whyte’s series is superb, but not pitched for the 11 year old).
    My real suggestion, though, is for his mom. My daughter is 11, and sounds very much like the boy described here — she loves Percy Jackson and Greek mythology and Horrible Histories, and she dismisses many a perfect book because of the cover.
    So I read to her.
    Not the whole book — just the first chapter or so. About 80% of the time, she picks it up from there and reads the rest of it. Hearing it aloud gets her past the “weird cover” issue, and suddenly she realizes that she likes the story, and wham! As time goes on, she’s getting better about reading a test chapter on her own, too.

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  17. Wow! I’m the mom, and this is such a fascinating thread. Thank you all so very very much!
    I haven’t read all the suggestions carefully, so more later but some initial thoughts: He did read and like Lloyd Alexander, so good guess there. I bouht him Cabinet of Wonders w/high hopes but it languishes, unread.
    The Hitchhikers recommendation strikes me as *spot on.* Anything with a wombat sounds fun to me, even if he doesn’t like it. I’m going to look up this Jack Whyte suggestion and, clearly, Patchett, given the growing consense.
    As for Neil Gaiman, he went to see the movie Coraline. Here are some excerpts from poem he wrote 2 years ago that includes his thoughts on the movie (sorry, folks, but as the mom I get to indulge):
    I am a person with emotions
    I wonder if Hades spies on everyone
    I hear background music
    I see anything but the movie “Coraline”
    I am a person with emotions
    I pretend to not be worried about earth’s super-nova
    I feel metal
    I touch steel
    I cry about war
    I am a person with emotions
    I understand a lot of things except how “Coraline” got good ratings
    I say the movie “Duck Soup” has its title for no reason
    I dream stuff I don’t remember
    I hope the person who made “Coraline” is arrested
    I am a person with emotions

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  18. The Pig Scrolls by Gryllus the Pig/Paul Shipton
    Amusing, silly romp through similar territory as Percy Jackson, but with a man turned pig.

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  19. Wow! You could have been writing about my 11 year old son! Thank you for so many suggestions. Can’t wait to hit the library.

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  20. I was going to comment to nth (second, third . . . sixth?) the Pratchett & Hitchhikers, & was going to suggest Black Cauldron & Dark Is Rising, but see those are seconds, too. (Day late & a dollar short. . . .)
    I wanted to also add my 2 cents, first of which is that I just read the Wrede series, & thought it was great, but that the girly factor depends on the reader more than the story–mom’ll be best judge there.
    My second (again!) cent is that I just read some Rosemary Sutcliffe & wish I had done so when I was 11 and 12, chomping at the bit & tearing through Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave books over & over again even though I knew a good deal was going over my head but wanting all that history & story to fall into, anyway. So, I’m adding Rosemary Sutcliffe to the suggestion pile, too. In case that helps.

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  21. Oh man, my 10 year old daughter and 8 year old son are very similar to this. 8yo will ONLY read graphic novels or comics right now (though he did read D’Aulaire’s myths and I very carefully didn’t gloat or look triumphant at all) and 10yo will read other stuff, but really prefers a visual format.
    One that is really amazing is The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Gorgeous pictures, very absorbing, full of interesting facts, really cinematic. I read it out loud and it had us all on the edge of our seats,and then running to the internet to do research and watch movies from 1902. It’s like nothing else, you have to see it to understand. I see there is a movie of it coming out, so better read it soon before it is ruined!
    I have written down many of the suggestions here and will try them – thanks!

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