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Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

13 stories with great messages for little men

By John Cave Osborne |

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  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: 13 great books for boys that go beyond macho-man stereotypes If you look inside the toy chest of my four-year-old boys, you’ll find little more than matchbox cars, capes and a few swords thrown in for good measure. I often wonder whether it’s society, their chromosomal makeup, or a combination of the two that pushes them toward all things rough and tumble. Regardless, I get it. My concept of manliness is built on similar, innate principals. But it also contains a healthy dose of “softer” things like compassion, thoughtfulness, and emotional availability — things I desperately want to pass on to my boys. And one way I do that is by reading them books which encourage a level of emotional intelligence not typically found in stories featuring dump trucks or superheroes. Interested in finding similar-themed books for your son? Then read on to learn my favorites. And be sure to let me know any suggestions you may have in the comments.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson
    Cultivates: Vulnerability

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: The Velveteen Rabbit The velveteen rabbit is insecure around all the fancy toys in the nursery until the skin horse tells him that the only way to become real is to be loved by a child. And that’s exactly what happens. The rabbit and the boy become best friends — until the child becomes sick and must get rid of all his toys. A fairy comes to the confused and discarded rabbit and informs him that he is finally real, not just to the boy, but to everyone. The rabbit hops off joyfully, having taught the reader that love is what really gives us life.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, illustrated by George and Doris Hauman
    Cultivates: Perseverance

    Best “Non-Macho” Books for Boys:  The Little Engine That Could This timeless classic teaches an important lesson with four simple words: I think I can. Toys are left brokenhearted when the engine that’s delivering them to needy boys and girls breaks down. They ask several other engines to help, but only the littlest, least qualified agrees. Yet the willingness and enthusiasm of this little engine to take on a challenge makes him the most qualified of all, and a good role model to boot.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
    Cultivates: Unconditional love

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Love You Forever The story begins with a mom caring for her infant son, telling him that she’ll love him forever. It ends with the man, who now has a child of his own, caring for his elderly mom, telling her the exact same. I Love You Forever shows readers what unconditional love looks like while also providing them with generational perspective.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Calvin Can’t Fly, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis
    Cultivates: Individuality

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Calvin Can’t Fly His bird buddies are drawn to worms and flying, but all Calvin wants to do is read, which earns him nicknames like Nerdy Birdie. Things quickly change when the birds head south for the winter and Calvin saves their lives thanks to the knowledge he’s picked up by being a bookworm. He teaches us that it’s cool to read and to be yourself.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Old Bear and His Cub, by Olivier Dunrea
    Cultivates: Respect

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Old Bear and His Cub This delightful story proves that not only do bears have tender sides, but that fathers do, too. The Old Bear nags his son to do the right thing, whether it’s finishing his oatmeal or bundling up when leaving the house. But then Old Bear becomes sick and needs some TLC himself, which his cub is more than happy to deliver.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
    Cultivates: Imagination

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Harold and the Purple Crayon One night, Harold decides to go for a walk — with the help of his purple crayon, that is. He uses the crayon to draw every detail of his journey, starting with a straight path and quickly veering off to whatever adventure is next. The real treat is seeing Harold color his way into and out of danger, which will have any boy eager to exercise the right side of his brain.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Officer Buckle and Gloria by Petty Rathmann
    Cultivates: Teamwork

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Officer Buckle and Gloria Officer Buckle is a stumbling, bumbling kinda fellow until he teams up with Gloria, a dog who turns his once boring safety presentations into highly sought after events. But just when we think that Officer Buckle owes his newfound popularity to Gloria, the dog flops when trying to go it alone, teaching the reader the importance of teamwork.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    The Spiffiest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson, illustrations by Axel Scheffler
    Cultivates: Generosity

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: The Spiffiest Giant in Town George is the scruffiest giant in town until he gets set up with a brand new wardrobe. As the suddenly spiffy George walks home in his new duds, he runs into a number of his friends, all of whom have a problem which George remedies with one of his new garments. The end result is a return to scruffiness and a lesson in kindness.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
    Cultivates: Independence

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: The Kissing Hand Chester is a little raccoon who is scared to leave home and go to school until his mother kisses the palm of his hand and tells him to put it up to his cheek every time he feels he needs a little love from home. Don’t think for a second we didn’t read this one to our guys before their first day of preschool. And don’t think for a second that it didn’t help calm the butterflies.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    Cultivates: Appreciation of home

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Where the Wild Things Are Another classic — this one, the story of Max whose mischievous behavior gets him sent to his room without any supper. Angry, Max imagines leaving his home behind and sailing to the land of wild things, all of whom he quickly conquers. Before, that is, Max, himself, is conquered by homesickness, which compels him to return to his home where he finds things aren’t so bad, and there’s hot supper waiting for him.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Dirtball Pete by Eileen Brennan
    Cultivates: Determination

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Dirtball Pete A frustrated mom bathes her filthy son before his school presentation. Then, just as he’s about to go onstage, the wind blows Pete’s presentation from his hands, causing him to chase after it — a process through which Pete regains his dirt-ball status. His mom is crestfallen, but not for long. Pete nails his presentation with such confidence that no one even notices how dirty he is.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    My Name is Not Alexander, by Jenifer Fosberry, illustrated by Mike Litwin
    Cultivates: Dreaming

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: My Name is Not Alexander On the surface, this tale is about a son who’s being silly, pretending to be anyone except the person he actually is. But beneath the surface, what this boy is actually doing is dreaming of becoming a great man who makes a difference. Whether it’s Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, or his own father, the boy plans to be great.

  • Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

    Corduroy, by Don Freeman
    Cultivates: Acceptance

    Best 'Non-Macho' Books for Boys: Corduroy Corduroy is a little bear who fears he may never find a home thanks to a broken button on his suspenders. Enter Lisa, the little girl who loves him in spite of it. Through her, we learn that it’s not about how things look on the outside that counts; it’s how they make you feel on the inside.

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About John Cave Osborne


John Cave Osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as Babble, TLC, YahooShine, and the Huffington Post. John went from carefree bachelor to father of four in just 13 months after marrying a single mom, then quickly conceived triplets. Since then, they have added one more to the mix, a little boy they named Grand Finale. Read bio and latest posts → Read John's latest posts →

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18 thoughts on “Best Non-Macho Books for Boys

  1. Jill Capewell says:

    i will love the little engine that could forever. another favorite it mike mulligan and his steam shovel! :)

  2. Eleanor 'Endo' Jolley says:

    I think it is important that people embrace the fact that the male sex have feelings as much as females. They should be encouraged to release this sensitivity and kindness and not worry about what the rest of the world thinks. These selected books do just this. Emotions are important and should not be bottled up.

  3. KateD says:

    I love you forever went into the trash as soon as I got it. The unconditional love part I get, but when the mom climbs up a ladder and through her sons window to rock him to sleep as an adult…shit got weird.

  4. AnthroMom NYC says:

    How about any book at all where a female character takes center stage? In the books mentioned here, girls/women occupy a supporting role, often in the form of a care-taker. Some books do not feature any females at all. We must teach our boys that girls exist not only as mommy-types or dolls on the wayside. Women are heroes. By embracing that truth, our boys become men.

  5. Alana says:

    my best friend’s mom makes $77 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $7487 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here

  6. John Cave Osborne says:

    @alana i totally agree with you. in fact, i had a number of books in the original draft that featured girls / women as the main character, but my editor (who i think did an awesome job on this, and who is also a woman for what it’s worth) wanted to try to find books that had protagonists who were boys. and though (again) i agree with you, the slide show which this links to, the one which featured 13 empowering books for little girls doesn’t have many (if any) titles which featured boys / men as the main character. yet no one cried foul there. seems like a bit of a double standard, no? my point? i wouldn’t read too much into it…
    @kateD it’s so funny you mention that b/c i’ve after i wrote this, i spoke w/ someone who brought up that exact point. i’d never looked at that way before. and i guess it’s b/c i don’t think the character literally climbs up into her grown son’s room to rock him to sleep. nor do i think she rocks her teenager to sleep. instead, i think it’s just a metaphor for how much she’ll always consider him her baby. and that’s actually the way we explain it to our kiddos. less that there’s ladder climbing going on and more that there’s unconditional love and generational perspective to be appreciated. (but your “shit got weird” line made me laugh. hard. b/c that is totally weird. climbing up ladders and rocking your 35 year old son to sleep, that is.)
    @elanor i’m w/ you 100%. thanks for the comment.
    @jill i’m off to check out mike mulligan and his steam shovel. thanks for leaving the recommendation.

  7. BergDwight says:

    my best friend’s mom makes $77 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $7487 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here

  8. KateD says:

    @John Cave Osborne. One of my friends said the exact same thing to me about the book. Maybe I am being to cynical, but I still think it is a bit weird.

  9. Iago says:

    Another way to continue to demasculize our male children. Lets turn them all into crying, ubersensitive lumps of clay, that are afraid of their own shadows. The world needs men who are not afraid to venture forth into the world. Guess what women? You may want your child to be the next “Alan Alda”, but your son’s future wife does not want a “momma’s boy”, she needs a man.

  10. Hillary Leeb Manaster says:

    The books on this list, along with those included on the list for girls, are great. What I would LOVE to see is a list of books that show healthy, balanced, non-romatic friendships between boys and girls. Why always separate? We could really help improve relationships and encourage boys and girls to interact in positive ways by providing positive models in children’s literature.

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  12. sweetpea88 says:

    @Lago- we need sensitive men. And sensitive doesn’t mean pansy- sensitive men make loving husbands and fathers. These books don’t teach boys to be wusses, they teach people skills. You can’t fix everything by throwing a rock at it.

  13. Sweetpea522 says:

    Sweetpea522: you forgot to include, “I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE” – I have 3 boys &1 girl and they all loved it and the others on the list! My two oldest, both boys ages 20 &15did not grow up to be feminine, weak or robbed of their masculinity in any way. If anything they are more responsible, compassionate & selfLESS than most of their peers and were all stars in several competitive sports!

  14. tunheimfamilyblogspotcom says:

    I really love The Day the Babies Crawled Away–little boy saving the day during a community picnic gone awry. Simple illustrations, and pleasant to read to very little kiddos. It’s one of those books that chokes me up at the end even thought it’s just a basic expression of a parent’s love for her child.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I would have to add The Story of Ferdinand to this list!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Add Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. The title tells the tale.

  17. jo says:

    How does the 1970′s classic “William’s Doll” not make this list? Check it out.

  18. nanadecinco says:

    Oh, the Places You’ll go!!!!! By…Dr.Seuss…
    Is the best for all ages……

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