Our Friends' Favorites: LeVar Burton on Great Books for Boys
Our Friends' Favorites series -- in which we ask Common Sense Media's friends and partners to share their top media picks -- has recently focused on books that feature positive female characters, with contributions from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Chelsea Clinton, and Geena Davis. This time around, we turned to LeVar Burton to get his recommendations for books with positive male characters.
Actor, educator, entrepreneur, and co-founder of RRKidz, LeVar has devoted much of his life to inspiring a love of reading in children. Of his many iconic roles (including Kunte Kinte in the landmark TV miniseries Roots and Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation), the one he's proudest of is the nearly three decades he spent as the host and producer of Reading Rainbow on PBS. Recently, with RRKidz, LeVar has reimagined Reading Rainbow as an iPad app, again bringing literature to children through current technology.
For his tremendous contributions to kids and learning, Burton will be receiving the Children’s Media Award at the Common Sense Media Awards in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10.
We're delighted to have him share his favorite books for boys and young men:
Books have been a significant part my five decades on this Earth. Growing up with an English teacher as a mother, I lived in a house where reading was like breathing. My mother would always have three or four books open at any given time. As a teenager, reading was my escape, as well as my introduction to the world that lay ahead of me. In my 20s, I began hosting Reading Rainbow, and for the past 30 years, my passion for reading has really defined who I am in the public eye. I truly believe that through the pages of a book, we can go anywhere and be anything, as the song goes.
Books also can provide critical role modeling for our children. They show our kids what society believes to be admirable qualities to strive for in heroes and what characteristics are not valued in the villains. As a boy, teen, and man, I used books to help me define what a good and respected male can be like.
Boys face a very different path growing up than girls. Though I see it changing for the better every day, we're still not yet a society where boys feel as comfortable as girls do to talk about feelings. Books -- and the great positive role models in them -- are a private way of seeing that others feel the same way you do. And through the pages of a great book, boys can learn coping, growth, and life skills that will serve then throughout their lives.
- For ages 3-6:
My favorite book for our youngest boys is Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. In the story, a boy tells his father about an enemy at school and how upset it makes him feel. His dad sets up a scenario where, instead of fostering revenge and hatred, his son has an opportunity to get to know the enemy, discovers they have more in common than they thought, and, of course, quickly become friends. A theme that at all stages of life is good for us to remember.
- For ages 7-12:
Somewhat older boys can look to the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. At first blush, this may seem an odd choice, as Artemis, the main character, is quite evil and heartless. However, for the middle-grade child, the stories effectively convey the idea of personal growth that comes from seeing the effects of your actions, of finding empathy, and of taking responsibility. Rather than causing conflict as he does in the beginning of the series, Artemis slowly becomes a conflict resolver -- someone who works to bring people together.
- For ages 13-17:
Though it's the obvious choice, I still feel the Harry Potter series is the best. Harry goes through every possible teen angst in J.K. Rowling's global phenomenon. Harry has friends and enemies, fears and ambitions, family he hates, and family he loves. Through it all, Harry demonstrates that you can be scared and still summon courage, that you can be lonely and survive it, and that you can contribute to the world even when you don’t understand it.
What books with positive male characters have your boys enjoyed? Which ones did you love as a kid? Tell us in the comments below.