It’s never too late to enjoy classic boys’ adventure books

I love the idea of having a shelf full of classic boys’ adventure books, the kind my grandpa might have had on his shelf when he was a boy. Penguin UK stepped up to the plate a few years ago and released the Classic Boys’ Adventure novel set, stunningly designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. A few of the covers:

Boys' Adventure Books

I was a reluctant reader as a kid. I came to to the party late. I’ve been playing catch-up — especially with the sorts of books I would have read as a kid — ever since. I like most kinds of books, but if there’s one thing that gets my heart pumping, it’s adventure.

And big, splashy, pulpy covers.

This one has it all:

Cover image of Modern Boy's Book of Adventure Stories

A world full of danger and secrets and rescues and fights and courage and cliffhangers and swords and jungles all waiting just for me — who wouldn’t want that? Maybe it’s odd to feel nostalgic for an age I never knew. I’m surely romanticizing the past, but what the hell — it’s all fiction anyway, isn’t it?

Sure there are modern adventure books and I’m happy to have those too. But it’s hard to find books as wonderfully designed as the classics in their day. Even Penguin’s series is, unfortunately, only available in paperback. And don’t get me started on ebooks. Don’t. Anyway, the cover art, the illustrations, the heft of the book — and, yes, the smell are all part of the experience.

Mark Twin said “a classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Some of these books might be a slog. I gave up on Treasure Island once many years ago but have always anticipated trying again. I blew through Peter Pan and enjoyed every last word. With modern books as well — it’s all hit and miss and largely a matter of taste.

Right now I have Kipling on my shelf. A Boy’s Own Annual from the 30s. Some Verne. Kidnapped. Robin Hood. A Boy’s King Arthur. A whole pile of Rick Brandt Science Adventure novels. And, yes, Treasure Island is there, waiting patiently for me. That’s the great thing about books. They wait for you.

Sometimes they wait generations.

(What books would stock on your own boy’s adventure shelf? What have you read or given up on? Know of any overlooked gems? Are these books just for boys? Do you feel left out, Gals? Sound off in the comments below.)

Featured Image: The Modern Boys Book of Adventure Stories (1936) | via The First Edition


  1. My daughter just started 4th grade, but still enjoys being read to at bedtime. I gave her several choices, including THE HOBBIT, TREASURE ISLAND and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. She opted for Captain Nemo. We do a chapter a night, with me adding hammy overacting where necessary. I think I’m enjoying it a lot more than she is.

    It’s also fascinating to see what an absolutely incredible storyteller Verne was. Despite the fact that this comes from the 19th century, it doesn’t feel like it. Everything still works, and it all combines to tell a truly rousing adventure story.


    1. That’s fantastic. I haven’t gotten around to Verne yet, but he’s on my shelf. Reading to children (I’m a preschool teacher) has also given me an excuse to catch up on some classics.


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