retro style young man reading hardcover book

The mysterious force of wokeness has infected the YA publishing world in recent years, but non-woke masterpieces from past eras are still there to be enjoyed.

These days, you can’t just hand your kid a book categorized “Young Adult,” and assume that what’s between the covers will be wholesome and enriching. In fact, you can’t even assume that a modern YA novel will be free of explicit sexual references, assaults on free speech, or the ever-controversial critical race theory. Agents of so-called “social justice” have wormed their way deep into the publishing industry, and they are on an all-out mission to create new recruits by any means necessary—even weaponizing children’s literature.

Whether you think this is a spiritual battle or you just want to keep the current form of politics out of your son’s life, it is a constant challenge to make sure the books he picks up are not secret, or blatant, handbooks of woke ideology.

One way you can do this is by looking to masterpieces from past eras, when authors of books for young people were not thinly-disguised proselytizers for a counterfeit religion, but usually Christian men steeped in time-honored values and standards.

Following are five books that can still captivate modern readers, despite being written before anyone had heard of cell phones or social media—sometimes predating those things by a whole century. They are ranked according to a subjective assessment of how engaging they are likely to be to modern readers (from least to most), but they could, in fact, be ranked in any order, because all are fantastic.

5. Spencer’s Mountain

The inspiration for the hit TV show The Waltons, Spencer’s Mountain is told from the viewpoint of Clay-Boy Spencer, who is an exceeding bright youth coming of age in a rural community in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Totally engrossing and highly relatable for adolescent boys, the story is about Clay-Boy’s anxiety as he tries to become a man in the model of his father and uncles, as the dream of higher education and a better life lingers just out of reach, as he experiences love for the first time with a self-serving local girl, and as he sees his father sacrifice a long-held dream so his son can have success.  

4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Often overlooked in favor of Twain’s masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (who is Huck’s childhood friend in this fiction universe) is in certain ways better than Huckleberry Finn because its themes do not demand long discussions of the Civil Rights Movement, and have no sociopolitical implications other than the usual presentism hysteria regarding language and sex roles. Tom Sawyer is a free-wheeling, timeless, and fond depiction of boys’ slightly feral natures and tendency toward grandiose flights of imagination, based loosely, and with brilliant exaggeration, on Twain’s own boyhood. 

3. The Great Brain

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

Ideal for kids in the 8 to 12 range, this book has an unmistakable Twainian quality to it. It is a series of loosely autobiographical, but doubtlessly fictionalized childhood tales centering on young Tom Fitzgerald, the real-life brother of the author. Tom always had an angle to work, and an unexpected insight, as the boys grew up in a small town in Utah at the end of the 19th century. The book is thrilling for kids not only because it’s fascinating to learn what Tom comes up with next, but also because of the textures and human elements that give life to the various stories.  

2. Deathwatch

Deathwatch by Robb White

Equally enjoyable for adults and teens, Robb White’s Deathwatch is a unique and primal tale of a young man struggling to survive against seemingly impossible odds. Twenty-two-year-old Ben is hired to guide a rich businessman named Madec on a hunting outing. When Madec accidentally kills an elderly prospector, he first tries to bribe Ben, and when that fails, tries to frame Ben for the killing. His sadistic plan is to force Ben into the cruel desert heat without water or cover, and make it appear that Ben went suicidally insane. The occasionally graphic violence doesn’t cross over into gratuitousness, and there is no lewdness of any kind. Just a thoroughly satisfying story.

1. Danny, The Champion of the World

Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

A departure from Roald Dahl’s famously whimsical style, Danny, The Champion of the World contains no supernatural or impossible phenomena, and instead builds a story of real human relationships, and real suspense. Danny lives with his father, an auto mechanic, in a British town in the 1930s. The two don’t live in a house, but a Gypsy wagon, and due to being in such close quarters, have developed an extraordinary bond. When Danny learns of his father’s secret passion— poaching pheasants in the local woods—a plan is hatched for the ultimate poaching caper, which places Danny and his father on a collision course with the local, pheasant-hoarding tycoon.

There may be different opinions as to the subtleties of the messages in these books. Both Deathwatch and Danny, The Champion of the World, for example, could be seen as maligning the private sector through their depictions of selfish businessmen that woke folks, we can be certain, would reflexively associate with “the evils of capitalism”—if not explicitly with former president Donald Trump. But the fact that such questions even enter our minds testifies to the brokenness of our culture. The operating principles of the woke movement have so infected our whole society that everything is seen through that lens, even when we are actively trying to do the opposite.

The most fitting avenue is to take these books as great works of art and be grateful for the facets of our culture that are not only not woke, but that exist entirely outside the realm of wokeness.

By Alex S.

Lit Rebellion's technical advisor and staff writer.

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Encyclopedia Brown, the series. The Mad Scientist’s Club books. The Hobbit. The American Boy’s Handy Book. The Rooster Rider.

Lit Rebellion

You are welcome to write something up like the above recommending your preferred books!


It’s tough to beat Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn!


I wrote a mid-grade book and had to self-publish because no trad publisher would touch it. The Rooster Rider, on Amazon and Barnes-n-Noble. Frustrating to find the wokesters have completely destroyed children’s books. They are vindictive too; they blacklist anyone not rabidly Marxist.

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