Great Books for Preteens
Source: Tween Parent Staff
TweenParent.com asked Bank Street Bookshop to put together a list of books for summer reading that is sure to keep your tween's nose in a book for hours at a time. Divided by age group, the list includes notable new books and timeless classics. Plus, as a gift to our readers, Bank Street is offering a 20% discount off of anything you purchase (not just tween books). Just enter code TWEEN09 at check out.
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson. Mysteriously struck deaf the day the Pied Piper returns to pipe away Hamelin's children, Penelope cannot hear his tune and is left behind. It thus becomes her responsibility to enter a fantastical dream world and use her wits and ingenuity to find and rescue her family and friends. After Hamelin is an enchanting story featuring a clever, memorable heroine.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Precocious 10-year-old Anastasia has some very firm opinions. She's made a list of things she loves (lists, mounds bars, her goldfish) and things she hates (boys, pumpkin pie, her teacher). As she navigates school, a first crush, and her parents' shocking announcement that they are having a baby, Anastasia is surprised to see how her loves and hates change. First in a series.
The Birthday Room by Kevin Henkes. "Two of the things Benjamin Hunter received for his twelfth birthday took him completely by surprise: a room and a letter. The room was from his parents. The letter was from his uncle." The room is Benjamin's very own art studio. The letter is from an estranged uncle who is blamed for a childhood accident that left Benjamin without a finger. Well-known for his popular picture books, Henkes has written a thought-provoking and memorable coming-of-age story for middle grade readers.
Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier. Brendan's grandmother Gladys calls him her chocolate milk - his mother is white, and his father is black, a fact that hasn't caused him much concern...until now. Brendan is a scientist; he keeps a notebook full of questions and answers he uncovers through scientific research. So when he meets his estranged (white) grandfather by chance, he begins investigating the reasons for the estrangement, disobeying his parents in the process. Frazier handles Brendan's complicated family history, questions about race and identity, and other thought-provoking topics with finesse. Though it deals with some heavy issues, Brendan's normal kid interests and activities (Tae Kwon Do, catapulting Groovy Girls out the window) make this an enjoyable and accessible read. Coretta Scott King Book Award.
The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George. As much as Mike wants a cat, he knows he can't have one at home. Instead he tries to win the trust of Rachet, a feral cat with a strong mistrust of humans. Jean Craighead George, acclaimed author of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, fills this story of the complex society of the homeless cats with factual information about wild feline habits and hierarchy.
The reader comes to know and care about Rachet, Queenella, Tatters, Tachometer and all the other cats in a world centered around a train station.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Zoe dreams of becoming a great concert pianist. So when her quirky but well-meaning father brings home a wheezing, 70s-style electric organ, she is unenthused. Her music teacher (free lessons with purchase) convinces her to enter the Perform-o-Rama, an electric organ competition, which has a surprisingly transformative effect on Zoe. A delightful book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect is an utterly charming story of friendship, family, growing pains, and finding the baby grand hiding in a wheezing Perfectone D-60. Readers will be convinced that they know the finely-drawn characters.
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. Of her fellow seventh graders, Emma-Jean Lazarus thinks "their behavior was often irrational. And as a result, their lives were messy. Emma-Jean disliked disorder of any kind, and had thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar." Though not labeled as such, Emma-Jean displays some characteristics of an individual with Asperger Syndrome, making her a uniquely insightful narrator. When she sets out to help her classmates solve their problems, her lack of understanding of middle school social mores leads to some mix-ups. A memorable, winning narrator and realistic but uplifting look at junior high life make Emma-Jean a new favorite.
The Friskative Dog by Susan Straight. Sharron's father bought her The Friskative Dog when she was five, and he quickly became her most beloved stuffed animal. When Sharron's truck-driver father doesn't come back from a long haul, The Friskative Dog seems more important than ever, a sort of talisman connecting Sharron to her father. But when nine-year-old Sharron brings her dog to school, the too-old-for-stuffed-animals mean girls in her class take him. Readers will empathize with Sharron's heartbreak and delight in her resilience. With the help of her mother, grandmother, and a new friend, Sharron finds a way to recover The Friskative Dog and begin to deal with her father's absence.
Lioness Quartet #1: Alanna by Tamora Pierce. Alanna lives in Tortal, a medieval world full of knights, heroes and magic. When her father announces he's sending her to a convent, Alanna she decides she'd rather not go. She cuts off her hair, dresses like a boy, and goes to try for her knighthood. In this, Pierce's first story in the magical country of Tortall, Alanna befriends a prince and a magical cat and learns that her destiny is greater than she knew. The gripping story will have readers reading "just one more chapter" after another.
Masterpiece Author by Elise Broach. Narrated by Marvin, a young beetle who lives in 11-year-old James' NYC apartment, Masterpiece has it all - art history, international art heists, a thrilling mystery, and great characters. When 11-year-old James accidentally leaves the lid off his ink bottle, Marvin draws an extremely detailed, beetle-sized picture and leaves it on James' desk. When James' mom finds it, she becomes convinced her son is an artistic genius. This catapults James (and his new best friend Marvin) into a highly-unusual sting operation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fascinating and thoroughly satisfying, Masterpiece is one of our favorite books of the year.
Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng. Orphaned and unpopular, Molly Moon lives in a miserable orphanage in England until she finds a rare book on hypnotism mis-shelved in the public library. Molly hypnotizes herself and orphanage pug Petula to New York City, to a suite in the Waldorf and a starring role in a Broadway show. But a dangerous criminal will stop at nothing to get his hands on the valuable book, and its keeper.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. When their father rents a vacation cottage on a large estate, the four Penderwick sisters, who range in age from twelve to four years old, find themselves with the summer vacation of their dreams. But when they discover that the elegant owner of the estate has threatened to send her mischievous son to military school, they decide to intervene. The results are comical (Rabbits, even exceptionally cute ones, really don't belong anywhere near prize-winning gardens.) but ultimately satisfying. Birdsall skillfully imbues each sister with her own distinct personality, so readers feel like they know each one. Wonderfully old-fashioned, The Penderwicks has the look and feel of a classic. Winner of the National Book Award.
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Bored with rainy Saturdays spent cooped up in the house, the Melendy siblings come up with a brilliant idea. Each week, they pool their allowances and one of them gets to use the entire one dollar and sixty cents to do something extravagant. Children will be enchanted by their visits to the art gallery, the opera, the circus, and even the beauty parlor. First published in 1942 and now back in print, The Saturdays is not to be missed.
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Platform 13 at Kings Cross Railway Station conceals a secret door leading to an island where humans and magical creatures live harmoniously. The island is ruled by a royal family. When the crown prince is kidnapped, a delegation is sent into London to rescue him. Together a fey, a hag, a wizard, and an ogre must navigate the busy city while keeping their identities secret. Ibbotson consistently crafts imaginative fantasies with touches of humor. (Skeptics are assured that Ibbotson's book was published several years before Harry Potter first stepped onto Platform 9 ¾.)
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are sent to live with the grandmother they thought was dead. In fact not dead, but quite unusual, Relda Grimm lives in a large house with lots of locks, even more books, and a weird, but nice, assistant named Mr. Canis. Before they know it, the girls are thrust into a mystery of the most unbelievable nature - a giant has climbed down an enormous beanstalk and kidnapped their grandmother. It turns out that the Grimm sisters are descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm. Their family is entrusted with solving fairy tales mysteries and keeping ancient fairy tale magic out of the reach of ordinary humans. Readers will love figuring out the fairy tale allusions in this series of sophisticated fractured fairy tales.
Skinnybones by Barbara Park. "Everybody knows that just one person can't make the difference between a winning team and a losing team. After all, every single team I've ever been on has come in last place. And I don't care what anyone says, all those teams didn't lose just because of me...probably." Self-described stinky baseball player, Skinnybones may not be a record-breaking pitcher like his classmate T.J., but he's got a major league sense of humor. An excellent choice for fans of Wimpy Kid or reluctant readers, Skinnybones will have kids laughing out loud and rooting for the beleaguered hero.
Solomon Snow and the Silver Spoon by Kaye Umansky. At the age of ten, the beleaguered Solomon Snow discovers that the people he thought were his Ma and Pa actually found him on their doorstep with a fancy silver spoon in his mouth. The spoon has since been pawned, so Solomon Snow sets off to track it down and find his real parents. Accompanied by the bookish Prudence, he meets a motley crew of characters on the way to a surprising but thoroughly satisfying ending.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth. Next door neighbors Violet and Lottie are best friends. When ready-to-be-a-teenager, big-city Melissa moves to their rural Florida town, she disrupts their lifelong friendship. As Lottie and Melissa watch soap operas and experiment with makeup and clothes, rough and tumble Violet grows to resent the new girl. But when Lottie's house is destroyed by lightning, the two frenemies find a way to work together to help out. With its relatable story of a friendship triangle, nuanced, likeable characters, and touch of first romance, Violet Raines is an excellent choice for pre-teens.
All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall. "We know there's a lot of people out there who think our school is a dead end. And that all the kids inside it are dead ends, too." Based on the true story of a group of inner-city Cleveland junior high students who attempted to build the world's largest tetrahedron, All of the Above boasts extremely well-developed characters.
The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Alice's mother died when she was very young. She loves her father and her 19-year-old brother, Lester, but now that she's about to turn thirteen, they're floundering a bit. Lester tells her a period is the dot at the end of a sentence, and her father is clueless about bras. As Alice looks for a glamorous female role model, she finds out that becoming a woman is about more than physical changes. Alice is one of the most realistic, relatable, and likeable characters in pre-teen literature. Best of all, Alice is an excellent, age-appropriate choice for those younger tweens who already feel the siren's call of teen literature. First in a series.
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Faced with the prospect of being separated, Naomi, her brother, and the great-grandmother who raised them run away to Mexico to find the only person who can help them - Naomi's father. In Oaxaca, Naomi learns that her talent for soap carving is part of a family and regional tradition. Her father has never once missed the Night of the Radishes contest during Las Posadas. Becoming Naomi Leòn features well-developed characters readers will remember.
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine. After his father dies, Dave is sent from his home on the Lower East Side to the dismal Hebrew Home for Boys on 113th Street. Life looks bleak until Dave sneaks out one night and meets a kind man named Solly. Together, they attend the fabulous salon parties of the Harlem Renaissance and have experiences Dave never imagined. Dave at Night achieves the perfect mix of great characters, adventure, and historical fiction.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, is betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting on the way to a kingdom where no one knows her. Her identity stolen, Ani must become a goose girl to survive. Her gift for communicating with animals is her only weapon against the people who plot against her. Beautifully written and surprisingly suspenseful, with a touch of fairy tale romance, The Goose Girl will enthrall.
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. In 1943, Dewey Kerrigan, one of the most vibrant "tomboy" protagonists since Scout (No, really, this is not hyperbole.) travels across country by train to join her mathematician father in a town that doesn't exist - Los Alamos. With extensive research and great writing, Klages manages to craft a haunting historical novel that is also an engrossing story about making friends, fitting in, and growing up. Adults also will find this story compelling, making this an excellent choice for parent-child discussions.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. When New York City kid Gregor follows his little sister down a mysterious shaft in his building's laundry room, he finds himself in a fantastic underground world populated by giant rats (the bad guys), four-foot cockroaches (the good guys), and race of underground humans who ride bats instead of horses. Or course, Gregor must save himself, the Underland, and his family in a thrilling adventure that will have readers clamoring for the next installment.
The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth. Cousins Emilia and Luka are Rom, raised to value family, tradition, story, music, and magic. But in Cromwell's Puritan England, the Gypsies are persecuted. When their entire family is imprisoned, Emilia and Luka escape, promising to find help. Emilia fervently believes in the legend of the Gypsy Crown. According to her Baba, each of the gypsy clans possesses one of five powerful charms. United, they will bring luck to the Gypsies. Thus begins a sort of quest: the two children race across the countryside, finding their kin and begging, bargaining, and performing remarkable feats to win the charms. The fast-paced, gripping story will enthrall even those who eschew historical fiction. Readers will get a sense of Cromwell's reign and the terrible persecution Gypsies have faced throughout history.
Jellaby by Kean Soo. In the graphic novel adaptation of Kean Soo's online comic of the same name, we are introduced to a strange little girl by the name of Portia Bennett. She has recently moved to a new city and has no friends. One night she looks out her window, sees a purple monster, and decides to befriend it. The next day the two of them stop some bullies from beating up a boy by the name of Jason. Together, the two children and the large purple monster set off a remarkable adventure. Ages 11-13.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. When Ted and Kat's cousin Salim visits them in London, he asks to go on the London Eye. So Ted and Kat take Salim to the Eye, watch him get on, and wait on the ground for him to get off. But he never appears. Faced with Salim's mysterious disappearance, it is only Ted, with the unique perspective afforded him by his Asperger Syndrome, who can solve the mystery. A universal favorite among everyone who's read it, The London Eye Mystery has it all - an intriguing mystery, a skillful exploration of family relationships, wonderful character development, and stellar writing.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Mia has been keeping a secret for years: she sees colors when reading or hearing numbers, letters, or words. When she finds out that her condition has a name, synesthesia, and that other people have it too, she begins an exciting journey of self-discovery. A Mango-Shaped Space is a fascinating exploration of a little-known neurological condition as well as a well-written story of family, friendship, and growing up.
My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. When 12-year-old Lucy sees a letter addressed to her family's pharmacy with THREE DELINQUENT MORTGAGE PAYMENTS written across the top, she knows she has to do something. Her family has owned and operated the Old Mill Pharmacy for years; Lucy spends more time there than at home. But with chain stores moving into their Connecticut town, business is slow at the old fashioned, independent drugstore. Soon, Lucy's pre-teen obsession with makeup, her growing concern for the environment, and her determination to save the pharmacy collide in a bold plan to expand the pharmacy into an eco-spa. Of course, while she's plotting to save the store, Lucy everyday preteen issues of friendship and first crushes. The ultimately light-hearted story with a spunky, anything-is-possible protagonist makes a great summer read.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart. "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" When some unsuspecting children answer an odd classified ad, they find themselves taking a test that is anything but standard. The unusual band of talented misfits that passes the test becomes the Mysterious Benedict Society, under the tutelage of the mysterious narcoleptic, Mr. Benedict, himself. The four children must go undercover, infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, and save the humanity from a diabolical genius using (what else?) television to take over the world.
Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest by Matt Haig. When Samuel and his little sister Martha go to live with their nice but mysterious aunt in Norway, they are forbidden to enter the forest near her house. Ten years ago, their Uncle Henrik went into the forest, and he never came back. But one day, Martha runs into the forest, Samuel follows her, and the two find themselves trapped inside the dense woods. It turns out that the forest is populated by creatures from Norse mythology, some of whom are up to no good. The first book in our new favorite series will have readers riveted as Samuel fights to outwit the magical creatures, find a way out of the forest, and solve the mystery of his uncle's disappearance.
The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu. It all starts with the "oddly pale, strangely thin, freakishly tall, yellow-eyed, bald-headed man in the tuxedo," or perhaps it's the kitten that seemed to appear from nowhere at all, or Charlotte's terrifying, vampiresque English teacher, or her oddly polite yet stressed-out English cousin Zee. Well, whatever the origin, all of the kids Charlotte and Zee know are coming down with an un-diagnosable, incurable illness, and it's up to the two eighth graders to stop it. If that means entering Hades via a service door in the mall, battling harpies, Styx boatman Charon, Hades himself, and a really, really scary guy named, Phil, well, that's what they'll do. Perfect for kids suffering withdrawal from the Percy Jackson series, the new Cronus Chronicles series boasts a fast-growing fan base.
Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita. Bug Juice, Color War, Peeps: Sam Montgomery doesn't know what any of these things mean when she impulsively applies to be a CIT (Counselor-In-Training) at Whispering Pines Camp. What at first is just a way to escape the obnoxious sweetness of her best friend Mallory and her new boyfriend Mark (wittily dubbed Mallomark), quickly becomes the most eventful summer of her life, complete with romance, late-night pranks, and a rivalry with the most popular girl at camp. This is the perfect taste of sleep-away life for veterans and the inexperienced alike. Age 11 and up.
Tiger by Jeff Stone. It is the mid 17th century, and 12-year-old Fu is among the youngest pupils training to become warrior monks at the Cangzhen Temple in China. When their Grandmaster is killed in a surprise attack, the five young martial arts experts escape with the intention of avenging his murder. Each student has been trained to adopt the style and characteristics of a particular animal. The first book in the series focuses on Fu, trained to emulate a tiger. Action-packed and fast-paced, the Five Ancestors Series will have kids clamoring to read more.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. One of the smartest, most subversive kids' books ever, Smekday is social satire and historical allegory in the guise of a hilarious adventure (accompanied by cool graphics and comic book-style illustrations). What? Oh, you've noticed that we're not telling you anything about the plot? Hmmm...well, here goes: In 2013, Boovs invade earth. They force all humans to move to Florida and then change their minds and force them all to move to Arizona. Gratuity (Her mom thought gratuity meant something else.) and her cat, Pig, are driving to Florida by themselves (because her mom has been abducted and forced into translating for the Boovs) when they meet AWOL Boov, J.Lo. J.Lo turns out to be totally awesome despite speaking English sort of like Yoda, if Yoda didn't really speak English all that well. They have madcap adventures, such as hiding in Happy Mouse Kingdom after dark. Then the really bad aliens arrive.... Right, that's why we weren't telling you anything about the plot. It's brilliant. Trust us.
Slob by Ellen Potter. Nothing, and I really mean nothing, is as it seems in this mysterious and moving novel about Owen Birnbaum, the self-described (and statistically verified) fattest and smartest kid around. While kids, and even some teachers, regularly make school miserable for Owen, someone has been taking it too far: stealing Owen's Oreos from his lunch every day. Prime suspect: Mason Ragg, whose badly scarred face makes him a feared school outcast. While he's not trying to catch the Oreo thief, Owen and his sister Jeremy are hard at work on an invention that will enable them to watch an event that happened nearly two years ago. Slob is about bullying, and emotional eating, and loss, and gender stereotypes, but it's about so much more than all those things, too. Just when you think you know what's going on, Potter hits you with a delicious OH! or AH HA! moment. An absolute delight to read, Slob is the kind of novel makes you immediately wish you could read it again for the first time. Age 11 and up.