Do you have a tween in your life who loves to read? That’s fantastic! But it also means you’ve probably discovered, as I have, that having a kid who loves to read carries its own burden: it is tough to keep a book-loving kid surrounded with high-quality, age-appropriate books.
These 12 titles have been total winners for my daughters, ages 8 and 11. Please do the world a favor and share your own recommendations for great tween titles in comments. Bonus points for terrific prose, gutsy female protagonists, and books you’re tempted to steal from their bookshelves after the kids go to bed.
My 11-year-old doesn't typically choose fantasy novels, but she just devoured this series (which is four books right now). This middle grade novel has a bit of Hogwarts magic to it: every Tuesday, Castle Glower rearranges itself, growing a new room or adding a new hallway. The royal family is accustomed to its eccentricities. When disaster strikes, Princess Celie and her siblings team up to save the day. Their pranks will make you giggle even as the story deals with serious themes like grief and fear. More info →
This moving middle grade Newbery winner is based on the true story of a gorilla who spent nearly 30 years living in captivity in a mall in Washington state. In Applegate's novel, Ivan the gorilla lives at the Exit 8 Bigtop Mall and Video Arcade with his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But then Ruby, a new baby elephant, comes to join them at the mall after being forcibly removed from her family, and Ivan is forced to confront what it really means to be captive, and how he can save Ruby. Get your Kleenex ready. More info →
This is a contemporary novel (published 2005) but it feels like it could have been written fifty years ago, and is often recommended to fans of Louisa May Alcott, Noel Streatfeild, and Edward Eager. Four sisters spend their summer holiday at a beautiful estate called Arundel, where they have adventures of all kinds (and a few mishaps, of course). First in a quartet. More info →
A modern-day fairytale. September is an ordinary girl who lives in an ordinary town in Nebraska ... until one day the Green Wind shows up at her window and invites her to Fairyland. September soon finds herself on a quest to save Fairyland's inhabitant's from their evil ruler. The story's richness and complexity make this a good choice for older tweens. More info →
11-year-old Harriet Welsch is a spunky kid with an odd hobby: she’s a spy. She writes down her observations, thoughts, and feelings about everyone she knows in her notebook. But then Harriet loses her notebook, and things don’t go so well when her classmates read what she really thinks about them. More info →
I love that my girls love this book. When a young girl is marooned for eighteen years on an island off the coast of California, she not only survives, but manages to find a kind of happiness with only the animals for company. Kanana is strong and smart and resourceful as she waits for the ship that took her tribe away to return. This popular modern classic is loosely based on a true story. More info →
The classic story of a young orphan who lives an idyllic life with her grandfather, the goat-herd, and her young friend Peter in the French Alps, and then becomes desperately homesick when she's sent to the city to become companion to a young invalid. The prose is a little dated to my dears, but my daughters remain quick to recommend this book to friends their age. More info →
I picked this one up because my daughters loved Frederick's Mother-Daughter Book Club series, even though the plot sounded ridiculous. My girls loved it. Cat's mother is an astronaut, and when she gets sent to the International Space Station Cat is sent to live halfway across the country with her Dad and her real-life evil stepsister. That's bad enough, but then one morning at breakfast Cat opens her mouth and a toad hops out! But when her stepsister speaks, diamonds and flowers come out of her mouth. If you can suspend your disbelief, this story is good clean fun. More info →
When two siblings have a conflict they can't talk about, they take it out on each other by going to battle with their respective lemonade stands: who can earn the most money selling cold drinks this summer? This is a fast-moving story about sibling rivalry, different kinds of intelligence, and how math works in the real world. A good independent read for younger tweens, but even my six-year-old is loving this as a read-aloud. More info →
Claudia Kincaid is bored with her suburban life, so she convinces her little brother Jamie to run away with her to nearby New York City. She’s carefully chosen a hideaway that is comfortable, beautiful, and elegant: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once they’re set up in the museum, Claudia finds herself transfixed by a statue—and the mystery behind it—and her fascination leads the two children on an incredible adventure. More info →
My 11-year-old told me she was glad this was required reading because she wouldn't have read it otherwise and it's one of the best books she's ever read. Told in free verse, this is the story of a young girl's life in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. It's bleak and tragic and ends with only a glimmer of hope, but young (and old) readers will be moved as they root for fourteen-year-old Billie Jo to transcend her dire circumstances and find the beauty in her unlikely surroundings. A short, quick read. More info →
When an overprotected ten-year-old stumbles upon a boy her age drinking furtively from a spring near her home, she discovers what he's trying to keep secret: since his family began drinking the water, they haven't aged a day. There are so many middle grade stories that wrestle with death these days; in this novel, Babbit wrestles with the decidedly mixed blessing of living forever. The prose in this is really lovely (which is not a code word for boring). More info →
What would YOU add to this list? Tell us your favorite books for 8-12 year-olds in comments.