Our Favorite Tween Books!
In honor of Children’s Book Week, here’s our list of books that we’re sure will captivate readers age 9-13. There’s something here for everyone: fans of friendship, mystery, action and adventure. There are novels in cartoons, books for animal lovers, and engaging fantasy tales, too.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen:
Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House is scheduled to be built on top of the burrows of some endangered Floridian owls, and its up to three resourceful kids to stop the construction in time and save them. This is a funny book with some clever pranks and important ecological reminders.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney:
This very funny, very relatable book is a “novel in cartoons,” and Middle School boys will love every single book in this series. The entire series is a pioneer in the genre, both in the storytelling technique and the road to publication. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first released online in 2004, where it was read 20 million times! Kids and adults will laugh out loud as they read about Greg’s troubles with friends, family and school.
Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins:
Suzanne Collins is known more for her Hunger Games series than this one, but that’s a shame because The Underland Chronicles needs to be more widely appreciated. This is a five book series about Gregor and his two-year-old sister after they fall into an amazing underground world underneath New York City. Taken in by people who have lived beneath the earth for centuries, they learn about the giant-sized talking creatures that also reside there, including bats, cockroaches, and vicious rats. Gregor just wants to get home, but a prophecy hints that he may be the “overlander” destined to save the humans from the warlike rodents. The world building in the Overlander books is amazing, and Gregor’s journeys are gripping right until the very last book, Gregor and the Code of Claw.
Al Capone Does My Shirts (Tales from Alcatraz) by Gennifer Choldenko:
There’s an amazing amount of 1930s historical detail in this book, and as far as atmospheric settings go, it doesn’t get much better than Alcatraz. Moose’s father is a guard on the Rock, a position he takes so that his family can be near one of the only schools that will help Moose’s autistic sister Natalie.
Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book) by Jacqueline Woodson:
This is a fictionalized memoir written in verse about growing up as an African American girl in the 60s and 70s. Reviewers are near unanimous with their praise, calling it “a marvel,” “mesmerizing,” and “brilliant.”
Tangerine by Edward Bloor:
7th grader Paul moves to Tangerine, Florida with his family, which includes his mean older brother Erik, a football star. As Paul adjusts to his new home, he learns some important things about himself and his family. A layered story with some mystery to it.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm:
11-year-old Ellie Cruz has an estranged grandfather who is a scientist obsessed with immortality. One day her mother brings home a bossy, cranky boy who looks just like her grandfather. Could this boy really be her grandfather, and could he really have discovered the secret to youth?
The Callahan Cousins: Summer Begins by Elizabeth Doyle Carey:
Written by our own Liz Doyle Carey, this sweet series is about four cousins who spend the summer having adventures on Gull Island at their grandmother’s cottage. A fun and refreshing series that’s age appropriate and highlights family and self-discovery.
Because of Winn-Dixie by DiCamillo, Kate (2009) Paperback by Kate DiCamillo:
It’s hard to pick a favorite book by Kate DiCamillo. You can’t go wrong reading any of her books, but this story about how a girl settles into her new town with the help of her newly adopted dog has it all: friendship, family and self-discovery, with a cast of unforgettable characters.
Holes by Louis Sachar:
This is a fun—and funny—book, even though the subject touches on some tough stuff. Sentenced to a juvenile detention “camp” for a crime he didn’t commit, Stanley Yelnats and his fellow juvenile delinquents are forced to dig holes in the desert to build character. It doesn’t take Stanley long to figure out the Warden is looking for something, and Stanley finds himself in real danger. Boys will love this smart jigsaw puzzle of a book, told with heart and a sense of humor.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai:
Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this is a coming-of-age novel told in verse.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale:
14 year old Miri attends a princess academy which determines who will marry the prince. This book isn’t what you expect—it goes beyond the usual fairy tale clichés. There’s plenty of girl power and strong family ties.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin:
This is a beautiful book—beautifully told and beautifully illustrated. Minli, a young Chinese girl, sets off on a journey to find the answer of how to improve her family’s fortune. Inspired by Chinese folklore, there’s also a whiff of Wizard of Oz.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia:
A story of three sisters coming of age in the ‘60s, this is the first book in a series. Delphine and her two younger sisters travel to Oakland to spend the sister with their estranged mother. Not wanting much to do with them, she sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio:
10 year old Auggie Pullman has a facial deformity that has kept him out of school, but for his 5th grade year he’s going mainstream. The book is told through different characters, so readers see his transition through several perspectives.
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park:
Based on a true story, this book begins as two separate alternating stories about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan: Nya, a girl in 2008, and Salva, a boy in 1985. Twice a day, Nya fetches water from a pond over two hours away from her home. Salva becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Their stories ultimately intersect in a meaningful way.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick:
This is a unique book. Not exactly a graphic novel, but it does feature illustrations that are integral to the text and complement it beautifully. 12 year old orphaned Hugo lives in a Paris train station at the turn of the 29th century, where he invisibly takes care of the station’s clocks. His father had worked in a museum where he discovered a broken automaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been. One day he tries to steal some gears from a toymaker to fix the automaton, an action that sets an intricate plot in motion.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate:
This is inspired by the true story of a gorilla put on display in a mall and his journey to freedom. It’s told from the point of view of Ivan, the captive gorilla.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson:
A graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high school, through the power of roller derby.
Paperboy by Vince Vawter:
Set in 1959, this is an autobiographical novel about the experiences of the author—known as Little Man—when he takes over his friend’s paper route. Little Man stutters, and over the course of his adventures on the paper route he learns how to overcome this obstacle, or at least, how to not let it hold him back.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper:
Eleven-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy. She can’t walk or talk, but she’s the smartest kid in her whole school. The only problem is no one knows it. Most people don’t even think she’s capable of learning—until she discovers something that will allow her voice to be heard. Is everyone ready to hear it?
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall:
This book is based on James Hampton, an artist, and his work called The Throne of the Third Heaven. The other characters and the plot itself is fiction, but readers who want to go beyond the page will find plenty of information on this real life work made completely with discarded items (like tin foil and lightbulbs). In this story, 13-year-old Arthur, dealing with his father’s death, is angry to see the local “junk man” wearing his father’s hat. In the heat of the moment, he throws a brick at the junk man and is sentenced to community service as a result. Arthur begins working for the junk man, collecting the seven things needed to finish the artwork.
When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) by Rebecca Stead:
This science fiction mystery takes place in New York City in 1978. Miranda is worried about a few different things: her mother is about to be a contestant on a game show, her friend Sal is suddenly not her friend anymore, and she’s receiving mysterious notes that eerily predict the future. These seemingly unrelated things all come together at the end with a conclusion that will make you think well after the book is closed. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time will appreciate the references sprinkled throughout. If you love this book, you’ll love all of Rebecca Stead’s equally amazing titles—they’re all just as good.
11 Birthdays: A Wish Novel by Wendy Maas:
Amanda and Leo, friends with the same birthday, have celebrated together every single year. Every year, that is, except their 11th. After a fight on their 10th birthday causes a split in their friendship, they celebrate their 11th birthday apart. Or do they? Amanda and Leo seem to be caught in a time loop, waking up on their 11th birthday over and over again, and the once-estranged friends team up to figure out what is happening and how to fix it.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo:
This truly is a miraculous book. A beautiful fable about a china rabbit who thinks highly of himself until he is sent on a journey through many hands and many years that teaches him what true love really is.
Poppy (Tales from Dimwood Forest) by Avi:
Animal fans will love this adventure series about a family of mice. Specifically, it follows brave Poppy as she ventures into the forest to try to save her family.
A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet) by Madeleine L’Engle:
A true classic that’s still relevant today—it has even inspired some of the current authors on this list. Brainy misfit Meg travels through time and space to save her father, a scientist who is being held prisoner on the planet of Camazotz.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo:
Flora loves comic books, and when her pet squirrel Ulysses gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner and gains super-squirrel strength, Flora’s own life starts to resemble a superhero adventure.
The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember) by Jeanne DuPrau:
Ember, a 200 year old city enclosed in a dome and surrounded by a dark unknown, was built to ensure that humans would continue to exist on Earth. The instructions for getting out of the city, however, have been lost and forgotten. Two 12 year old kids, Lina and Doon, become convinced that Ember is falling apart. Time is of the essence, and they work frantically to find a way to escape the city and convince their friends and neighbors that leaving everything that is familiar to them is the only chance they have to survive.
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan:
Hopefully your first introduction to this series wasn’t the movie, because in the case of The Lightning Thief, the old saying is true: these books are a thousand percent better than the movie. Funny, inventive and full of action, these books bring mythology to life in a sassy, zany way. Percy Jackson, a misfit teen, discovers he is a Half-Blood, the child of a mortal and the god Poseidon. He and his newly discovered Half-Blood friends embark on a series of quests to save the world. You will never view the Greek gods the same way after reading Rick Riordan’s descriptions of them—and you won’t forget them, either.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman:
Delightfully creepy and just the right amount of scary, this book is about a girl named Coraline who ventures into a world that seems like hers but is much darker. How will she escape and return home to her parents?