Does your 10-year old boy or girl in fifth grade need a good book? Find good books for every 5th grade reader here with reviews to help you pick your next book. Also, I’ve added the genre just under the title if your child or student prefers a particular genre.
Use this age (10) and grade (5th) as a starting point only. Each child is unique and will progress differently in their reading abilities.
Looking for 5th grade books in a series? Visit my recommendations for book series for 5th graders.
Have you seen my 5th-grade summer reading list?
How about a list of excellent NONFICTION books for 10-year-olds?
Best Books for 10-Year-Olds (5th Graders)
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
An absolutely wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. Evacuated from London during WWII these siblings need to find a new home. Unfortunately, their placements are horrid. It’s only the library and the kind librarian who help them survive the bullying and hunger. Unfortunately, the librarian is deemed “unsuitable” to be their foster mother since her missing husband is German. When things go from bad to worse in their latest home, can the children fight for a home with the librarian no matter what the town thinks?
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
On her 12th birthday, Zoe, a girl who loves to bake, discovers a letter to her from her incarcerated biological father, Marcus. She decides to write him back, even daring to ask him about the murder he’s in jail for — did he really do it? Marcus writes to Zoe that he’s innocent and he can prove it which sets Zoe on a quest to find out the truth for herself, even if her mom and dad forbid it. She enlists the help of her Grandma and her best friend, Trevor. You won’t be able to put down this winsome story with a heroine you can’t help but adore; a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.
City Spies by James Ponti
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Hands-down one of the best life-changing books you’ll ever read. Narrated by Melody, we learn what it’s like for her, trapped in a body with cerebral palsy that doesn’t allow her to speak or take care of herself. No one except her parents thinks that she’s smart. Then one day, she gets a chance to prove how smart she is. Heartbreaking. Real. Inspiring. Beautifully written.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This book is so excellent, I’d say it’s a modern children’s book classic. Bod lives in the graveyard with an assortment of ghosts and other cemetery creatures who raise him after Bod’s parents are killed when Bod was a baby. Bod’s main guardian is Silas who cares for him, feeds him, and teaches him about the human world. The ending is bittersweet (my daughter yelled at me for making her read a sad story) but perfect. Despite the scary-sounding title, the scariest part is in the first chapter when Bod’s parents get murdered and I suspect most 5th graders can handle that part.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Wow. This book is a tween must-read book about what refugees experience. Follow three distinct stories about being displaced from your country, on the run, and in danger. First is a young Jewish boy who escapes from Nazi Germany on a ship to Cuba. Next is a Cuban girl in the 1990s who flees in a homemade raft to the United States. Finally, is a story about a Syrian boy whose home is bombed in a country at war. Gatz skillfully connects all three stories with a satisfying, realistic conclusion.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
My daughter found this book SO RELATABLE — just like she struggles with confidence and speaking up, so does the main character, Peppi. This well-done graphic novel tackles the issues of friendships and confidence, among other things. (So glad I’m not in middle school anymore.) We highly recommend this graphic novel.
Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
This is National Geographic’s first fictional book series with full-color illustrations that hits the spot with an exciting mix of science, technology, adventure, and mystery. Newly accepted into the prestigious Explorer Academy for science and exploration, Cruz realizes that someone is trying to kill him; someone who doesn’t want him finding out about his mother’s mysterious research and untimely death. You’ll love the cool tech, amazing friendships, plot twists, and the intriguing premise.
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park
Rafe’s goal in middle school is to break every single rule. You can imagine how his plan will go, right? Filled with cartoon-like illustrations, this story will crack you up. BOX SET HERE.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this 2017 Newbery winner is a fairy tale about a good witch who rescues the town’s many abandoned (sacrificed) babies, one of whom she adopts and names Luna. It’s also the story of the baby’s magical, bereaved mother, a wicked witch who feeds off sorrow, a woodcarver who wants justice, and most of all, a girl named Luna who grows up to be amazing.
First Cat in Space by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris
SCI-FI / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Absurdly hysterical, this is a bizarrely perfect adventure in space with a cat and a toenail-clipping robot who journey to the moon to stop the rats from eating it all. Silly adventures ensue –like befriending a whale, becoming pirates, and answering a sphynx’s riddle. Then, the spaceship’s computer joins the Rat King’s side with revenge in mind and when the heroes arrive at the Rat King’s they GET CAPTURED. But, don’t worry — somehow they’ll escape. Right?
New Kid by Jerry Craft
This graphic novel is the Newbery winner for 2020! Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school along with racism and balancing academics with his artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Fantastic fantasy world-building, excellent writing, a strong female heroine of color, and a surprise plot twist ending are just a few of the reasons you’ll love this book. On top of that, you’ll find an exciting action-packed, suspenseful story about Amari whose brother vanishes mysteriously. He sends her a message that she’s a magician and should attend a special school. There, she discovers she’s a magician with outlawed dark magic but she’s determined to stay in the school and find her brother.
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun
SCI-FI / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Gorgeous artwork sets the tone for an otherworldly story of five worlds that are falling into chaos. When one world attacks another, Oona Lee, a sand dancer, rescues two boys and they journey on a mission to light the unlit Beacons in order to save the worlds. But, they face a dark force and a devastating betrayal.
Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny
Charlie’s dad remarries and moves Charlie and his younger brother into their stepmother’s frightening purple mansion. There, Charlie begins to have horrible nightmares — nightmares that blur between reality and dream. When the nightmare witches steal Charlie’s little brother, Charlie and his friends must venture into the nightmare world, face their fears, and hope they can save his little brother and the entire world before it’s too late.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant
If you want a new favorite warm-hearted adventure with brave kids, dogs, and a happy ending, you don’t want to miss this captivating and beautiful story. The war has made Ben an orphan –again. All that he has left are his dog and his dad’s boat, the Sparrowhawk. When a policeman gets suspicious of Ben’s living situation and his new friend, Lotti’s abusive guardians try to kill her rescue dog, the two friends set off on the boat for France to find Ben’s missing older brother. The boat isn’t meant for a channel crossing but the two kids are determined to make it work…but it won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to find Ben’s missing brother in a country decimated by war.
The Adventurers Guild by Zach Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Get ready for your new favorite fantasy adventure series. Zed and Brock don’t want to be chosen for the Adventurers Guild. Nobody does. Unlike the mages or merchants guild, the adventurers must leave the safety of their walled city to fight the monsters who live on the outside. Unfortunately, Zed and Brock are picked as Adventurers. And before they can finish training, Zed, Brock, and others are sent outside the city on a fact-finding mission that uncovers treachery, fiendish beasts, and Zed’s untapped magic. Imaginative world-building, intriguing plot twists, and complex characters kept me enthralled from page one!
Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist
REALISTIC / #OWNVOICES
With themes of grief, family, poverty, poetry, the power of writing, and friendship — this beautiful story captures your heart with a struggling, heroic main character whose hopeful journey makes you believe in humanity again. After Isaiah’s dad dies, his mother stops working and starts drinking too much. The family of three now lives in a smokey motel where Isaiah watches his 4-year-old sister when his mom is passed out. He finds strength and inspiration in his father’s journaled stories about Isaiah Dunn Superhero and eventually, begins to write poems again in his own journal.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION
Mia and her parents have struggled ever since moving to America from China. When her parents take a new live-in job at a motel, they end up working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants and uses her English skills to write letters advocating for other people in tough spots. This book is more than a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance and diversity. You’ll love this story— the writing, the characters, and the plot.
Skyborn Sparrow Rising by Jessica Khoury
Ellie is an orphan Sparrow girl in a world of avian-human caste system who flees the orphanage so she can compete for a coveted spot in the knight training school. She travels with a group of thieves and their friendship and adventures open her eyes to who is actually honorable and heroic. She also discovers that the stolen gargol eye has powerful healing properties. This fantasy adventure checks all the boxes with a courageous main character and complicated companions, an interesting world, and lots of surprises.
Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan
Get ready for action, intrigue, plot twists, and super-cool technology! Ana’s freshman class at her specialized marine and naval academy are the only survivors when the academy is blown up. As the class races to board their field trip ship, their chaperone reveals several essential secrets…Jules Verne’s novels based on Captain Nemo are mostly true, Ana’s the only surviving relative of Captain Nemo, and they will be attacked by the land school if they don’t get to safety immediately. They don’t get to safety immediately. But, they do thwart the first of many attacks — and suddenly because the professor is deathly ill, Ana is in charge. The first thing is to find the Nautilus and the school’s secret base while trying to evade their enemies. You won’t be able to put this book down– run out to get it as soon as possible — it’s a page-turning adventure that will appeal to all boys and girls.
The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters
Logan is a neurodivergent, orphan main character who is fostered out of the orphanage by a friendly new couple, Gil and Margie. Then, Logan and his neighbor, a super cool older girl named Elena, discover that his foster parents are actually superheroes who get double-crossed and captured by an evil villain. In an exciting, fast-paced adventure, Logan and Elena use their wits and strength to save his foster parents and other supes from the villains and the traitor.
More to the Story by Hena Khan
Jameela is one of four girls in a Pakistani-American family and she’s passionate about journalism but in her enthusiasm, she hurts a new friend when she writes something he isn’t comfortable sharing with the world. While she digests these hard-earned lessons, she learns that her beloved little sister has lymphoma. Khan skillfully weaves a story of family, culture, community, and social justice that is sure to become a modern-day Little Women-type classic.
The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen
Yared’s Uncle Moti moves them around frequently so when Yared gives his real name during an augmented reality game, he doesn’t think the soldiers that arrive are after him. But they are. And everything he believed about his life turns out to be a lie…including his identity. Yared partners with another game player, the Ibis, to escape the troops and the giant monster and find the truth. The two clever, quick-witted kids face incredible danger, insurmountable odds, and a galaxy-spanning war but Yared has been trained for this and he is ready to fight. Set in a futuristic Ethiopian empire, this exciting adventure grabs your interest and keeps it through wild twists and turns that feature heroic main characters!
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
Action from the first page in a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over the world. Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky finds a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to find her dad and leaves the underground city in order to find him. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are attacked then rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. Soon, Sky realizes that everything she believed to be true is wrong, becoming even more determined to find her father. I LOVED this series.
Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
REALISTIC / #OWNVOICES
A beautiful story of food, a close-knit, multigenerational family, finding your place in a new culture and country, and staying proud of your heritage…Cici moves to the U.S. from Tawain and wants her A’má to come, too. She hopes to win the grand prize in a cooking contest and use the money to buy her A’má a plane ticket. Cici wants to cook American food like her cooking contest partner…She learns from Julia Child but in the end, Cici returns to her Tawainese roots to win the contest.
Aquanaut by Dan Santat
REALISTIC (ish) / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Wildly imaginative and totally enthralling, this is a heartfelt story of family, legacy, and protecting animals. Ever since Sophia’s father died in a shipwreck, she’s lived with her workaholic scientist uncle who runs the theme park called Aqualand. When a lumbering “aquanaut” stumbles into the park, Sophia discovers that it’s a deep-sea diver’s body controlled by sea creatures in its head. The creatures give Sophia her father’s journal and together they uncover a nefarious plot by greedy investors. To save the park’s sea creatures, Sophia and the Aquanaut release them back into the wild. But will her uncle see the truth about his investors and about his brother’s last wishes?
Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield
With delicious figurative language and deliberate word choice, this is a stunningly beautiful story about family, community, and grief. After the death of her father, Cress and her family move from their cozy burrow into the Broken Arms oak tree ruled by a cranky Owl with a noisy neighbor squirrel family. There, Cress helps her mom collect moths to pay their rent, leaving her mom time to work and gather ingredients for her sickly brother’s tea. As Cress navigates her new environment, the natural world, and the stories around her, it helps her understand her inner world, especially how grief waxes and wanes like the moon’s cycles. Filled with immensely lovable characters, a gentle storyline of adventure and discovery, and lavish illustrations!
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis
Fast-paced with an interesting premise, this exciting middle-grade book with Celtic mythology is about a foster child attending a magical school and searching for answers about her mysterious heritage. Kelcie is a foster kid who has been living in the human world. When she arrives at the Academy, she discovers that she’s a Saiga, a mistrusted elemental whose legacy includes a dangerous traitor. She makes friends who help her learn about her unique powers and together they fight the monsters who continue to attack the school, seemingly looking for Kelcie. This first book packs a punch and sets us up for book two — which I can’t wait to read. Highly recommended!
Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion by Gregory Mone
Lewis’s scientist dad believes that Atlantis still exists and when Lewis sneaks off to find his dad’s lab, he ends up on a journey with his dad and his dad’s research assistant, Hanna, to find out the truth. Meanwhile, an Atlantian girl sneaks away from home and passed the guards to see if there could be life above the ocean. When their fates collide, the excitement at each other’s existence is short-lived because the Atlantian Eraser guards capture Lewis’s dad…and then Lewis and Hanna. Interesting, action-packed, and filled with cool tech!
Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Norrie loves horses and the low-key stables where she works and rides. She welcomes the new girl, Victoria, who rejects her offer of friendship. What we learn is that Victoria loves horses but after her best friend at Waverly stables wouldn’t let her ride her new horse, Victoria decides no friends means no drama. But the only boy at the stables connects to Victoria about their friend group’s favorite science fiction show, they find common ground, forgiveness, and mutual support. It’s a beautifully knit-together, relatable story of friendship, horses, being yourself, and growing in confidence.
Pony by R.J. Palacio
Pony is a deeply moving story set in western frontier times about a boy who, with a remarkable pony and ghostly best friend, sets off from home in pursuit of his kidnapped father. After a group of counterfeiting bandits kidnaps Silas’s dad, a mysterious Arabian horse returns back to Silas’s house; he sees this as a sign and leaves his home on “Pony” to find his father. In a haunted woods, Silas meets a U.S. marshall who is also tracking the group and who abrasively teaches Silas how to survive. Ultimately, Pony is a story of courage, love, and the ties that bind us together, even after death.
El Deafo by Cece Bell and David Lasky
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
In this award-winning graphic novel, Cece Bell shares the story of growing up with a hearing impairment, using a very bulky hearing aid, and finding her place in the world. Funny and moving, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story of courage and determination.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
I’ve read this book so many times, I can’t count — many times with my classes as a read aloud — and every time it’s just as fantastic. (That doesn’t always happen with books.) A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable, well-written adventure in space that deals with the overarching theme of good vs. evil. Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and her friend, Calvin travel in space and time to find her scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts. BOX SET HERE.
Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick
MYSTERY / NEURODIVERSITY
When 7th grade Frankie’s former best friend, Colette, vanishes, Frankie begins to search for her friend. As she does, we see how complicated it is to be in her brain. Loud noises, changes, touch, and so many things affect her intensely. The mystery of Colette’s whereabouts keeps every moment of the story suspenseful. Frankie and her twin sister piece together Colette’s last known locations. As they do, it helps Frankie accept herself and forgive Colette and her sister. It’s a brilliant, touching first-person story that gives fifth grade readers insights into a neurodivergent character’s brain in a suspenseful mystery story.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
When Yanka’s legs turn into hair bear legs and paws, she leaves her foster mother’s home in the village to find answers in the forest. Her quest for answers leads her to a wolf she met as a baby bear, a Yaga girl and mom and their house on chicken legs, her grandmother, the Bear Tsarina, and eventually, a dangerous task to kill a dragon and save the wish tree so that Yanka can ask for her friend Sasha’s life to be spared… It’s a Russian-folktale-infused story with themes of family, belonging, identity, selflessness, and the power of stories that transports readers on an epic hero’s journey.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace
COMING OF AGE / BULLYING
An outstanding, surprisingly philosophical, poignant story about dealing with bullies, growing in confidence, and the complexities of human beings. Matt doesn’t think he can survive 3 more years of middle school bullying so he writes supervillain Master Plan who is also a “gentleman of size”, asking for help. Surprisingly, Master Plan emails back with helpful, sage advice but is Master Plan actually looking out for Max or for himself?
Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar
What an incredible, passion-filled story. Anjali’s parents join the freedom movement against the British government. Through her parents, Anjali begins to see her world differently including the poverty-stricken caste of many people call “the Untouchables”. Other Indian families do not like the changes her family is making. Then, Anjali’s mom is thrown in jail! You won’t be able to put this book down!
Smile (Also: Drama, Sisters ) by Raina Telgemeier
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Raina writes about her life with humor, amazing art, and relatable stories. Smile is about Raina’s unfortunate accident which leads to oral surgery and braces and her ongoing life challenges with friends, family, and boys. What kid can’t relate to all of this? BOX SET HERE.
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
Eli and his friends discover that their utopian town is a large-scale, illegal science experiment to determine if kids cloned from criminal masterminds can be good when raised in the right environment. Eli and his cloned friends know they can’t stay in their town of lies anymore but how can they escape when the minute they reach the border, they experience violent pain and guards surround them? And if they do escape, what will they next? My kids and I couldn’t put this book down –it’s an amazing, action-packed adventure.
Your Pal Fred by Michael Rex
SCI-FI / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Fred is a robot who brings kindness (and STICKERS!) to a dystopian world he makes better in this funny, warmhearted, and interesting story. When Fred discovers that two warlords are capturing innocent people to fight as soldiers for them, Fred knows what he has to do–ask the two bad guys to try peace. He irritates and surprises everyone he meets with his cheerfulness and positive attitude, even when he’s caught and “tortured” with drumming, which, of course, he loves. His character oozes charm, you can’t help but love him–along with the other curious characters that he meets. Will Fred succeed on his seemingly impossible mission?
Unteachables by Gordon Korman
This book is everything you’d want — funny, sensitive, well-written, brilliantly paced, relatable, and poignant. The middle school assigns the worst teacher, Mr. Kermit, to a class of the so-called worst kids –the class known as the unteachables. Mr. Kermit is totally uninterested in teaching. Then something surprising happens…Mr. Kermit starts to care just a little. And that opens the gates to even more caring and a big life change. Things get more complicated when Mr. Kermit gets a notice that he will be fired. But the students have a plan for saving their teacher’s job.
The Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate
The conquering human ruler, Murdano, hunts and kills all the large, dog-like Dairne. All except Byx. In hopes to find a safe place and maybe the Dairne’s mythical homeland, Byx sets off on what becomes a dangerous, exciting adventure filled with new friends like Tobble who is a wobbyk. I love this uniquely imagined fantasy world about friendship, differences, betrayal, and family.
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
Sanity and Tallulah are two good friends who live on a space station. Sanity is a brilliant inventor — but her newest (illegal) creation, a three-headed kitten named Princess Destroyer of Worlds has escaped and is living up to her name — destroyer. The friends look for their missing kitten but instead discover a big problem that will destroy the space station. I love the space station setting, the super-smart problem-solving main characters, and the non-stop action.
Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
FANTASY / ADVENTURE (series)
A new favorite action-packed, fantasy series of elves, danger, and magical creatures!! Twelve-year-old Sophie doesn’t fit in her world, maybe because she’s a Telepath and not even human. She leaves the human world for the Elvin world where she faces danger from both worlds. She hopes she’ll be safe if only she can regain the lost memories about her past. BOX SET HERE.
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice by John A. Flanagan
Will is apprenticed to become a Ranger, a job he’s unsure about. But as he develops a relationship with his master and learns what being a Ranger is all about (spying for the kingdom), he begins to embrace his new life. When an old enemy of the kingdom sends out dangerous beasts to attack Will’s master, Will is instrumental in getting help and killing the creatures. Action, fantasy, adventure, friendship, excellent writing — this book has it all! It’s a must-read, especially appealing to boys. BOX SET
Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
Snow and Rose are two sisters who with their mother live in the woods after their father disappeared in those same woods. The girls befriend both a young boy from a mushrooming family and a large bear. But danger arrives with the Huntsman and a sinister Little Man who seeks to enchant them or kill them. Surprisingly, this is a MARVELOUS Grimm story with a happy ending!
Growing Pangs by Kathryn Ormsbee, illustrated by Molly Brooks
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Katie’s a bit different than other kids being homeschooled with crooked teeth and red hair but she knows that doesn’t matter because she has a best friend forever named Kacey. Until they start camp and Katie makes a new friend and Kacey gets jealous. But what’s even harder is the secret Katie’s hiding from everyone — she’s having buzzing thoughts that tell her to do repetitive things and they’re getting worse. During the next school year, Katie and Kacey’s friendship deteriorates even more because Katie continues to make new friends and try new things like theater. Eventually, Katie tells her parents about the buzzing and they get her help for what she learns are obsessive-compulsive thoughts. I love this story– the author (and illustrator) skillfully show realistic friendship changes and the challenges of a mental health issue.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Written in evocative yet readable verse, follow a young Syrian girl who moves to the United States. Jude’s journey is one of growing up, being brave, and discovering. Readers will see how Jude finds her way– relating to other ESL students in their safe classroom space, finding new friends, getting her period and starting to wear a headscarf, and even performing in the school play. Her insights on life in America help us understand what it’s like to be an immigrant, experiencing this country for the first time. Beautiful!
Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds & Pablo Leon
In this Spider-Man graphic novel adventure, Miles Morales is faced with a problem. As he struggles to juggle both his superhero and civilian lives at the same time, a fellow student’s father suddenly goes missing with just a few too many connections to strange supernatural activity in the area. Can he figure out what’s going on and save this innocent civilian?
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter
A well-done middle-grade graphic novel about a child with allergies! Maggie is devastated that she’s allergic to the puppy she’s finally allowed to get. What’s more, her new fifth-grade class must get rid of their class pet because of Maggie’s allergies –which makes everyone mad at her. Then, her new friend gets a puppy which Maggie interprets this her new friend not wanting to be friends anymore. The story ends with Maggie helping with her new baby sister and feeling like she doesn’t need an animal pet anymore.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers of a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who has Tourette Syndrome. They investigate a mysterious storage shed which leads them to a mystery involving Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential. I loved the physical and mental diversity shown with so much strength and compassion. (Added to my Physical Disabilities Book List.)
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE & SIZE / VERSE
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant story in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to be proud of herself. Ellie’s nickname is Splash because of her size but she loves swimming. And her biggest bully? Her mother–who won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for gastro-bypass surgery. Not even Ellie’s dad stands up to her mom’s cruel treatment of Ellie. Fortunately, Ellie finds an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful.
Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
ENVIRONMENT / OCEAN / ANIMALS
Two orca siblings separated from their families, trying to find food and their seasonal home. When a Tsunami hits and they both are lost from their pod, Vega, a stranger, and her little brother travel together towards recognizable landscapes and hopefully, food. As they journey, they meet other orca pods with different customs and who eat different foods, as well as other sea creatures. (This is all explained in the author’s note — which is fascinating!) When they’re with the Vanished Ones, Deneb gets hurt protecting Vega. She becomes even more determined to get Deneb to safety and food.
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
After a food mage turns Aventurine, a dragon, into a human using a magical chocolate drink, she develops a passion for chocolate. Unrecognized by her dragon clan, Aventurine travels to the nearest city to apprentice herself to a chocolate shop. She’s a brave, adventurous girl who makes her chocolate dreams come true with help from a new friend and kind employers. Will she be as brave when her dragon family attacks the town? Enjoyable from the first page, this fantasy book is a delight to read. (Best read with chocolate!)
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
HISTORICAL FICTION (series)
One of the BEST children’s chapter books EVER!!! Ada and her brother escape their mother’s abuse when the London children are evacuated during WWII and go to live with a grieving woman in a small country town. It’s difficult for both the woman and children to trust but slowly the trust grows and all three regain something lost — hope and love. “I slipped my hand into hers. A strange and unfamiliar feeling rang through me. It felt like the ocean, like sunlight, like horses. Like love. I searched my mind and found the name for it. Joy.” I can’t recommend this book enough, it just touched my heart at such a deep level. The sequel, The War I Finally Won, is just as incredible and beautiful.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Like The Penderwicks, you’ll fall in love with this quirky, wonderful family from the first page. The Vanderbeekers’ landlord wants them out by the end of December but the Vanderbeeker kids are determined to change his mind, even though he hates noise, kids, and their family. But it’s almost Christmas and their efforts are only making things worse. What will they do? Charming and heart-warming.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
REALISTIC / VERSE
Because this is written in verse, this is a fast read but packs a big punch. Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend; about getting in trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball; and about watching his father as his heart fails. This is a coming-of-age, gripping story about a boy who is just trying to figure out life like most boys at age 12.
Tumble by Celia C. Pérez
Pulsating with longing and confusion about family relationships, this heartfelt story is about heritage, identity, and…Mexican wrestling. When Adela’s stepdad wants to adopt her, Adela secretly uncovers who her biological dad is — and finds out he’s from a famous luchador family. She contacts him with high hopes of connecting but those hopes are slowly are dashed when her bio dad, Manny, consistently drops her off with his family and leaves. Adela loves getting to know her extended family, especially her twin cousins, — but wishes Manny would want to spend time with her. Adela must figure out what it means to have Manny in her life, or not.
Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibb
The story starts out fast and furious with Einstein’s death and a huge secret he accidentally says in German… Then it goes to the present day when the CIA asks a super genius 12-year-old girl named Charlie to help find the missing and dangerous “Pandora” theory of Einstein’s. You will fall in love with Charlie—she’s a creative thinker and a survivor who despite all her knowledge still can act like a child yet also outwit bad guys in amazing ways. Terrorists, Moussed, cross-world travel, and mathematical clues combine with excellent writing to make the perfect action-adventure spy story starring a female protagonist you’ll love!
Space Case and Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs
SCI FI (series)
review written by 11-year old JJ
This series is AMAZING– a murder mystery on the moon. I can never turn down a good, realistic sci-fi PLUS murder mystery. It has it all! It occurs in 2040 when the second-in-command dies. He had walked out the airlock (to the moon’s surface) with his space suit on wrong– he died in seconds. Everyone thinks he might go crazy, but Dashiel Gibson suspects differently. Murder.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
REALISTIC / OWNVOICES / BASEBALL
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily?
Legacy and the Queen by Annie Matthew, created by Kobe Bryant
FANTASY / SPORTS
This uniquely imagined story is also beautifully written and 100% enchanting. Legacy lives at an orphanage with her father and the other orphans but she longs to compete in tennis. When she gets the chance, she leaves to try out for the country’s elite tennis academy. Once she’s there, Legacy’s country background makes her an outcast but that also helps her discover two true friends, her inner magical power, and the dangerous truth of what’s actually going on at the Academy. I loved this unexpected but delightful combination of tennis and fantasy and can’t wait until the next book!
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Set in Mumbi, this is a deftly narrated, hope-filled story of the inequities around water with themes of advocacy, education, and community. 12-year-old Minni’s community has access to water only a few hours per day with severe water shortages. When Minni is forced to leave school to work as a maid, she sees the water (and other) iniquity first-hand and discovers that the family’s dad is the water mafia boss. Her decision and action to report him makes a difference — and gives us hope that one person can make a difference.
Lark and the Wild Hunt by Jennifer Adam
Sage’s family raises the half-animal, half-fae horses for the Wild Hunt from which her brother doesn’t return. Sage’s new fae friend Rook tells her she must fix the mysterious, broken moon clock to save brother and strengthen what has been broken. If you like epic adventures with magic, don’t miss this story about a brave and determined human girl in a world of magic and fae who embarks on a quest to save her brother…and her sister…from the new, evil fae king.
Wink by Rob Harrell
A standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music, and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
REALISTIC / PAKISTAN
Amal’s life is turned upside down when she offends a regional Pakistani overlord and is forced to leave her home and school to work in his home as a servant — indefinitely. She finds her inner strength and fights back, freeing herself and the other household slaves. The author deftly sets the scene of rural Pakistan. Readers will feel transported, feel the injustice, and cheer for Amal’s bravery.
Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue
If you like mystery, adventure, and CATS, you won’t want to miss this entertaining graphic novel! Katie desperately wants to join her friends at their summer camp so to earn money, she gets a job for her neighbor Madeline catsitting 217 cats. But, something is VERY weird because these are super-smart cats with destructive behaviors and powerful abilities, not to mention that Katie finds evidence that her neighbor might be the supervillain, Moustress. Then, when the Moustress gets captured, Katie decides she and the cats must take action and save their friend.
The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody
A fantastic, magical journey of self-acceptance, a bewitching plotline, and irresistible characters.
When gathering mushrooms in his latest apprenticeship, Barclay accidentally becomes his worst fear — a Lore Keeper bonded with a mythical beast. Even though he doesn’t want to be a Lore Keeper because his parents were killed by a mythical beast, Barclay is forced out of his hometown by scared villagers. He meets and travels with another Lore Keeper named Violet to a town where he tries to get rid of his mark by first entering a competition. All the while, he struggles with the unexpected joy of the wild Beast bond and the guilt for enjoying it. He’ll soon have to make a choice — cut out the Beast or embrace his new life.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park writes a wonderfully touching multilayered story about a young half-Asian girl’s life during western expansion, frontier times. After Hana’s mother dies, her father moves the two of them to a small midwestern town. Park sets the scene with care and you’ll see a realistic portrayal of life in the 1880s from the point of view of someone who is experiencing racism. Despite many unfair things, Hana stays resilient and determined to graduate from school and help her father in his shop.
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
ADVENTURE / MAGICAL REALISM/ FUNNY
If you’re a fan of wild and wacky stories, this is the book for you. Cousins Otto and Sheed accidentally stop time, freezing all the people in the town. Mostly. Because a sinister Mr. Flux on a gigantic beast can move about as can all the people related to time like A.M. and P.M.and Father Time. Throw in some unexpected plot twists and excellent writing and it adds up to a delightful adventure that just proves you should be careful what you wish for…
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
This book is SO funny and a quick read! Learn some valuable cow trivia in this hilarious adventure of two pranksters who (eventually) work together to pull off the biggest prank of all time — a prank that will ensure they get April Fool’s Day off from school. The entire series is great. Your kids will zip through them, laughing all the way.
Ophie’s Ghost by Justina Ireland
A page-turning historical ghost mystery about racism, justice, bravery, and friendship. Ophie sees ghosts everywhere, even in her new house job with her mother. At her new job, she meets a beautiful, charming ghost named Clara who was murdered but can’t remember it. Ophie wants to discover the truth and help her new friend. But ghosts don’t have good intentions and will do anything, including possessing someone, to get their revenge. Ophie needs to be careful…
Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido
Hannah, a girl who loves cooking and food, wants to figure out what being Jewish means…and have her own bat mitzvah. Since her mom forbids her to be Jewish, she secretly studies. As she pursues her lessons, other things aren’t going well in her life…her dad and brother argue all the time, her BFF dumps her, and her new friend Vee experiences anti-Semitism graffiti on her house. A heart-warming story about family, faith, forgiveness, and learning to define yourself instead of letting others define you.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
Marcus is an entrepreneurial kid who makes the most of his intimidating size. He’s also very protective of his brother with Down syndrome who faces bullying at school. When Marcus gets suspended, his mother takes the two brothers to Puerto Rico, the home country of their father who abandoned them years before. Even though they are only meant to visit relatives, Marcus hopes to find his father. However, he finds a loving, extended family, the difficult truth about his dad, and a growing sense of his own identity. Remarkable. I loved every moment of this story.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The best-selling children’s book of all time, this is a MUST READ for so many reasons: the brilliant storytelling, a complex and entertaining plot, relatable characters, rich language, essential life lessons about friendship and bravery, and more. (See all my reasons for reading Harry Potter.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Lowry does an excellent job at writing about WWII in a way that isn’t too scary or inappropriate for kids. Annemarie’s best friend hides Annemarie’s Jewish family. The tension is high as the Nazis are everywhere in Denmark looking for Jews and Jewish sympathizers. It’s challenging for Annemarie to hide knowing that every day she might be caught and sent to a death camp. Finally, the family escapes to Sweden where they will be safe from the Nazis.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
FANTASY / ADVENTURE
Charlie Hernández’s house burns down, his parents go missing, and he is sent to a foster home. But it’s when he grows HORNS, the WINGS, and meets the MYTHS in real life — like calacas, mukis, and El Justo Juez, he’s really freaked out. Fortunately, a persistent classmate Violet Rey (also his crush) helps Charlie follow the clues to find out what happened to his parents and that Charlie might be the prophesied Morphling who is meant to save the world. A perfect balance of action, dialogue, & description in an exciting fantasy adventure.
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
FAIRY TALE (series)
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this fabulous story — we’re on our second time through already. We love the message, the fairy tale mash-up, the humor, . . . everything! More Grimm tales await in the harrowing, hilarious adventure about Jack and Jill.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Kyle and a few classmates win a sleepover at the town’s newly created library by game-creator Mr. Lemoncello. The silly Mr. Lemoncello devises a fun way to get OUT of the library — you can only get out if you solve the puzzles around the entire library. Will the kids work together or will it be every child for himself?
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written and hopeful about growing up and growing into yourself.
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
This book hooked me from the first page, taking me on a coming-of-age story that was both heartbreaking and filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends. . . in prison. That’s where Perry has lived since he was born eleven years ago. But in an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events, his best friend’s stepfather, the new District Attorney, forces Perry to leave his prison home. Perry decides to research the inmates’ life stories, hoping that somehow they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother.
Restart by Gordon Korman
After a bad fall, Chase has no memory of who he is or was. But he soon realizes that he was a cruel troublemaker. Now he must decide who he’ll be from now on. Because he’s enjoying his new life in the film club and the new (“nerdy”) friends he’s made. This thought-provoking novel shows kids that our choices and behavior make a difference.
Dead City by James Ponti
Molly’s recruited to hunt zombies in New York City, just like her mother, who is dead. Or is mom actually a zombie? And why is she trying to contact Molly? This is a great action-adventure-mystery series with a zombie focus.
The Monster Missions by Laura Martin
If you like adventure, fast-paced action, cool world-building, and heroic kids, then read this post-apocalyptic adventure when all the humans live on ships. After she rescues her ship from a sea monster, Berkley gets the choice of prison or a mysterious submarine where she’ll hunt monsters. She loves her new life until their sub is hijacked by pirates. Hiding out with her friends in a storage area, she realizes that the only way to stop the pirates is to use the sea creatures in the aquarium tanks. In particular, the brilliant and mischievous– an octopus named Elmer. Everything hinges on the plan because her old ship is under attack and if they don’t get free from the pirates to help, everyone aboard will die.
Cucumber Quest 1: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.
GRAPHIC NOVEL / FANTASY ADVENTURE
When the kingdoms of Dreamside need a hero, his parents send Cucumber, a not-adventurous or brave magician. Fortunately, his heroically inclined little sister, Almond, arrives just in the nick of time to save Cucumber the first of many dangers. Together, they set off to find the Dream Sword and stop the evil queen and her Nightmare Knight. Adapted from the Cucumber Quest webcomic.
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
HISTORICAL FICTION / VERSE
Thinking Hitler will invade England next, Ken’s family sends him to safety in Canada. But, Ken’s ship is torpedoed and sunk only days into the journey Written in verse, this is a moving account of bravery as Ken, several other kids, a priest, the ship’s only woman, and members of the crew spend weeks adrift at sea in an ill-stocked lifeboat. You’ll read about their swollen feet, dehydration, and starvation as well as the stories and songs that helped keep the kids distracted and somewhat hopeful. Ultimately, you’ll be left with a sense of amazement at the resiliency of the human spirit. Very well-written.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
MAGICAL REALISM (series)
We loved this book so much, it’s one of our favorites. The book is written as letters from a girl named Sophie, who is newly living at the farm of her deceased great-uncle Jim. She writes to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically, the magical chickens who seem to have telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks. But a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in Jim’s chickens, too — and Sophie must stop her. Exceptional writing, characterization, and plot!
Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands
Callan’s a gaffer who joins a group of kids who are hired by a Weaver to steal something magical called the Eye. It’s a tricky job with not enough time to plan and all the kids know it’s dangerous but the monetary reward is too tempting. The misfits use their individual skills including climbing, mapping, acrobatics, and knife throwing to plan a heist in less than a week. It’s an exciting, complex, and unexpected plot involving magic and mythological gods from the stories with themes of problem-solving, friendship, and trust that ends with both an amazing resolution and a cliff-hanger.
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
review written by Kathie MacIsaac
The Serafina series is another one of my favorite dark series, and this book is the one that sets the stage for the tales that follow. Serafina has lived a life in secret in the basement of Biltmore Estate, where her father is the maintenance man. Children on the estate suddenly start disappearing, and Serafina sees who’s behind it, but doesn’t know who they are. She befriends a boy to help her uncover the identity of the culprit, but Serafina discovers a mystery about her own past that will change her life forever. BOX SET HERE.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
I loved this engaging story about food-enthusiast Gladys who is suffering in a house of microwaving parents without a taste bud between them. Gladys not only appreciates good food, but she also loves to cook, and wants to be a food critic. She already has lots of practice writing her daily notes about her parents’ horrid creations. When a mix-up in a writing contest has the editors of a paper thinking she’s an adult, can she actually write a published review without letting anyone know she’s 10 years old? (UPDATE: The entire 3-book series is fantastic!)
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
Indian No More is an emotional, important story about when the U.S. government arbitrarily made certain Native American tribes no longer tribes without reservations or legal rights. It also shows the historical landscape of prejudice and stereotypes towards people of color. I love the close-knit, loving family based on the author’s own life, a family who values each other and their survival. This book is a must-read and must-own for all schools and libraries and would make an excellent book club selection.
Also on OwnVoices Historical Fiction Chapter Books.
Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
BULLYING / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Jensen is the miserable target of the school’s bullies’ attacks. Friends, Jenny and Akilah think that they can use the newspaper to help him, but their plans without Jensen’s consent hurts their friendship. The ups and downs and challenges of Jensen’s life (that he relates to a video game) as he struggles with self-esteem, stop the bullies, and finds his place in the world.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Nordic mythology, this will be a great intro! To end the long winter, Odd must journey to find Asgard, a city under siege from the Frost Giants. It’s a wonderful, nail-biting adventure.
Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I think you already know about these amazing books but if you don’t, they’re absolutely engaging fantasy adventures set in a different world of magic and magical animals that will hook your kids into reading. BOX SET HERE.
Green Lantern Legacy by Minh Le, illustrated by Angie Tong
Excellent! Before Tai’s Vietnamese grandmother dies, she gives him her Jade ring. He wears it and discovers that he’s a Green Lantern who must protect the earth from evil like Sinesteo. Not long after, he discovers that the rich guy trying to take over the neighborhood for redevelopment turns out to be a Yellow Lantern working for Sinesteo. Lots of action, intrigue, and humor!
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
REALISTIC / DEPORTATION / IMMIGRATION / #OWNVOICES
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation follows 9-year-old Betita who lives in the United States but ends up in detention. Detention is traumatic for her, with horrible conditions and racist guards. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song. She draws and writes poetry to send to her Papi which she gives to a lawyer to pass along and tell her story. Powerful and important.
The Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong
The story is an exciting adventure filled with surprises, mythical creatures, and new friendships. It’s not a cliff-hanger but it does leave the door open for another book. (I can’t wait!)
The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West
This is an awesome book series about a house that seems to be haunted; with paintings that lead to other worlds, and mysteriously cryptic, talking cats. Olive soon learns that the previous owners had trapped many people in the paintings, including a boy Olive befriends. The plot’s twistings kept me wondering what was happening, and my kids and I loved the main character’s gumption and her supportive side-kick cats.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt
REALISTIC / DYSLEXIA
Both Ally and her older brother have hidden that they can’t read — until Mr. Daniels helps Ally learn to read and discovers her true value. It’s such a beautiful, emotional story that will help kids who might not understand how it feels to have dyslexia.
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
While on a class trip to Washington D.C., Wyatt and his best friend, Matt, are positive they’ve discovered a plot to blow up the White House. Wyatt’s crush, Suzanna, helps the friends make a plan, and as you can imagine, disaster and hilarity strike. I totally loved this book and know your kids (especially those who like humor) will as well.
The Brave by James Bird
NEURO DIFFERENCES / FRIENDSHIP
When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him and says the number out loud, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Set in the time of early American settlers, this is a beautiful story about a night spirit who is still connected to the powerful wood magic of her ancestors. When Willa accidentally discovers that her clan is keeping human captives and forbidden technology, her Faeran clan leader wants her dead. Fleeing the danger of her home, Willa cautiously observes a human man, slowly learning to trust him. When she realizes that one of his children was one of the human captives she saw, Willa knows she must return to her clan and make things right.
Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
MYSTERY / HUMOR (series)
Was the FunJungle’s hippo murdered? Teddy and Summer think so. Mystery, adventure, and humor will keep your readers on the edge of their seats in this unique story with quirky characters perfect for 10-year-old readers.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE
An excellent, diverse, page-turning coming-of-age story, this is about a girl who is half-Mexican on her mom’s side and half-punk rock on her dad’s side, both which are cultures prominently featured in the story and her life. Malú’s unhappily forced to move to Chicago with her mother where she eventually finds her place when she starts a Latin-flavored punk band. Malú discovers herself and what the first rule of punk actually is…
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE / #OWNVOICES / PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES
Musical theater kids, get ready for your next favorite book filled with singing, theater puns, and inclusivity. Nat is a thirteen-year-old girl in a wheelchair. She auditions for her favorite musical, Wicked with a group of kids who are welcoming and accepting. But she needs to show the director just how much she can do — that she can dance in her own way. Then, when a fire burns the theater down, the show is canceled so Nat rallies the cast to find a solution.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
REALISTIC – FAMILY, COMING-OF-AGE
Genius story crafting and meaningful life lessons. When his grandfather’s butler arrives to help out 6th grade Carter’s family, sharing his passion for the game of Cricket, filling a void the family didn’t know they had. Butler gives Carter purpose, structure, and belonging. “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” he often reminds Carter and Carter’s sisters. Along this journey, Carter learns to pay attention to his life and to who loves him.
Camp by Kayla Miller
Both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed this meaningful graphic novel from the author of Click (a story we also loved). It’s not just about a summer camp experience but also about the challenges of friendship, particularly when you have a friend who is clingy, wants to be your only friend and is jealous of other people. That is hard for Olive! She wants to be Willow’s friend but she also likes other people. The story feels honest and relatable as well as being a helpful road map to how you might handle your own friendships.
It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds
When he’s forced to stay home from the beach party because he needs to do his laundry since every single stinky piece of clothing, is dirty, Eddie hurries through the washing with quick cycles–until the power unexpectedly goes out. Eddie leaves the house to investigate and finds four other kids but NO ONE ELSE. No parents. No kids. NO ONE. It’s all very mysterious and suspenseful, especially when the street lights turn back on — without the electricity coming back on. What is going on? Cliff hanger alert– I can’t wait for book two!
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
After having lost their home and living in their van for 3 months, the family is now about to lose their apartment. Although Jackson’s parents don’t tell him this, he knows the signs. He knows why they’re having a yard sale. He knows it’s not his dad’s fault for having MS but he’s mad and worried and alone. It isn’t until Crenshaw shows up and pushes Jackson to speak the truth to his parents that Jackson learns that he’s not facing this alone. Oh, and who is Crenshaw? He’s Jackson’s large, imaginary cat friend from when he was little returned to help Jackson in his time of need.
In These Magic Shoes by Yamile Saied Mendez
#OWNVOICES / REALISTIC WITH A BIT OF MAGICAL REALISM
A tenderhearted, beautiful story about family, asking for help when you need it, racism, and grit. When their mom doesn’t return home from work, Minerva steps up to care for her siblings and herself. At school, Minerva tries out for the Peter Pan musical and speaks up against the play’s racism. At home, her sisters talk about the fairies they see just like the fairies from her mamá’s stories. Finally, Minerva contacts her mom’s estranged mother, their abuela, for help because the kids are out of food and money and desperately need help.
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood edited by Kwame Mbalia
Middle-grade readers need more short stories and this book hits the spot big time! These short stories for ages 8 to 12 celebrate Black main characters in space, at school, hanging out, and more in 17 different stories from 17 different authors. I loved the writing, the variety of genres, and the focus of Black boys living their best lives — it’s a must-read, must-own collection.
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
GRAPHIC NOVEL / SLICE OF LIFE / DIVORCE
After her parents’ divorce, Jen moves to a farm with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend whose kids visit on the weekends. It’s a huge transition — she doesn’t love how bossy and whiney her stepsisters are and how annoying her mom’s boyfriend is. But she loves the chicks she takes care of and the farmer’s market. Well, she loves it until her math skills aren’t good enough to be helpful. This story gently shows the ups and downs of living with a new family in a new place.
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watson family drives from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama to visit relatives in the 1960s where they hope to set Bryon straight. The car trip builds up to the deeply disturbing church bombing where Grandma goes to church. This is a moving story filled with hope and humor. Newbery Award Winner.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Stuck in a museum with her sister and father who is working on a sword exhibit, Ophelia’s curiosity leads her to a locked room where a boy has been trapped for thousands of years. But Ophelia doesn’t believe magic. Except, she kind of does. This is a breathtaking journey of loss, acceptance, hope, and friendship and a cool homage to the Snow Queen fairy tale. I loved it so much I wrote about it for the first Read Brightly book club pick.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
#OWNVOICES / MYTHOLOGY / BOOKS WITH LATINE MAIN CHARACTERS
Cece’s town of Tierra del Sol fights against the criaturas, powerful, evil spirits that surround them in the desert, but Cece doesn’t believe the criaturas are all bad. When her sister is kidnapped, Cece decides to risk everything by becoming a forbidden bruja so she can capture a criatura and get her sister back. She’s helped by the legendary Coyote, but he’s just the first criatura who willingly helps Cece in her quest. If they work together, will she be able to rescue Juana?
Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
12-year old Ben accidentally is recruited for a secret spy school. Which he kind of loves. Even though people are trying to kill him. And even though he’s not an encryption wizard. This is a fantastic, fast-paced and hilarious adventure series.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Scoob takes a spontaneous road trip with his beloved G’ma in her new camper, escaping his dad’s spring break punishment. As they visit places from his G’ma’s past, their trip turns out differently than he expects. What begins as only a fun adventure turns into a revelation of current and historical racial prejudices (Scoob is black and his grandmother is white). What’s more, things become strange and confusing as Scoob notices more weird behaviors from G’ma. Was she trying to steal jewelry in the store? And why are there stacks of cash hidden in the camper? Perfect pacing, an intriguing plot, and memorable characters make this a top pick.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tola Okogwu
Onyeka grows up in the UK but when her hair saves her best friend Cheyenne from drowning, Onyeka learns that her hair has magical powers. Her mom takes them back to their home country of Nigeria to search for Onyeka’s missing dad. Onyeka’s dropped off at the Academy of the Sun, a school for Solari where Onyeka is meant to train to use her powers safely. She struggles with fitting in because everyone has been training since they were much younger and don’t have the dizzy spells that Onyeka does. It’s an exciting adventure with culture, intrigue, and betrayal!
Sam Saves the Night: Sleep Wakers by Shari Simpson
MAGICAL REALISM Sam’s sleepwalking has gotten so bad (chainsawing while asleep?!) that her mom finally takes her to an unorthodox doctor who actually helps her by detaching Sam’s soul. Sam meets other Sleep Waker and learns that the personalities of Sleep Wakers are the OPPOSITE of their daytime selves. But she doesn’t want to believe the worst about the nicest girl in school, Madalynn, who uses terror and manipulation to control her creepy followers during the night. Add to that a cute boy, a soul-stealing evil doctor, a manipulative bully, backstories that influence everything, and a girl just trying to find her place in this nighttime world make this a book I couldn’t put down.
Gloom Town by Ronald Smith
Due to dire finances and the threat of eviction, 12-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the creepy Lord Foxglove. But something isn’t right in the strange mansion. He and his best friend Izzy determine to figure out what’s going on, following the clues and pondering Rory’s strange dreams. They learn that Foxglove bought the town and renamed it Gloom, stealing shadows from the people living there to feed an ancient evil. It’s an intriguing premise and the writing zips along, getting creepier and creepier!
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
This story explores what happens after Chernobyl explodes in 1986; it’s about Russia, friendship, family, and prejudice. When Jewish Valentina and her enemy Oksana are forced to leave town together after the meltdown, we learn why Oksana acts the way she does, because of fear and abuse from her father. The girls end up in Leningrad with Valentina’s grandmother and the months there are a healing time with unconditional love. Heartwarming, insightful, and beautiful, this book is impossible to put down with wise life lessons.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This series is amazing! Greek gods still exist and so do their kids, half-bloods, or demigods, who have incredible abilities. Unfortunately for these kids, monsters are out to kill them. But, they are also the only ones who can save the world from a war between the Greek gods the Titans. Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood where he is trained to protect himself… that is until he’s sent on a dangerous quest. Betrayal, adventure, plot twists, and incredible mythological world-building make these books kids can’t put down. BOX SET HERE.
The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris and Alec Azam, illustrated by Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton
Carter’s had a rough life, even now after he runs away from his crook of an uncle and lands in a New England town. There he encounters unsavory carnival people who remind him of his uncle. At the town’s magic shop, Carter meets a young girl and her fathers who love magic just like him. He and his new kid friends set out to thwart the carnie’s plot to steal the world’s biggest diamond. And maybe in the process, his luck will turn around. Through the book are ciphers, codes, and tricks giving this already delightful story extra oomph.
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi
Action-packed from the first page, this is one historical fiction novel you don’t want to miss. Oliver wakes to find his house flooded and his father missing. After being thrown in the poorhouse for orphans, he manages to escape with stolen money only to be accosted by a highwayman. It’s one misfortune after another but Oliver is determined to find his father and sister in London. Somehow.
Big Hero 6 #1: The Series by Hong Gyun An
I love this completely new, exciting story (not a rehash of the movie nor is it a manga) that captures the complexities of Hiro’s new life as both a college student and superhero with his friends Baymax, Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. As superheroes, they’re trying to defeat a mother/daughter villain team called High Voltage. But at school, Hiro is assigned a mentor who hates him named Karmi, a student who was previously the youngest there until Hiro. And his schoolwork challenges seem overwhelming. Hiro learns from Baymax how his older brother also failed but continued to persevere. Adventurous and fun to read!
Barb The Last Berzerker by Dan & Jason
ADVENTURE / NORSE MYTHOLOGY (ish)
Join Barb on a funny, gross, and adventurous quest to find the northern tribe of Zerks so they can help rescue her own Zerks clan who the Witch Head has captured but Barb escaped. Before she did, Barb steals a special magical sword to help her become a Berzerker. As she travels, she’s joined by her yeti friend named Porkchop. Barb’s small but she’s brave and empathetic, both which help her with the snot goblins, a giant, and vampire goat fiends, eventually finding her way to the Northern Zerks. But will they help?
Worser by Jennifer Ziegler
Worser is floundering after his mom’s stroke left her unable to talk and his exuberant artsy aunt is taking care of them. He still finds solace in words and grammar but it’s not the same without his mom. Worser invites the Literary Club, run by a girl he has a crush on, to meet at the used bookstore. Slowly, he begins to share his love of words with other word-loving kids. As he develops friendly connections with the other group members, he finds that he likes being part of something and having friends. Then, jealousy leads him to a terrible decision that changes everything –but maybe the lessons learned will be what he and others need.
Coo by Kaela Noel
Coo, rescued as a baby by the pigeons, only speaks Pigeon and has never ventured down from the bird’s dovecote but when her best friend bird Burr gets a broken wing from a hawk encounter, Coo must venture down to a healer woman for help. Coo wears plastic bags and is half-starved from surviving on garbage the pigeons bring her. When a snowstorm hits, the healer returns for Coo and brings Coo to her apartment, teaching her about the basics of being human including human language. Then, her beloved pigeons are poisoned and Coo knows she must leave Tully to save them. What happens next will change everything for them both. You will love the tender, perfect ending.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
This story makes zombie apocalypse sounds like a fun adventure. Jack and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan to first rescue his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and then fight zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?! BOXED SET HERE.
Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard
ADVENTURE / SCI-FI (series)
Darkus Cuttle’s museum director dad mysteriously disappears from a locked room in the museum. Darkus learns that there’s something very strange going on . . . and it has to do with intelligent beetles and a cruel benefactress of the museum. Well-done and unique!
Rules by Cynthia Lord
I highly recommend reading this meaningful, coming-of-age story about 12-year old Catherine. Read it in your classroom and with your children to develop empathy and compassion for children who have autism. Catherine’s worked hard to help her autistic brother, David, learn the rules about life. But now that she has new friends, she’s feeling more embarrassed than compassionate.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect. Beyond being a terrific coming of age story, I’m sure this book will interest tween readers in Renaissance festivals themselves.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Narrated by a gorilla named Ivan, this story about friendship, love, and compassion grabs your heart immediately. Making it even more compelling, it’s true! Ivan is kept in a cage in a run-down mall for 27 years without seeing another gorilla. He’s friends with the stray dog named Bob, a full-grown elephant named Stella, and Ruby, a newly purchased baby elephant. When Stella begs Ivan to make sure Ruby doesn’t grow old in their cages, Ivan finds his courage.
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
ANIMAL / FRIENDSHIP
This is the sequel to the award-winning, The One and Only Ivan…Bob’s living in a home with the girl from the mall but he’s restless and insecure, believing he has nothing inside to match his outside bravado. When Bob visits his friends Ivan and Ruby at the zoo, a hurricane hits. Animals are on the loose, there’s flooding, Ivan is trapped under a building, and Bob can’t find his people. As Ivan says, there’s one and only Bob to help rescue everyone. Surprisingly, his search and rescue involves his long-lost sister and her puppy. Sweet, redemptive, and adventurous, this is a story of a dog who finds himself while searching for others.
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale & Dale Hale
One of my favorite books, not just graphic novels, EVER! This Rapunzel is set in the wild west — she uses her braids to lasso bad guys while searching for her mother with her sidekick Jack. Great for reluctant readers!
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
SCI-FI/ ADVENTURE (series)
This is a must-read, excellent Newbery-winning book about amazing lab rats with intelligence who escape from the lab and form their own community. This was always one of my fifth graders’ favorite read-alouds.
Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The close-knit Penderwick sisters and their father spend their summer vacation in a rented cottage on an estate called Arundel. Theirs is an unplugged world of summertime magic filled with play and pretend and a new friend — Jeffrey Tifton, the son of the estate’s owner.
The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Like the Harry Potter books, I’ve read this book so many times, often as a read-aloud for my students, because it’s so well-written and interesting. This is a wonderful adventure of two siblings who run away from home and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where they discover a mystery. While unraveling the clues about of who created the angel statue, the brother and sister duo discover that a Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will help them with more than the mystery, but with growing up and going home, too.
Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink, illustrated by Jon Bozak
The Way of the Warrior Kid is a self-help book of sorts wrapped in a fictional story that is engaging and interesting to read. Marc’s Navy SEAL Uncle Jake stays for the summer and in that time, transforms Marc’s life in three months. Marc starts out as a discouraged bad-at-math, weak, average kid who gets picked on by a bully but he decides to take his uncle’s advice and try a different approach. Marc learns discipline, persistence, daily habits, and even how to learn — and it transforms his life.
Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao
MYTHOLOGICAL FICTION (Chinese)
Winnie is trying to navigate middle school and her parent’s high expectations when an old family cookbook unlocks her 6th sense, shaman powers, and the spirit of her LaoLao (grandmother) who enters their pet bunny. LaoLao tells Winnie that she’s a shaman meant to fight evil spirits and send them back to the spirit world but Winnie is not interested — she has too many demands from her parents plus she wants to beat her nemesis in piano and Chinese school. Unfortunately, he’s the other shaman and they’ll need to work together when demons attack so she reluctantly embraces her powers and her new partner.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
This mesmerizing historical fiction story takes place in the Martha’s Vineyard community of Chilmark where a high percentage of deaf individuals live. Mary’s a smart girl who speaks in sign language. She’s easily able to communicate with other islanders because everyone signs. She feels concerns with her friend Nancy’s prejudice against the “Indians” and notices the injustice of how the Native Americans are treated. A researcher kidnaps Mary as a live specimen and imprisons her for months but she eventually figures out a way to escape.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Roller Girl shows the struggles of friendship and finding your place in the world as Astrid works hard to become a better roller derby skater, reconciles her friendship with her best friend, and develops a new one. (I recommend going to a roller derby event with your kids to help them know more about this cool sport for girls — it’s such a blast and would be helpful for reading this book, but not essential.) Well-written and relatable.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
It’s hard for Makeda to be a black adopted girl in a white family. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly-distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who constantly fight, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate and blaming herself. After her mom’s mania takes them on a trip to Colorado which abruptly nose dives into severe depression and a suicide attempt, Makeda reaches out for help. Don’t miss this insightful, honest story — it makes you think deeply and will stay with you long after the last page.
The Endangereds by Philippe Cousteau &Austin Aslan, illustrated by James Madsen
In an action-packed, exciting adventure about super-intelligent, talking animals, Nukilik, a polar bear, is tranqed and taken to a facility holding different endangered animals. When he starts to understand the humans, he’s introduced to the other animals in the facility who all are extra-intelligent like him. They recruit him into their secret group that helps other animals and endangered habitats. When their friends, the ferrets, get relocated to Colorado and put into danger, the Endangereds fly to help and the action really gets exciting. It’s a great story and I can’t wait for the next book!
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
REALISTIC / PTSD / PREJUDICE
Emilia is a Cuban-American girl whose ADHD makes focusing on school and school work a challenge. When the community proposes to redraw the school district’s boundary lines, exposing prejudice and ongoing injustice. Emilia initially doesn’t want to see her friend Clarissa’s racism but her best friend Gus helps her see the truth about what’s going on and she becomes a passionate activist against injustice. Meanwhile, Emilia’s father’s return from the Marines is different than before; he’s quiet and distant this time. When he invites Emilia to work on a vintage car, teaching Emilia to weld, it helps rebuild their relationship, too.
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner
POVERTY / SPD / FOSTER CARE
A beautiful character arc, the most authentic portrayal of SPD in middle-grade literature that I’ve read, and an un-put-downable, heartfelt story. 12-year-old Lou and her mom live in a truck. While her mom works as a waitress, Lou hangs out or sings for money, living her mom’s dream even though Lou dreads performing, which makes her extremely anxious. One evening, underage Lou drives in a snowstorm to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident and Lou gets out in foster care with an aunt she’s never met. In her new home, Lou goes to a fancy private school where, after a fire drill meltdown, she’s assessed with Sensory Processing Disorder. She starts to get help from an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle.
If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith
ALLEGORY / NATURE
Kirra lives secretly in a peaceful community within a dormant volcano. She’s training to be a storyteller like her father. But when she accidentally leads violent outsiders called Takers to her village, they burn everything until there’s nothing left of her village or her people. After falling into a river, she is rescued downstream by tree people where she lives in numbness for the next four years, trying to block out the memories. Unfortunately, the Takers arrive at her new home, too so Kirra must find her inner strength to convince her adoptive family and the other peaceful Tree Folks to fight back, work together, and be victorious. A compelling plot, an interesting main character, and valuable life lessons about community and the earth will keep readers actively engaged.
Carry Me Home by Janet Fox
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
Lulu tries to take care of her little sister after their dad abandons them at the RV park where they’ve been living, making paper cranes and to bring her dad back. They go undiscovered by adults for several weeks but one day when she misses her sister’s pick-up time, Social Services is called and the truth comes out. When it does, Lulu learns what community means, that adults aren’t the enemy and that her dad is never left them — he’s been a John Doe in the hospital.
Winterbone Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
April is a foster kid invited to live at a fancy mansion with other orphans. There. she notices the same symbol that is on the key her mom left her. Could the key belong to this house? Then she discovers the home’s long lost missing heir lurking around the shadows and hiding in a secret part of the house. When she and her friends realize this new home is about to be acquired by a nefarious man, they are determined to solve the mystery of the heir, the key, and the house. If you like exciting, heartwarming mysteries, you’ll love this story.
Saving Fable by Scott Reintgen
Book lovers — don’t miss this wildly imaginative story about a girl named Indira who has always wanted to be chosen to go to the Protagonist Preparatory, a school for side characters and protagonists where they hope one of the Brainstormers will introduce them to an author. As we become acquainted with this creative world where (book)Marks and DogEars roam the streets, the story grows into an exciting adventure and puzzling mystery — because someone is using dangerous magic that will damage the world of stories forever. Enchanting and unique, I can only hope that there will be more books set in this world. Loved it!
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Langston is a former country boy who moves with his dad to Chicago in the 1940s after his mother passes. It’s a hard transition yet when he discovers the library, he also discovers himself through the poetry of Langston Hughes. This is a beautiful story of redemption, healing, and the power of words.
Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland
A group of dragonets who might be the long-awaited dragonets of the prophecy that will end the dragon wars for good leave their protectors’ safety only to be captured by a cruel dragon faction. One thing’s for sure: when the dragonets are captured, things don’t look good for their safety and future.
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. He likens learning English to becoming human. After school with his brother, he bakes the cakes that his father wanted to include at his dream Pie in the Sky bakery. It’s a memorable coming of age story.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
In a sweet story of figuring out who you are and taking pride in your culture, Stef Soto feels embarrassed by her dad’s taco truck, especially when he picks her up at school. But that changes when she learns that new city regulations could force her dad to sell the truck and get a different job. Filled with relatable middle school angst, Spanish words, Latinx culture, friendship troubles, and a loving family, this yummy read is a savory treat.
The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
An addictive series you won’t be able to put down! Fairy tales come alive when Alex and Conner (brother and sister) find themselves trapped in the fairy tale world. Their only way home is to find the ingredients for a Wishing Spell. Finding them will be dangerous, mysterious, and life-changing. The characters are memorable, unique, and familiar all at the same time. Kids love these books. (So do I.) BOX SET HERE.
Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
REALISTIC / #OWNVOICES / AUTISM
Co-written by Libby Scott who is a girl on the autism spectrum and based on her journals, this poignant, exceptional story shows what it’s like to be autistic...But it also shows how difficult it really is for family and friends to understand, too. Tally’s behavior reflects her brain trying to navigate the world and it is challenging for others, even when they try hard to understand. Tally relates to 3 legged dog who doesn’t like new people. She takes everything literally, has trouble (big trouble!!) with mandates, feelings, and friendships. Eventually, Tally learns to find her own version of “normal”.
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
ADVENTURE / FANTASY (series)
This epic fantasy adventure about rabbits who are hunted by an evil ruler feels mythological — I highly recommend it! You’ll love the mysteries and desperation, the sibling underdogs, the hope for a better future . . . it’s all captivating.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
SURVIVAL / ADVENTURE
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
Treasure Hunters by James Petterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld
The life of the four Kidd siblings isn’t typical — they live on a boat and their parents are treasure hunters. Unfortunately, not only is their mom missing but their father went overboard in a bad storm. Now they’re on their own and need money to survive. The only way they know is to find a treasure and sell it. But danger is around every wave; they’re not sure who to trust. This is a fast, action-packed adventure that sets the tone for more books to come.
Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Nooks and Crannies is an intriguing story about a young girl with horrible parents. Just before she’s about to be sent to an orphanage, she learns that she just might be a rich someone’s heir and have the chance to live happily ever after. Once at the Countess’ home, she must use her detective skills to figure out what is going on with the heir mystery, the disappearing kids, and the scary Countess. My daughter LOVED this book.
Solimar by Pam Munoz Ryan
Solimar is a princess blessed with monarch butterfly magic that settles in her rebozo. Just prior to her Quinceañera when her father and brother are out of town, another king arrives and takes everyone hostage but Solimar escapes with the help of her Abuela and a curandera. She travels by river toward where her brother and father will be and is rescued from a waterfall by an inventor boy named Berto who joins her journey. This is a magical adventure about a strong girl coming into her own…and saving the kingdom as she does.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia
It’s a typical southern summer in Alabama 1969 and Delphine and her two sisters are visiting their extended family. Daily life means minding their grandmother, Big Ma, a crotchety matriarch, getting extra loving from their much sweeter great-grandma, Ma Charles, hanging out with a neighbor, JimmyTrotter, and working at the tricky business of growing up. No matter what happens, a Vonetta-stealing tornado included, this is a strong family that loves each other and God with all they’ve got. It’s a powerful book that transports you into Delphine’s world, if only for the summer.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Wonder helps us see compassion, empathy, and acceptance from a variety of character’s points of view. Auggie, a boy with a facial difference, starts public school for the first time in 5th grade. His experience, though often difficult, shows his inner strength. This beautiful story shows that kindness wins over bullying.
The Friendship Code #1 Girls Who Code by Stacia Deutsch
STEM REALISTIC (series)
Lucy joins coding club so she can make an app for her uncle to remember his medications. But the class is moving TOO slow. Then, a mysterious letter arrives on her locker with instructions in code:
if (you_want_to_learn_code);do_everything_I_tell_you ();
The subsequent messages in code put her back in touch with old friends and help her build a new friendship. Whoever is sending messages is teaching Lucy and her friends about input/output, conditionals, loops, and variables. To solve the mystery, the girls decide to write their own code…
One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
I love these three unique, wonderful siblings — they stick together and look out for each other. Liam is a responsible, kind big brother in fifth grade. His mom and dad have recently divorced and now their grumpy landlord has given them an ultimatum — they’ll have to give away their German Sheperd dog Cupcake unless her peeing problem gets solved. Choldenko crafts a beautiful, multi-layered, warm-hearted story that celebrates family, unique personalities as well the richness in having a dog. If you like the Penderwicks or the Vanderbeekers, you will love this book, too.
Kristy’s Great Idea Babysitter’s Club #1 Full-Color Graphix Novel by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
We’re loving these updated Babysitter’s Club graphic novels by the uber-talented Raina Telegemeier who wrote the highly-acclaimed Smile and Sister. It’s a good idea to start with book one since the stories are told in a specific order with details from previous stories. These are funny and fun to read, maybe even more than once. BOX SET HERE.
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
FANTASY / ADVENTURE (series)
Brandon Mull has outdone himself with an inventive, totally unique world and characters! Cole, a regular kid, is trick-or-treating with his friends when they all get kidnapped. Cole manages to hide but follows the kidnappers — to another world – a world of five kingdoms, slavery, and magic. Cole is found and sold to slavers on the Outskirts. There he’ll battle mysterious beings living on cloud castles, discover an exiled princess, escape from slavery, and have unimaginable adventures.
Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Jacky stutters badly so to make life easier, she just makes a joke . . . about everything. Now at age 12, she’s started the new school year with tons of detentions. Luckily, someone sees the potential in Jacky and lets her “serve” those detentions in the school play, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. It turns out Jacky is a natural actor — and that helps distract her from her Nonna being sick, her mom being deployed, and her dad never being home. Very enjoyable!
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Overnight, a fence with armed guards divides Berlin. Gerta is stuck on the east side with her brother and mother while their father and another brother escape to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that sets her on a course to dig a tunnel under the wall and freedom. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined.
Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz
This genuinely sweet story about a girl who goes from a bully to a trying-to-do-better model citizen will make you laugh and warm your heart. When Bernice’s mom sends Bernice to live with her nun aunt, it’s a chance for this former bully without any friends except the town’s librarian, to reform her mean-spirited ways. Bernice does it — she makes a friend, becomes nicer, and finds an unexpected home with the nuns.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
HISTORICAL FICTION / MYSTERY
I LOVE this fantastically developed historical fiction story for several reasons – the girl-centric history is really interesting (and empowering), the characters are so well-developed you feel as if you know them, and the plot is a grand adventure! The author imagines a friendship between Ada Byron, genius daughter of Lord Byron and the world’s first computer programmer, and Mary Shelley, the world’s first science-fiction author who almost could have been friends in real life but for about a decade of years. Mary joins Ada to study with Ada’s tutor and the duo form a detective agency. In this first adventure, Mary and Ada learn about another historical figure who invented hypnotism and solve the case of a stolen heirloom.
Gold Rush Girl by Avi
14-year-old Victoria sneaks aboard a ship with her father and younger brother bound for stinky, muddy San Francisco and the hope of gold. She’s surrounded by mostly men and no other kids and soon realizes that no one is getting rich but ships and people keep pouring in. Their dad leaves them in a tent for months while he searches for gold. Victoria makes the best of it but her 10-year-old brother doesn’t. Then he gets kidnapped and sold and Victoria and two friends race to rescue him. It’s an interesting, exciting story that gives readers a strong sense of setting and historical perspective.
Hero Rescue Mission by Jennifer Li Shotz
In this Hero the police dog story, Ben’s dad is captured by escaped convicts. Ben and Hero set off to find Ben’s dad. Ben’s already injured and Hero’s too emotional to track the scent so they’re going to need help if they’re going to find his dad. Action from the first page to the last. Kids who love adventure and animals will love this book and series.
Wild & Chance by Alan Zadoff
ADVENTURE / SCI-FI
This female dog can can’t remember her past but she knows that she’s intelligent, more than other dogs. When she meets boy named Chance in a group home, strange events start to happen — she is chased by military-like Animal Control soldiers. Then, she and Chance discover a collar that allows her to talk to Chance. With more questions than answers, the action and mystery zip along hooking you on every word. Then, Chance and Wild meet a mysterious hacker girl who helps them escape from Animal Control. They learn that Wild was originally owned by an evil group who weaponized dogs. This is great for kids who love fast-paced, science fiction, animal books.
Cape (The League of Secret Heroes) by Kate Hannigan
SUPERHEROES / HISTORYSet during World War II when the superheroes have vanished from the skies, a young girl named Josie O’Malley still believes that her beloved superheroes exist. Until then, she’s excited to apply for the job of a puzzler to help the war effort. Although she doesn’t get the job, she befriends two other girls and unexpectedly, all of them transform into superheroes with amazing powers! Using their new superhero powers, they’re asked to uncover a spy ring and protect a secret computer from the Nazis. It’s an exciting, girl-power adventure of good vs. evil!
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp
FANTASY / HUMOR
I read many parts out loud to my kids while I was reading this book – they were just so funny!! Now my kids are addicted to this series, too. Quirky but lovable Ivy’s adventures involve a sinister ghost, a mystical jewel, and a surprising destiny.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Deliz Sherman
Runaway, Nick, leaves his horrible uncle’s only to get stuck with an evil wizard who calls him foxkin and won’t let him leave. If he tries anything against the rules, Nick gets turned into something– a spider and a rock, for example. Once he’s resigned to his new life, Nick finds a lot to like, especially learning magic from the wizard’s books and then helping the wizard protect the Smallbone town from the Evil Wizard Fidelou. This is a magical story about kindness, friendship, and growing up. (With a little Dread Pirate Roberts twist thrown in at the end!)
Checked by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Maurizio Zorat
REALISTIC / SPORTS
Checked is a slice-of-life story about a boy who lives for hockey but worries about his sick dog, his policeman single dad, and money. While it did surprise me that there wasn’t a major conflict, the atmospheric snapshot of the boy’s life felt authentic and held my interest.
Elementals: Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman
Homeless, orphaned 12-year-old twins, Anders and Rayna, unexpectedly discover that they are both elementals — but that’s not the worst of it. Anders is an Ice Wolf and can attend the academy but Rayna turns into a scorch dragon and is a feared, child-stealing creature. When Rayna’s kidnapped by other dragons, Anders decides to attend the academy to learn more about dragons so he can find and rescue his sister. Once there, he experiences a new kind of family — a pack. Anders finds he has more questions than answers.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk
Jimmy McClean’s grandfather takes him on a road trip where he shares the stories of Crazy Horse — his life and battles up to his death. They travel from the Dakotas (home of the Lakota) to Wyoming and other places significant to Crazy Horse’s life. I thought that following the duo traveling to the sites and then hearing the grandfather’s mesmerizing stories made this book easy to follow and very interesting. I actually wish they had included a map so I could picture it in my head and maybe take my own kids. It’s a sobering true story and one that will stick with me.
Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
They’re not supposed to be in the woods, but to avoid Chad the bully, Tamaya and Marshall go there anyway. Tamaya discovers the weird-looking “fuzzy mud” and throws it at Chad’s face. When Chad goes missing, and Tamaya’s hand gets a bloody rash, it’s clear that the mud is not just mud. Fast-paced and adventurous, this book introduces kids to the science fiction genre and environmentalism.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Nightingale seems to be a book about friendship and loss but it’s also very much about the big questions of who we are as individuals and why we are here on this earth. “She could feel her soul. It was a tiny little spark somewhere deep inside.” Raymie joins two other girls for baton-twirling classes where no baton instruction happens but friendships develop. The characters are unique and well-developed. This is a beautiful book and would be perfect for lengthy book club discussions.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
HISTORICAL FICTION / ADVENTURE (series)
I’m a new John Flanagan fan — this was such a well-written story of a young, fatherless boy named Hal whose mom was an Araluen slave. To survive the town’s prejudice against him, he is helped by another outcast, his dead father’s former shipmate, a one-armed recovering drunk. When it’s time for his Brotherband training, he becomes the leader of a rag-tag group of boys. They’ll compete against better, stronger teams who don’t always play fair. The stakes are high and Hal must win even with his group of misfits.
The Cloak Society by Jeramy Kraatz
Alex’s parents raised him in their secret society of supervillains, training him all his life for a life of villainy. He surprises himself in a battle when he saves the life of his enemy, a Ranger of Justice girl named Kirbie. They secretly become friends making Alex question his entire life and the next big mission to wipe out all of the Rangers.
Half Upon a Time by James Riley
FAIRY TALE (series)
When Princess May’s grandma, Snow White, is kidnapped, she’s tossed into Jack (of the beanstalk fame) farm. Together, the two venture to rescue dear old grandma back. Fairy tales collide in this humorous and action-packed adventure.
Thrones of Bones Frostborn by Lou Andres
Two misfits — a boy named Karn who is only good at playing a board game, and a girl named Thianna who is a half-human, half-giantess — unexpectedly partner to survive deadly soldiers, undead warriors, trolls, and a dragon in this Norse mythology adventure.
Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
Fairy Nix is left to guard the woods for his beloved queen. He’s particularly annoyed by a human man who lives in a cottage in his woods because the Queen won’t like it. Then the man reveals to Nix that Nix is really not a fairy but a human child who was stolen long ago from his family. It’s a bittersweet, tender story about a lost boy who finds that everything he’s believed he’s known is a lie. And I LOVED it so much. This is a magnificent tale with an innocent, unreliable narrator for whom you’ll feel all the feels…
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother Devon is killed in a school shooting, leaving Caitlin, who has Aspergers, to make sense of the world on her own, without his compassionate and understanding guidance. Her father isn’t helpful, he’s lost in his grief. So when Caitlin reads about grief and closure, she decides to go after closure in a literal, hands-on way. And it will help both she and her father build their relationship and let go of Devon. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read — so powerful and honest.
Secret Coders: Get with the Program by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
SCI-FI GRAPHIC NOVEL (series)
What’s happening at Hopper’s new school? She and her friends discover something very amazing about the birds — they’re robotic and can be controlled by numbers. Which leads the kids to go up against the scheming, evil janitor. Readers learn some basics of how to use the programming language Logo with sequence, iteration, and selection, and must apply their knowledge to help the characters. I love the interactivity, the diverse main characters, and the progressive way the authors teach the logical thinking of programming. Very well-done!
Eddie Red Undercover Mystery in Mayan Mexico by Marcia Wells
Eddie, his best friend Jonah, and his parents are on vacation in Mexico. When Eddie’s dad becomes the primary suspect in a theft of a stolen Mayan mask so Eddie and Jonah decide to solve the mystery themselves. Only they don’t speak Spanish all that well, and there’s more to this mystery than just a stolen mask. You’ll love the Spanish words throughout, the well-paced action, and the characters.
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
One of my favorite books of 2016, The Seventh Wish is a magically captivating coming-of-age story filled with friendship and family challenges and . . . wishes. Charlie is struggling with her sister leaving for college and subsequent problems with drug addiction, her parent’s inattention, and trying to make sense out of her life. So when Charlie accidentally catches a wish fish while ice-fishing, she’s sure that the fish will solve all her problems. Only as we might predict, that’s not exactly what happens. This is a wonderful book — great for book clubs and bedtime readings in order to discuss what happens and why.
The Player King by Avi
It’s England in the 1400s with a usurper king on the throne, King Henry VII. When a friar spots kitchen boy Lambert Simnel, he tells him that Lambert is really the next in line to the throne, the missing Prince Edward. So begins Lambert’s journey from poor pauper to heir-in-hiding. Based on true events, Avi skillfully weaves a believable story of this little known historical event. Fascinating.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
This is a beautiful, bittersweet story about Jess whose best friend, Leslie, dies in a tragic accident. Jess learns to cope with Leslie’s death with art and running. Well-written and important.
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