Best Books for 11-Year-Olds (Sixth Grade)
Want to keep your 11-year-olds, 6th graders, reading good books? I can help. Below you’ll find the BEST of the middle-grade chapter books that are spot-on for maturity and readability.
Plus, each book review includes a genre tag so look for mystery, fantasy, realistic, historical, and sci-fi to help you search. It’s always so helpful to match a child’s interests with the books that they read. And, to give them choices.
I love to give my kids options of a few books to make it easier to pick. Or, at this age, you can just show them this page and have them read the reviews themselves to help them decide.
Read Alouds, Book Series, & Nonfiction Titles for your 11-year-olds in 6th grade:
- Compelling Book Series for 6th Graders
- Nonfiction Books for 11-Year Olds
- Read Aloud Books for 6th Grade
Book Recommendations Plus Reviews & Genres
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
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. I loved this story— the writing, the characters, the plot, and the messages of inclusion and determination.
Allies by Alan Gratz
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.
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
REALISTIC / REFUGEES
Marsh writes a stunning novel about two young boys from very different backgrounds — one is a refugee from Syria while the other is an American who has just moved to Belgium. Interwoven in this timely, poignant story are the big issues of refugees, prejudice, fear, friendship, and kindness. To avoid the overcrowded refugee centers, Ahmed hides in the basement of the house where Max lives with his family. When he’s discovered by Max, the boys develop a friendship; Max keeps Ahmed hidden from everyone. The boys come up with a plan to enroll Ahmed in Max’s school. And it works. But it can’t last forever. A local policeman suspects something and Max’s family will be moving back to the U.S. soon…
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice book 1 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 for boys. BOX SET
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?
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Get ready for a wild ride of suspense, action, adventure, science fiction, and coolness!! Bloom tells the story of three kids who are not affected by the strange-looking plants that appear out of nowhere and take over land all over the world, covering houses and streets, swallowing animals and people but doing nothing to these kids. Scientists figure out that the plants are an alien invasion…and think these kids may be the only chance they have to stop them. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just tell you that it’s an AWESOME story…with two more in the series.
Wink by Rob Harrell
I highly recommend this funny, 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.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
We loved this so much we read it twice for a bedtime story! You’ll love the strong female main character, a princess named Cimorene who doesn’t want to live the typical princess life. She leaves her home to apprentice herself to a dragon. Just for fun. No prince rescuing involved, thank you very much. Then she must help save her dragon from a group of evil wizards. We LOVE and highly recommend this dragon series. BOX SET
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this 2017 Newbery winner is a fairy tale of sorts about a good witch who rescues one of the town’s many abandoned (sacrificed) babies instead of giving her to another town to adopt and love. She’s a special baby named Luna who accidentally becomes infused with moon magic. 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, an amazing girl named Luna.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Newbery Honor winner!!! 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 each other but slowly the trust grows. As it does, all three regain something lost — hope and love. I can’t recommend this book enough, it will touch your heart at such a deep level. Don’t miss the equally amazing sequel: The War I Finally Won.
Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery by James Ponti
Captivating from the first page, 12- year old Florian Bates uses his brilliant, observing brain to implement T.O.A.S.T. (the Theory of All Small Things) to notice things that others have missed. Including the FBI when there’s an art heist at the museum his mother works at. The FBI hires him to help unravel a mysterious art heist which he does with the help of his best friend, Margaret. Fast-paced and interesting.
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.
Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
ENVIRONMENT / OCEAN / ANIMALS
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
REALISTIC / KOREAN CULTURE
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
“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.
The Brave by James Bird
Run out to get this absolutely jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful book with a main character you’ll fall in love with (and whose character arc is HUGE.) It’s filled with metaphorical, meaningful, and symbolic writing and you will feel ALL the feelings. 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…
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.
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
#OWNVOICES / VERSE / IDENTITY / INDIAN-AMERICAN
Reha is struggling to figure out her place in her two worlds–India and America. She wants Amma to understand how she feels but when her Amma gets cancer, Reba focuses on being virtuous enough so her mom will get better. But, her Amma dies. And Reha feels so much grief. Then, she gets a letter mailed by a nurse from her Amma that helps Reha move into her future and belonging to two cultures. (It’s a heartfelt, beautiful ending and if you’re like me, you’ll probably cry!)
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dees
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball-playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Ignoring doesn’t stop the behaviors, neither does telling an adult, telling her friends, or wearing baggier clothing. Now her toxic friend Zara is acting mad and jealous that Mila’s getting the boys’ attention. Unexpectedly, Mila finds her strength when she starts karate classes. That helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment. I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls. Because it’s not funny, flirting, or being too sensitive. It’s hurtful & harassment & not okay.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
BIOGRAPHY / HISTORY
Sudan’s reality, past and present, collide in this beautifully written true story. In 1985, we follow the harrowing journey of a young boy who, after his village was attacked, walks miles and miles to a refugee camp. In 2008, we learn about a girl who must walk two hours morning and night to get fresh water. Their stories are compelling; you won’t be able to put this down, nor take peace and clean water for granted again. A must read!
New Kid by Jerry Craft
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
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 artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
Elizabeth, an orphan, is unexpectedly sent to a large, stately hotel with a kind, grandfatherly proprietor for Christmas vacation. There, she discovers a magical book, a sinister couple, a family mystery, and a new friend who loves puzzles as much as she does. The writing is mesmerizing, the mystery fascinating, and the characters, enchanting. This is a wonderful, atmospheric read.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. She recalls how the two of them ran away from an abusive father and sick mother to the big city where they meet two friendly brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is then she previously thought. Unfortunately, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever and what happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new family that helps her see more in the future than misery. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
Patina’s anger sometimes gets the best of her but running helps. She’s mad about her dad dying, her mom’s legs being amputated, and her new school. When her track coach makes Patty work with her teammates in a relay, she’s forced to rely on them. And that changes things. Patina is a beautiful coming-of-age story that will tug at your emotions.
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner
POVERTY / SPD / FOSTER CARE
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 the truck in which they live to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident. As a result, 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 with an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle.
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. Then, a researcher arrives with preconceived notations of the “infirmity” of deaf people and he kidnaps Mary as a live specimen. For months she’s imprisoned and forced to work, then locked in a room to be studied. She can’t communicate with anyone because no one else speaks sign and Mary doesn’t have access to a pencil and paper. Eventually, she gets a chance to write a message and makes it back home with help. This is an eye-opening, must-read story!
Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson
A story about finding your strength even if it looks like a weakness…McKenna enters a long dog sled race in order to bring awareness to her sister’s degenerative eye disease. Which McKenna can tell she has, too. Her eyesight is worse and worse. She just doesn’t want to tell her parents and be treated differently. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to guide the sled. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his dog is a powerful leader. He quickly notices that’s McKenna can’t see either. The challenges of the race and her new friendship help McKenna realize that just like Zesty the blind dog, she is not disabled and that her differences make her better.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
FANTASY / ADVENTURE
The Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong
Refugee by Alan Gratz
HISTORICAL/ MODERN DAY
Follow three distinct, alternating 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, only to be turned away from the Cuban port and sent back to Europe. Next is a Cuban girl in the 1990s who, with her family and neighbors, flees in a homemade raft to the United States at great peril. Finally is a Syrian boy whose home is bombed in a country at war. He and his family travel a great distance to find a country that will allow them shelter. Gatz skillfully connects all three stories with a satisfying, realistic conclusion.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Kyle and a few classmates win a sleepover at the new town 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? BOX SET
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, think that she’s smart. Then one day, she gets a chance to prove it. Heartbreaking. Real. Inspiring. Beautifully written.
Santiago’s Road Home by Alexandra Diaz
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico only to unexpectedly meet a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. The heat and lack of water almost kill them but he and his adopted little sister are rescued half dead and taken to an internment camp where they’re separated. He learns that his sister is reunited with her mom but without papers or any way to prove he’s related to them, he’s confined for endless, hopeless days with guards who treat him like a criminal. This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with a heroic main characters who you’ll love.
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? It’s no surprise that this is an #OwnVoices book because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.
Legacy and the Queen by Annie Matthew, created by Kobe Bryant
Not only is this book beautifully executed with a fuzzy cover, full-color illustrations, and lovely border details, but the 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!
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
SCI FI (series)
review written by 11-year old JJ
This series was AMAZING! It was a murder mystery on the moon. I can never turn down a good, realistic sci-fi PLUS murder mystery. It has it all! It was placed in 2040 and their second-in-command had died. He had walked out the airlock (to the moon’s surface) with his space suit on wrong– he died in seconds. Everyone thought he had gone crazy, but Dashiel Givson suspected differently. Murder. The first book is almost mirrored in the second –the base commander this time disappears. With just enough breaking the rules, they can figure out where she is and who did it.
FANTASY / MYTHOLOGY
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Alexander skillfully writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced story that feels honest and relatable.
Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibb
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
This story pulls you in from the first page. Kiranmala discovers on her 12th birthday that she’s a princess from another realm and her parents are trapped in a black hole-type place. But there’s a lot more she’ll learn — like who her real parents are (yikes!) and that demons can be your friends. The prince’s demon grandma, Ai-Ma, is my FAVORITE character. She says things like “Be good, sweet beetle-dung toadstools.” Okay, Kiranmala’s parents are super awesome, too. You’ll love every second of this entertaining, Indian mythology adventure.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
A Tale of Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
This book is bloody and macabre and an excellent, imaginative story that weaves Hansel and Gretel with eight more Grimm fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel abandon their terrible parents in order to find better ones –ones that won’t try to kill them. The narrator, a strong, quirky voice, warns us of the bloody things to come. While he’s sometimes distracting, for the most part, I liked how his snarky voice kept me from getting too freaked out by the gruesome parts. Once in the wild forest, Hansel transforms into a ravenous, hunter-beast and Gretel continues on her own. This book will make you want to reread your Complete Brother’s Grimm. (Just don’t read it right before bed.)
El Deafo by Cece Bell and David Lasky
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
In this multiple 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.
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Young Nan’s Sweep father-figure is gone; she still dreams of his kindness and their life before he left. To survive, she works for a cruel chimney sweep who uses children to make himself richer. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by Sweep, emerges to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.
Oh My Gods! by Stephanie Cooke and Insha Fitzpatrick, illustrated by Juliana Moon
I’m not a fan of the title but the story is enjoyable and engaging, not snarky or cliquey like the title implies. Karen moves in with her dad, Zed, on Mount Olympus. The kids at her new school are very different — she wonders if they’re into LARP but they’re not, she learns that they’re actually gods and goddesses! When her friend Apollo gets turned to stone, Karen and her new friends have to clear Karen’s name and save Apollo. They meet a lonely girl named Medusa who is responsible for the stone statues. Will they be able to fix things for both Apollo and Medusa?
All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older
HISTORICAL FICTION (+ FANTASY)
* couldn’t put it down!
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I love this book! The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl genius with OCD whose grandma wants her to go to public middle school to make one friend, read one non-math book, and join one school activity. Surprisingly, Lucy does find friends and more than that, too. A well-written, heart-warming story!
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
Based on her grandmother’s escape from North Korea, this historical fiction story is a powerful read that captures the fearful culture of North Korea, the marginalization of females, and the bond between siblings. As war erupts between North and South Korea, Sora and her family decide to flee from North Korea while they still have a chance. But she and her little brother are separated from their family. As they continue south, they experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them. Even worse, her brother, Youngsoo, is getting sicker and sicker. The siblings’ journey is interspersed with memories of her childhood including her mother’s disdain and criticism and how she was forced to leave school to care for her little brothers. Amazingly, the two make it to the south where they’re reunited with their family but it’s a bittersweet ending.
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
A story infused with mythology about the power of stories, belief in the stories, and the courage to change your future. Lalani, a poor girl in a fishing village, savors stories like sustenance. They help her survive her cruel stepfather and stepbrother and give her a roadmap life, especially in difficult times. Thinking she’s helping her village, Lalani wishes for rain from a magic-wielding Mindoren hiding on the mountain. However, she forgets to ask for the rain to stop. When it never stops, the village blames Lalani. Believing in the stories and reflecting on something she heard (“Things will never change if everyone’s asleep“), Lalani bravely faces the biggest danger of her life — traveling in a boat across the sea from which no one has ever returned– to find a flower that might fix things. Richly layered and full of depth, this beautiful story is a must-read.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (series)
We love this book (and the series) because it’s a unique story with memorable, wonderful characters. Miri and the other girls in her mountain village are ordered to attend a newly created school to learn enough to be considered wife material for the prince. But the prince, when he does appear, sees cold and unfriendly making Miri reconsider what she wants. Then, when bandits take over the school and hold the girls hostage, Miri finds her inner strength and clarity of purpose.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Set in a dystopian society, this Newbery medal winner grabs your attention and keeps it until the end. What is going on in this strictly controlled community? When Jonas is assigned his job as “Receiver of Memory” he learns just how much the government has suppressed from the people’s knowledge not to mention that they’re giving pills meant to control people’s behavior and that they murder so-called defective babies and older people. When his foster baby brother is up to be killed, Jonas must decide how he will save them both. BOX SET
Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
FANTASY / HISTORICAL
Set in medieval Scotland, this is an action-packed adventure of a strong female protagonist with close family bonds, medieval and mythical elements, and an exciting plot. When Drest’s war-band family is kidnapped by knights she sets off in pursuit, taking a wounded soldier hostage with her. Throughout their travels, the two develop a complicated friendship and Drest learns uncomfortable truths about her family. I love when a girl rescues boys from death! What an excellent story — I highly recommend it.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life living with she and her siblings, mom, and her mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, trying not to make a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school encourages Zoey to join the debate club. This activity eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friendship worries. I hope this book encourages readers to ponder what makes a healthy relationship and how to stand up for yourself when you’re not in one. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
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.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
ADVENTURE / DYSTOPIAN
Action from the first page! This is an awesome story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Now Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky discovers that her missing (maybe traitor?) father left her a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to be found. She decides to leave the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong and is even more determined to find her father. LOVED it!
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
A heartbreaking coming of age story that is also filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends; they all live in prison. In fact, 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 the prison. Not only that, the DA tries to stall Perry’s mother’s parole hearing. Perry discovers the stories behind the inmates’ lives, hoping that they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother. This story will stay with you long after you read the last page.
Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
One of the BEST books ever, it’s so well-crafted with deep emotional resonance. Doug is a boy who is struggling to read with no support from his home life. Not only are his dad and older brother abusive but they all live in abject poverty. What saves Doug is his connection to a librarian who shows Doug Audubon’s bird paintings and how to draw. This eventually leads to reading and hope.
Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
HUMOR / MAGICAL REALISM (series)
A funny but poignant story of middle-school angst and discovery! Unpopular Dwight can make origami Star Wars characters. When his puppet of Yoda comes to life, just like Yoda, the origami Yoda is wise and helpful during the many trials of middle school.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
The world is covered by a deadly “fog” that kills humans so the humans live only on the highest mountain peaks. Our heroes, a band of scavenging orphans, are trying to find something in the world below that they can sell in order to travel to another city where they can treat the cloud sickness of their beloved mother-figure. I loved the suspense, the fascinating world, the characters, and the happily ever after.
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
FRACTURED FAIRY TALE
In this powerful story from Rumplestiltskin’s perspective, you’ll read how Rump discovers who he is and grows into his potential. It takes some work but Rump learns he’s trapped in his mom’s magical “rumple” which requires him to make straw into gold for any trade that another person offers. This is what the miller takes advantage of, leaving Rump without options or any control. With the help of his troll friends, his friend Red, and his aunts, Rump finds a way to stop the magical curse and give the queen back her child.
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
HISTORICAL FICTION *in 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.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt
REALISTIC / DYSLEXIA
Both Ally and her older brother have hidden that they can’t read FOR YEARS. When an insightful teacher named Mr. Daniels helps Ally learn to read, it changes her life and she discovers her true value. This is a beautiful, emotional story that will help kids understand how it feels to live with dyslexia. (Also on Books About Kids Who Have Learning Differences.)
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
REALISTIC – DEAF, LONELINESS
Iris is a lonely Deaf girl who feels alone at her school and in her immediate family. When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who is called the loneliest whale in the world because his song is at a different hertz than other whales, she immediately feels a connection to him. Iris uses her compassionate heart, intelligence, and tinkering skills to write and record a whale song that Blue 55 will hear so he’ll know that he’s not alone. Her subsequent adventure is profoundly life-changing. This is a heartening, poignant story that gives readers insight Deaf children, the richness of Deaf culture, and the life-changing power of compassion.
Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
GHOST ADVENTURE (series)
Set in Victorian London, we learn that dangerous ghosts and spirits are everywhere but only kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost agency so they take an inadvisable, perilous job that may just be their last. Sixth graders (and me) love this series with its addicting, edge-of-your-seat writing.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
REALISTIC / POVERTY
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van for months and months. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many like lying and not holding down a job. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson HISTORICAL FICTION
I not only learned a TON from this historical fiction novel but also thought it was thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel’s an orphan whose odd jobs start him on the path to saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of deadly cholera.
Blended by Sharon Draper
Impyrium by Henry H. Neff
Hazel is the third granddaughter, a princess who resembles no one else in the family except the most dangerous magician ruler the kingdom ever knew. She, like her ancestor, is gifted at magic and her grandmother wants to use Hazel’s magic to protect the kingdom. But it’s an unjust kingdom, and Hob, a young spy and commoner boy in her service, wants things to change. Hazel will face a choice to follow in the dark magic footsteps of her ancestor. Hob will face doing what he’s ordered or following his heart. Plots within plots, twists and turns, make this an enthralling new fantasy adventure.
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?
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we guess she’s got Aspergers) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her so confused without her parents’ support and explanations about the world Willow observes. But, Willow pushes on and finds a most unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
I stayed up all night to finish this book –it was fantastic! Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. And Sophie has a secret; she’s a Telepath and not human. She must leave the human world for the Elvin world where she’ll face danger from both worlds. Her only hope is to regain the memories about her past.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
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.
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Nielsen deftly captures the history of Lithuania’s book smugglers as well as the fundamental truth that books give readers freedom from oppression; books keep alive a language, culture, and identity, no matter how hard someone tries to erase it. Audra doesn’t know her parents are book smugglers until they are arrested by the Cossacks. She flees to their contact’s house, not wanting anything to do with smuggling books. Part of her reluctance is because she herself can’t read or write but she slowly learns and develops a passion for stories. Not only that, she became a clever smuggler. It’s inspiring that a little country of farmers managed to keep their culture alive even after the Russians banned their language and their books. Highly recommended!
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the world.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
A wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. (If you like the Vanderbeekers, you’ll love this book, too!) Three siblings join the groups of children leaving London during WWII for safety. But in their case, their neglectful grandmother has recently died and they 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. What’s worse, the librarian is deemed “unsuitable” to be their foster mother since her missing husband is German. However, when things go from bad to worse in their latest home, the children demand to live with the librarian no matter what.
Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan
REALISTIC / POVERTY
An engrossing and unique story about a girl’s struggle to realize her own dreams while still helping her family survive.
Ana’s a poor girl living in a small town high in the Bolivian mountains whose feeble economy revolves around mining. When her abusive dad forces Ana’s sickly younger brother into the mines, he doesn’t last long before he’s bedridden with a cough and fever. To help, Ana drops out of school and goes to the mine in his place. Then, after a mine collapse that kills her dad and leaves her brother’s whereabouts unknown, Ana’s life gets even more difficult. She scrambles to find work, thinking that her dreams of school and a different life are over. Until she thinks of a way to work and pass school…
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.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Sometimes growing up means seeing the difficult truth about someone you love…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 for middle grade #ownvoices.
Jinxed by Amy McCulloch
What an amazing premise — you are going to love this on so many levels. It’s “a fairy tale, but not of princes and frogs, ball gowns and pumpkins, but of makers and metal, of wire and ingenuity and inspiration and creativity and invention.” In this evolved society, the tech company MONCHA makes computerized pets caled bakus that act like smartphones and computers. Lacey finds an unusual, half-destroyed cat baku and rebuilds it using a 3D printer and found parts. When her baku Jinx starts to work, he’s noticeably different than the other bakus– he can speak into her mind and think for himself! So when she starts competing with other kids at her prestigious school in the battle of the bakus, Jinx doesn’t follow the rules which lead to his capture and the discovery of a sinister truth about MONCHA. Fantastic, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.
Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
COMING OF AGE / RACISM / THEATER / #OWNVOICES
Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster
Tor wishes for a different gift and ends up with a curse instead prompting he and two friends to leave their homes to search for the evil Night Witch to break it. Along the way, the friends encounter new lands, people, and dangerous monsters. Interspersed through the story are myths from their culture that may actually give them a map to find the Night Witch. I love the myths, the adventure, and the very surprising ending.
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
9-year-old Nicholas Benedict, a genius orphan with narcolepsy, lives in a poorly run orphanage where he’s maltreated and bullied. In this prequel to the series, Nicholas discovers there’s a treasure somewhere in the orphanage. While he and his friend search, he finds a way to improve life for all the kids living there. Boxed set here.
Chains, Forge, Ashes (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson
Live the Civil War time period through the eyes of an African-American girl named Isabel and her friend, Cuzon. Enslaved, escaped, or enlisted, these two are determined survivors. The writing is amazing and the stories, captivating. I love and highly recommend these books; they’ll transport you back into history. Boxed Set Here.
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.
Smile, Drama, Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Raina shares her growing up stories with humor and amazing art in these three popular books. My 10-year-old daughter read Sisters four times the first week she owned it, they’re excellent books and quite addictive. Smile is a funny, relatable story about braces, friends, boys, and life in middle school.
Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Rose Lee Carter is a girl who is raised by her grandma and father, works in the cotton fields, and is best friends with the preacher’s son. She dreams of leaving Mississippi for the north like her mom and aunt, especially after the white men who killed Emmett Till are found not-guilty in a real-life historical trial.
Hera: The Goddess and her Glory by George O’Conner
MYTHOLOGY / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Both my kids love O’Conner’s graphic novels and can’t wait for his next book, Hades. If you’re big Greek mythology fans, check out his other books, Athena and Zeus: King of the Gods.
Podkin One-Ear The Legend Begins by Kieran Larwood (series)
The Seventh Most Important Thing: One Kid. One Crime. One Chance to Make Things Right by Shelley Pearsall
Angry with grief, Arthur throws a brick at Junk Man’s head. The judge sentences Arthur to work for the Junk Man who asks Arthur to collect the items on the list of the Seven Most Important Things. Transformed by this experience, Arthur becomes an advocate for the Junk Man’s art. This is fictional but is inspired by the true story of American folk artist James Hampton whose work is in the Smithsonian. This story resonates emotionally and would make for a great bedtime or class read aloud.
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
SCI-FI / GRAPHIC NOVEL
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 only it’s not caused by the kitten. While the station is evacuated, the friends work hard to stop the duct weasels and the engine from overheating. I love the space station setting, the super-smart problem-solving main characters, and the non-stop action.
Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy
I highly recommend this powerful story of two maltreated girls who hope for a better future. The narrator is a white girl in the south who is nothing more than a slave to her family, she doesn’t even have a name. She meets and joins a runaway slave who is escaping the horrific brutality of slavery and separation from her family. Together they find kindness and hope with a Quaker family. “You just keep mending and darning, stichin and stichin. At first, things look all pieced together, but after a while, you don’t even notice the stitched-up spots everywhere; they just look all of a piece. Never like new, but all of a piece and good enough to last a life.”
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
What a luminous, sparkling gem of a book with quirky, complex characters! Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, but things get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life. Don’t miss this enthralling, emotionally resonant story.
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Hilarious. 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 humor strike as the kids try to stop the bombing.
Betty Before X by Ilyasha Shabazz and Renee Watson
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
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.
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 she finds a boy who has been trapped for thousands of years. But Ophelia doesn’t believe in that kind of thing. Except for she kind of does — because her mother used to tell her about witches and magic. This is a breathtaking journey of loss, acceptance, hope, and friendship. It’s a wonderful retelling of The Snow Queen.
The Ghost Network: Activate by I.I. Davidson
Jack and his friend are hackers who get taken to a top-secret tech school where dangerous secrets are hidden behind the STEM school facade. Not only are the kids in danger but there also seems to be a computer implanted inside their brains telling them what to do! The story intrigued me from the get-go but after about the middle, the action was so fast-paced and suspenseful, I was totally hooked.
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller
Foreshadowing kept me reading with curiosity because I couldn’t imagine who this superhero girl in a book that was not a fantasy. It’s a thoughtful plot with captivating characters. The big lesson our main character, Janey, learns is about not standing by when injustice is happening. She learns this from a girl dressed in a swimsuit, wig, mask, and high tops who arrives at her middle school and changes everything. Read this with a book club or with your child — there’s so much to talk about!
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
I can’t recommend this book enough — it’s life-changing and profound! Angry at the world, 15-year old Cole beats a classmate into a coma and brain damage. To avoid the jail time, Cole agrees to spend a year by himself on an island in Alaska, thinking he’ll escape as soon as possible this form of Native American justice. But after Cole almost dies, he decides to give the year-long process a chance. Throughout the experience, you’ll feel Cole’s pain and anger deeply which makes his healing and transformation that much more powerful. I just finished this amazing story and want to reread it again.*This is NOT an accurate portrayal of this particular Native American tribe.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
ADVENTURE / HISTORY / FANTASY
This is the story of three children in medieval France and tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel that will make you think deeply and leave you changed. (Sensitive readers: there are a few swear words and two scenes with a lot of blood.)
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park HUMOR
What a totally hilarious premise paired with fantastic writing! 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 is going to crack you up and be a sure-fire hit with kids.
Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
DYSTOPIAN ADVENTURE (series)
In pursuit of his missing father, Will finds a crazy, cult-like subterranean group (“The Colony”) controlled by frightening leaders who will stop at nothing to maintain control and order in their colony below the surface of the earth.
To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson
Someone is trying to frame Jackson for a prank he didn’t even commit — and they’re doing a great job of it! It will take months to prove the video is falsified and by then Jackson will have missed the robot contest due to his punishment. Jackson and his friends are determined to prove their innocence but it won’t be easy. This is a great adventure filled with twists and turns.
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 and her brother, Charles Wallace, and friend, Calvin, set off to find her scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts.
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.
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp
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.
Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts
It’s a great adventure with real-life conflict between new step-siblings who are on a sailboat trip with their uncle. A storm sinks their ship and they barely make it to a deserted island. They’ll have to work together to survive. And hope their parents can find them. The books are great fast-paced reading for anyone who loves action and adventure.
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. This middle-grade chapter book took me by surprise, it’s filled with charm, uniqueness, and interest.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Nordic mythology, this will be a great (short) intro! To end the long winter, Odd must journey to find Asgard, a city under siege from the Frost Giants. A wonderful, nail-biting adventure.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
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.
The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds
As I read this book I kept thinking wow– another important life lesson — because they just keep coming in this story. Atticus is bullied, upset at his parents’ separation, and uninspired in school . . . until he meets the language arts substitute, Mr. Looney. Mr. Looney shows Atticus, and his classmates, how to find WHO THEY ARE in the company of characters in a story (specifically To Kill a Mockingbird) and how that transfers to their own lives. I loved Mr. Looney’s character — how he just was present for Atticus without giving advice but facilitating Atticus’ self-discovery. I also loved that the story had a realistic ending. (However, I didn’t love the use of the word crap so much — but that’s just a personal preference but understand that it’s an honest depiction of how many kids talk so in that respect it makes sense.)
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina’s struggling. Her best friend, Soojin, befriends another girl as well as wants to change her name to be more American. Then Amina’s mosque is attacked, dimming her worries about middle school. In a lovely turn of events, the community, including her friend Soojin, support the mosque with a place to gather and rebuilding efforts. Through it all, Amina learns there’s space for more than one friend in her life.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
SCI-FI / HUMOR
Popular for so many ages, this book series is a must-own. Jack and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan for rescuing his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and fighting zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?! BOXED SET HERE.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
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 complete against better, stronger teams who don’t always play fair . The stakes are high and Hal must win even with his group of misfits.
Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
This series kept my daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders join a mother-daughter book club. Each book in the series focuses on one book the girls read (such as Little Women, Daddy Long Legs, and Pride and Prejudice) and the relationships of the girls among themselves, the relationships with their mothers, and the business of growing up.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Bem and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing. AMAZING!
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
I almost couldn’t read this story because I was so sad at the beginning when Peter’s father forces Peter to leave the fox Peter’s raised from a kit in the woods, then drives Peter 300 miles away to his grandfather’s house to live. I mean, talk about heartbreaking! Peter feels just as awful and sets off, on foot, to find his fox. We also read the story from Pax’s point of view who is so confused but hopes his boy will return. Fortunately, Pax is adopted by a leash of foxes who teach him to survive in the wild and Peter is helped by a grumpy war-veteran hermit. Yes, this is a coming of age book but it’s also a commentary on war and the power of friendship.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson
By the same author as 100 Cupboards, this is a creative, thrilling, action-packed time-traveling adventure. Our hero, Sam Miracle, is a foster kid with two bad arms, who sees things that no one else can — things in a parallel world. Of course, he’s got enemies who wish to stop him. In fact, those enemies have killed him many times in past versions of the world. But with the help of a wise Native American healer, a Native American priest, the two personality-filled snakes that have become his arms (!), and his friend, Glory, maybe, just maybe, Sam can live and save the world.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
This is a wise, Newbery award-winning story of loss, death, love, and grief. As she travels with her grandparents across the United States in search of her missing mother, Salamanca Tree Hiddle makes sense of her life by telling stories. In this case, about a girl named Phoebe Winterbottom who like Salamanca has a lost mother. Readers must piece together clues to the truth of Salamanca’s life — this is an excellent book club choice, there’s so much to uncover and discuss.
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
It would be hard as an author not to vilify this country for sending thousands of Japanese Americans to prison camps. But this author doesn’t. She just skillfully shares the evocative story of 10-year old Manami of Washington State, who is sent with her family to a dusty camp, leaving behind her beloved dog, Yujiin, and everything else they owned. Devastated, Manami stops speaking. Her story is painful, sprinkled with hope, and all too real. Please read this with your kids– it’s important.
Sea of Trolls series by Nancy Farmer
A bard, a boy, a band of Viking berserkers, trolls, dragons, and a quest — what more could you want in a series? This is one of those can’t put it down books that will keep you up all night reading and I loved this it. (Actually, I love all Farmer’s books.) Your kids will enjoy reading a new adventure in Norse and Old English mythology.
Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantasy
In Chicago, 10-year old Isabel sells the newspaper she wants to write for during the days of speak-easies and the Mob. When one of her customers is accused of murder, Isabel decides to investigate and prove the woman’s innocence. She meets the famous woman reporter, Maude Collier, and two new friends who all are important to solving the case. This historical mystery grabbed my attention from the first page. The book’s memorable characters and interesting plot make the historical setting very memorable.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Only Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her Father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship. Furthermore is a uniquely creative plot that is dense with description and beautiful language.
Dead City by James Ponti
PARANORMAL / SCI-FI (series)
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.
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 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.
Science Comics: Bats Learning to Fly by Falynn Koch
NONFICTION / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Factual information is embedded within this story about a lost little bat who observes a tour group in the desert learning about bats from a tour guide. When the little bat gets hurt, he’s taken to a wild animal hospital where he meets other kinds of bats. At the hospital, the bats lively conversations help the little brown bat learn more about bats — what they eat, how they fly, different species, echolocation, and where they live. SO well done!
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick
What is it like when your parents are divorced — and one finds a new partner? In this coming-of-age story written from two different points of view, Naomi’s mom is dating a man named Tom who has a daughter also named Naomi. Both girls’ parents push them to become friends. Of course, both girls feel resistant — especially when Naomi’s mom asks her to go by her first and middle name — Naomi Marie — to differentiate the two. It’s a tricky time in these kids’ lives, something the authors made relatable and enjoyable to read. The wisdom the parents give to their kids and their unwavering love of their children is inspiring. This is a story that rings true with a pitch-perfect ending.
Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry
AJ’s parents are leaving on a research trip so she must stay with her very strict grandmother Jo who doesn’t approve of AJ’s soccer and skateboarding, and other non-ladylike pursuits. After hearing strange sounds, AJ discovers a room filled with exotic, talking birds and learns that her proper grandmother has “rescued” these birds from bad environments. In fact, grandma Jo and her old lady friends are a team of crooks, a heist club. And they want AJ’s help. Well-written and interesting, this is an excellent mystery and coming-of-age story.
Crown of Three by J.D. Rinehart
The realm is ruled but a power-hungry and despicable king. When his mistress gives birth to triplets of a prophecy, the three children are spirited away and hidden separately. Now that the children are older, each of them face challenges and adventures that lead them to the truth of who they really are — the foretold saviors of the empire. It’s a great adventure story with cool creatures, a few zombies, danger, and epic kid-power. I’m looking forward to the next book.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
I struggled a bit with the British words– maybe your kids will as well. (It’s a great opportunity to learn to make inferences with British vocabulary!) All that aside, this middle-grade novel is a puzzling mystery that only the boy named Ted who seems to be on the spectrum (his brain is different but not explained) can solve. How did his cousin disappear from a closed pod on the London Eye? The enjoyable action and intrigue will keep your attention throughout — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t guess the ending before Ted.
Hypnotists by Gordon Korman
Mix the action-packed writing of Korman with a boy who can hypnotize others – and who is recruited to be in a “special” school to save the world. But is that really what the school does? Another hit for the talented Gordon Korman!
Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
Wow. Nightbird’s magic isn’t only in the story but in the woven images of enchanting characters and plot. This book will stay with you long after the last page. Twelve-year-old Twig lives on the edges, trying to stay unnoticed in order to protect her secret brother — a handsome, smart boy who lives in the attic of her home. He bears the family curse — he has wings. But when he won’t stay hidden anymore–and reveals himself to their beautiful neighbor girl. Twig hurries to stop the curse and prevent the town from hunting her brother as a monster. It’s a wonderfully bewitching story I couldn’t put down!
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow
American-raised Wendy’s Nazi-spy mom takes her to live in Germany during World War II. Wendy doesn’t even speak the language and feels overwhelmed with her mother’s zeal for Hitler. Her mom gives her a bracelet to symbolize “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” At first, it seems to be a good plan considering all the horrible things that might be happening. But when Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many who were forcibly removed from their parents — she learns from her new friend, a Jehovah Witness, that maybe this philosophy isn’t right and that you should stand up for what’s right. I really, really love this book for middle-grade readers – it’s so good!
The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt
Holt is an amazing writer and the story is a fast-paced, unique dystopian adventure that your kids will thoroughly enjoy. All the humans are gone. Max, a yellow Lab, knows that he must find and save his human family. From the moment he escapes the kennel at the vet’s, Max and his friends, Rocky and Gizmo, face huge obstacles in his quest to find his humans — starving wolves, no food, a gang of subway rats, a house of cats, and the controlling Corporation, a “perfect” society for dogs where everyone works and no one can leave.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk REALISTIC / HISTORICAL
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 only wish they had included a map so I could picture it in my head without using another reference book. It’s a sobering, powerful story based on historical events.
Theodore Boone The Scandal by John Grisham ADVENTURE (series)
This is my first Theodore Boone novel and I enjoyed it. I picked this book because it’s about teachers cheating on standardized tests. I think students, teachers, and parents can all relate to hating standardized tests so you’ll find this plot relatable and intriguing. Theodore, a helpful kid known for his burgeoning lawyering skills, learns his friend wrote an anonymous letter to turn in the cheating teachers. Both he and his friend are conflicted, especially when the teachers lose their jobs and are prosecuted.
The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stokes, illustrated by David Sossella HISTORY
If Ancient Rome is your preferred destination, you’ll need your handy handbook close by to make sure you survive — which seems to be unlikely since, since as the book says, “Rome is an absolute deathtrap.” Filled with tongue and cheek hilarity while also being boldly informative about the historical topic! These are my new favorite history books.
The Quest for the Truth series by Brock Eastman SCI-FI / CHRISTIAN (series)
I couldn’t put these books down — which was a very fun surprise because I didn’t know what to expect from a Christian fiction series like this. The writing is fantastic — fast-paced and engaging and the story itself is intriguing, a futuristic world in which the four siblings’ archeologist parents are kidnapped by forces trying to find artifacts that will lead them to eternal life. The kids pursue both the artifacts and their missing parents across different planets where they discover a hidden civilization of blue-colored people, escape a dangerous laboratory with predatory creatures including dinosaurs, learn a friend is really a foe, get captured by pirates, and so much more. I’m looking forward to the final book, book five!
Continue to more book reviews for 11 year olds
More Book Lists:
Easy Reader Books for 5- and 6- year olds
Beginning / Easy Chapter Books for 6- and 7- Year Olds
Books for 8-year olds
Books for 9-year olds
Books for 10-year olds
Books for 11-year olds
Books for 12-year olds
Challenging Books for Young Advanced Readers