I love recommending books to kids so that they want to read, they just can’t put a book down. That’s why I read, review, and recommend so many books — so you can get your boys and girls into a good book. This best books for seventh grade 12-year old boys and girls list is huge and I know you’ll find lots of good books!
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Best Books for 12-Year Olds (7th Graders)
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Dangerous ghosts and spirits are appearing everywhere in London but only certain kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost-hunting agency, Lockwood & Co., so they take a perilous job that, if the ghosts have their way, may just be their last. BOXED SET.
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
This is a compelling, disturbing, and hopeful childhood story of hardship and survival with moments of kindness and time in nature that sustain the neglected, determined young boy. If you love Gary Paulsen’s stories or just enjoy survival and growing up stories, DON’T MISS this powerful book! Also, Paulsen writes his memoir in the third person which is an interesting choice and one that works extremely well…
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.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers upon layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom got breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster has visited him in Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth but Conor who refuses to give in to the monster’s demands, not really even understanding what those are. Meanwhile, in the awake world, Conor’s moved in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echos Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
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,) and comes 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 series has it all! Ranger’s Apprentice is a must-read, mesmerizing epic fantasy.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
FANTASY / #OWNVOICES
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. Amari is an exciting action-packed, suspenseful story about Amari whose beloved older brother has vanished. But, she gets a virtual message from him revealing that she’s a magician like him and at his bequest, gets to attend a secret school. There, she discovers she’s actually a dark magic magician (which is outlawed) but she’s determined to prove she isn’t evil, stay in the school, and find her brother.
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…
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Part historical (ancient Rome) and part fantasy, Elias and Laia live in a world that enslaves them both in different ways — Elias with fighting and Laia with serving and spying. This is an epic page-turning series with lots of mystery, action, and a hint of romance. It’s SO good that it’s one of the most popular YA books right now.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I love this unique world with its plot twists and turns. Epics are super-powerful, evil god-like creatures who control the world’s cities. Because David’s father was killed by Chicago’s Epic named Steelheart, David wants revenge. He joins the rebel group, the Reckoners, to learn how to assassinate Steelheart– a next to impossible feat for a regular human like him. This is a page-turning, mesmerizing series. Boxed Set HERE.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This is the amazing & powerful biography of a boy with courage and hope who walked across Africa to find a better life. We also learn the story of an African village for whom water is a two-hour walk, and how the boy, now a man, builds a well for the village.
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.
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
This Newbery winner grabs your attention immediately with an unbelievable (but kind-of believable) story of a boy named Matt who is a clone of the leader of Opium, El Patrón. He realizes that he’s not the first El Patrón clone and learns of a sinister reason why he’s the only Patron clone still alive. Next in the series is The Lord of Opium.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
This incredible story grips the coward in us all as we relate to Leo who shares how he loves and fails to stand up for Stargirl, the most unique, ukulele-playing girl that Mica High has ever seen. Her strangeness at first is delightful to other students including Leo, but when she cheers for both basketball teams, even the opposition!!, her classmates shun her. Even Leo. Leo regrets his behavior when Stargirl disappears. This is one of my favorite stories for this age group because it deals with kindness, peer pressure, acceptance, and individuality.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and unhealthy relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings are living with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She’s required to care for her siblings while her mom works …all the while avoiding making a mess or any noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, non-participative Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s that activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better…
House Arrest by K.A. Holt
You’ll feel so many emotions reading this tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year, living with a brother who needs constant medical care, and feeling so much pain over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother. Written in poetic verse, this book speeds along and pulls your heart along with it.
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
COMING OF AGE / RACISM / THEATER / #OWNVOICES
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
This is the story of sisters and brothers and resiliency and courage. Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. Viji tells how the two of them ran away from an abusive father to the big city where they met two friendly brothers and lived with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their lives are hard but made easier by the two boys, their new “brothers.” When Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever, so does one of the brothers. And what happens next almost destroys 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 to see more than misery in the world. 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.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
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.
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.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is AMAZING, beautiful, moving, life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we might 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.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
Wink by Rob Harrell
REALISTIC / CANCER
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.
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 already escaped to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that set her on a course to dig a tunnel to the west. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined. Excellent.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
GRAPHIC NOVEL / FAIRY TALE
In this reimagined Snow White story, set in New York City in the 1920s, Snow White’s dad is a Wall Street king, her stepmother is a Zigfield Follies star, and her seven small protectors are street kids. It’s SO interesting how Phelan uses this historical setting to animate a familiar fairy tale. The black and white illustrations set the tone for this dark story with a happy ending.
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.
Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
COMING- OF-AGE / MENTAL ILLNESS
Natalie wants to figure out how to help her mother, who we gather is depressed because she’s in her bed all day long and no longer working. As Natalie prepares for an egg drop contest with two other kids, she looks at her mother’s situation with the same scientific process zeal. Her ultimate plan is to win the contest then use the prize money to whisk her mother away on a special trip. Throughout the story, we see Natalie’s friendships develop as well as a difficult understanding that life and depression are not an exact science. It’s a beautiful, well-done story and a compassionate look at depression. (Added to Mental Illness in Children’s Books.)
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.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
In this Wizard of Oz remix, Dorothy is evil and Amy Gunn, the other girl from Kansas, is recruited to help the freedom fighters to fix and free all of Oz. Great writing plus an unexpected plot make this hard to put down!
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.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
REALISTIC / SOCIAL JUSTICE
The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
Kids love this book series about a boy with electrical powers and an evil group who wants to control him and the others like him. I zipped through the series and loved every minute.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
If you like strong girl power books for teens, you’ll love this story of five mermaids who journey to find each other and the sea witches. An ancient evil is being unleashed and is not just trying to kill the girls but also planning on enslaving or killing their communities. Very entertaining.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I could not put this book down — it is excellent! 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!
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!
The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi
The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin
After their mother dies of cancer, Aster and her younger sister, Poppy, travel to New Zealand to live with their cancer researcher aunt. Poppy sneaks a phone into their aunt’s eco-village and that’s how she sends their new friend from the plane, Sam, a message about where they are. But when Sam bikes to visit them, all he finds of the village are ashes. That’s because Aster’s aunt has moved everyone and burned the village. But what happens next is hard to believe. Aster’s aunt gasses everyone on the boat, the Aster wakes up in the ocean alone. She will eventually find an island and two other teenagers from the village but strangest of all is she meets a boy with gills who breathes water instead of air. When danger arrives with Sam’s help, it’s a fight for survival and answers. Fascinating and hard to put down.
The Maze Runner by James Dasher
What a wild ride! Kids can’t put these books down. In this dystopian world, kids are either killed or must kill to survive. There are tons of plot twists that kept me surprised and entertained but I thought the last few books weren’t as strong as the first few. Boxed Set HERE.
Above World by Jenn Reese
The gist of the Above World series is that the humans were created to live into tech-dependent, animal-morphed groups who were lab-created for different climates — mer people, snake people, centaur, bird people –and the groups have mostly remained separate from each other. The main character, Aluna, a Kampii (mer), has left her clan in order to discover why the clan is dying. In Mirage, she and her unique group of friends must try to convince the Equian colonies that the evil Karl Strand is trying to take over Above World. These books pack in the action and adventure with such creative storytelling, I highly recommend them!
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
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 of 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!
Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Wow. You’ll not only learn a TON from this historical fiction novel, but it is thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel is an orphan who turns one of his odd jobs into saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of the deadly cholera.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me tackles some very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. This well-written story deserves to be discussed as it has a wealth of ideas to ponder.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The Someday Birds is a magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want. But as the kids travel, along with a 20-something girl they hardly know, he searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone. As it does, he grows in ways he never imagined. And Charlie hopes that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better. (Also on: Books with Characters on the Autism Spectrum.)
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
REALISTIC – BEAUTY / SELF-LOVE
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. In this coming-of-age story, Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
You’ll fall in love with this magical story about a lonely boy whose beloved grandfather faces a life-ending illness. Micah’s grandfather and Micah hope the Lightbender in the Circus Mirandus who owes the grandfather a miracle, will be able to help. With a missive to the Lightbender, Micah soon discovers the magical circus his grandfather once loved so much. It’s an adventure filled with emotion and faith.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
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.
Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller
Right from the start, we know Captain Superlative is gone. This foreshadowing kept me reading with curiosity. 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!
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
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!
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
An abused boy, Joseph, is taken away from his violent father to live as a foster kid with Jack’s family on an organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we learn about Joseph’s love for a girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter, and his heartbreak. This is a painful story but one with redemption and hope. I really loved it and highly recommend it!
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 is his dad and older brother abusive but they 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.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chaining
Two girls are selected to attend the school for villains and school for heroes. Only all your stereotypes will be blown out of the water with who goes where. This series will make you think deeply about what makes someone good, friendship, and love. Excellent. Boxed Set HERE.
Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Set in historical Rome we follow the life of a slave abandoned by his mother in the mines. After he accidentally discovers Julius Cesar’s magical amulet and it’s protector griffin, he’s in constant danger. It’s an exciting adventure with an unexpected revelation that will have you eager for the next book.
Chains, Forge, Ashes (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson
I’m writing this after just closing Ashes, the final book of this historical fiction series about the time of the Revolutionary War as experienced 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! Boxed Set Here.
The Quest for the Truth series (books 1 – 4) by Brock Eastman
SCI-FI / CHRISTIAN
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!
Unwanteds by Lissa McMann
FANTASY / DYSTOPIAN
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.
The Loop by Ben Oliver
The world is one government under the control of an AI called Happy. Luka’s a prisoner in The Loop, a barbaric prison for death row inmates who escape death if they’ll allow experimental surgeries. After Group A’s experiments turn the prisoners into smiley killers, Luka escapes when his prison warden tries to kill him. It’s a crazy, fast-paced adventure of life and death that is impossible to put down.
Winterspell by Claire Legrand
My daughter LOVED this book. Claire awakens her godfather’s nutcracker statue and learns he’s an exiled prince from another world — a world of fairies and magic that is ruled by an evil fairy queen. It’s a spirited adventure filled with steampunk and fantasy elements, romance, and the ultimate fight of good vs. evil.
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.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
I was hooked from the first page — and highly recommend this novel. This is a well-written story about a real-life historical event when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital city and yellow fever killed thousands of citizens. We follow Mattie, a brave young girl, who struggles to survive in an abandoned and diseased city. She’s lost her grandfather to looters and doesn’t know where her mother has gone but fortunately finds help from their coffeehouse’s former cook, Eliza.
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. *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 who are hunted by the King. Fascinating writing shares pieces of the kids’ stories from third-hand witnesses as retold in an inn. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel, one of the best I’ve ever read. (Sensitive reader warning: There are two scenes with a lot of blood and a few bad words.)
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
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. Amazing! Boxed Set HERE.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
FAIRY TALE/GRAPHIC NOVEL
Courageous and adventurous Masha knows Baba Yaga from her grandmother’s stories. After her grandmother dies, and her father remarries, Masha decides to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. To pass Baba Yaga’s tests, Masha uses her wits and the stories from her grandmother. She thinks she will fail when she rescues three children from Baba Yaga’s cage but she passes. Excellent storytelling and illustrations kept me totally enthralled in this not-your-average-fairy tale story.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
If you’ve been a fan of Rick Riordan, you’re probably more knowledgeable about Norse mythology than most. Now, discover the major stories of this Northern culture from Neil Gaiman’s perspective. Gaiman shares stories of the beginning of the Gods, how the Nine Worlds were formed, how Odin lost one eye, the children of Loki, and so much more, all the way to Ragnarok. These stories are more bloody than the Greek pantheon but they are quite entertaining nonetheless and hard to put down once you get reading.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire
In this first book in an Asian-influenced series about an occupied city, we meet two kids from different clans and backgrounds who become unlikely friends. Kaidu is a Dao and new to the Nameless City where he’s studying to be a soldier. Rat is a street girl who teaches Kaidu how to survive in the city. Together they save the city’s leader from an assassination plot. The action and characters are compelling. Next in this series is The Stone Heart.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
WOW. In a word: powerful. This is middle school at its most intimate and revealing where friends experience the challenges of growing up, from an embarrassing sexting photo mistake to a shameful friend betrayal, and where we see the power of forgiveness and love.
Phoenix by S.F. Said, illustrated by Dave McKean
Great writing and an amazing plot will hook you from the first moment in this science fiction adventure about dying stars, an imperial empire, cloven-hooved Aliens, and an unusual boy named Lucky who is far more than he seems. Creative and amazing!
The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
If you only read one book this year, make it this one. It’s so powerful and stuck with me for weeks. (Kind of like Erskine’s other book, Mockingbird, another deeply moving book.) The title is the only math concept Mike understands — absolute value — a subject in which Mike’s dad wants Mike to excel. Only Mike hates math and when he gets sent to a small town for the summer with distant relatives, Mike learns his true value. SO POWERFUL and a perfect book for 12-year olds.
Dark Life by Kat Falls
When the oceans swallowed much of the earth, humans either moved into stacked cities or the ocean floor. Ty lives in the ocean but his way of life is threatened by murderous outlaws who steal and kill. He befriends a Topside girl named Gemma who is looking for her brother underseas. They learn that her brother is the leader of the outlaws, was a former medical experiment, and has Dark gifts just like Ty. This is action and intrigue from the get-go and you’ll love every minute of it. (Next in the series is Rip Tide.)
Loot by Jude Watson
Once I opened this chapter book, I couldn’t put it down! When March’s dad falls off a building in his last jewel robbery (accident or not?), March is sent to foster care where he meets the twin he didn’t know he had. With the help of two friends at the foster home, they decide to escape and finish March’s dad’s plan to steal all the cursed Moonstones.
Beneath by Roland Smith
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. But when Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many who were forcibly removed from their parents — she sees the truth.
8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
I’m in awe of how Rhuday-Perkovich created such a moving story and lovable main character, Reggie McKnight, an unpopular yet thoughtful middle-school student. I love this book!
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
What a fascinating, compelling story! When the government cracks down and discovers her mom’s secret lab, Nere learns that her mom has experimented on her . . . and many other kids . . . so that they can survive underwater. Suddenly Nere has gills and is forced to swim for her life to meet up with the other kids who are part of the Neptune Project, traveling to where her not-really-dead-after-all father has built an underwater headquarters. The journey is dangerous and there’s tension within the group. Will they survive the trip and if they do, to what end? (The second book, The Neptune Challenge, is also fantastic.)
Sea of Trolls 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 it. (Actually, I love all Farmer’s books.) Your kids will enjoy reading a new adventure in Norse and Old English mythology.
Furthermore (Book 1) 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 so well written, you won’t want it to end.
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
Mafi’s prose takes you on a journey of its own — it’s absolutely exquisite wordsmithing. This beguiling story of Whichwood (which can be read independently of the first novel) captures the humanity of loneliness, love, and life’s purpose inside a beautiful story of a mordeshoor girl with the magic of the dead in a town that no longer values her work. Two young strangers appear on Laylee’s doorstep to help. They mostly fail. But fortunately for the reader, the young strangers get a second chance to help Laylee not just escape an unjust prison sentence but find happiness as well. This requires help from their buggy friend and thousands of reanimated corpses. It’s not your average story, it’s better –brilliant.
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, I loved it.
This series kept my 12-year old daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders begin 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.
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
REALISTIC GRAPHIC NOVEL
Sunny’s summer vacation is spending time with her grandfather at his retirement home. (Not exactly her idea of fun.) Luckily, she meets the caretaker’s son, Buzz, and as their friendship and love of comic books develop, she also starts to deal with the real reason she’s there — her brother’s drug use. Well-written and an enjoyable narrative.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
Experience the 60s in Los Angeles, a turbulent time of racism and burgeoning activism, from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet black girl who lives in an all-white neighborhood. Her parents’ marriage is in trouble, her sister is about to leave for college, and her best (white) friend has moved on. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes an ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up. Well-crafted story and characters.
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)
The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby
The wild west plus fantastical elements combine in this marvelous adventure of an expedition to find the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc. This is the wild west like you’ve never imagined. And you’ll love it.
Winterling by Sarah Prunes
In the forest, Fer finds a puck who shows her the secret passage to another world – a world of magic where she feels like she belongs finally. But who were Fer’s parents and why does the evil Mor want to keep the land in endless winter? I think this book should be more recognized – it’s a great adventure.
Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Now that Elyse is twelve, it’s not just the words that other people say about her that appear on her skin, but also her own self-talk. The words stay about two weeks and the negative words itch badly. Because there are a lot of negative words right now ever since her best friend’s ditched her. Anonymous notes encourage Elyse to try new things and grow out of her comfort zone. She does and is surprised with the positive results including self-acceptance. This would be an interesting book to discuss with a book group!
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. I absolutely loved this adventure and can’t wait for the next in the series. Plus, I’m so happy to see that Norse mythology is growing in popularity with writers. The only thing I suggest is that you to make sure to use the glossary as you read — there are many words that aren’t commonly known and specific to Norse culture.
Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
What I loved about Freakling was the author did an amazing job with the ending – thank you to her for that! This is a dystopian novel about a group of people with the power to do things with their minds. It’s a power that can be used for good or bad, and the leaders of the city, Taemon suspects, are using it for supreme control and evil. It’s a great story, with a different angle than most dystopian books. I really enjoyed it.
The Living by Matt de la Pena
Shy is a teenager from the ‘hood working on a cruise line when a huge earthquake causes a tsunami that sinks the ship. As you can imagine, it’s a harrowing fight for survival on the open ocean with only a spoiled rich girl, and when they eventually make it to an island, there’s a strange illness, men with guns, and more dangerous than on the ocean.
Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas
Cordie’s the oldest of three daughters living with the hopes that their mother who left suddenly will return. Her sister believes their mom is a selkie who had to return to sea. After all, their mom looks like a selkie with her black hair and pale skin, and she owned a dark coat, and her favorite book is A Child’s Book of Selkies. To find out, the sisters take a boat to a secret island where they are helped by a mysterious seal. Is it their mother? Even more worrisome is that their boat leaks and the seal is injured. Secrets of Selkie Bay is a magical story that made me believe in the unbelievable. Your 12 year olds will love it.
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
Two girls in two locations (Texas and Pakistan) each discover a magical book, The Exquisite Corpse, in which a love story appears that will eventually connect the girls to each other and their histories. It’s a beautifully written book of friendship and self-discovery.
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 faces 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 in the series.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
This middle-grade novel great for 12-year-olds 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.
Book Lists By Age
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Books for 12-year olds
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