Reading Recs: Ages 8 to 12

Here are some books we recommend to you in order to demonstrate the topics and kinds of books that are the best fit, in general, for children from ages 8 to 12 years.

The comments below are from ATDP members, other readers, or excerpted from Barnes & Noble online. Please check your local library and school library before you run out to purchase tons of books. ATDP readers seem to gobble up books at such a fast rate that you’d be in danger of spending all of your time purchasing children’s books. Hmmmm… on the other hand, that does sound pretty good :-). ATDP staffer and SD math tutor Sarah-Mei Estrada kindly organized the books into categories for your consideration.

Of course, add your favorite books to the list and recommend them to other ATDP families by e-mailing your additions to Lloyd Nebres, ATDP’s webmaster.

~ Nina

A Very Brief List of ATDP Favorites
(We understand that it’s long for a short list, but it’s still very incomplete!)

Relating to and Relationships

Henry and Ribsy
by Beverly Cleary
Of course, we include every Cleary book. I included this title because it was the first one in the series I read when I was a kid. Yes, they already had paper.
The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother
by Lizzie Boyd
shows conflict within self and others
Harriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh
When I saw that one site listed this as ‘a story of a gifted girl,’ I knew that I had to say more. Well, let the School Library Association say it, “Harriet the Spy was a groundbreaking book: its unflinchingly honest portrayal of childhood problems and emotions changed children’s literature forever. [It] remains one of the best children’s novels ever written. The fascinating story is about an intensely curious and intelligent girl, who literally spies on people and writes about them in her secret notebook, trying to make sense of life’s absurdities. When her classmates find her notebook and read her painfully blunt comments about them, Harriet finds herself a lonely outcast. Fitzhugh’s writing is astonishingly vivid, real and engaging, and Harriet, by no means a typical, loveable heroine, is one of literature’s most unforgettable characters. School Library Journal wrote, “a tour de force… bursts with life.” It is a book that needs to be discussed while it’s being read, and long after.
Tuck Everlasting
by Natalie Babbitt
“The Tuck family is confronted with an agonizing situation when they discover that a ten-year-old girl and a malicious stranger now share their secret about a spring whose water prevents one from ever growing older.”
The Indian in the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks
“A nine-year-old boy receives a plastic Indian, a cupboard, and a little key for his birthday and finds himself involved in adventure when the Indian comes to life in the cupboard and befriends him.” I find the story a bit frightening, which is most likely why children like it so much.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
by Bette Bao Lord
As the main character in the book I also came to the U.S. in 1947 (but across the other ocean) I also became Americanized at school, so maybe that’s why I found this book so terrific. Oh, and I also loved baseball. Spring Moon [of which a student reviewer at said, “I loved this book! I bought it to read for after a test, and I made the mistake of just reading the first few pages, and I couldn’t stop. This is one of the BEST books that I have read!!!”], also, Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic is a not-to-be-missed book.
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
When my daughter was a kid, she loved this tale of bored ten-year-old Milo, who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room and his watchdog. Amazing things happen when Milo drives through the tollbooth’s gates. IÕm still a kid and I still enjoy it.
All of a Kind Family
(and sequels)
by Sydney Taylor
This is a heartwarming story of five little girls living with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century. Please focus on the relationships in this charming series about family and remember that it’s fiction, so the harshness of immigrants’ circumstances are softened a great deal. Don’t let that affect your enjoyment of the stories.
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
by E. L. Konigsburg
This is the Newbery Medal honor book for the same year as her more-widely read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was awarded the medal. What is exceptional about Konigsburg is her ability to communicate convincingly from the point of view of a child. As the reviewer for The Horn Book said “The story is full … of situations completely in tune with the imaginations of ten-year-old girls.” Please also read About the B’Nai Bagels.


Biographies & Historical Fiction
Time relationships are developing and historical fiction and biographies become important.

Caddie Woodlawn
by Carol Ryrie Brink
“The adventures of eleven-year-old Caddie growing up with her six brothers and sisters on the Wisconsin frontier in the mid-nineteenth century.”
The Cabin Faced West
by Jean Fritz
“Ten-year-old Ann overcomes loneliness and learns to appreciate the importance of her role in settling the wilderness of western Pennsylvania.”
The Golden Goblet
by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Ranofer struggles to thwart the plottings of his evil brother, Gebu, so he can become master goldsmith like their father in this exciting tale of ancient Egyptian mystery and intrigue. A Newbery Honor Book.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
by Ernest J. Gaines
“Gaines’ novel brings to mind other great works—The Odyssey for the way his heroine’s travels manage to summarize the American history of [African-American people], and Huckleberry Finn for the clarity of her voice, for her rare capacity to sort through the mess of years and things to find the one true story in it all.” ~ Geoffrey Wolff, Newsweek
Dear America
by various authors
[Also listed for younger readers] This is a a journal series with each book written as a young person’s diary during a significant moment in American history.
Sarah, Plain and Tall
by Patricia MacLachlan
I adore this tale about two children, Anna and Caleb, whose lives are changed forever when their widowed papa advertises for a mail-order bride. This is one of the few times that I can say that a film version of a book does justice to the book. The PBS series is also memorable.
Where the Red Fern Grows
by Wilson Rawls
“A young boy living in the Ozarks achieves his heart’s desire when he becomes the owner of two redbone hounds and teaches them to be champion hunters.”
Roll of Thunder
Hear My Cry

by Mildred Taylor
“An African-American family living in Mississippi during the Depression of the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which its children do not understand.”
My Name is America
by various authors
Written from the point of view young boys during different times in U.S. history. I have only seen the one set in 1944, which is about a 17-year old soldier in WWII and which I recommend.
Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Ryan based this story on the experiences of her maternal grandmother whose privileged life in Mexico was altered dramatically when she immigrated to the United States and went to work in a company-owned farm labor camp.
My Antonia
by Willa Cather
“Widely recognized as Willa Cather’s greatest novel, My Antonia is a soulful and rich portrait of a pioneer woman’s simple yet heroic life. The spirited daughter of Bohemian immigrants, Antonia must adapt to a hard existence on the desolate prairiesof the Midwest. Enduring childhood poverty, teenage seduction, and family tragedy, she eventually becomes a wife and mother on a Nebraska farm. A fictional record of how women helped forge the communities that formed a nation, My Antonia is also a hauntingly eloquent celebration of the strength, courage, and spirit of America’s early pioneers.” ~ Gordon Tapper, b.n. online

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Able to sequence story events from the beginning to the end and back again. Hold parts of the story in their mind so they can process flashbacks. Able to project into the future and move backward in time. This also prepares them for fantasy that goes back in time or forward.

A Wrinkle in Time (quartet)
by Madeleine L’Engle
Fantasy meets science fiction in these stories of the Murray children and their extraordinary friends. This is another of those sets of books that children re-read into adulthood and then can’t wait to read to their own children.
Harry Potter

by J. K. Rawling

Of course, ATDP students in this age group devour the Harry Potter series. Some begin to examine The Hobbit—actually some are ready to ready the series, which needs to be revisited as the readers grows older (and older).
Searching for Dragons
by Patricia C. Wrede
These are witty, feminist stories about a princess who hates the drudgery of castle life—and truly, which one of us doesn’t?
The Chronicles of Narnia
by C. S. Lewis
Enter the land of Narnia and meet characters like Aslan the lion and the Pevensie children. This is a series that must be read and re-read over the years. It starts out as a bunch of terrific tales, and with successive re-readings, over time, matures into a profound allegory. Being able to understand allegories almost makes it worthwhile to grow up.
Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer
A fantasy series that follows the pursuits of twelve-year-old Artermis Fowl, “one of the greatest criminal minds the world has ever seen.” And foul Artermis Fowl is, indeed! Not only that, but he brings high tech into the realm of faries, a fairy commando unit, leprechauns, and a most nasty troll.
The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
This is the first of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Percy discovers his link to Greek mythology—adventures and trouble ensue. Children seem to love books about kids who have been kicked out of boarding school, and this is one of those. The other ones I recommended took place in British boarding schools. This one’s right here in the U.S., and it’s terrific reading.

Adventures, Spy Thrillers, & Mysteries

Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome
He was in Russia in 1917 and witnessed the Revolution, which he reported for the Manchester Guardian. After escaping to Scandinavia, he settled in the Lake District of England with his Russian wife where, in 1929, he wrote Swallows and Amazons. Thus began a writing career that has produced some of the best children’s literature of all time.
Airborne and Skybreaker
by Kenneth Oppel
The “swashbuckling” and “high-flying” adventures of Matt Cruse aboard an airship. ( Readers who enjoyed this also loved the sequel Skybreaker.
Shen and the Treasure Fleet
by Ray Conlogue
For young adults, this book can go here or in the high school listings. The book is set in 15th century China during a time of great upheval, during which a brother and sister try to free their imprisoned mother, while fleeing from an imperial regime. The author is an-award winning journalist, which shows in the high quality of his writing.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket
(Mr. Snicket, aka Danny Handler, is our own Flossie Lewis’s student and mentee and she brags about ATDP to him all of the time.) This ‘gloomy’ series where “you never know what will happen to those poor Baudelaire orphans [again orphans, and this time the author’s right here in S.F.] next—only that whatever it is, it’s going to be a head-shaking shame.”
The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Stewart
“Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children—two boys and two girls—succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete.”
Boy Sherlock Holmes 
by Shane Peacock
Very well-crafted mysteries with Sherlock Holmes as a boy. Highly recommended by teachers in Canada, and I adore anything having to do with Holmes.
Alex Rider
by Anthony Horowitz
Spy books featuring Alex Rider, a talented teenager and member of Britain’s secret intelligence agency, MI6. Why do I like “Brit Lit” so much? Does everyone else? Or, is it mostly Frank Worrell and me?
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism
by George Byng
Follow the adventures of Molly, an orphan with a talent for hypnosis, and her friends. [Why do so many British children’s books tell stories of orphaned children? And worse yet, why do children love these books so much? Some children have told me that this device works so well because everyone knows that parents prevent children from having real adventures. Actually, I had always seen that as part of my job!]
by Edward Bloor
This is another of Laura Shefler’s favorites. Living in surreal Tangerine County, Fla., a legally blind boy begins to uncover the ugly truth about his football-hero brother. Publisher’s Weekly praised Bloor for “wedding athletic heroics to American gothic with a fluid touch and flair for dialogue,” and so did Laura.
Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I truly enjoy reading these aloud. Actually, I have never asked my students whether they enjoyed them as much as I did.

Here are a couple of websites you might want to review to discover additional titles of interest to your child and you:

  1. Phillips Exeter Academy’s Department of English Reading List, 2007-08.
    This list can be useful for highly competent and scholarly students in grades 7 and 8, and on. It is from Exeter, one of the oldest preparatory schools in the United States. It is very informative. I had a wonderful time reading their curriculum from the 18th century—the days when instruction was in Latin (tuition $8 per term) or in English ($7 per term), and if one could secure two letters from respected members of one’s community attesting that the student was very bright and the family indigent, the tuition was free. The curriculum is worth your consideration.
  2. Education World’s Summer Reading Lists.
    This site has fine lists for students from K to grade 8. They call the list “summer reading” but the titles should be considered “pleasure reading” and read throughout the year! I don’t necessarily agree with the grade level of their recommendations. So, as always, parental guidance is recommended.
  3. It is always worthwhile to look at the American Library Association’s:
    • Caldecott Medal winners (picture books for young children and all adults);
    • Newbery Medal winners (as children read more on their own);
    • and recipients of the Coretta Scott King Award (for outstanding contributions to multi-cultural literature made by African-American authors and illustrators).

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