Kids' Books Gift Guide: Young Readers/Young Adult

There is a ton of good stuff in this category.  A ton.

Sadly, that was not always the case.  I remember being about ten or eleven.  I had, at that point, read every book in my elementary school library.   So I started re-reading and re-reading, and borrowing Sweet Valley High and V.C. Andrews books from my friend Karen, and a lifetime hobby of reading smut and poorly written series was born.

Great news, though.  In the thirty twenty or so years since I was reading books in this category myself, many great new things have been written.

Hold on, here we go!

This book series started online as a serial blog type thing.  Just like Dickens, who wrote series in magazines that were later put into book form and became great works of literature.  Actually, these are slightly better than Dickens, because they're funny.  And the illustrations are adorable.  Take that, Mr. Dickens.

Each book in the series is written by a different young adult author - number one is by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame - and the basic premise that two children find out they are heirs to some sort of powerful family.  They are given a choice of the first of 39 clues to help them find their heritage, or a million dollars to walk away.  The silly saps take the clue.  Personally, I would have taken the money, but that would have been a pretty short series, huh?  Anyway,  good stuff.  And not too formulaic like a lot of series, since different authors write each one.

Here's a shout out to all my nerdy friends out there - you know who you are.  Dwight, the main character in this book, communicates mainly through an origami Yoda finger puppet, who is surprisingly wise.  I'm pretty sure I went to elementary school with this kid.  Of course, he got beat up a lot...  Anyway, great read.

The Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald
Judy does not have high hopes for third grade, or for much else, either.  She's a moody child, and she does not care to show it.  I also love the illustrations in these.  Think Beverly Cleary's Ramona, but updated.

The Missing Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
So, here's a great story.  When I was pregnant with cj, my ob-gyn knew where I worked and would quiz me in great depth every office visit about these books and if there was a new one coming out and what I thought the storyline was pointing toward and what might possibly be the secret that was being kept from the main characters.  I figure if it's good enough for an adult doctor who had been to school for 27 years, it should probably hold the interest of some 10 year olds.

This non-fiction series tackles a wide range of topics from basic body care to babysitting to crafts to horses to math.  It is geared toward the 8-12 year old girls group, and also includes a lot of interactive titles like feeling journals and quiz books.   

This series had been out of print for many years until the late nineties, when it made a reappearance.  These books are a great recommendation for young boys (and girls!) who find reading "boring."  At the end of each chapter, you as the reader get to make a decision about what the main character is going to do, and you are directed to a particular page depending on your choice.  Kids can read these again and again and have a totally different story every time.  Interactive reading at its finest.

This series has been around for years, and continues to be added to regularly.  With over 100 titles, there is sure to be a topic that appeals to each child.  These books take a realistic look at the childhood years of many famous Americans, and as an added bonus, these work really well for book report material.

Surely everyone has heard of this series by now, but I can't pass up the opportunity to recommend it every chance I get.  I read these books for the first time at age eight.  I reread them in high school, and again as an adult.  I have loved them more each and every time.  They are just right for any age, and I believe this is a series that can grow up with your child.  Go buy them all today.

When I was a bookseller, one of the best parts of my job was putting a good book into the hands of a child.  On rare occasions, the child would come back to me later to seek out more recommendations.  That very thing happened over and over when I recommended The Ranger's Apprentice series.  Will, the main character, is a young boy who becomes apprenticed to the Rangers.  These books have action, heroism, and an underdog main character who learns to fight bravely in battle.  It's fantasy realm appeals to young boys and girls alike.

The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
The two main characters in this series are sisters who learn that they are direct descendants of the Brothers Grimm.  They learn that the stories and fairy tales they have always known were actually written down as historical accounts of true happenings, and they soon meet many of those magical creatures.  This fairy tale reboot is a great, fresh take and will appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter.

The "girl and her horse" genre has been popular for decades, but few titles in this vein have come close to Pulitzer prize winning Jane Smiley's young adult debut.  Also, the follow-up title, A Good Horse was just released in the fall.  Wonderfully written.

Hero by Mike Lupica
Mike Lupica has been writing good children's books for years, and his latest is no exception.  As the mother of a child who feels certain he will gain superpowers when he grows up, this title is especially appealing.  Zj and I recently readThe Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy aloud, and this title is next on the list.  By the way, I'm not totally convinced yet that zj doesn't have some sort of power lying in wait.  The next ten years or so should be interesting...

When you Reach Me By Rebecca Stead
This book is awesome.  Totally awesome.  Set in the 70's in New York City, the book is narrated by 12 year old Miranda.  It's mystery, fantasy and some history all rolled into one.  Beautiful sentence structure and fascinating characters make me want to hear more from this author.  Oh, and your kids will love it, too.

I've been reading John Grisham since before he was well-known.  I believe that someday students will be reading A Time to Kill as a work of great Southern literature.  However, I was skeptical when Mr. Grisham entered the world of children's books.  I shouldn't have worried.  It's a great, well-written story that will appeal to your more serious-minded kids.  Trust me, they're out there.

Hugo lives in a Paris train station.  He becomes involved in with a girl and an old man and a mystery ensues.  It's well-written, but don't let the size of this book scare you(or your kids) off.  The books is filled with Brian Selznick's beautiful illustrations.  I mean filled.  It's worth the fifteen bucks for the illustrations alone.  The story, a delightful bonus.

It's like Chinese fairy tale meets adventure and fantasy.  Also, the main character is a strong and brave young woman, and those sometimes hard to find in children's fiction.  The entire book is also beautifully illustrated.  

The title alone makes this one worth the read.  Dave Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame has done it again.  This graphic-novel type story will appeal to sluggish readers because of its many illustrations and humor.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has been providing good quality reading works for my adult nerd friends fantasy lovers forever.  No really, forever.  Within the past decade, he began to keep young readers entranced as well with titles like Coraline.  His latest work is about Bod, a boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts.  Darn bit better than wolves, huh?

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
I'll end the list with this, another of my childhood favorites.  Is it a blessing or a curse to have eternal life and youth?  For the Tuck family, it's a bit of both.  They must move around all the time, or someone will notice that they don't age.  They have each other, but can't form close attachments outside their family.  I remember reading this book as a child and thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking about it.  Isn't that what a good book is supposed to make you do?  It's timeless.

Wow, that list went by quickly.  Tomorrow, I tackle teen books, and I can promise you, it's not a vampire fest.  


  1. THANK YOU!! I actually got my 10 yr old daughter the complete Narnia series for Christmas, so I am happy that was on your list. Thank you for the other fantastic suggestions!

  2. @ The Drama Mama - You're welcome! It's a great series. She will LOVE it!


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