Great reads for tweens becoming teens
Bridging the gap between middle fiction books and young adult books can be tricky for readers. Here are some books that speak to those late childhood and early teen years. (As an added bonus, many of the authors listed here have terrific backlists to dive into if they prove a hit with your young reader.)
Tweens are often coming to terms with shifting friendships and first crushes – as well as growing independence and responsibility in familial roles. The following books all explore the kinds of complicated issues that arise around these changes: R.J. Palacio tackles bullying in the classroom with her story of 10-year-old Auggie, born with a facial abnormality; Rebecca Westcott looks at how family dynamics are impacted when a girl’s mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
In particular, Rebecca Stead’s novels are a favourite here at Readings, and are very much pitched towards the early teen reader. Her most recent book, Goodbye Stranger, looks seriously at the changing friendship between three 13-year-old girls, and her earlier novels are definitely worth checking out also.
- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
- Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg
- Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson
- Life is sweet by Cathy Cassidy
DARK, TWISTED AND SPOOKY
The fascination children have with being scared silly might be baffling to some parents, but there are plenty of authors who revel in giving these morbid youngsters exactly what they’re asking for. Here are some spooky reads that lie somewhere between campfire ghost stories and Stephen King.
Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children books is just around the corner and now you can buy all three books in the one box-set. Much to our delight, the talented Frances Hardinge is also in the spotlight right now with her recent YA novel having been named Costa Book of the year. One of her earlier novels, A Face Like Glass, is a good place to start for a tween-to-teen reader looking for a good scare.
- The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud (Book 1 of Lockwood & Co)
- The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney (Book 1 of Wardstone Chronicles)
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
- A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Book 1 of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children)
Here are some recommendations for children who’ve always loved authors that make them laugh (such as Andy Griffiths and David Walliams) and want to stay with that silly, absurd humour as they move on to more complicated stories. Most notably, there’s Derek Landy’s bestselling series which features a wise-cracking skeleton wizard-detective (Skulduggery Pleasant) and snarky teenage sidekick (ordinary schoolgirl Stephanie Edgley – AKA Valkyrie Cain) solving supernatural mysteries. These books are absolute winners – very funny and perfectly-pitched for this age group.
For a funny book more grounded in reality, try Spurt from Chris Miles in which a boy tries to ‘fake’ puberty to stay up-to-date with his friends. This is some serious cringe comedy for tweens and teens, and you can read a great piece from the author on why the comedy of awkwardness is a natural fit for YA literature here.
- Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (Book 1 of Skulduggery Pleasant)
- Spurt by Chris Miles
- Geek Girl by Holly Smail (Book 1 of Geek Girl)
- Mac Slater Coolhunter by Tristan Bancks
- The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Book 1 of Bartimaeus Sequence)
A good detective story is immensely satisfying, complete with action, puzzles, moral quandaries, odd characters, and more. The following books – from schoolgirl detectives to teens on the run with a dangerous secret – all have mysteries that will keep your tween reading well into the night as they try to work out the truth BEFORE the author reveals all.
Two Wolves is a high-stakes suspense-laden thriller for young readers: Ben’s always dreamt of being a detective so when the police come and take away his parents, he seizes the opportunity. Withering-By-Sea is a fun Victorian fantasy-adventure complete with singing cats. And we’re also big fans of Denise Kirby’s spooky mystery, 88 Lime Street, which our reviewer described as, “a cross between Tom’s Midnight Garden and an episode of Doctor Who.”
- Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks
- Withering-By-Sea by Judith Rossell (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue)
- Liquidator by Andy Mulligan
- Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens (A Murder Most Unladylike mystery)
- 88 Lime Street by Denise Kirby
STRANGE WORLDS AND FANTASY
Overcoming challenges is difficult no matter how old you are, and sometimes it’s easier to make sense of your problems when you see them reflected back at you in a completely different context. Here are some books that transport readers to strange new worlds and in doing so look at issues that tweens are starting to explore and play with – such as making sense of your own identity, and learning your parents aren’t always right (even if they think they are).
‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are so often depicted as ‘black’ and ‘white’ in children’s fiction, but Soman Chainani’s bestselling trilogy urges readers to question how true these labels are (find the first book here). Leanne Hall’s surreal mystery Iris and the Tiger also encourages readers to go beyond the surface of the world around them and ask questions about what is really important.
- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Book 1 of Fairyland)
- Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (Book 1 of the Earthsea Cycle)
- The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (Book 1 of The School for Good and Evil)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
REAL WORLD STORIES
If your child is more interested in real worlds than imaginary ones, here are some books about fascinating real people and events.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate; I am Malala is her story. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, Michaela de Prince is now a ballerina dancing for The Dutch National Ballet; Hope in a Ballet Shoe is her story. And in her graphic novel Baddawi, Leila Abdelrazaq explores her father’s childhood in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
- I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
- Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq
- Trash by Andy Mulligan
- Hope in a Ballet Shoe by Michaela de Prince
- Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
A much appreciated trend of recent YA fiction is seeing authors look seriously at mental health and how it manifests for their characters. Here are some books that are pitched a bit younger, and thoughtfully explore the realities of depression, anxiety and more.
Nova Weetman’s The Secrets We Keep, opens with 11-year-old Clem describing the day her house built down. As the story continues, readers slowly begin to see that Clem isn’t as reliable as she first appears and the subject of mental illness is handled with great skill. Emily Gale’s forthcoming novel, The Other Side of Summer, explores similar themes but with a ghost story element thrown in for good measure. When Summer and her family experience a terrible loss, her father (outrageously) decides to transport their lives to a whole new country.
- The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman
- The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale
- My Sister Jodie by Jacqueline Wilson
- Love, Aubrey by Suzanne Lafleur
- Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
- Run, Pip, Run by J.C. Jones
Tweens who loved Winnie-the-Pooh and the like as young children will likely delight in the following list of books, all of which feature fantastic, compelling animal animals. While some of these suggestions cover heartbreaking territory – for example, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is based on the true story of a great ape who spent 27 years as an attraction in an American mall – they’re all accessible for younger readers with a strong element of hope throughout.
If you do want an animal story that’s more lighthearted, try Kate DiCamillo’s very funny graphic novel, Flora and Ulysses, in which a squirrel is saved from a terrible death by the cynical Flora and unexpectedly receives superhero powers. K.G. Campbell’s charming and endearing illustrations will melt your tween’s cynical heart – along with your own.
- Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell
- Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
- The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
QUESTS AND ADVENTURE
Quests and adventures are a big part of children’s literature and rightly so. The best ones are exciting and stirring, and often rather dangerous. The following books are all pitched for the reader who’s too old for Emily Rodda’s Rowan of Rin adventures, but isn’t ready for some of the darker YA series that are proving popular now.
There’s Tamora Pierce for knights, magic and feminism, and Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series for monsters, necromancers and politics – Clariel is a great standalone set in this world. There’s also Dutch classic, The Letter for the King. Our reviewer says that this novel has it all: “an epic odyssey through treacherous lands, exciting battles with deadly enemies and a courageous young knight who answers a cry for help and risks all in the quest to save a kingdom”.
- The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, and translated by Laura Watkinson
- Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (Book 1 of Throne of Glass)
- Race to the End of the World by A.L. Tait (Book 1 of The Mapmaker Chronicles)
- Vango by Timothy de Fombelle
- Clariel by Garth Nix (Part of the Old Kingdom series)
- Alanna by Tamora Pierce (Book 1 of The Song of the Lioness)