Middle Grade Mondays: What to Recommend to 11-13 Yr Olds?

Again, my post today is motivated by comments from the lovely Ballard Mother-Daughter Book Club. One thing I heard from them was that it’s challenging to find good books for the age group and reading level. The daughters are about 11-13 years old and also, as you might expect, they are very good readers.

I can see how for this group many MG books out there may be too young in writing style and content. There’s also a glut of fantasy, so what’s out there for any non-fantasy types? These girls are leaning away from the cartoonish and more towards believability. They are more serious readers, but a lot of current YA and adult books might be too intense, too graphic, or too sexual for them.

So, what to do for a group of 11-13 year olds who aren’t interested in love triangles with sparkly vampires, want to avoid excessive gore, and like to read good literature?

I have to tell you, I had trouble limiting myself to the four books below. I have a long list, but want to hear from others out there. (I also want to save some books for further MGM posts.)

I chose the four books below because they are quite different from each other, get consistent high praise from others, span many years, and inspire discussion.

NATION by Terry Pratchett

from Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Mau has almost completed the initiation rite of his Pacific island culture. Only one part of the ritual remains, but Mau worries that he will never be able to complete it. A devastating tsunami has wiped out his entire island, leaving only Mau and the British governor’s daughters as survivors. Of course, what follows is far more poignant than any quiet South Pacific ceremony. A thoroughly engaging teen novel about identity, community, and resilience.

I just finished this book and really enjoyed it. It’s nothing like his Disc World series. Yes, it’s an alternative version of our world, but it’s not fantasy other than perhaps a bit of magical realism. There are a lot of deaths in the story (Mau’s entire village is destroyed by a Tsunami), but it’s never gruesome nor graphic. It deals very much with how one would face their anger at the universe (their gods) in the aftermath of such a tragedy . . . and yet, Pratchett manages to pepper it with his lovely sense of humour. Boys and girls will like this story and “Ghost Girl” (she renames herself Daphne) is a very strong female lead (as a matter-of-fact, it’s as much her story as it is Mau’s).

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

from GoodReads

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is not an uplifting book, it is narrated by Death, but there is so much beauty within it. The characters are marvelous, the tension palpable. A fabulous lead-in to a discussion about the Holocaust as well as literary style.

TUCK EVERYLASTING by Natalie Babbitt

From GoodReads:

Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

I haven’t read this one in a very long time, but remember that I loved it when I was young. The protagonist is only 10, so it may be geared toward a slightly younger audience than these girls, but I know the language is beautiful and it is not condescending in the least. And also – what a great discussion! Would immortality be a curse or a blessing?

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (Adult book with 14-yr old protag)

from GoodReads:

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen [their maid], insults three of the town’s fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household.

I wish I had thought of this one while I was at the mother-daughter book club meeting because I think it’s a perfect choice for them. Great themes to discuss and told through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl. A fabulous heart-felt coming-of-age with great characters and a dash of suspense due to the abusive father.

And because I can’t help it . . . other books that came to mind: To Kill a Mockingbird, Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Separate Peace, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Book of Fred, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate . . . all right, I’ll stop now.

Let’s hear from you!



Filed under Middle Grade Mondays, writing life

19 responses to “Middle Grade Mondays: What to Recommend to 11-13 Yr Olds?

  1. Those are good choices. I can see how it would be difficult to limit yourself to only four, though! 🙂

  2. All great choices. All my 11 yr olds are reading The Hunger Games, which freaks me out a bit, because of the violence. I would also suggest classics to girls this age: The Secret Garden in particular, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Keen boys and girls might like Treasure Island or Great Expectations.

    • Anne of Green Gables was on my mind as well.

      I know what you mean about The Hunger Games (and others like The Maze Runner, Incarceron, etc). I’m not one to shelter kids from things, but I do believe that graphic violence is not good for developing brains. And I worry about our children becoming desensitized to it.

    • GoshEnTosh

      My little sister is 9 and she read it.

      • Hi GoshEnTosh. I’ve met several 9 year olds who have read the book and/or seen the movie. Just because a child can read a book, doesn’t mean they should. It’s a tough call as a parent or teacher, not wanting to censor what kids read, but understanding the effect on developing brains.

  3. The explanation of your choices is awesome. I love when books of different sorts can do and be so much to so many.

  4. Another good one is Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. It was one of my favorite Cybils’ nominees this year. Set in Afghanistan, it tells the story of a young girl with a cleft lip and palate, who wants to learn to read and write.

    I’ve also heard about a novel by Ruta Sepytys (spelling?) to do with Lithuania. I haven’t read it, but a friend’s daughter’s book club did so, and the girls loved it.

  5. Great books. I find it hard to find books for my boys in that age range but Eric Walter books he loves. He’s currently reading my first YA book, Off Leash and is enjoying it – so that makes me happy.

  6. A couple of those are new to me. I agree, there are lots of fantasy but very little that are literary fiction about real kids and life. I also think books that explore other cultures is really important. Like Island of the Blue Dolphins. Some that I have found that were really great were Zora and Me and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon.

  7. This is really great! i have read tuck everlasting and can’t wait to sink my teeth into the secret life of bees!

  8. I would also recommend Deborah Ellis’s books, beginning with the Breadwinner (if they have not read them already, that is). At this age I also love loved The Iliad and The Odyssey (don’t remember what translation I read, it was in verse, though). Isabel Allende’s City of Beast and the two followups to that also come to mind as possibles.

  9. I’ve read and loved all four of the books you discussed. NATION is one of my favorite books that no one else seems to have heard of, so I’m happy to see you liked it too, Danika. I also love THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX (and its sequel) and all the others you mentioned (except I’ve never heard of THE BOOK OF FRED!). I think TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of the most perfect books ever written. And I second Michael’s suggestion of WORDS IN THE DUST, which I was hoping would win a Newbery honor, but no such luck!

    You seem to be going for literary fiction and classics. How about A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN? Or even STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli? That’s a great discussion-starter for that age. UP A ROAD SLOWLY by Irene Hunt. HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. TENDING TO GRACE by Kimberly Newton Fusco. I could go on…

  10. Madeleine L’Engal’s MEET THE AUSTENS and the other books about Vikki Austen. (The later books in the series get a tiny bit fantastical, but the first two are completely realistic.)

    Jean Craighead George: JULIE AND THE WOLVES and her other surviving-in-nature books.

    Susan Juby’s very funny trilogy about ALICE, I THINK

    If we’re talking classics, BLACK BEAUTY, by Anna Sewell. I believe I read that book ten times when I was that age.

    Kit Pearson writes beautiful historical books: THE SKY IS FALLING trilogy (published all together as THE GUESTS OF WAR)

    Andrew Clemens has written an interesting trilogy for older readers: THINGS NOT SEEN. A boy wakes up one morning to find out he’s invisible. Other than that, it’s entirely realistic.


  11. Pingback: Middle Grade (and YA) Mondays: The Adoration of Jenna Fox | The Accidental Novelist (Writes Again)

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