This is a list of classic books, both old and new or “instant classics” for the younger set. Some are suitable for reading aloud (esp. the ones marked as best for 4-8 yr olds), and all are suitable for most ages over 8. Even older teens might like the ones marked for younger readers. Because these are “classics,” the age boundaries are more for reading/comprehension level, rather than a guide to content, with some noted exceptions.
I invite you to look through the list, and find some that might make suitable reading or read-a-loud stories to share. Check Scholastic.com for many reprints of classics. They are one of the biggest publishers out there for these books, and for that they should be commended. Part III will be coming soon.
The Seventeenth Swap by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Ages 9-12. “Eric Greene needs $17.99 fast. He wants to buy his young crippled friend Jimmy a pair of outrageous red cowboy boots that are on sale for one week.
But how can Eric get the cash that quickly? He has no money, but he does have a plan. He can swap for the boots. So he begins a series of wheelings and dealings with some fascinating people.
And along the way, Eric learns some very surprising things about himself – and that makes the seventeenth swap the best swap of all.” Book Description
Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James
Ages 9-12. “Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else.
But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable?” Book Description
“There have been many horse stories. But not one of them can compare with this book.” New York Times Book Review
“One of the finest horse stories ever told.” Herald Tribune
White Fang by Jack London
Ages 12 and up. “Gr. 6-8. Ed Young, whose haunting illustrations of the wolf made his Caldecott- winning Lon Po Po (1989) so memorable, was well chosen as the illustrator for the Scribner Illustrated Classics edition of White Fang. Jack London’s 1906 novel. As many will remember, London tells the story of a wolf-dog who endures great cruelty before he comes to know human kindness. The 12 pastel illustrations illuminate the text with their dramatic use of light and dark, sensitively delineated forms, and soft, subtle shades of color. A handsome new edition of a longtime favorite.” Booklist
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Ages 12 and up. “First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.” Book Description
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Ages 9-12. ” On an island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland lives a centuries-old band of wild ponies. Among them is the most mysterious of all, Phantom, a rarely seen mare that eludes all efforts to capture her–that is, until a young boy and girl lay eyes on her and determine that they can’t live without her. The frenzied roundup that follows on the next “Pony Penning Day” does indeed bring Phantom into their lives, in a way they never would have suspected. Phantom would forever be a creature of the wild. But her gentle, loyal colt Misty is another story altogether.
Marguerite Henry’s Newbery Honor Book has captivated generations of boys and girls both with its thrilling descriptions of true incidents from the tiny island of Chincoteague, and its realistic yet wonderfully magical atmosphere. This story of an animal brought into captivity poignantly reveals the powerful opposing forces of humans and nature. Wesley Dennis’s pen-and-ink ponies are masterfully depicted with rippling muscles, shaggy coats, and free spirits. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
Stormy, Misty’s Foal by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis
Ages 9-12. “A raging storm slashes across Assateague and Chincoteague islands. Water is everywhere! The wild ponies and the people must battle for their lives.
In the midst of the storm, Misty-the famous mare of Chincoteague-is about to give birth. Paul and Maureen are frantic with worry as the storm rages on… will Misty and her colt survive?
This is the thrilling story of the hurricane that destroyed the wild herds of Assateague, and how strength and love helped rebuild them.” Book Description
Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis
Ages 9-12. “Movie men have come to Chincoteague to film the annual Pony Penning, and Paul and Maureen are thrilled — until they learn that the producers want to buy their beloved Misty. Reluctantly, they agree to sell in order to send their uncle to college. But how will they ever fill the lonely place that Misty leaves behind?
Finding an orphaned colt helps Paul and Maureen deal with their loss, and they soon discover that little Sea Star needs them just as much as they need him.” Book Description
King of the Wind: The Story of the Goldophin Arabians by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis
Ages 9-12. “Grade 4-8-The Newbery Medal-winning tale about a stallion, a stable boy, and their globe-spanning adventures.” School Library Journal
Brighty: Of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry
Ages 9-12. “Grade 3-6-Marguerite Henry’s book (Rand McNally, 1953) is based on actual incidents in the life of a Grand Canyon burro. Brighty loves his life of independence along the Bright Angel Creek for which he was named, going to the rim in the summer and down to the canyon floor in winter. He is present as President Theodore Roosevelt discusses the beauty and grandeur of the Canyon and how it should be preserved for the American people. Brighty is the first to walk the historic bridge connecting the north and south rims. Befriended by prospectors, government men and campers, Brighty alternately helps his friends and runs free as the spirit moves him. His friend and companion, Old Timer, a prospector, is murdered by a claim jumper. A saddened Brighty searches for the killer, an adventure which runs through the book.” School Library Journal
Justin Morgan Had A Horse by Marguerite Henry
Ages 9-12. “Joel’s face suddenly lit up as if he had thought of something for the first time. He spoke now to the horse, as though he were the one that mattered. “Why, come to think of it, you’re just like us, Bub. You’re American! That’s what you are. American!”
In 1791 a Vermont schoolmaster by the name of Justin Morgan comes home with a two-year-old colt named Little Bub. Taken as payment for an outstanding debt, the little colt doesn’t seem like he is worth much, but the kindly teacher asks one of his students, Joel Goss, to train him. Joel knows the horse has great potential, and soon word about Little Bub spreads throughout the entire Northeast for his ability to outwork, outrun, outtrot, and outwalk any horse in the area.
This is the extraordinary tale of a little workhorse, who, after being born in obscurity, becomes one of the greatest breeding stallions of all time. In this true story Newbery Medal-winning author Marguerite Henry and artist Wesley Dennis celebrate the life of the only horse ever to establish a breed all by himself — the Morgan.” Book Description
“…a thing of beauty in every respect and a treasured addition to the home library.” Washington Post
Born to Trot by Marguerite Henry
Ages 9-12. “Gibson can hear the beat of the horses’ hooves against the track. Trotter are the world to him.
But all he ever does is practice. He’s still too young and inexperienced to drive in a real race.
Only he knows he’s ready for the big league. If people would give him a chance, then they would know it, too.
Gib’s chance comes in a filly named Rosalind. Now Gib can prove that he’s man enough to train a
champion. But does he really have what it takes? Can he and Rosalind go all the way to win the Hambletonian, the greatest race of all?” Book Description
“…packed with information as well as vivid accounts of exciting races.” The New York Times
Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
Ages 9-12. “From the moment Danny sees the beautiful Irish setter, he knows Red is the dog for him. Fast and smart, strong and noble, Red is the only dog Danny wants by his side. Soon, neither boy nor dog can stand to be apart. Together Danny and Red face many dangers in the harsh Wintapi wilderness that they call home. But the greatest test of their courage and friendship will come from an enemy more cunning than any they’ve known before–a bear who is the undisputed king of the wilderness, a savage killer called Old Majesty.” Book Description
Irish Red by Jim Kjelgaard
Ages 9-12. ”
For all his champion Irish setter blood, Mike was a misfit. Danny Pickett and his father tried everything to train him, but it was the pup himself who finally proved that he was a champion.” Book Description
“A worthy sequel…a rousing story.” —Library Journal
Outlaw Red by Jim Kjelgaard
Ages 9-12. “He was Sean, a champion, the biggest, handsomest son of Big Red, the famous Irish setter. Bursting with hunting instincts, he fretted under his pampered kennel life, and longed for the wilds. Then suddenly his life changed. He found himself on his own in the Wintapi wilderness, lost, his human protectors gone. An outlaw, he was hunted and shot at by the hill men. How Sean learned to survive amidst constant danger, how he challenged a coyote killer to save his mate, is a stirring tale of bravery and an exciting wilderness adventure. It is also the heartwarming story of another unwilling outlaw–the boy who loved Sean and wanted him for his own.” Book Description
Gentle Ben by Walt Morey
Ages 9-12. “The Alaskan wilderness is a lonely place for Mark Andersen, especially after the death of his brother. But Mark finds a friend named Ben, who happens to be an Alaskan brown bear. Ben and Mark form a special bond, but the townspeople are determined to destroy it. It is only through the strength of an enduring friendship that Ben—and Mark—have a chance of being saved.” Book Description
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Ages 9-12. “Forced to leave her sunny Caribbean home for the bleak Connecticut Colony, Kit Tyler is filled with trepidation. As they sail up the river to Kit’s new home, the teasing and moodiness of a young sailor named Nat doesn’t help. Still, her unsinkable spirit soon bobs back up. What this spirited teenager doesn’t count on, however, is how her aunt and uncle’s stern Puritan community will view her. In the colonies of 1687, a girl who swims, wears silk and satin gowns, and talks back to her elders is not only headstrong, she is in grave danger of being regarded as a witch. When Kit befriends an old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, it is more than the ascetics can take: soon Kit is defending her life. Who can she count on as she confronts these angry and suspicious townspeople?
A thoroughly exciting and rewarding Newbery Medal winner and ALA Notable Children’s Book, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond brings this frightening period of witch hysteria to life. Readers will wonder at the power of the mob mentality, and the need for communities in desperate times–even current times–to find a scapegoat. (Ages 9 and older).” Amazon
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare
Ages 9-12. “In the year 1754, the stillness of Charlestown, New Hampshire, is shattered by the terrifying cries of an Indian raid. Young Miriam Willard, on a day that had promised new happiness, finds herself instead a captive on a forest trail, caught up in the ebb and flow of the French and Indian War. It is a harrowing march north. Miriam can only force herself to the next stopping place, the next small portion of food, the next icy stream to be crossed. At the end of the trail waits a life of hard work and, perhaps, even a life of slavery. Mingled with her thoughts of Phineas Whitney, her sweetheart on his way to Harvard, is the crying of her sister’s baby, Captive, born on the trail. Miriam and her companions finally reach Montreal, a city of shifting loyalties filled with the intrigue of war, and here, by a sudden twist of fortune, Miriam meets the prominent Du Quesne family, who introduce her to a life she has never imagined. Based on an actual narrative diary published in 1807, Calico Captive skillfully reenacts an absorbing facet of history.” Book Description
“Vital and vivid, this short novel based on the actual captivity of a pre-Revolutionary girl of Charlestown, New Hampshire, presents American history with force and verve.” Kirkus Reviews
“Superior historical fiction.” Horn Book
“Convincing historical romance set during the French and Indian War.” Booklist, ALA
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Ages 9-12. “In all Mildred D. Taylor’s unforgettable novels she recounts “not only the joy of growing up in a large and supportive family, but my own feelings of being faced with segregation and bigotry.” Her Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of one African American family, fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s. Nine-year-old Cassie Logan, growing up protected by her loving family, has never had reason to suspect that any white person could consider her inferior or wish her harm. But during the course of one devastating year when her community begins to be ripped apart by angry night riders threatening African Americans, she and her three brothers come to understand why the land they own means so much to their Papa. “Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain’t never had to live on nobody’s place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you’ll never have to. That’s important. You may not understand that now but one day you will. Then you’ll see.”
Twenty-five years after it was first published, this special anniversary edition of the classic strikes as deep and powerful a note as ever. Taylor’s vivid portrayal of ugly racism and the poignancy of Cassie’s bewilderment and gradual toughening against social injustice and the men and women who perpetuate it, will remain with readers forever. Two award-winning sequels, Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis, and a long-awaited prequel, The Land, continue the profoundly moving tale of the Logan family. (Ages 9 and older)” Amazon
Ages 9-12. “Told in the form of a recollection, these “confessions” cover 13-year-old Charlotte’s eventful 1832 transatlantic crossing. She begins her trip a prim schoolgirl returning home to her American family from England. From the start, there is something wrong with the Seahawk : the families that were to serve as Charlotte’s chaperones do not arrive, and the unsavory crew warns her not to make the trip. When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with the civilized Captain Jaggerty, but before long she realizes that he is a sadist and–the only female aboard–she joins the crew as a seaman. Charlotte is charged with murder and sentenced to be hanged before the trip is over, but ends up in command of the Seahawk by the time it reaches its destination. Charlotte’s repressive Puritanical family refuses to believe her tale, and the girl returns to the sea. Charlotte’s story is a gem of nautical adventure, and Avi’s control of tone calls to mind William Golding’s 1980s trilogy of historical novels of the sea. Never wavering from its 19th century setting, the novel offers suspense and entertainment modern-day readers will enjoy. Ages 11-13.” Publishers Weekly
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
Ages 9-12. “Grades 4-8–This beautifully written novel offers valuable insights into the difficulties faced by families and communities caught up in the political, economic, and personal upheavals of war. The events of the Civil War unfold Across Five Aprils (Berkley Pub., 1986) in this moving story by Newbery Award winner, Irene Hunt. It is set in southern Illinois where Jethro Creighton, an intelligent, hardworking boy, is growing into manhood as his brothers and a beloved teacher leave to fight in the Union and Confederate armies. Hunt presents a balanced look at both sides of the conflict, and includes interesting information on lesser-known leaders and battles. Of course, Abraham Lincoln is a frequent topic of conversation, and Jethro even receives a letter from his fellow Illinoian.” School Library Journal
Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs
Ages 9-12. “The fascinating life of Louisa May Alcott, from her happy childhood to her successful career as a writer. Children who loved Little Women will enjoy reading about the real-life Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.” Book Description
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Ages 9-12. “Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions. Winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal, this classic fantasy-adventure is now available in a handsome new edition.” Book Description
“William Pene du Bois combines his rich imagination, scientific tastes, and brilliant artistry to tell a story that has no age limit.” The Horn Book
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Ages 9-12. “Shirley Temple Wong sails from China to America with a heart full of dreams.Her new home is Brooklyn, New York. America is indeed a land full of wonders, but Shirley doesn’t know any English, so it’s hard to make friends. Then a miracle-baseball-happens. It is 1947, and Jackie Robinson, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is everyone’s hero. Jackie Robinson is proving that a black man, the grandson of a slave, can make a difference in America and for Shirley as well, on the ball field and off, America becomes the land of opportunity.” Book Description
Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman
Ages 9-12. “A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter, Lila.”
Lila, the heroine of Philip Pullman’s charming fable, was, as a baby, “a cross little thing, always crying and refusing her food, but Lalchand built a cradle for her in the corner of the workshop, where she could see the sparks play and listen to the fizz and crackle of the gunpowder.” Once out of her cradle, she showed a marked talent for pyrotechnics, even inventing her own fireworks with names like Tumbling Demons and Shimmering Coins. Nevertheless, when Lila tells her father she’d like to become a master firework-maker, he’s shocked. Firework-making is no job for a girl, he tells her; besides, with her burned fingers and singed eyebrows, he’s afraid he’ll never be able to find a husband for her.
If Lalchand is horrified by Lila’s ambitions, his daughter is equally appalled by the prospect of a husband. Instead, she decides to run away to Mount Merapi, where every firework-maker must go to claim some of the royal sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend. Lila’s adventures on the road to Merapi alternate with those of her best friend, Chulak, and his talking white elephant, Hamlet, who set out after her when they learn something that could mean life or death for Lila. Along the way, they meet pirates, wild animals, and supernatural beings of every stripe until, at last, Lila must face the scariest obstacle of all: her own fear. Pullman invests The Firework-Maker’s Daughter with wit, wonder, and more than a few goose bumps. The charm of the prose is reflected in the black and white illustrations by S. Saelig Gallagher that punctuate this slim novel. Though not as sophisticated as Pullman’s remarkable fantasy novels The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, this engaging story does share a courageous heroine, an exciting adventure, and a singular philosophy that ties everything together in a deeply satisfying denouement. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Ages 9-12. “Nearly a hundred years after its original publication, The Railway Children is still one of E. Nesbit’s most beloved and delightful stories. Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis were very happy living in a comfortable house surrounded by a cook and servants and two loving parents, until one evening when there was a knock at the door and their father was mysteriously taken away by two men. Suddenly alone, their mother moves the family to a small cottage in the countryside. There, the children begin a series of exciting adventures, from saving a train filled with passengers from a landslide, to rescuing a baby from a fire, to aiding a penniless Russian exile, to eventually unraveling the mystery of their father’s disappearance. Featuring a new jacket illustration by Caldecott medalist Paul O. Zelinsky, as well as all nineteen of the original black-and-white line drawings by C. E. Brock, this classic story is perfect for home and classroom libraries.” Book Description
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Ages 12 and up. ”
Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by “eejits,” humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran’s doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family’s mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron’s favorite. Gradually he realizes the fate that is in store for him, and with the help of Tam Lin, his bluff and kind Scottish bodyguard, he escapes to Aztlan. There he and other “lost children” are trapped in a more subtle kind of slavery before Matt can return to Opium to take his rightful place and transform his country.
Nancy Farmer, a two-time Newbery honoree, surpasses even her marvelous novel, The Ear, The Eye and the Arm in the breathless action and fascinating characters of The House of the Scorpion. Readers will be reminded of Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Matt’s persistence and courage in the face of a world that intends to use him for its own purposes, and of Louis Sachar’s Holes in the camaraderie of imprisoned boys and the layers of meaning embedded in this irresistibly compelling story. (Ages 12 and older).” Amazon
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
Ages 9-12. “Giff (Lily s Crossing; All the Way Home) again introduces a carefully delineated and sympathetic heroine in this quiet contemporary novel. Artistically talented Hollis Woods, age 12, has made a habit of running away from foster homes, but she s found a place on Long Island where she wants to stay for a while. She immediately bonds with Josie, her new guardian, who is a slightly eccentric, retired art teacher. Yet Hollis is far from content. She worries about Josie s increasing forgetfulness, and she sorely misses her last foster family, the Regans, whom she left under tense circumstances that are only gradually made clear. Giff intersperses tender scenes demonstrating Hollis s growing affection for Josie with memories of the Regans, whose images Hollis preserves in her sketchbook. Pictures of motherly Izzy Regan, her architect husband and their mischievous yet compassionate son, Steven, sensitively express the young artist s conception of a perfect family. As readers become intimately acquainted with Hollis, they will come to understand her fears, regrets and longings, and will root for her as she pursues her dream of finding a home where she belongs. Ages 8-13.” Publishers Weekly
The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr
Ages 9-12. “”I’ve always been fond of birds, poultry in particular.” From that first sentence, readers will gobble up Karr’s (Oh, Those Harper Girls!) hilarious novel of a boy who resolves to walk 1000 turkeys from the Show-Me state to Denver, Colorado. Simon, who’s 15 and newly graduated from the third grade, may not be too bright, but he figures he can make his fortune by buying Mr. Buffey’s bronze turkeys for a quarter apiece and selling them in Denver for $5 each. With his schoolteacher as an investor, Simon picks up a former drunk and a runaway slave to be his partners, and starts herding those turkeys 900 miles down the road. In their travels, they encounter a raging river and a swarm of locusts, each of which the turkeys conquer. But peskiest of all, they’re tailed by Simon’s no-good father, a circus strongman, who decides he wants in on the deal. The gifted Karr has a cheerful, sassy down-home writing style and a perfect pitch for dialogue (she also has an authoritative knowledge of poultry, having grown up on a New Jersey chicken farm). A bonus: the tale is based in truth?there really were turkey drives in the American West. Ages 10-up.” Publishers Weekly
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Ages 9-12. “When a novel like Huckleberry Finn, or The Yearling, comes along it defies customary adjectives because of the intensity of the respouse it evokes in the reader. Such a book, we submit, is Old Yeller; to read this eloquently simple story of a boy and his dog in the Texas hill country is an unforgettable and deeply moving experience.
With Old Yeller,Fred Gipsin secured his place as one of the finest novelists in America. The book was published to instant acclaim and has become one of the most beloved children’s classics ever written. Since its publication in 1956, Old Yeller has won countless awards, including the 1957 Newbery Honor. Mr. Gipson’s other works include both fiction and non-fiction. He grew up in the Texas hill country and died in 1973.” Book Description
Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune
Ages 6 and up. “First published in 1919, Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad: A Dog is actually a collection of immensely popular magazine stories. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, “a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood.” In each tale, Lad exhibits his pure strength of character as he fights off burglars, rescues an invalid child from a poisonous snake, wins ribbons in dog shows, and otherwise leads a dog-hero’s life. This is a period piece–a threatened puppy is described, for example, as “a blinking pygmy who gallantly essayed to growl defiance”–and that touch of fustian is all part of Terhune’s enduring charm. Because the stories didn’t originally appear together, there’s considerable repetition: nearly every story with a fight scene has the same authorial mini-lecture on the difference in fighting technique between collies and bulldogs. But Lad is a character who has poked his muzzle into a million hearts, and new generations of dog lovers will also appreciate his loyalty and courage. As Terhune himself wrote, “few… bothered to praise the stories, themselves. But all of them praised Lad, which pleased me far better.” (Ages 6 and older).” Amazon
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
Ages 9-12. “Lassie is Joe’s prize collie and constant companion. But when Joe’s father loses his job, Lassie must be sold. Three times she escapes from her new owner, and three times she returns home to Joe, until finally she is taken to the remotest part of Scotland-too far a journey for any dog to make alone. But Lassie is not just any dog. First published in 1940, Lassie Come-Home has become one of the best-loved dog stories in the world.” Book Description
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Ages 9-12. “Author Wilson Rawls spent his boyhood much like the character of this book, Billy Colman, roaming the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma with his bluetick hound. A straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip storyteller with a searingly honest voice, Rawls is well-loved for this powerful 1961 classic and the award-winning novel Summer of the Monkeys. In Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy and his precious coonhound pups romp relentlessly through the Ozarks, trying to “tree” the elusive raccoon. In time, the inseparable trio wins the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, captures the wily ghost coon, and bravely fights with a mountain lion. When the victory over the mountain lion turns to tragedy, Billy grieves, but learns the beautiful old Native American legend of the sacred red fern that grows over the graves of his dogs. This unforgettable classic belongs on every child’s bookshelf. (Ages 9 and up).” Amazon
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
Ages 9-12. “Instinct told them that the way home lay to the west. And so the doughty young Labrador retriever, the roguish bull terrier and the indomitable Siamese set out through the Canadian wilderness. Separately, they would soon have died. But, together, the three house pets faced starvation, exposure, and wild forest animals to make their way home to the family they love. The Incredible Journey is one of the great children’s stories of all time–and has been popular ever since its debut in 1961.” Book Description
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Ages 9-12. “Because of Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly, happy dog, 10-year-old Opal learns 10 things about her long-gone mother from her preacher father. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes new friends among the somewhat unusual residents of her new hometown, Naomi, Florida. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to find her place in the world and let go of some of the sadness left by her mother’s abandonment seven years earlier.
With her newly adopted, goofy pooch at her side, Opal explores her bittersweet world and learns to listen to other people’s lives. This warm and winning book hosts an unforgettable cast of characters, including a librarian who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace, an ex-con pet-store clerk who plays sweet music to his animal charges, and the neighborhood “witch,” a nearly blind woman who sees with her heart. Part Frankie (The Member of the Wedding), part Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Opal brings her own unique and wonderful voice to a story of friendship, loneliness, and acceptance. Opal’s down-home charm and dead-on honesty will earn her friends and fans far beyond the confines of Naomi, Florida. (Ages 9 and older).” Amazon
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Ages 9-12. “Anyone who has ever entertained the notion of “little people” living furtively among us will adore this artfully spun classic. The Borrowers–a Carnegie Medal winner, a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award book, and an ALA Distinguished Book–has stolen the hearts of thousands of readers since its 1953 publication. Mary Norton (1903-1993) creates a make-believe world in which tiny people live hidden from humankind beneath the floorboards of a quiet country house in England.
Pod, Homily, and daughter Arrietty of the diminutive Clock family outfit their subterranean quarters with the tidbits and trinkets they’ve “borrowed” from “human beans,” employing matchboxes for storage and postage stamps for paintings. Readers will delight in the resourceful way the Borrowers recycle household objects. For example, “Homily had made her a small pair of Turkish bloomers from two glove fingers for ‘knocking about in the mornings.'”
The persistent pilfering goes undetected until a boy (with a ferret!) comes to live in the country house. Curiosity drives Arrietty to commit the worst mistake a Borrower can make: she allows herself to be seen. This engaging, sometimes hair-raisingly suspenseful adventure is recounted in the kind, eloquent voice of narrator Mrs. May, whose brother might–just might–have seen an actual Borrower in the country house many years ago. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Ages 9-12. “Maniac Magee is a folk story about a boy, a very excitable boy. One that can outrun dogs, hit a home run off the best pitcher in the neighborhood, tie a knot no one can undo. “Kid’s gotta be a maniac,” is what the folks in Two Mills say. It’s also the story of how this boy, Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee, confronts racism in a small town, tries to find a home where there is none and attempts to soothe tensions between rival factions on the tough side of town. Presented as a folk tale, it’s the stuff of storytelling. “The history of a kid,” says Jerry Spinelli, “is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball.” And for this kid, four parts of fun. Maniac Magee won the 1991 Newbery Medal.” Amazon
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Ages 9-12. “The evacuation of Jews from Nazi-held Denmark is one of the great untold stories of World War II. On September 29, 1943, word got out in Denmark that Jews were to be detained and then sent to the death camps. Within hours the Danish resistance, population and police arranged a small flotilla to herd 7,000 Jews to Sweden. Lois Lowry fictionalizes a true-story account to bring this courageous tale to life. She brings the experience to life through the eyes of 10-year-old Annemarie Johannesen, whose family harbors her best friend, Ellen Rosen, on the eve of the round-up and helps smuggles Ellen’s family out of the country. Number the Stars won the 1990 Newbery Medal.” Amazon
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater
Ages 6-10. “More than 60 years have not dated this wonderfully absurd tale–it still makes kids (and parents) laugh out loud. Poor Mr. Popper isn’t exactly unhappy; he just wishes he had seen something of the world before meeting Mrs. Popper and settling down. Most of all, he wishes he had seen the Poles, and spends his spare time between house-painting jobs reading all about polar explorations. Admiral Drake, in response to Mr. Popper’s fan letter, sends him a penguin; life at 432 Proudfoot Avenue is never the same again. From one penguin living in the icebox, the Popper family grows to include 12 penguins, all of whom must be fed. Thus is born “Popper’s Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole.” Their adventures while on tour are hilarious, with numerous slapstick moments as the penguins disrupt other acts and invade hotels. Classic chapter-a-night fun. (Ages 5 to 10).” Amazon
Holes by Louis Sachar
Ages 9-12. “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.” Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where there is no lake, and there are no happy campers. In place of what used to be “the largest lake in Texas” is now a dry, flat, sunburned wasteland, pocked with countless identical holes dug by boys improving their character. Stanley Yelnats, of palindromic name and ill-fated pedigree, has landed at Camp Green Lake because it seemed a better option than jail. No matter that his conviction was all a case of mistaken identity, the Yelnats family has become accustomed to a long history of bad luck, thanks to their “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!” Despite his innocence, Stanley is quickly enmeshed in the Camp Green Lake routine: rising before dawn to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter; learning how to get along with the Lord of the Flies-styled pack of boys in Group D; and fearing the warden, who paints her fingernails with rattlesnake venom. But when Stanley realizes that the boys may not just be digging to build character–that in fact the warden is seeking something specific–the plot gets as thick as the irony.
It’s a strange story, but strangely compelling and lovely too. Louis Sachar uses poker-faced understatement to create a bizarre but believable landscape–a place where Major Major Major Major of Catch-22 would feel right at home. But while there is humor and absurdity here, there is also a deep understanding of friendship and a searing compassion for society’s underdogs. As Stanley unknowingly begins to fulfill his destiny–the dual plots coming together to reveal that fate has big plans in store–we can’t help but cheer for the good guys, and all the Yelnats everywhere. (Ages 10 and older)” Amazon
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Ages 9-12. “When an eccentric millionaire dies mysteriously, sixteen very unlikely people are gathered together for the reading of the will . . . and what a will it is!” Book Description
“A supersharp mystery . . . Confoundingly clever, and very funny.” Booklist, starred review
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Ages 9-12. “As in his Newbery Honor-winning debut, The Watsons Go to BirminghamA1963, Curtis draws on a remarkable and disarming mix of comedy and pathos, this time to describe the travails and adventures of a 10-year-old African-American orphan in Depression-era Michigan. Bud is fed up with the cruel treatment he has received at various foster homes, and after being locked up for the night in a shed with a swarm of angry hornets, he decides to run away. His goal: to reach the man, he on the flimsiest of evidence, believes to be his father, jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. Relying on his own ingenuity and good luck, Bud makes it to Grand Rapids, where his “father” owns a club. Calloway, who is much older and grouchier than Bud imagined, is none too thrilled to meet a boy claiming to be his long-lost son. It is the other members of his band Steady Eddie, Mr. Jimmy, Doug the Thug, Doo-Doo Bug Cross, Dirty Deed Breed and motherly Miss Thomas, who make Bud feel like he has finally arrived home. While the grim conditions of the times and the harshness of Bud’s circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis shines on them an aura of hope and optimism. And even when he sets up a daunting scenario, he makes readers laugh, for example, mopping floors for the rejecting Calloway, Bud pretends the mop is “that underwater boat in the book Momma read to me, Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea.” Bud’s journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last. Ages 9-12.” Publishers Weekly
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Ages 9-12. “When 11-year-old Marty Preston chances upon a mistreated beagle pup in his hometown of Friendly, West Virginia, he is not prepared for the ethical questions he has to face. Should he return the dog to its owner, only to have the animal abused again? Should he tell his parents? Should he steal food to help the poor creature? Marty’s efforts to cope with these questions provides the moral backbone for this story, which is presented in a language and manner that will be understood by third- and fourth-grade readers. The heart and beauty of this 1992 Newbery Medal winner lies in lessons children will take away with them. Amazon
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Ages 9-12. “When James drops magic crystals by the peach tree, the toy peach starts growing, and before long, it’s as big as a house, with a secret entranceway.” Book Description
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Ages 9-12. “Mistress Mary is quite contrary until she helps her garden grow. Along the way, she manages to cure her sickly cousin Colin, who is every bit as imperious as she. These two are sullen little peas in a pod, closed up in a gloomy old manor on the Yorkshire moors of England, until a locked-up garden captures their imaginations and puts the blush of a wild rose in their cheeks; “It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of roses which were so thick, that they matted together…. ‘No wonder it is still,’ Mary whispered. ‘I am the first person who has spoken here for ten years.'” As new life sprouts from the earth, Mary and Colin’s sour natures begin to sweeten. For anyone who has ever felt afraid to live and love, The Secret Garden‘s portrayal of reawakening spirits will thrill and rejuvenate. Frances Hodgson Burnett creates characters so strong and distinct, young readers continue to identify with them even 85 years after they were conceived. (Ages 9 to 12). Amazon
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Ages 9-12. “Sara Crewe is a gifted and well-mannered child, and Captain Crewe, her father, is an extraordinary wealthy man. So Miss Minchin, headmistress of Sara’s new boarding school in London, is pleased to treat Sara as her star pupil–a pampered little princess.
But suddenly, one dreadful day, Sara’s world collapses around her. All of her lovely things are taken from her and she is forbidden to associate with her friends. Her father has died penniless in India.
Miss Minchin can now show her greedy and meanspirited nature to its fullest. The little princess is reduced to a shabby drudge. But Sara does not break, and with the help of a monkey, an Indian lascar, and the strange, ailing gentleman next door, she not only survives her sufferings but help those around her.” Book Description
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
Ages 9-12. “Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is Idaville neighborhood’s ten-year-old star detective. With an uncanny knack for trivia, he solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his own detective agency. But his dad also happens to be the chief of the Idaville police department, and every night around the dinner table, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. And with ten confounding mysteries in each book, not only does Encyclopedia have a chance to solve them, but the reader is given all the clues as well. Interactive and chock full of interesting bits of information—it’s classic Encyclopedia Brown!” Book Description
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Ages Y/A. “Since its publication in 1946, George Orwell’s fable of a workers’ revolution gone wrong has rivaled Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea as the Shortest Serious Novel It’s OK to Write a Book Report About. (The latter is three pages longer and less fun to read.) Fueled by Orwell’s intense disillusionment with Soviet Communism, Animal Farm is a nearly perfect piece of writing, both an engaging story and an allegory that actually works. When the downtrodden beasts of Manor Farm oust their drunken human master and take over management of the land, all are awash in collectivist zeal. Everyone willingly works overtime, productivity soars, and for one brief, glorious season, every belly is full. The animals’ Seven Commandment credo is painted in big white letters on the barn. All animals are equal. No animal shall drink alcohol, wear clothes, sleep in a bed, or kill a fellow four-footed creature. Those that go upon four legs or wings are friends and the two-legged are, by definition, the enemy. Too soon, however, the pigs, who have styled themselves leaders by virtue of their intelligence, succumb to the temptations of privilege and power. “We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of the farm depend on us. Day and night, we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.” While this swinish brotherhood sells out the revolution, cynically editing the Seven Commandments to excuse their violence and greed, the common animals are once again left hungry and exhausted, no better off than in the days when humans ran the farm. Satire Animal Farm may be, but it’s a stony reader who remains unmoved when the stalwart workhorse, Boxer, having given his all to his comrades, is sold to the glue factory to buy booze for the pigs. Orwell’s view of Communism is bleak indeed, but given the history of the Russian people since 1917, his pessimism has an air of prophecy.” Amazon
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Ages Y/A. “William Golding’s classic tale about a group of English schoolboys who are plane-wrecked on a deserted island is just as chilling and relevant today as when it was first published in 1954. At first, the stranded boys cooperate, attempting to gather food, make shelters, and maintain signal fires. Overseeing their efforts are Ralph, “the boy with fair hair,” and Piggy, Ralph’s chubby, wisdom-dispensing sidekick whose thick spectacles come in handy for lighting fires. Although Ralph tries to impose order and delegate responsibility, there are many in their number who would rather swim, play, or hunt the island’s wild pig population. Soon Ralph’s rules are being ignored or challenged outright. His fiercest antagonist is Jack, the redheaded leader of the pig hunters, who manages to lure away many of the boys to join his band of painted savages. The situation deteriorates as the trappings of civilization continue to fall away, until Ralph discovers that instead of being hunters, he and Piggy have become the hunted: “He forgot his words, his hunger and thirst, and became fear; hopeless fear on flying feet.” Golding’s gripping novel explores the boundary between human reason and animal instinct, all on the brutal playing field of adolescent competition.” Amazon
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Ages Y/A. “Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”
His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.” Amazon
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Ages Y/A. ““When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…. When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.”
Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus–three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.
Like the slow-moving occupants of her fictional town, Lee takes her time getting to the heart of her tale; we first meet the Finches the summer before Scout’s first year at school. She, her brother, and Dill Harris, a boy who spends the summers with his aunt in Maycomb, while away the hours reenacting scenes from Dracula and plotting ways to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley. At first the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, barely penetrate the children’s consciousness. Then Atticus is called on to defend the accused, Tom Robinson, and soon Scout and Jem find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding. During the trial, the town exhibits its ugly side, but Lee offers plenty of counterbalance as well–in the struggle of an elderly woman to overcome her morphine habit before she dies; in the heroism of Atticus Finch, standing up for what he knows is right; and finally in Scout’s hard-won understanding that most people are essentially kind “when you really see them.” By turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking, To Kill a Mockingbird is one classic that continues to speak to new generations, and deserves to be reread often.” Amazon
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Ages Y/A. “Novella by John Steinbeck, published in 1937. The tragic story, given poignancy by its objective narrative, is about the complex bond between two migrant laborers. The book, which was adapted by Steinbeck into a three-act play (produced 1937), earned him national renown. The plot centers on George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is large and simpleminded, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength. When Lennie accidentally kills the ranch owner’s flirtatious daughter-in-law, George shoots his friend rather than allow him to be captured by a vengeful lynch mob.” Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Ages 12 and up. “According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser. This classic, written by S. E. Hinton when she was 16 years old, is as profound today as it was when it was first published in 1967.” Amazon
The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Ages Y/A. “The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.” Book Description
Stuart Little by E. B. White
Ages 9-12. “How terribly surprised the Little family must have been when their second child turned out to be a small mouse. Apparently familiar with the axiom that “when in New York City, anything can happen,” the Littles accept young Stuart into their family unquestioningly–with the exception of Snowbell the cat who is unable to overcome his instinctive dislike for the little mouse. They build him a bed from a matchbox, and supply him with all of the accoutrements a young mouse could need. Mrs. Little even fashions him a suit, because baby clothes would obviously be unsuitable for such a sophisticated mouse. In return, Stuart helps his tall family with errant Ping-Pong balls that roll outside of their reach.
E. B. White takes Stuart on a hero’s quest across the American countryside, introducing the mouse–and the reader–to a myriad of delightful characters. Little finds himself embroiled in one adventure after another from the excitement of racing sailboats to the unseen horrors of substitute teaching. This is a story of leaving home for the first time, of growing up, and ultimately of discovering oneself. At times, doesn’t everyone feel like the sole mouse in a family–and a world–of extremely tall people? (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice
Ages 9-12. “Gr. 5-8. Lucas’ entire family has died, one by one, of tuberculosis, known as consumption in the mid-1800s. Wandering through the Connecticut countryside in grief, Lucas ends up becoming the new apprentice to Dr. Uriah M. Beecher, also the local dentist, apothecary, barber, and undertaker. Lucas’ new community is being decimated by consumption, and the local people want to try a technique rumored to work: digging up the remains of the first family member to die, removing and burning the heart, and breathing in the smoke. Dr. Beecher is certain this is useless at best, but Lucas feels sure it is worth a try. DeFelice skillfully gives readers enough historical information to see the reasoning behind the macabre practice and creates in Lucas a flesh and blood boy going through a most difficult time. Hand this title to students who have been assigned historical fiction and consider olden times to be boring.” Booklist
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman
Ages 9-12. “When California Morning Whipple’s widowed mother uproots her family from their comfortable Massachusetts environs and moves them to a rough mining camp called Lucky Diggins in the Sierras, California Morning resents the upheaval. Desperately wanting to control something in her own life, she decides to be called Lucy, and as Lucy she grows and changes in her strange and challenging new environment. Here Karen Cushman helps the American Gold Rush spring to colorful life, just as she did for medieval England in her previous two books, Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice, which won Newbery Honor status and a Newbery Medal respectively. For ages 8-12.” Amazon
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
Ages 9-12. “Grade 4-6 A satisfying quest fantasy with a strong element of modern realism which will appeal to a wide range of readers. Ten-year-old William is so distraught at the idea of his beloved housekeeper/nanny Mrs. Phillips returning to England that, with the aid of a magic token, he shrinks her into the size of the toy knight which inhabits a wooden castle that has been passed down in her family for generations. To undo his rash deed, William must be miniaturized himself and accompany the silver knight, Sir Simon, on a quest to overthrow Alastor, a wicked magician who long ago usurped the throne of what should have been Sir Simon’s kingdom. William’s pure and gentle heart enables him to triumph over both the magician and his own childish yearning to possess Mrs. Phillips. The plot is carefully constructed. William’s real-life situation is a strong component of the story rather than a device whereby he can enter the fantasy world. His too-busy parents and his struggle to be mature enough to let Mrs. Phillips go are juxtaposed with his quest and struggle to defeat Alastor. Both William and Mrs. Phillips are sympathetic, well-developed characters. In contrast, William’s pediatrician mother and architect father are sketchy, both in William’s emotional life and in the author’s realization of them. Adults may find the theme that a pure heart can triumph over evil is a bit overstated, and fantasy buffs may desire a more fully developed fantasy world, but for young readers new to fantasy this will be successful.” School Library Journal
Crispin : The Cross of Lead by Avi
Ages 9-12. “Set in 14th-century England, Avi’s (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) 50th book begins with a funeral, that of a village outcast whose past is shrouded in mystery and whose adolescent son is known only as “Asta’s son.” Mired in grief for his mother, the boy learns his given name, Crispin, from the village priest, although his presumably dead father’s identity remains obscure. The words etched on his mother’s treasured lead cross may provide some clue, but the priest is murdered before he can tell the illiterate lad what they say. Worse, Crispin is fingered for the murder by the manor steward, who declares him a “wolf’s head” wanted dead or alive, preferably dead. Crispin flees, and falls in with a traveling juggler. “I have no name,” Crispin tells Bear, whose rough manners and appearance mask a tender heart. “No home, no kin, no place in this world.” How the boy learns his true identity (he’s the bastard son of the lord of the manor) and finds his place in the world makes for a rattling fine yarn. Avi’s plot is engineered for maximum thrills, with twists, turns and treachery aplenty, but it’s the compellingly drawn relationship between Crispin and Bear that provides the heart of this story. A page turner to delight Avi’s fans, it will leave readers hoping for a sequel. Ages 8-12.” Publishers Weekly
Ages 9-12. “Newberry Award winner! National Book Award Finalist! A novel in stories. Joey remembers the days of childhood when he and his sister, Mary Alice, visited their grandmother.” Book Description
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Ages 9-12. “Grandma Dowdel’s back! She’s just as feisty and terrifying and goodhearted as she was in Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago, and every bit as funny. In the first book, a Newberry Honor winner, Grandma’s rampages were seen through the eyes of her grandson Joey, who, with his sister, Mary Alice, was sent down from Chicago for a week every summer to visit. But now it’s 1937 and Joey has gone off to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, while 15-year-old Mary Alice has to go stay with Grandma alone–for a whole year, maybe longer. From the very first moment when she arrives at the depot clutching her Philco portable radio and her cat, Bootsie, Mary Alice knows it won’t be easy. And it’s not. She has to sleep alone in the attic, attend a hick town school where in spite of her worn-out coat she’s “the rich girl from Chicago,” and be an accomplice in Grandma’s outrageous schemes to run the town her own way–and do good while nobody’s looking. But being Grandma’s sidekick is always interesting, and by the end of the year, Mary Alice has grown to see the formidable love in the heart of her formidable Grandma.
Peck is at his best with these hilarious stories that rest solidly within the American literary tradition of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Teachers will cherish them as great read-alouds, and older teens will gain historical perspective from this lively picture of the depression years in small-town America. (Ages 12 and older).” Amazon
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Ages 14 and up. “Grade 8-12 Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. The plane drifts off course and finally crashes into a small lake. Miraculously Brian is able to swim free of the plane, arriving on a sandy tree-lined shore with only his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. The novel chronicles in gritty detail Brian’s mistakes, setbacks, and small triumphs as, with the help of the hatchet, he manages to survive the 54 days alone in the wilderness. Paulsen effectively shows readers how Brian learns patienceto watch, listen, and think before he actsas he attempts to build a fire, to fish and hunt, and to make his home under a rock overhang safe and comfortable. An epilogue discussing the lasting effects of Brian’s stay in the wilderness and his dim chance of survival had winter come upon him before rescue adds credibility to the story. Paulsen tells a fine adventure story, but the sub-plot concerning Brian’s preoccupation with his parents’ divorce seems a bit forced and detracts from the book. As he did in Dogsong (Bradbury, 1985), Paulsen emphasizes character growth through a careful balancing of specific details of survival with the protagonist’s thoughts and emotions.” School Library Journal
“This Newbery Honor book is a dramatic, heart-stopping story of a boy who, following a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, must learn to survive with only a hatchet and his own wits. Ages 12-up.” Publishers Weekly
The River by Gary Paulsen
Ages 10 and up. “In a boxed review, PW praised the “terse, heart-stopping prose” of this follow-up to Hatchet : “The new adventure is as riveting as its predecessor . . . the psychological terrain of the sequel is fresh and distinct.” Ages 10-14. Publishers Weekly
This sequel to Gary Paulsen’s award-winning Hatchet, finds fifteen-year-old Brian returning to the Canadian wilderness where he had been stranded alone after a plane crash two years earlier. The story is self-contained, not dependent on its predecessor. AudioFile
Ages 12 andup. “In spare, almost biblical prose, Gary Paulsen writes of the horrors of combat in a Civil War novella that puts a powerful, more contemporary spin on Stephen Crane’s classic The Red Badge of Courage. Based on the life of a real boy, it tells the story of Charley Goddard, who lies his way into the Union Army at the age of 15. Charley has never been anyplace beyond Winona, Minnesota, and thinks war would be a great adventure. And it is–at first–as his regiment marches off through cheering crowds and pretty, flag-waving girls. But then comes the battle. Charley screams, “Make it stop now!” disbelieving that anything so horrible could be real. Paulsen is unsparing in the details of what actually happens on the battlefield: the living men suddenly blown into pieces, the agony and fear, the noise and terror, the stinking corpses. After many battles, Charley is wounded and sent home an old man before he is 20, his will to live destroyed by combat fatigue–leaving him with a “soldier’s heart.” Paulsen has received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and several Newbery Honor awards for previous work, but this superb, small masterpiece transcends any of his earlier titles in its remarkable, memorable intensity and power. (Ages 12 to 15).” Amazon
Although many of these books have been made into movies, I purposefully left those off for now – I will do a matching list later. But I wanted to focus on the books, and encourage kids to read, rather than just watch the movie version. Enjoy! Part III and At the Movies for Classic Kids coming soon…