While the slightly older set may have dreams of gadgets and devices, the gift of a great book cannot be overlooked. They’ll thank you when they curl up with their new diversion and a cup of hot cocoa. Here are twelve great texts, ranging from chicken mysteries to comics to survivor fantasy. I’ve put them in order so that books for the younger kids are first, with books for kids in upper elementary and middle school at the end of the list. Like with the picture book roundup, all the texts here are available from Amazon Prime, so you’ll get them in plenty of time for your holiday celebratin’. Happy shopping!
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is a fabulous and well-known author of chapter books, but this time she brings her talents to an easy-reading chapter book for the k-2nd grade set. There are strong (and wacky) characters, an engaging story, and all the fun of a western theme. The illustrations by Chris Van Dusen are energetic and help kids relate to the text.
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
This new series featuring a girl detective named Maisie Hitchins has all the intrigue and suspense we expect from a mystery. There is a great twist, however, in the setting — it’s in Victorian London. Anyone who likes a little bit of history sprinkled in with their mysteries will enjoy this great book.
The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin
Did you know that young readers enjoy lots of weirdness? Well, they definitely do. Dudes in underpants, books about possessed teachers, etc., are the kinds of things that make them giggle and howl and love to read. So this new series featuring the silly adventures of problem-solving chicks will be right up the average kid’s alley. The illustrations are awesome and add a ton to the story, and the humor and levity will make any kid give this two wings up.
Never Girls #1: In a Blink by Kiki Thorpe
If you’d rather give yourself 47 papercuts than give your child one more Rainbow Magic fairy book, but you have a kid who loves things mystical and sparkly, here’s a great alternative with more depth and better illustrations. Four regular girls get magically transported to Pixie Hollow and experience plenty of pixie dust and adventure with Tink and the fairy crew, but it’s a little more demanding and exciting than most series featuring fairies.
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Clements has created a particularly relevant tale for many a modern kid. A boy who would be labeled ADHD or a troublemaker in most classrooms tries to annoy his teacher. He rebrands a typical object with a new name, and an unexpected and interesting drama unfolds.
Cat in the City by Julie Salamon
One challenge many families of young readers face is finding age-appropriate books that are challenging enough for young, precocious readers. This book is a wonderful answer to the quest for a “just right” text for these kids. Whether a child is six or 12, this story about city cat life will be sure to engage and delight. There are higher level concepts like identity, family, and belonging; but there is enough action for younger kids to enjoy and grow as readers, even if they don’t get all the bigger stuff. This one is begging to be re-read as kids grow.
The Mutts Diaries by Patrick McDonnell
It’s the rare kid these days who gets to enjoy laying on the floor with the Sunday comics spread out before him. But kids love comic strips! Reluctant readers love comic strips! Patrick McDonnell has mega kid appeal — animals, silliness, intelligence, wit. Should we give them at taste of the fun most of us enjoyed as children and inspire them to read? “Yesh!” says Mooch the cat.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Yes, another one by Kate DiCamillo in the same list. But she’s that good. And this one is that different. And for a different audience. So here it is! This is one of DiCamillo’s most engaging books. It starts off with a squirrel getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner and goes places you would never expect. The characters are real and complex. Nothing is dumbed down in this story. The layers that the author creates make this a highly enjoyable, very smart read.
The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill
Kids get bigger, and their stories get a little bit heavier. In this one, two boys build a raft, set sail, and only one of them survives. His community treats him like an outcast. They whisper that the wrong brother died. He stutters. He’s shy. So when he goes on a fantastic adventure, he sees himself in a whole new light. There’s magic and enchantment in this fantasy novel, and it’s sure to appeal to the crowd who likes Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
A science-infused novel about reverse aging and adolescence? Say what? I know. But this one works. Holm has crafted a very clever book about a girl named Ellie who realizes the teenager her mother brought home is really her scientist grandfather. The unexpected, unconventional premise is balanced by the realistic emotional growing pains and evolution of relationships that most tweens and young teens are all too familiar with. Kids will relate to Ellie’s feelings and find the story intriguing and enlightening.
The Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Who doesn’t love a wintery mystery? An innkeeper’s son, Milo, is set to enjoy his winter vacation at the quiet inn when a bunch of skeevy folks arrive and start to make him wonder who is there with ill-intent. Milo partners up with the cook’s daughter, Meddy, to determine who’s legit and who’s not. There is a lot of action, a couple twists, and a lot of suspense in this novel.
Kate Glinsmann (she/her) was an owner-partner of BabyNames.com, a lifelong educator with a masters degree in Education. For over 30 years, she worked with preschoolers with special needs, kindergartners, and English language learners.
In her spare time, Kate was a stained glass artist, who built her own studio and gave classes to her local community. Kate was a tireless advocate of those in need, particularly children, mothers and refugees. Kate passed away in December of 2019.