OK, this topic has come up for me I don't know how many times, so I figure I better post on it. Once I had a goal-setting meeting with my boss's boss, and she asked me, "What would be your dream job?" and I was probably supposed to say something like, "Preparing educational materials of such extreme excellence for teachers and school psychologists that it would change the face of the universe," but instead I said, "Sitting at home in my pajamas, reading children's books and then telling other people which are the best ones." Did I just say that out loud? Well, I did, and oddly enough I no longer work there, though that happened way later and the technical term is "LAID OFF" not fired, there's a definite difference, people, but still. Sometimes I wonder.
Anyway, I don't quite sit at home in my pajamas all day and read and get paid for it, but I read as much as I can without getting paid for it, and then people ask me what they should read so it's still kind of fun. Lately I've been asked quite a bit for quality books for middle schoolers. And in the last issue of the magazine, there was a reading article, and I got to write a sidebar of editor's picks for little kids and big kids.
I'm thinking of parents and tweens who are looking for something other than Twilight or Pretties/Uglies (just heard of them) or whatever. These are great either for your nine to twelvers to read on their own, or for you to read aloud to your younger kids. I like these because they have wonderful prose, good plots, interesting characters, a wide spread of interests, and best of all, they're fun. So, without further ado, here ya go in no particular order:
Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks (there are many other wonderful Freddy books in this series). This is about a motley group of farm animals that decides to winter in Florida. Adventure abounds, and if you like to do all the funny voices while you read (AS YOU SHOULD), this is the book for you. Amazon reviews says, "Brooks is hilariously tongue-in-cheek; his insightful descriptions of animal characters are always compassionate; and his subtle appeal to a child's instinct for justice is no less than masterful. As Adam Hochschild of the New York Times Book Review writes, "The moral center of my childhood universe, the place where good and evil, friendship and treachery, honesty and humbug were defined most clearly, was not church, not school, and not the Boy Scouts. It was the Bean Farm."
Moving along and don't worry, I'll get tired soon and won't write that long of a description for all these.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (and the sequels, Tucker's Countryside and Harry Cat's Pet Puppy). These are classics. My girls have never belly laughed as hard at any other books.
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (and its sequel Little Plum). These are wonderful books about finding a place to belong, and they have loads of beautiful Japanese culture interwoven throughout.
Treasure of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (or really, the whole Green Knowe series) Wonderful book about a boy on break from prep school at his great-grandmother's manor, which is haunted by friendly, historical ghosts.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. This one is about a young silversmith apprentice in colonial Boston.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. Did everybody else read these when they were young? Pure awesomeness.
The "Shoe" books (Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, Theater Shoes) by Noel Streatfeild. These kindled a lifelong interest in the theater for me. Good characterization and plotting too. I've never met anyone who disliked these.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. One of the best historical novels I've read, about a young woman coming to Connecticut during pre-Revolutionary War time and dealing with religious prejudice there. That sounds heavy. I promise, it is action packed!
The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I've talked about these so many times that there's nothing left to say. Have you not read these yet? Why? What are you waiting for? (caveat: if you have/are a girl. I can't see many boys being interested in these.)
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. Amazon says, "This enjoyable tale of four sisters, a new friend, and his snooty mother is rollicking fun." I agree.
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. Another classic. Good stuff.
The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert. Oh, how I loved this one when I was a tween. It's the story of a refugee family after WWII and how they rebuilt their life. I think it's out of print, but you may be able to get it at the library or could certainly get a cheap, used copy online.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. This got a lot of buzz so I was skeptical, but I loved it. Haven't read the sequels yet, but I heard they're good, too. It has a boy protagonist.
The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. This author has a lot of books, and I hope they're all as stellar as this one, about orphans and jewelry and pastries and friends and villains and Lipizzaner horses.
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. This is another one from my own tween years. A beautiful coming of age story. If you have a child interested in writing, this is for her (it is more of a girl's book).
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Now I have to say, I haven't read this one yet so...take this one with a grain of salt. However, I've heard loads of positive buzz on it. It's about a sixth-grade girl who keeps receiving mysterious notes, predicting her future. The book's muse is A Wrinkle in Time, which is another good pick.
There are lots of others, including the classics and the Narnia books and all that, but I always assume people have already read those. If you have any others you or your tween enjoy, please let me know!
Now, put on your pajamas and read!