At the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF), we’re big believers in encouraging kids to choose their own books, but we also recognize that a little guidance can be helpful. With that in mind, we asked some bookish pals to recommend some of their favorite books for readers aged 8 to 12. Here’s what they said:
Jane Knight, children’s book buyer at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT, and CLiF Board of Advisors member
The Swallowtail Legacy series: Wreck at Ada’s Reef (#1) by Michael Beil
Lark and her blended family spend the summer on Swallowtail Island in Lake Erie, a place inhabited by a cast of unique inhabitants, some of whom have a familial tie to a mysterious boat crash that happened 75 years prior. Lark, who is plucky and a little ornery about having to share her familial house with her step brothers, becomes intrigued by the wreck when she starts working with a local writer/historian. This mystery has it all- wonderful characters, a perfect summer setting, an intriguing mystery that never falters and a great boat chase scene. Thankfully the second in this series, Betrayed By the Book, just landed earlier this summer so you can keep on spending time on Swallowtail Island. Anyone who enjoyed The Penderwicks will devour these.
(Click here to support Bear Pond Books’ flood recovery efforts!)
Sophie Marks, youth librarian at Maclure Library in Pittsford, VT, a 2023-24 CLiF Rural Library Grant Recipient
All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat
A middle grade book I’ve found myself recommending often to both children and adults recently is All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat, which recounts the true, gripping story of the rescue of a young Thai soccer team from a flooded cave system in 2018. Soontornvat provides a unique perspective on the cultural conflict at play within the rescue teams, as well as expertly keeping up intense narrative tension throughout. Whether someone loves nonfiction or not, this story is almost too incredible to be true, and young readers will easily identify with the trapped team members and wait with baited breath for their rescue.
Lindsey Stoddard, author of The Real Deal (2022), and CLiF presenter
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
A middle grade book I will never forget is The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. Four runaway, homeless children come together on the streets of Chennai, India. Through their courage, loyalty, hard work, and humor they support each other through impossible decisions and define what it means to be family. It is written with such honesty and such hope, and Venkatraman uses the 2nd person point of view to keep us readers on the edge of our seats.
Jenna Danyew, bookseller and store manager of Bridgeside Books in Waterbury, Vermont (CLiF’s hometown indie bookstore!)
Camp Quiltbag by AJ Sass and Nicole Melleby
I read and adored Camp Quiltbag, a point of view swapping novel that follows two middle schoolers to summer camp! This special summer camp is filled with characters who are learning what it means to be themselves, build friendships, overcome anxiety, and embrace all colors of the rainbow. It is healing, hopefully, and heartfelt.
Alone by Megan E. Freeman
Ever read and love My Side of the Mountain? Alone takes everything you love about a young character learning to survive on their own and sets it with fresh, high stakes. Twelve-year-old Maddie ends up utterly alone when a sleepover goes awry. Learning to survive on her own, face terrifying obstacles, and battle loneliness, this novel is about strength, perseverance, and the importance of others.
Trex by Christyne Morrell
Waking up with super powers is everybody’s dream, but what if it goes horribly wrong? Trex’s brain implant saved his life, but now everything he touches gets an extra jolt of electricity. When he finally gets the chance to go to a real middle school and make friends his own age, his struggle to fit in and keep his powers a secret become even harder than he expected…especially when someone dangerous is lurking in the shadows. Fun, creative, and full of adventure!
Simon Brooks, author, storyteller, and CLiF presenter
As Brave As You Are and Miles Morales: SpiderMan by Jason Reynolds
A while back, I read Jason Reynolds’ As Brave as You Are, about two Brooklyn city kids visiting their grandparents in Virginia and how different life was in those two places. I love his writing. I also recently read and loved Miles Morales: SpiderMan. This is not your normal superhero story, but rather a story about Miles trying to figure out who he is in the grand scheme of things and as a hero, and all that comes with that moniker. Reynolds’ writing is skillful, articulate and imaginative. Take this sentence: “Miles took the concern on the tip of his tongue and slipped it underneath it like gum – to be saved for later.” Wonderful!
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
My fellow CLiF presenter Ann Braden wrote a fabulous book called The Benefits of Being an Octopus about a kid who feels they do not fit in, and has to hide, but eventually they find themself.
The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby (Graphic Novel Series) by Marek Bennett
If you like history and the Civil War, then you absolutely must try Marek Bennett’s (another fellow CLiF presenter!) series of seriously good and thick graphic novels about Freeman Colby, a New Hampshire school teacher who signed up with the Union. Real history from letters and journals.
Additional advice from Simon: Whatever you read, have fun with it, and if you don’t (unless it’s a reading assignment), then put it down and read something else. There are too many books out there to waste time reading something you don’t like (unless it’s a reading assignment)!
Based in Waterbury Center, VT, the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring under-resourced children in Vermont and New Hampshire to find joy in reading and writing. Since 1998, CLiF has served over 400,000 young readers and writers, and given away $10 million in new, high-quality children’s books.