Thought-Provoking Novels to Read With Your Tween

thought provoking novels

In the past few years we’ve seen many incredible novels transformed into (sometimes) incredible movies.  The book lover in me is excited to see some of my favorite novels come to life on the big screen…unless of course the filmmakers ruin it.  Take for example the first Twilight movie: Could it have been even a little bit cheesier, especially with the sleigh bell sound effects that accompany any sparkling vampire skin?  I think not.  Luckily that series improved a little with time, but this post is not titled “Books Hollywood Totally Screwed Up”…although that would be an interesting one to write.

One very positive result of so many books-turned-movies is that people (especially the little people I work with every day) are so excited to read the book before or after they see the movie.  Over the years I’ve had many requests from my elementary students for books such as Twilight, Hunger Games, The Hobbit, The Lightning Thief, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Tale of Despereaux, every super hero movie, and most recently The Fault in Our Stars.  And don’t even get me started on the number of Star Wars books I have in my library!  Some of these books I have because they are written for kids; others, such as Twilight, Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars, are not necessarily appropriate for all ten-year-olds to be reading alone so they are reserved for middle and high school libraries.  Thankfully I have yet to hear any requests for 50 Shades of Grey.

When these requests arise, I have to have alternates.  Books that are thought-provoking at a level appropriate both for elementary aged children’s reading ability and maturity.  The following are books  I often recommend to my fourth and fifth graders: Ten, eleven, and twelve-year-olds who are ready for more than Judy Moody and Magic Tree House but may not be quite ready to explore the themes of The Hunger Games or the adult events in Twilight.  These books are also great for middle school because at that age they will understand the stories in a different way and relate to the characters on a deeper level.  Of course, you are always the best judge of what your child is ready for.  I suggest you read these books with your tween, not only so you can discuss what is happening, but also because they are really great novels.

All summaries are from the publisher.  Books have been linked on Amazon for your convenience.  You can also find them at your local library!

the one and only ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and a #1 New York Times bestseller, this stirring and unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendship. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.

Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.

Watch the book trailer.

laugh with the moon

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg

Thirteen-year-old Clare Silver is stuck. Stuck in denial about her mother’s recent death. Stuck in the African jungle for sixty-four days without phone reception. Stuck with her father, a doctor who seems able to heal everyone but Clare.
Clare feels like a fish out of water at Mzanga Full Primary School, where she must learn a new language. Soon, though, she becomes immersed in her new surroundings and impressed with her fellow students, who are crowded into a tiny space, working on the floor among roosters and centipedes.
When Clare’s new friends take her on an outing to see the country, the trip goes horribly wrong, and Clare must face another heartbreak head-on. Only an orphan named Memory, who knows about love and loss, can teach Clare how to laugh with the moon.
Told from an American girl’s perspective, this story about how death teaches us to live and how love endures through our memories will capture the hearts of readers everywhere.

freaky fast

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton

When twelve-year-old Frankie Joe’s mother is sent to jail, he is uprooted from his home in Texas to live with the father he has never met, his father’s wife, and his father’s four “legitimate” sons in Illinois. Frankie Joe is miserable. Trying to adjust to his blended family proves too much to bear, so Frankie Joe hatches a plot to escape on his bike back home to Texas. For that he needs money, and so Frankie Joe’s Freaky Fast Delivery Service is born. His deliveries win new friends, a place in the rural Illinois community, and a sense of achievement. But his planned escape is destroyed by a heartbreaking betrayal, and Frankie Joe needs all of his incredible resilience and the loving support of his new family to survive the devastating loss.

out of my mind

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don’t think she’s capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can’t, because Melody can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write. Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.From multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper comes a story full of heartache and hope. Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you’ll never, ever forget.

flying the dragon

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Flying the Dragon tells the story of two cousins in alternating chapters. American-born Skye is a good student and a star soccer player who never really gives any thought to the fact that her father is Japanese. Her cousin, Hiroshi, lives in Japan, and never really gives a thought to his uncle’s family living in the U.S. Their lives are thrown together when Hiroshi’s family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), have to move to the U.S. suddenly. Skye resents that she is now “not Japanese enough,” and yet the friends she’s known forever abruptly realize she is “other.” Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye’s intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi’s expertise, and Skye’s growing interest in, kite making and competitive kite flying, culminating in a contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival.

giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

atheleve vs mathlete

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack

Owen Evans lights up the scoreboards. His brother, Russell, rocks the school boards. These twin brothers couldn’t be more different. They’ve long kept the peace by going their separate ways, but all that is about to change. The new basketball coach recruits Russell for the seventh grade team and a jealous Owen has to fight to stay in the game. When someone tries to steal Russell’s spot as captain of the mathlete team, will the two be able to put aside their differences in order to save his position? Or will they be sidelined?

Watch the book trailer.

every soul a star

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

And as streams of light fan out behind the darkened sun like the wings of a butterfly, I realize that I never saw real beauty until now.

At Moon Shadow, an isolated campground, thousands have gathered to catch a glimpse of a rare and extraordinary total eclipse of the sun. Three lives are about to be changed forever:
Ally:
Ally likes the simple things in life-labyrinths, star-gazing, and comet-hunting. Her home, the moon shadow campground, is a part of who she is. She refuses to imagine it any other way.
Bree:
Popular, gorgeous (everybody says so), a future homecoming queen for sure. Bree wears her beauty like a suit of armor. But what is she trying to hide?
Jack:
Overweight and awkward, jack is used to spending a lot of time alone. But when opportunity knocks, he finds himself in situations he never would have imagined.

Told from three distinct voices and perspectives, Wendy Mass weaves an intricate and compelling story about strangers coming together, unlikely friendships, and finding one’s place in the universe.

wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Watch the book trailer.

hatchet

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

ALONE

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

esperanza rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

In the tradition of Out of My MindWonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family. 

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Watch the book trailer.

What other great tween novels can we add to the list?

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