Books for Tween Boys
There he stood, shoulders drawn up to his ears and his hands in the air. You know, the universal sign for “I don’t know!” His answer was in response to my question: “what books are you reading these days!” You’d think I had asked him about the theory of relativity. But for a tween boy, finding an engaging book to read CAN be as hard as explaining the theory of relativity.
I recently reached out to fellow blogger, Lauren Bercuson, to get her best recommendations of engaging books for tween boys.
Lauren blogs about children’s literature on Happily Ever Elephants, from board books for babies and toddlers to novels for tweens and everything in between. I especially love the way Lauren helps parents find the perfect books to help guide their kids through important topics, like the importance of adopting a growth mindset, how to navigate self esteem challenges, and, a critical one in our house, staying safe online.
These recommendations were exactly what our tween boys needed to rekindle their love of reading. I am sure your tween boy will find some winners in this list as well.
(This post was originally published in April 2019. It was updated and republished August 2020)
BOOKS FOR TWEEN BOYS: CHAPTER BOOKS WE ADORE!
Ghost, by Jason Reynolds: Ghost wants to be the fastest runner. In fact, running is all he ever knows. Yet Ghost is running for the wrong reasons, like a past that constantly brings him to his knees. Then Ghost meets Coach, who brings Ghost to the middle school track team along with Lu, Sunny, and Patina. And if Ghost can only stay on track, both literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in his city- and maybe even qualify for the Junior Olympics. Powerful, explosive, and a National Book Award Finalist, this is the first book in the Track series that kids won’t soon forget. A must-read book for tween boys!
The Girl that Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill: In this Newbery Award winner, a town is haunted by an annual tradition: a Day of Sacrifice, one that involves leaving the eldest baby born that year in the woods. Why? To appease a witch who threatens to destroy the village if her commands are not obeyed. Thus begins the story of one baby who is taken and “enmagicked,” the families from whom babies are taken, a witch who is anything but, a very tiny dragon, and a tale looming before a village that may or may not actually be true. In this stunning novel, Barnhill presents a spring point for conversations about truths versus lies and how adherence to certain stories can become the very foundations on which societies are built and even maintained.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander: This is another book my fourth and fifth graders are absolutely in love with- they simply cannot get enough of Kwame Alexander’s books. Alexander’s novels in verse have become some of the most popular books for tween boys, and this one won both the Newbery Award and a Coretta Scott King Honor. Josh and Jordan, twins, are middle school basketball stars who suddenly, for the very first time, begin to drift apart — due, in part, to a girl. Told in Alexander’s exquisite, lyrical, verse, and fusing basketball, beats, brothers, and family bonds, this is a book that pulses with energy and will hook any tween reader – especially those who have an affinity for sports and music.
Greetings from Witness Protection!, by Jake Burt: Tough city foster kid meets the FBI meets a family on the run from some of the nation’s most troublesome criminals. Nicki Demere is an orphan, and also the FBI’s best bet to keep the Trevor family safe. But to accomplish her mission, she won’t only have to run from cyberbullies and hitmen, but she’ll also have to ace her standardized tests and keep her grades from falling. A wild romp about family, sibling rivalry, and the secrets in our past that threaten to harm our future help this one get two “trunks” up!
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend: If you like curses and heavy doses of misfortune, you must check out the new Nevermoor series, which has been touted as a “Harry Potter-esque” adventure. Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any baby to be born, and she’s thus blamed for basically – well – everything. But the worst part? Morrigan Crow is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. Fast pacing and high stakes make this one a page-turner your kids will race through!
Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson: Six children are taken to their school’s old art room and told it’s a place for them to have a weekly chat— without any teachers monitoring them. The six kids, from varying walks of life, are hesitant at first. They each have their stories, but is it safe? Can they open up to one another? The room becomes dubbed the ARTT room, an acronym for “a room to talk,” and soon enough, their stories begin. As the kids’ connections develop and their words bridge divides, the students realize that sharing their stories could be the very thing they needed to give them the strength to handle circumstances that once made them feel so desperately alone. Timely, tough, and oh-so-touching, this is one not to be missed.
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier: This is the story of Nan Sparrow, an orphaned chimney sweeper who spends her days performing a thankless — and wholly dangerous — job. After her “Sweep” leaves her and she nearly dies in a chimney fire, Nan fears her days are numbered. But when she awakens in an abandoned attic and discovers a golem made of soot and ash in the room with her, she begins a new life full of hope, friendship, and the courage to conquer her greatest challenges. Anti Semitism, child labor, and social justice are just some of the issues explored in this fantastical story about one child’s struggle with her position in society and her relationship with an unconventional new friend. Folks, this one utterly astounded and captivated me from beginning to end.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson: This is the poignant story of a teacher, her three students, and the challenges these three boys go through to give her the best last day of school- before Ms. Bixby must leave her class due to an illness. It is contemporary fiction at its finest, with characters that creep into your heart and seem like friends you’ve known forever. The boys’ compassion, their personal hardships, and their determination is so authentic. The voices are pitch-perfect, and the obstacles they encounter while trying to accomplish their mission will leave you laughing, inspired, and moved. So in love with this one!
The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson: I love when puzzling stories of the past become present-day mysteries just begging to be brought to life and explored. That is exactly what happens here, in this fabulous, intricately plotted story about Candice and her sidekick, Brandon. After Candice discovers a letter addressed to her grandmother describing an injustice that happened long before Candice’s time, she goes on the hunt to solve a puzzle – and find a fortune. Expertly moving between past and present, the challenge leads the friends deep into the history of their South Carolina town and is marked by a great discovery — not just about their home, but about themselves, too. This book has received a long list of accolades for a reason. This is a fantastic book for tween boys that my students absolutely love!
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: Set in Great Britain during World War II, Ada has a clubfoot and an abusive mother who is both mortified and ashamed by the fact that her daughter is crippled. She keeps Ada locked away in their small apartment in London. When evacuations begin, and children are taken out of London and brought to the safety of the English countryside, Ada escapes her mother’s wrath with her younger brother Jamie in tow. The two are placed in the care of a woman named Susan, and though Susan claims she is “not nice,” Ada and Jamie may just learn what it means to love– and be loved in return. A huge favorite of fourth-grade girls and boys in our school library!
The Night Diary, by Veera Hirandandani: The year is 1947. India, no longer ruled by the British, has been divided into two countries, Pakistan and India, which has created significant discord between Hindus and Muslims. This leaves twelve-year-old Nisha, half Indian and half Muslim, distraught. Who is she, and where does she belong? When Nisha’s Indian father decides Pakistan is no longer safe, Nisha and her family flee, becoming refugees overnight. Told entirely in letters to the Muslim mother she never knew, Nisha’s story is riveting, nuanced, and oh-so-compelling, especially for children struggling to understand who they are, where they fit in the world, and how to move on when both home and heart are ripped in two. An accessible, historical masterpiece that I fell head over heels in love with from the very first page.
BOOKS FOR TWEEN BOYS: BELOVED GRAPHIC NOVELS!
Amulet (series), by Kazu Kibuishi: Tragedy strikes. Emily, Navin, and their mom move into an ancient, mysterious home. Their first night there? More bad luck hits when their mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature, the likes of which they have never seen before. Determined to find her, Emily and Navin set off on a journey through a world with talking animals, robots, new friends, and dangerous enemies. If you have fantasy lovers in your house, they will devour this entire series!
The Nameless City (series), by Faith Erin Hicks: Rat and Kaidu meet in the Nameless City. Rat is a native, one who doesn’t want her city to be named by outsiders. Kaidu, however, is just what Rat despises – an outsider and an invader, one who has come to occupy, name, and take over the Nameless City. At first, Rat can’t stand Kaidu. But he loves his new home, and that love may be the very thing that ties these two kids together. Unexpected alliances make this graphic novel a hit!
Cardboard Kingdom, by Chad Sell: This is the story of sixteen children tackling their demons – both internal and external – by constructing fantastical creatures out of old cardboard boxes. And then? Neighborhood adventures, quests, and shenanigans ensue, with the kids learning how to navigate their conflicts both on their own and as a team. This book so fabulously celebrates friendship, imagination, and innovation, and if your kids love graphic novels, they will fall in love with this one!
Short and Skinny, by Mark Tatulli: Poor Mark. It’s 1977 and the summer before seventh grade, and he has two strikes against him — he’s short and he’s skinny, which has really done a number on his confidence. To build himself up, he tries to bulk himself up with the directions and ploys on the back of his beloved comics. And then — Star Wars arrives on the scene, and Mark has a new obsession. Determined to make his own movie with a Star Wars spin, he comes up with “Star Bores.” As the summer unfolds, so to, does Mark’s movie and his own emotional journey. Fabulous!
New Kid, by Jerry Craft: Already being touted as one of the most important books of the year, New Kid is an authentic graphic novel about a tween beginning seventh grade at a new school — a prestigious academic private school, that is — where Jordan Banks is one of the only kids of color in his whole grade. As Jordan tries to find a place within his new school, he finds himself straddled between two worlds — the upscale students at Riverdale Academy and his neighborhood friends in Washington Heights. More than a simple “new kid” story, New Kid tackles racism, hostility, socio-economic disparity and microaggressions that many children encounter on a regular basis. Absolutely, positively, fantastic.