Youth Fiction: Our Top Ten Lists

As a family of readers, we’ve shared hundreds of books together and collectively read hundreds more. We have varied tastes and find ourselves sharing a love of some books but also find there are others we just can’t agree on. With today’s post we want to share our individual top ten favorite books in the youth fiction category. Our family defines youth fiction as books which feature young protagonists, usually between ages eight or nine and thirteen to fourteen. Themes may be intense but the content – language, violence, sexuality, etc are appropriate for kids that same age. If these books were rated they’d be rated G or PG.  Finally, we heartily agree with C.S. Lewis who said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” 

Books with a star following (*) indicate that it is part of a series.

Without further adieu then, here are each of our ten favorite books in the youth fiction category.

Aaron’s List

  1. Towers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes *
  2. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpoole
  3. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  4. Refugee by Alan Gratz
  5. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Johnathan Auxier *
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis *
  7. The Elephant Thief by Jan Kerr
  8. Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt
  9. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley *
  10.  The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau *

Consuelo’s List

  1. The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely
  2. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  3. Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpoole
  4. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  5. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Mary Rose Wood * (audiobook suggested)
  6. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
  7. Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
  8. Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes
  9. The Bark of the Bog Owl by Johnathan Rodgers * (audiobook suggested)
  10. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder * (audiobook suggested)

Malachi’s List

  1. Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
  2. Redwall by Brian Jaques *
  3. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson *
  4. The Moffats by Eleanor Estes *
  5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  6. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling *
  7. All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket *
  8. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket *
  9. Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit
  10. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George 

Sonora’s List

  1. Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery * 
  3. The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon *
  4. Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Spear
  5. Nowhere Boy by Catherine Marsh
  6. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall *
  7. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart *
  8. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley *
  9. Boy by Roald Dahl
  10. The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher

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Who Are We?

Book Reflection: The Chosen by Chaim Potok

When a seventeen year old student of mine threw out the expression, “What you talking about Willis?” to a good friend a few years ago, it begged the question – Did she have any idea where the expression came from? 

She didn’t. 

She had the tone of voice right, but she had absolutely no idea how an expression from a classic seventies sitcom had transcended time and culture to become a part of twenty first century teen slang. 

Her example serves as a starting point in understanding a problem that I, as a member of western society, have every time I open up and read my Bible. I read expressions like “the blood of the lamb” and have an understanding of the concept of a sacrifice that has saved me from my sins, but having not been raised in a society where animal sacrifice is a part of the very fabric of every day life, I can only acknowledge that my understanding lacks a depth that resonates to the core of my being. 

And then there is the curious term Abba. A Hebrew word that first century Jews used to talk affectionately about their earthly fathers, Jesus shocked his contemporaries by using it as a term of endearment for the great “I Am”, God himself. I am told by preachers that it was scandalous to followers of Judaism who saw God as so holy that they would leave out the middle letter of G_d, lest they somehow mispronounce it and offend. 

Having no Jewish roots, I have to believe that once again, I am missing the magnitude of this shift from a God no one felt comfortable addressing to the loving, father God, Abba. How can I ever understand Abba? 

Chaim Potok, the Jewish author of The Chosen, gave me my first real insight into understanding this shift. A story of two boys, brought together in the classic playground brawl and reconciled to best friends, The Chosen takes the reader into the heart of the Jewish communities of Brooklyn, New York during the final days of World War II and the genesis of the new Israel. 

It is in this setting that Revuen Malter and Danny Sunders explore friendship, faith, Freud and fathers, and while the story centers on the first three, it is the latter, fathers, that seems most important. 

Throughout the novel, the boys’ fathers play like background music at a department store. Slowly, patiently though, Potok turns up the volume until in the end, the reader wonders if the story wasn’t so much about two sons after all. 

Perhaps The Chosen is a novel about two fathers; Abba and G_d.

The story has done much to help me understand the magnitude of the endearing Abba that Jesus chose to call his father as well as appreciate anew the G_d we are called upon to revere and fear. 

So if you too have a deep desire to grow in your understanding of the God of the Old Testament and the Abba father of the New, pick up The Chosen and listen for the heartbeat of the love of the father, God.

  • Ages: 14-99
  • Awards: National Book Award Finalist
  • Pages: 272 Pages
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

by Aaron Myers

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Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Synopsis

Twelve year old Deza Malone has a decent life in Gary, Indiana. Her mother and father love her. She has a great teacher who believes in her and a wonderful best friend in Clarice Anne Johnson. Her older brother Jimmie may be annoying but his singing voice is that of the angels. There is only one thing. It is 1936 and her family is dirt poor.  So poor in fact that her one pair of shoes are way too small and her decaying teeth are left untreated for lack of funds. Her decent life begins to fall apart when her father loses his job and finds that no one will hire a black man.  Her father decides to take to the road in search of a job. Shortly after that, her mother loses her job as a maid and together they make the decision to leave Gary and go in search of their father. The family travels north to Flint, Michigan, her father’s home town and ends up living in a hooverville on the outskirts of town because the family they had hoped to find in Flint were no longer there. They cannot find their father, Jimmie leaves to try his luck at making money with a band and the police raid the hooverville and burn their tent to the ground. By the end of the story, the family is reunited but it is not without tragedy, a deep look at the causes and effects of poverty and the kind of grit and determination that give a girl like Deza the nickname, the mighty miss Malone.

Review

While Curtis’ book Bud, Not Buddy is probably a better written story, there is something about the spunk, determination and hope of the Malone family that make The Mighty Miss Malone my favorite of all of his books. While the book stands as a sort of exposé on the ravages of poverty during the depression and the deep racism of the time that made it even harder on black families, Deza Malone is a masterful narrator who invites the reader to get to know the whole Malone family.  With twists in plot and a great attention to historic detail, the reader will be drawn into rooting for the Malone family to find their father and for the family to find its way back together again. While the plot occasionally wanders down interesting paths that don’t add a lot to it, the overall story is quite good.  It’s a great book to help readers enter into the challenges of the depression era. If you liked any of Christopher Paul Curtis’ other books, you’ll surely enjoy The Mighty Miss Malone.

  • Age: 10 – 99
  • Awards: None
  • Pages: 320
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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By Aaron Myers

Thoughts on Reading

The best myths are not deliberately constructed falsehoods but are rather tales woven by people to capture the echos of deeper truths. Myths offer a fragment of that truth, not its totality. They’re like splintered fragments of the true light, yet when the full and true story is told it is able to bring to fulfillment all that was right and wise in those fragmentary visions of things.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Tugging String By David Greenberg

Synopsis

Duvy Greenberg is the son of NAACP lawyer Jack Greenberg, the close friend of Thurgood Marshall.  But that doesn’t matter. While Duvy cares about what he sees on TV and what he hears whispered from his parents’ bedroom, he is far more interested in not making a fool of himself in Football than Civil Rights. In Selma Alabama, Dorthy Milton wants to vote, but as a black woman living in the segregated south, this is easier said than done.  When she fails the ridiculous test that racist voting officials make up for her, Dorthy is determined to see change. She is ready for action and lucky for her, the Doctor Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is coming to Selma and she might just be able to help.  An interesting blend of historical fiction and autobiography, this book alternates between the fictionalized childhood of the author, son of a prominent Civil Rights Lawyer, and the dramatized events that occurred in Selma Alabama, 1965.

Review

The Tugging String is interesting because the author is the actual son of NAACP lawyer, Jack Greenberg.  Using memories from his childhood and fictionalization of historical events, Greenberg weaves a masterful piece of historical fiction that brings to life the troubling events of the Selma Montgomery marches and American life in 1965.  The book skips between Duvy and Dorthy’s perspectives and it is interesting because, unlike in most dual point of view (POV) books, the two main characters are completely different, both in their ages and their walk of life. On top of that, they never meet anytime during the story.  The stories do not connect very much and while they are somewhat parallel, it’s a crooked kind of parallel.  However, the dual POV sheds an interesting light on the riots in Selma, offering a close-up perspective with Dorthy while Duvy feels and sees the effects of the marches from afar.  The book perfectly captures a national struggle with racism, fear and freedom. It brings to life a period of American history clearly and honestly.  The book stays pretty close to history and is realistic in tone, yet the drama of the times is enough on its own to ensure a thrilling read. I would highly recommend The Tugging String by David Greenberg.  

  • Age:  9 – 99
  • Awards:  None
  • Pages: 167
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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By Malachi L Myers

Book Review: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Synopsis

Johnny Tremain is an apprentice silversmith and his career has nowhere to go but up.  Already the most valuable apprentice in his workshop, Johny even begins to rival his master in skill.  However Johnny wants more, things in Boston are brewing and Johnny can feel it in the air.  It’s 1773 and the Sons of Liberty and British regulars occupying the city are clashing at every opportunity, change is in the air, fresh and smelling of freedom.  On top of that, new revelations and old secrets surrounding the mysterious origin of Johnny’s family begin to resurface and the young silversmith is willing to do anything to get to the bottom of it.  All around him, Johnny sees people making choices, carrying secrets; everyone is somehow caught up in the tumultuous activities that are pulling not just Boston, but all of the American Colonies, closer and closer into conflict with King George.  As Johnny gets pulled deeper into the conflict he must question everything, his trade, his family, and his identity.  

Review

Johnny Tremain can take its place without question on the list of best historical fictions ever written.  It encapsulates the thrilling years leading up to the Boston Tea Party and Battle of Lexington, bringing historic figures like James Otis, John Hancock and John and Samuel Adams to life with perfect clarity.  The setting and characters are realistic, compelling, and relatable and the plot is fascinating and full of twists.  Without a doubt, it is the best historical fiction written about the American Revolution; not only does it bring to light the events and historical figures of the era as a main element of the plot, but it also has an independent and completely fascinating plot line that runs parallel to the historical events. The character of Johnny is particularly riveting.   Although advertised as a “children’s classic” the book in content and volume is probably more of a young adult read, with complicated plots and, as an older book, language that might be difficult for beginning readers to grasp.  I would highly recommend Johnny Tremain.  

  • Ages:  10-99
  • Awards: Newbery Medal
  • Pages: 320
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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By Malachi L. Myers

Book Review: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Synopsis

When 12 year old Sam Gribly gets fed up with big city life and his family’s crowded New York City apartment, he hatches a plan to run away to his great grandfather’s abandoned farm in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. There he begins to live out every twelve year old’s dream; learning to survive in the wilderness. Sam initially realizes that his wilderness survival skills – learned from books at the New York City Public Library – aren’t nearly good enough but with the help of a new friend and a few lucky breaks, he soon begins to make a life for himself in the woods. He learns to build traps to catch small game, to fish, to forage for food and soon begins the big project of building a home for himself in the burned out interior of a giant hemlock tree. Along the way Sam learns to avoid rangers, makes friends with the local wildlife and tames and trains a peregrine falcon who becomes both a companion and a skilled hunter.  The story wanders through the fall and preparations for winter and into the loneliness of solitude and the delight of unexpected friendships.

Review

My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books as a child. The author’s description of the mountain setting painted a picture of the glories of nature that thrilled my heart and made the story all the more real. While Sam’s character is far more mature than any twelve year old, his tenacity and can do spirit inspired me. Every page had a new adventure or a challenge to overcome and Sam was up for all of them. Characters pop up throughout the story at just the right time. Bill, Baron Weasel, Bando, Frightful the Falcon and many more wander in and out of Sam’s days on the mountain bringing him much joy and occasional grief. I loved My Side of the Mountain when I was a boy and I loved it still more when I read it again a few years back. It’s a great book for kids, filled with lessons of perseverance, courage and ingenuity.  And it would be a great book to introduce to young boys who are reluctant readers.

  • Ages: 10 – 99
  • Awards: Newbery Honor; ALA Notable Book
  • Pages: 177
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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By Aaron G Myers