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 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: The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher

Synopsis

After an accident on his Wyoming farm that leaves  twelve year old Johnny Littlehorn on crutches, his French mother decides to send him to France, where hopefully better Doctors and fresh air can cure him.  Johnny is not happy to go to France and even less happy when he finds he must spend the summer with his Uncle in the sleepy little village of St. Charmant. However, once he gets there things soon begin to change.  Johnny is fascinated by the “Automatic Airplane ” his Uncle is building, and begins to grow suspicious when mysterious strangers from Paris seem to have followed him to the village.  With the help of his new friends, Johnny begins to uncover what might just be a Nazi plot, and learns how to overcome his injury and the impossibility of the French language.  The Avion My Uncle Flew is a fun, fast paced story of spies, secrets and sabotage set in the French countryside in the years following the Second World War.  

Review

This was one of my favorite books through middle school. The story was exotic and fresh, yet captured my imagination with the same themes of boyish adventure that can be found in classics like Tom Sawyer or Treasure Island.  The themes of overcoming adversity, friendship and discovery run thick through the pages of this book, and set against the backdrop of a serene Alpine village, the book creates a story world that is hard to get out of.  I thought the characters were all exceptionally well developed and the plot, although breakneck and at times somewhat “coincidental”, was well woven and kept me at the edge of my seat.  I found the elements where Johnny had to learn French particularly interesting.  Along the way you might just pick up a few French phrases yourself.  The parts of the book where Johnny is injured and must push through his pain towards recovery could be encouraging to those battling an injury of sickness.  While the main plot is serious, the author maintains a strong thread of humor through the entire narrative.  Overall this book had the makings of a classic – timeless characters, unique setting and a fascinating plot.  I would highly recommend it. 

  • Ages: 9-99
  • Awards: Newbery Honor
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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By Malachi Myers

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Synopsis

  It all started because Holling Hoodhood was a Presbyterian.  On Wednesdays, a bus came from the Temple Beth El to take a load to Hebrew School and an hour later the bus from St. Alberts to take the rest of the class to Catechism and Holling was left alone with Mrs. Baker all day long.  At first it was a struggle, having to clean the chalkboards and take out the trash but then Mrs. Baker decided that it was about time that Holling picked up Shakespeare.  Through the book Holling Hoodhood must struggle with track, bullies, an annoying sister, unrealistic expectations from his family and of course Wednesdays with Mrs. Baker.  Hilarious to the breaking point yet touching and heartfelt this book is a wonderful blend of humor and heartbreak, showing what it was like growing up in one of the most infamous decades of American History.  

Review

There are very few books that can be both flamboyantly hilarious, and deeply touching at the same time and this book is definitely one of them.  When I read this book I can’t count the amount of times I laughed out loud, while other parts of the book brought me close to tears.  The characters are exceptionally well developed, the voice of the protagonist, Holling, in particular is very defined (I swear I could pick Holling out in any book I read, even years later) and the themes are powerful and deep.  The book is not very plot driven so don’t expect any shocking revelations or high speed car chases, but what the book does offer is a peek into the life of a boy living in the 1960’s, a school story, yet in some ways, much more.  In that aspect it does not disappoint, the book feels genuine, as if the author spent hours carefully crafting every page and the humor is killer.   I would recommend this books for all ages. It is a timeless piece that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.  

  • Age:  7-99
  • Awards: Newbery Honor
  • Stars:  Five out of Five 

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Written by Malachi Myers

Book Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Synopsis

Refugee is the story of three kids, Mahmud, Isabel and Joseph, separated by time but connected by a common experience.  Mahmud, a boy who only wants peace, leaves a nightmare in his homeland Syria, to seek a better life in Europe.  Isabel, an ambitious girl who dreams of playing the trumpet, flees Castro’s Cuba in a small raft, with the hope of reaching America.  Joseph boards the ocean liner, St. Louis to leave the life of persecution in Nazi Germany to seek asylum in Cuba, and hopefully, put together the pieces of his broken family.  Although each of their journeys is different, the common thread of the refugee experience weaves through them all, showing what it’s like to risk everything for a chance of a new life.  

Review

I personally thought Refugee was a great book.  There are very few books that describe the refugee experience and this book did it masterfully.  I found it slightly melodramatic at points, but in the context of the plot these scenes were not particularly disruptive.  The characters were equally compelling and all three storylines equally interesting, something that is often lacking in books with multiple main characters.  The book was riveting, the plot and the characters developing at about even rates.  I also liked that although the three stories are separate, they all come together at the end, making the book feel more connected overall.  The author does a wonderful job of capturing the cultural aspects of each of the stories.  The diversity of the stories was also nice, helping break up the narrative. Mahmud’s journey was very much a modern refugee experience, Isabel’s more of a survival thread, as her family floats towards Florida on an overcrowded raft, and Joseph’s almost the opposite of a typical refugee tale, as his family travels from Germany to Cuba on a luxury liner.  However the themes of fear, mistrust, confusion and loss echo through all three storylines.  Overall, it was a wonderfully woven book.  Although written at a middle grade level, it would also be a fascinating read for adults.  Some thematic elements and intense scenes may not be appropriate for young or sensitive children.  

  • Age: 12-99
  • Awards: None
  • Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Written by Malachi L. Myers