Classic childhood books for 7th graders
by: Louisa May Alcott - (Roberts Brothers, 1868) 816 pages.
The hook: It’s the Civil War and the four March sisters are struggling to grow up to be well-bred young ladies after their family has fallen on hard times. Pretty Meg, the oldest, finds it the hardest to be poor. Tomboy Jo has big dreams of becoming a writer. Kind Beth just wants a quiet life at home with her sisters. And impish Amy struggles with being impulsive and a bit vain. Holding them all together is Marmie, their wise and independent mother, who lovingly guides them as they change from girls to women while their father is away at war. This family story is a great read-aloud book for younger kids and a good challenge for tweens who want to tackle a longer read.
Want to see the movie? There are several versions to choose from, including the classic 1949 adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Perfect for: Tweens and teens who like stories about family dynamics.
The Count of Monte Cristo
by: Alexandre Dumas translated by Roger Celestin - (Signet, 2005) 570 pages.
At just 19 years old, sailor Edmond Dantes is sentenced to life imprisonment in a horrible French dungeon for a crime he didn’t commit. After ten miserable years, he thrillingly escapes and acquires a hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. Meticulously, he devotes himself to getting revenge on the three jealous enemies who framed him. This is a page-turner filled with suspense, vivid characterizations, intricate conspiracies, fight scenes, passionate romance, shrewd social satire, satisfying vengeance, and a happily-ever-after ending.
Perfect for: All young readers who enjoy immersing themselves in a thriller.
Find The Count of Monte Cristo at your local library.
The Mysterious Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - (Puffin Classics, 1996) 256 pages.
Sherlock Holmes, a genius at detective work, is regularly beseeched by Scotland Yard to provide assistance in their most confounding crimes. Accompanied by Dr. Watson, who serves as the amazed narrator, Holmes untangles puzzling cases with his photographic memory, perceptive observational skills, deductive reasoning, and scientific knowledge. Devious thieves and callous murderers are apprehended in this collection of eight short stories, often set in foggy London.
Perfect for: Anyone who enjoys a thrilling whodunit.
Find The Mysterious Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at your local library.
The Time Machine
by: H. G. Wells - (Dover, 1995) 80 pages.
A Victorian England scientist leaps forward in his time machine to visit Earth in A.D. 802,701. Here he encounters two societies: The Eloi, liberated from work in their futuristic pastoral communities due to technological advancement; and the Morlocks: brutish, underground, cannibalistic troglodytes. It’s a short book packed with surprising and imaginative plot twists, socio-political critiques, color symbolism, religious references, and cautionary dystopian themes about humanity’s evolutionary path.
Perfect for: Young sci-fi fans who appreciate a dash of social critique.
Find The Time Machine at your local library.
by: Ralph Ellison - (Vintage Books, 1995) 581 pages.
Told as a first-person narration, this is the story of an African-American man in the 1930s who views himself as “invisible” because he’s socially powerless. He’s the valedictorian of his high school, yet the accomplishment provides no reward. He has letters of recommendation from a white sponsor, yet they lead only to a low-wage, dangerous job that results in hospitalization and shock treatment. Next, he joins the “Brotherhood” (the Communist Party) that falsely claims to seek improvements in Harlem. It’s a scathing indictment of racial intolerance, passionately written with complex internal and external conflicts.
Perfect for: Young readers captivated by coming-of-age conflicts.
Find Invisible Man at your local library.
The Light in the Forest
by: Conrad Richter - (Vintage, 2004) 192 pages.
John Cameron Butler is only 4 years old when he’s captured, adopted, and renamed “True Son” by the Lenni Lenape tribe on the frontier of 1750s Pennsylvania. He thrives in his new society, assimilating happily, and regarding himself as an Indian. When he’s 15 years old, he’s forced by a peace treaty to return to his white family and to follow their customs, which he now despises. It’s a poignant search for personal identity within a tragic examination of two cultures in conflict.
Perfect for: Any young reader interested in exploring cultural identity issues.
Find The Light in the Forest at your local library.
The Call of the Wild
by: Jack London - (Dover Publication, 1990) 64 pages.
Buck — a huge, powerful dog — is stolen from his California ranch in the 1890s. He’s taken north, beaten, starved, and eventually sold as a sled dog in the Klondike region of Canada. To survive in his violent new environment, Buck transforms into a dominant, murderous animal with primordial instincts. His feral descent is realized in the conclusion, when he kills a great bull moose and multiple Indians, abandons human civilization, and joins a pack of howling timber wolves.
Perfect for: Young readers who love dogs, nature, and the lure of the wild.
Find The Call of the Wild at your local library.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by: Maya Angelou - (Ballantine Books, 2009) 304 pages.
This is the memoir, set during the Great Depression, of an African-American girl who was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was 8 and who endured racist humiliation from her white neighbors. She evolves from a nearly mute, victimized child with an inferiority complex into an independent, confident, expressive young woman — and she credits the power of literature for her transformation. Her story unfolds through witty and poetically beautiful prose, with a thematic structure that delivers a sequence of lessons on how to resist oppression.
Perfect for: Young readers interested in poignant coming-of-age stories.
Find I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at your local library.