*Parents: Beware of some thorny and involved plot lines that you may find too much for your preteen.
Books to challenge gifted 6th grade readers
The White Darkness
by: Geraldine McCaughrean - (HarperTempest, 2007) 373 pages.
Sym Wates is obsessed with everything Antarctic — especially the doomed explorer Titus Oates, who died in a 1911 expedition to the South Pole. She is thrilled when her uncle Victor arranges to take her to Antarctica, but her delight doesn’t last; it turns out that Uncle Victor has a strange ulterior motive for the trip and that some of Sym’s fellow travelers aren’t who they claim to be — especially Uncle Victor. The White Darkness weaves history, family drama and adventure into a thrilling tale.
Perfect for: Kids who like adventure stories.
Find The White Darkness at your local library.
Tales from Outer Suburbia
by: Shaun Tan - (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009) 96 pages.
Tales From Outer Suburbia is a weird, mesmerizing book of illustrated stories about the intersection of the surreal and the suburban, where a dugong (a creature related to the manatee) appears on a lawn, a water buffalo occupies a vacant lot where it was abandoned, and an alien is an exchange student. Shaun Tan’s book is not only well written but also endlessly creative.
Perfect for: Kids who like a twist on reality.
Find Tales from Outer Suburbia at your local library.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
by: Isabel Quintero - (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014) 208 pages.
High school senior Gabi Hernandez has a lot going on in her senior year, all captured in this let-no-issue-go-unexplored page-turner. From romance, religion, teen pregnancy, and drug-addicted parents to coming out, body shame, sexually aggressive boys, and the politics of feeling like an outsider in both your town and your family, the story offers a whirlwind tour of the interior of one young Latina via her own Spanglish-inflected diary.
Perfect for: Youth juggling school, peer, and parent pressure.
Find Gabi, a Girl in Pieces at your local library.
I’ll Give You the Sun
by: Jandy Nelson - (Dial Books, 2014) 384 pages.
Thirteen-year-old twins Jude and Noah are incredibly close. But once they hit puberty, Jude finds herself not only competing with her brother for their parent’s love and a spot at an exclusive art school, but for boys as well. When tragedy hits their family, the twins become further isolated from each other. Shifting voices from one twin to the other, the book uncovers the way each sibling has lost a part of their story by shutting the other out of their life. An exploration of sexuality, grief, and sibling rivalry.
Perfect for: Teens interested in the tensions of sibling struggles amidst coming out and coming-of-age.
Find I’ll Give You the Sun at your local library.
The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
by: E.L. Konigsburg - (Simon & Schuster, 2007) 244 pages.
This is brilliant writing for brilliant kids. There are mentions of matters sexual and violent, but they are glancing references, nothing more. There is some mild swearing. Families can talk about the general historical background and Hitler’s specific views of art. Why would controlling art have been so important to a dictator like Hitler? Why would others risk their lives for it? What could make a painting so important? Also, the author is sometimes very subtle, and even gifted readers may need some help sorting out the story.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World at your local library.
by: Theodore Taylor - (Doubleday, 1969) 144 pages.
Set during World War II in the Dutch West Indies, this is a story about true friendship, survival and overcoming racism. This enduring tale strikes many of the same chords today as it did in 1969, the year it was first published.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find The Cay at your local library.
by: Gary Paulsen - (Simon & Schuster, 1987) 192 pages.
The story is about Brian, 13, and how he manages to survive 54 days in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Brian was flying to visit his father when the pilot dies of a heart attack in mid-flight. Brian crash lands the plane into a small lake and swims out of the wreckage. He has his clothing, a tattered windbreaker and a hatchet (a gift from his mother). The novel takes us through Brian’s days, how he learns patience through his experiences with failures and small successes: building a fire, fishing and hunting, making his shelter a safe one. He endures a porcupine attack, a tornado and being utterly alone for almost two months. This is a tale of adventure but, more importantly, it is a tale of character growth. This edition includes a new introduction and sidebar commentary by the author.
Perfect for: Kids who like adventure stories.
Find Hatchet at your local library.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat
by: Michael Pollan - (Dial, 2009) 352 pages.
This book, adapted from the version for adults, will help kids understand what’s at stake when it comes to feeding ourselves. Journalist Michael Pollan tracks down the sources of the ingredients that make their way to his dinner plate to demonstrate that every food choice we make has global implications.
Perfect for: Youth interested in the global environment.
Find The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids at your local library.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
by: Anne Frank - (Bantam, 1993) 304 pages.
The Nazis occupied Amsterdam in 1942, forcing 13-year-old Anne Frank and her family to hide in the secret annex of a warehouse. Anne memorializes her two years of claustrophobic confinement in this witty, fearful, intimate diary, that concludes when the Gestapo discover the hideout. (Anne died in March 1945, in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.) This is a remarkable coming-of-age classic, set in tragic circumstances. Anne wrote, “I want to go on living even after my death!… Will I ever be able to write anything great?” Her wish has been realized.
Perfect for: Teenagers, wanna-be writers, or children interested in Nazi Germany.
Find Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl at your local library.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by: Jacqueline Woodson - (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) 352 pages.
Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her life, family, and first attempts at writing for younger audiences in this memoir in verse. She provides a rich historical perspective of what it was like growing up in Columbus, Ohio during the civil rights era as she sat at the back of the bus, learned about the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and watched the Black Panthers on TV. In other, more personal poems, Woodson recounts her struggles learning to read and eventually, wanting to write. This may look like a book of poetry, but once your child ventures into the first pages, the story will carry her along.
Perfect for: Aspiring writers who also love a historical memoir.
Find Brown Girl Dreaming at your local library.
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
by: Jennifer Allison - (Sleuth/Dutton, 2005) 321 pages.
Move over Nancy and Sammy, there’s a new crime-solving girl in town and her name is Gilda Joyce! When her teacher asks what she is doing for the summer, Gilda tells the class she’s going to San Francisco to work on a novel. Of course, this isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop our intrepid heroine. After writing a hilarious letter of introduction, she manages to score a trip to visit her mother’s estranged relative, and she’s off to San Francisco to win the hearts of her unknown family. Things don’t quite turn out the way she expects, however. Her uncle is cold and distant, as is his daughter — a cousin she didn’t know she had. In their amazing “painted lady” house, a secret holds the two of them in a state of fear, and Gilda’s psychic intuition tells her that its time to investigate.
Perfect for: Kids who like mystery.
Find Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator at your local library.
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance
by: Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by: Frank Hurley - (Random House, 1998) 128 pages.
This is a survival saga of the man who attempted to cross the Antarctic in 1914. Better than fictional survival stories, beautifully written, illustrated with photos that survived from the voyage, this is history as exciting adventure.
Perfect for: Kids who like history.
Find Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance at your local library.
Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin
by: Dugald A. Steer, illustrated by: Anne Yvonne Gilbert, John Howe, and Helen Ward - (Candlewick Press, 2005) 28 pages.
This book is chock full of information presented in somewhat old English. The fascinating thing about this book is all the manipulatives it has on each page. These manipulatives give added depth to the spells, diagrams, and ultimately to the learning.
Perfect for: Kids who like science fiction and fantasy.
Find Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin at your local library.
Yes! We Are Latinos
by: Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy, illustrated by: David Diaz - (Charlesbridge, 2013) 96 pages.
This collection of poems introduces 13 young Latinos of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Michiko in Los Angeles is Peruvian and Japanese; Felipe in Chicago is Panamanian, Venezuelan, and black; and Juanita in New York is Mexican. Embodying the underrepresented diversity of the Latino community, the poems are matched with factual explanations of events like the Spanish Civil War and Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. Caldecott Gold Medalist David Diaz’s accompanying hand-cut illustrations evoke Latino folk art.
Perfect for: Young history buffs who are as curious about the world as they are about themselves.
Find Yes! We Are Latinos at your local library.
Amos Fortune, Free Man
by: Elizabeth Yates - (Puffin Books, 1989) 192 pages.
The true story of 15-year-old Prince At-mun who was captured in Africa in 1725 by slave traders, shipped in chains via the Middle Passage to Boston, and sold as a slave, and renamed Amos Fortune. Maintaining his dignity as the first son of a chief, he learns the tanning trade from a kind master, purchases freedom for himself and his family members, buys land in New Hampshire and builds a house and a barn for himself. Inspirational story of persistence, with historical details of Colonial and early American life.
Perfect for: Tweens interested in slavery, social justice, African-American history, and the Colonial Era.
Find Amos Fortune, Free Man at your local library.
Children of the Great Depression
by: Russell Freedman - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010) 128 pages.
The difficult lives of Depression era youngsters — boxcar children riding the rails, factory kids, sharecroppers, migrant farm laborers, African-Americans — is eloquently communicated via letters, diaries, memoirs, and archival photos. These youths were burdened by stressful conditions that included demoralized, out-of-work parents, starvation, eviction, lack of clothing, ramshackle “Hooverville” settlements, and school closures. Happy times are also depicted, with movies and radio shows. The book captures the challenging realities of the 1930s and manages to be inspiring despite also being grim.
Perfect for: Children curious or concerned about poverty and those interested in this period in U.S. history.
Find Children of the Great Depression at your local library.
Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor
by: Russell Freedman photos by Lewis Hine - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1998) 112 pages.
Do your children think their chores are tough? Get them this eloquent, powerful history book to set them straight. From 1908-1918, schoolteacher Lewis Hine photographed poor children working in conditions so depressing that a public crusade was launched, resulting in Congress passing child labor laws. Children as young as 3 are shown in the haunting photos, working in Texas cotton fields, Maine sardine canneries, New York laundries, Pennsylvania coal mines, and Georgia textile mills. The author’s explanatory text is well-researched and informative and he includes quotes from Hines. The photography, however, is the power of this book
Perfect for: Idealists eager to learn how activists can create social reform via dedicated use of their talents.
Find Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor at your local library.
Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine
by: Susan Campbell Bartoletti - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005) 192 pages.
A blackening fungus (pythophthora infestans) destroys Ireland’s potato crops in the mid-1800s. Deprived of their staple food and primary income, 1 million Irish people die of starvation and disease, and 2 million flee the island. This succinct chronicle conveys the suffering in heartbreaking stories: people eat weeds and commit crimes because jail offers a meal; children die on the street; emaciated passengers die on “coffin ships” to America. Archival newspaper illustrations, quotes from survivors, traditional poetry and prose, and six pages of bibliographical information make these people, their lives, and their experiences real.
Perfect for: Those interested in immigration, history of Irish people, and how events influence politics, economy, and entire nations.
Find Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine at your local library.
by: Robert Louis Stevenson - (Cassell and Company, 1883) 160 pages.
After a pirate dies at his family’s inn, young Jim Hawkins finds a map to a secret buried treasure. Jim shows the map to the local squire, and the two, along with the town doctor, decide to outfit a ship and go in search of the treasure. But when the trio hire on the scheming pirate Long John Silver to be the ship’s cook, their treasure hunt takes a murderous turn. Compelling characters and lots of suspense help kids tackle this classic book, which is a great vocabulary builder.
Want to see the movie? There are lots of adaptations. Readers looking for a classic take might enjoy the 1950 Disney version, but those looking for something silly might like Muppet Treasure Island (1995) or the animated Treasure Planet (2002), which sets the story in space.
Perfect for: Kids who like seafaring adventure.
Find Treasure Island 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.
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.