One of my biggest pet peeves is when parents (or people in general) say “As long as they’re reading!..” As in: letting their children read whatever they want because being a reader is so important and hey, at least they’re not on a screen!
No. Just no.
I get that for some kids reading is a struggle, and I get that some kids just aren’t really that into reading. So if you catching them reading anything at all it feels like a victory. But letting them read anything they want is NOT the answer. Books are still a form of media.
What your child reads will put ideas into their mind and shape the way they think and look at the world, and ultimately shape who they become. Personally I take this very seriously. I monitor what my children read as much as I monitor the video games they play and the shows they watch. Of course, this does get harder the older they get, and I understand that I can’t oversee everything they do forever. Eventually they will have to start making their own choices.
Thankfully (as a reader myself) I’ve found a lot of extremely entertaining and thought provoking books that I have allowed my teens, preteens, and older children to read. Most of these cater to both boys and girls. And the best part is, I’ve enjoyed them all as much as my kids have. So if you want to proof read these for yourself (which I recommend anyway) you won’t be bored!
But if you find yourself short on time, at least read this post so you can get some good book ideas for your older kids. ♥
P.S. These book recommendations make excellent non-tech Christmas/Birthday gift ideas!
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using a link, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
The City of Ember (Trilogy) by Jeanne DuPrau
These books are first on my list because it’s the perfect post apocalyptic series for beginners. The characters are relatable and interesting, the plot is captivating, and best of all the books are clean – no language, nothing sexual, and low on violence.
Synopsis: The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. But now with terrifying blackouts sweeping through the streets, Lina and Doon know it’s only a matter of time before the lights go out and never come back on again. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save Ember. Together, she and Doon explore long-forgotten parts of their dying city as they race to solve the mystery. If they succeed, they will have to convince everyone to follow them into danger and an exciting new world. But if they fail? The lights will burn out and the darkness will close in forever.
There are four books in the series – The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Diamond of Darkhold, but the fourth book, The Prophet of Yonwood, I do not recommend. It’s a prequel that’s honestly not that great, and it doesn’t add to the story. The series is better without it in my humble opinion. But the trilogy is still worth buying because the whole family loves it and we’ll definitely keep rereading it.
P.S. I have not seen the movie, so I can’t give my opinion on that yet. UPDATE: Saw the film adaptation for “The Cit of Ember” and enjoyed it!
The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
If I remember correctly, I was in grade four when I first read The Giver, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered it’s actually a four book series – The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.
Synopsis: The Giver is a story of a brilliant boy named Jonas who happens to live in a society that is being controlled by the rules and tradition of The Elders. Through his wisdom and mannerism, Jonas is selected as the Receiver of Memory, a post that distinguishes him from others and gives him authority.
The series progresses by adding more characters and plots, with everything tying together in a nice satisfying bow at the end. If your child read The Giver in school and liked it, they’ll probably enjoy the rest of the series as well.
The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The three books in this trilogy are The False Prince, The Runaway King, and The Shadow Throne.
Synopsis: “The False Prince” is a young adult novel which revolves around a plot to put forth an impostor to the throne to save the kingdom of Carthya. Sage is a fourteen year-old orphan who steals a roast from a local butcher, but is saved from his wrath by a nobleman named Bevin Conner.
The summery for this series does not do it justice! These books all have a very captivating story line. I would go as far to say that they’ll even draw in young reluctant boy readers, and still be interesting enough for the girls. My son and daughter, as well as my husband and I, have all read and enjoyed this series.
The only word of caution I have is that these are action packed books, so there is a certain amount of violence that comes with it. Though from my point of view, it’s not the senseless or glorified type. It’s more about pushing through and overcoming hardships.
Update: There’s now a fourth book! I have not read it yet, but it’s called A Captive Kingdom.
In a peaceful Carthya, Jaron leads as the Ascendant King with Imogen beside him — but the peace he fought so long for is not destined to last. On a routine sea voyage, Jaron’s ship is brutally attacked, and he is taken hostage.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
I would definitely put this series in the older teenager category. Some of the themes are a too mature for preteens, especially as the series advances.
Synopsis: The Lunar Chronicles are futuristic retellings of classic fairy tales. In CINDER, a teenage cyborg (half human, half machine) must deal with a wicked stepmother,start a rebellion against the evil Queen Levana, and decide how she feels about a handsome prince.
There are four main books in the series – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter. But there are also add on novellas – Fairest, which I thought was a pretty insightful backstory about the main villain (Please note that this book also deals with some pretty mature and dark themes). As well as Stars Above, a collection of short stories. I myself didn’t love the content of these stories (for example, a droid falling in love with a human), and therefore can’t recommend buying it.
This one is also better suited for older teens, but I loved Heartless (another one by Marissa Meyer). It’s an origins novel about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. A very good read!
Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale
Synopsis: On her way to marry a distant prince, a young princess is forced to trade places with her evil serving maid and becomes a goose girl instead of a bride when she reaches her destination.
Shannon Hale is one of favourite authors of all time. She’s such a good storyteller!
Again this summery does no justice. These books are filled with magic, relatable and witty characters who grow and mature, and friendship and romance (that’s still appropriate for a younger audience of course). My 12 year old daughter really enjoyed the first book – The Goose Girl – but I think she found the second book – Enna Burning – a bit intense. The third and fourth books – River Secrets and Forest Born – are also wonderful. I have the feeling she’ll want to finish the series when she’s a bit older.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
This is the perfect trilogy for preteen girls who like a touch of magic in their books. The three novels – Princess Academy, Palace of Stone and The Forgotten Sisters are all lovely. I especially like how education, learning and always bettering yourself are main themes for all the books.
Synopsis: Miri is a fourteen-year-old girl from Mount Eskel, an isolated territory of Danland, who has never been allowed to work with the rest of the villagers in the quarry that keeps the community alive. The quarry workers cut linder (a fictional type of expensive stone), which they sell to the lowlander traders.
The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester
Synopsis: When home schooled farm girl Piper McCloud reveals her ability to fly, she is quickly taken to a secret government facility to be trained with other exceptional children, but she soon realizes that something is very wrong and begins working with brilliant and wealthy Conrad to escape.
Another book that’s perfectly suitable for preteens. I think it was Stephenie Meyers who described The Girl Who Could Fly as “A mix between X-Men and Little House on the Prairie.” Which pretty much sums it up. It’s a charming, feel good book with a good amount of suspense and fun.
This book has a sequel called The Boy Who Knew Everything. It’s an okay book, but not quite as clean and “feel good” as the first one.
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Conrad Harrington III is a genius. His ability to use math and science to solve problems and invent incredible machines makes him one of the most brilliant minds in the world. After escaping from I.N.S.A.N.E. (Institute for Stability, Normality and Non-Exceptionality), Conrad and his best friend, Piper McCloud, return to her family’s farm to live peaceful, relatively unremarkable, lives. However, the near-loss of Piper’s beloved father inspires Conrad and Piper to join with their former classmates and create a secret group that uses their gifts to save people in trouble. Their actions attract the attention of Conrad’s estranged father — the new president of the United States — and suddenly Conrad and Piper find themselves caught up in a struggle between good and evil that’s bigger than they ever imagined.
UPDATE: I recently read this sequel and enjoyed it almost as must a s the first one!
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
I had to add some classics in here. I understand that Harry Potter might still be a controversial choice, and I totally respect parents who prefer that their children don’t read/watch them. But for a family who loves fantasy fiction, Harry Potter books have some of the best profound stories.
I personally don’t count them as children’s books, they are definitely for preteens and teens. I won’t bother with a synopsis, we all know the gist even if you’ve never read them (gasp!). In all seriousness though, use your discretion and listen to your spirit to discern what’s best for your family and your children.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Another classic series, but I feel like these books get overlooked a lot. My daughter once said she’s not really interested in reading the books because the movies are better (I might have to make some sort of house rule about reading the book before watching the movie lol). The movies are well done, but the books are sooo good too. I did finally convince her to read The Magician’s Nephew and she loved it!
For my fellow Christian moms, yes these are fantasy stories with witches and wizards and magic, but each book points to Jesus in such a profound and beautiful way that I just can’t recommend them enough.
The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
I’ve read The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure. But I have not read the prequels The Kill Order and The Fever Code, so I can’t personally vouch for those.
Synopsis: In the dark of an elevator, a teenaged boy awakes with no memories other than that his name is Thomas. When the elevator comes to a halt, the doors open and Thomas finds himself surrounded by around fifty teenaged boys. Their leader, a boy in his late-teens named Alby, welcomes him to the Glade. Surrounded by extremely high stone walls covered in thick ivy, the Glade is a large square piece of land with a few wood and concrete buildings. In each of the surrounding four walls, there is a narrow opening.
Over the course of the next few days, Thomas learns that behind the walls is the Maze – a labyrinthine structure full of Grievers. Grievers are violent mechanical creatures that only come out at night. Since the openings to the Maze, what the Gladers call Doors, close at night, the Grievers cannot get into the Glade. During the day, a few of the boys, the Runners, navigate the Maze in order to find an exit. On the same day every month, the elevator brings a new male arrival. But on the day after Thomas arrives, the elevator returns with a teenaged girl in a coma.
If there is one zombie series that I’m at least somewhat ok with my kids reading, it’s this one. Zombies are the thing with teens now a days (AKA my teenage son). The Maze Runner books have a fair amount of violence so that’s my biggest caution. Again these are for teenagers, not preteens. Be warned – there really isn’t any language in the books, but the movies have plenty. So if your teen is going to want to watch the movies after reading the books, you’ll definitely want to be aware of that.
The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
Everyone knows about The Hunger Games! I feel like this was the original YA dystopian series, and it’s quite well done. There’s quite a bit of survival based violence in the books, and a bit of romance as well (nothing beyond kissing to speak of). But again, the movies add some language.
Synopsis: In what was once North America, the Capitol of Panem maintains its hold on its 12 districts by forcing them each to select a boy and a girl, called Tributes, to compete in a nationally televised event called the Hunger Games. Every citizen must watch as the youths fight to the death until only one remains. District 12 Tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has little to rely on, other than her hunting skills and sharp instincts, in an arena where she must weigh survival against love.
Update: The prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is another origins story of President Snow, the main villain.. I personally found it interesting and insightful (though it is long), but I would advise to use your discretion before handing it to your child.
Warriors by Erin Hunter
There are only a couple of series that I myself have not read. And probably the biggest reason for that is the sheer volume of books involved. The Warriors books are the ones about cats, and there are so many books and series and sub series that I’d get dizzy just trying to keep track of them all. But this is also good news if your child happens to like the books, they’ll have reading material for a very long time!
My daughter first came home with these from the library at her school. It being a Christian school and me knowing the librarian well (and having volunteered there myself) I trusted the content enough to not feel like I had to proofread these. Thank goodness!
I know this author has more book series that focus on different animals, but us being a cat family and everything, I can only recommend Warriors.
Wings of Fire by Tui T Sutherland
There are a lot of books in this series as well. I think as of now there are 13 all together?! As well as graphic novels to boot.
I have not read any of these books (only partially listened to one of the books on audio), but with the research I have done I can understand why my daughter is so drawn to them. First of all she loves Dragons (Toothless is her BFF). And I do know that they’re easy to read and very engaging, making them ideal for a wide variety of ages.
- The Dragonet Prophecy
- The Lost Heir
- The Hidden Kingdom
- The Dark Secret
- The Brightest Night
- Moon Rising
- Winter Turning
- Escaping Peril
- Talons of Power
- Darkness of Dragons
- The Lost Continent
- The Hive Queen
- The Poison Jungle
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
I like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas because it’s basically a holocaust story for a younger audience. For me personally, the holocaust is such an important piece of history and I definitely want my children to be educated about it. This book does not have a happy ending though, so please keep that in mind.
Synopsis: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
Two of my children read this book as preteens. It definitely deals with serious subject matter – the Auschwitz concentration camp during WW2 – but it’s clearly written specifically for children as it comes from the perspective of a 9 year old. The word Auschwitz, and most other war terms, are never actually mentioned out right. So unless your children are familiar with the holocaust, they may not clue into what’s going on.
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
The Hobbit is shorter and the style of writing is much easier to read than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read it in high school, but as far as classic literature goes this one is relatively easy to digest and it’s a really well done story!
Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who lives a quiet life, until it is upset by a visit from a wizard named Gandalf. He wants Bilbo to help a group of dwarves take back the Mountain from Smaug, a dragon.
And don’t overlook your local library. In addition to books and magazine articles on subjects of interest, the librarian can be a wealth of information.
Oh yes I love libraries! We go to ours about once a week, and have gotten many great book suggestions from librarians. 🙂
Thanks honestly I don’t yet have teens but my husband and I also prefer clean reading and since there is so much garbage out there we love young adult books! Thanks for the great list and commentary!
That’s awesome, so glad to hear! And thank you for the encouraging comment. 🙂
My daughter has already read all of these and I am at a loss in terms of finding new things for her to read. 2 out of the 3 books from the YA section of the library I randomly chose today for her to read have very mature themes in them. I am afraid she is going to feel like givng up on reading because it is SO difficult for us to find things she hasnt already read.
I agree, it is quite difficult. But thankfully there are a lot of great books out there!