Books for the Younger Crowd Part 3

This is part three of my my top recommendations for folks reading in the classical young adult range. Most of these are speculative fiction (with a few classics thrown in for good measure). These books have a level of on screen violence and physical relationships that you’d see on the television or in a PG film.  Not all of these are marketed as young adult.  I only list the first book in a series, because it’s a good idea to make sure you like book one before picking up all of them.

Author’s name is at the top. 
Book title (only the first in a series will be listed)
– Notes or description preceded by a hyphen
Another book, maybe
– Another description

Tamora Pierce 
– Sword and sorcery. First book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, and really the best place to start all your world of Tortall reading (there are three 4-book quartets, a 2-book set, and a trilogy that take place in this world). The magic is interesting, the characters feel real, and there is well done ethnic and religious diversity. Lots of coming of age and finding your path in these books.
Wild Magic
– Sword and sorcery. Takes place in the same world as Alanna, but you don’t have to have read those to enjoy these. The main character is the child of a god and a human and has magic allowing her to speak with animals.
Sandry’s Book
– High fantasy-ish. The first book in the Circle of Magic quartet and the larger connected Magic Circle collection.  This set follows four kids who have unusual magic.  They are all very different characters, coming from various walks of life.  Again, diversity is well handled here.  The character Tris starts of prickly and unlikable.  Over the course of the series we learn to like her, but she stays prickly, which I think is excellent (she doesn’t have to change who she is). Great self discovery books.
Young Warriors: Stories of Strength
– Collection of short stories edited by Tamora Pierce featuring strong female characters.

Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men
– Again, sort of high fantasy. Self discovery and adventure of Tiffany Aching, who didn’t know she was a witch until she had to rescue her little brother.  Lots of neat language that is still accessible to younger readers.  They may pick up words like susurrus (a low soft sound such as whispering or muttering) and crivens (Scottish for “oh heck”).  
Witches Abroad
– High fantasy. While this takes place in Discworld, you do not have to read the other books first.  This one is a bit of an of witches adventure, and it pokes lots of fun at the tropes of witches riding brooms and dwarf and cultures as inspired by Tolkien.

Phillip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass
– Parallel world fantasy.  This is the first book of the His Dark Materials Trilogy, which has some spectacular writing.
The Firework Maker’s Daughter
– Historical Chinese fantasy. The writing in this is very much classical YA, but this is more of a novella than a true novel.  It is beautifully illustrated. I feel this is actually Pullman’s best work.  His novels often have a deus ex machina ending, which I find wholly unsatisfying, the cost is far higher than it should be.  This one sticks the landing.

Rick Riordan 
The Lightning Thief
– Contemporary fantasy, Greek mythology was actually historically factual.  I’d been hearing the hoopla about these books for years, and it is justified.  It’s funny, clever, but also has great depth.  Fun twisting and use of Greek mythology and characters. If you like this, you will want to read the rest

J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
– Contemporary fantasy, magical boarding school.  Yes, you’ve probably heard of it and watched the movies.  It’s still quite good, and gets to be here just in case someone hasn’t read it and needs a nudge in that direction.

Pamela Sargent
– Science fiction.  Kids created and raised by a deep space ship are being sent out to colonize a planet.Some things go well, others go horribly wrong, and there are a couple key surprises.  I read this when I was 11 and only reread it recently.  It help up pretty well.

S.P. Somtow
The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter
– Urban fantasy.  Has a very Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel, with the sass.  Main character is a Native American boy who is a traditional dance performer.  He befriends a new girl at school, and it turns out she’s half vampire. Lots of fun with vampire tropes.

Mary Stewart 
A Walk in Wolf Wood
– Contemporary fantasy, parallel universe. A couple of kids walk into the woods and find themselves transported to Arthurian time and place.  Will they ever get home? This one is often out of print, but it’s worth looking for at the library or through ABE books.

Tui Sutherland
The Dragonet Prophecy
– This is the first book in The Wings of Fire series. This is a great story about coming of age, finding yourself, and leaning on your friends. This story (and series) provides nurturing male characters, tactically strong female characters, racism and social bias, and characters learning to break out of the mold they’ve been assigned, to be who they truly are.
The Lost Continent
– While technically book eleven in The Wings of Fire series, it is a completely different storyline fully independent of the first ten books (on a different continent, even!). The world is rich and culturally interesting. This book continues the focus on the importance of friendships and warping gender norms, while addressing war, subjugation, and genocide.

JRR Tolkien
The Hobbit
– Fantasy. This really continues to be a gold standard for classical fantasy, and it’s part of how the genre gained traction in publishing.  I read this in fifth grade after discovering that the Rankin and Bass cartoon was based on a novel.
The Fellowship of the Ring
– Fantasy. You don’t have to have read the Hobbit first.  While this continues the tale, it’s written in a much more academic language, so it’s not accessible to everyone.

Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer
– Not speculative fiction, but includes the adventure element that often appeals to fans of the genre.  Episodic and feels like a serial that was put together in novel form.  Best read in elementary or junior high before bad teachers can ruin your enjoyment of it.
Huckleberry Finn
– Not speculative fiction, and also not a true sequel to Tom Sawyer, though it takes place in the same world.  This is less episodic, and has a continuous story line.  Again, best read before a bad high school teacher or college prof can ruin it for you.    

Vivian Vande Velde
Now You See It
– Contemporary fantasy.  A girl discovers a pair of glasses right after breaking hers.  Surprise, they let her see the fae hiding among us!

The Once and Future King
– Arthurian fantasy.  Not sure how true to Mallory this is, but this is definitely the source for pretty much every King Arthur cartoon or movie I’ve ever seen.  The language is a bit more complex, so more fun for older or stronger readers.

Ysbeau Wilce
Flora Segunda
– Urban/steampunk-ish fantasy.  Amazing world.  Fascinating magic.  Well developed characters.  Flora’s dad has PTSD and drinks a lot, this is actually very well handled.  As the series progresses, it begins to look like her parents may have had a non-conventional relationship involving a third party.

Laurel Winter
Growing Wings
– Science fiction.  A girl wakes up one morning to irritated shoulder blades.  She’s sprouting wings, as her mother and grandmother did before her.   Instead of drugging her and clipping her wings (which seems to be standard protocol in the family), they find a group of people studying this mutation in an open way. 

Patricia Wrede
Dealing With Dragons
– Sword and sorcery.  A princess who has no interest in being wooed by a knight, goes out to defeat a dragon herself, but makes friends instead.

Jane Yolen
Wizard’s Hall
– Fantasy, middle grade-ish.  Magical boarding school that features a lot of things you see in Harry Potter, but was published well before Harry Potter.
Sister Emily’s Lightship
– Speculative fiction short stories
Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
– Speculative fiction short stories

Jack Zipes
Spells of Enchantment 
– Comprehensive fairy tale collection.  The author is an expert and former professor specializing in fairy tales.

Check out part one and part two of this list.

Books for the Younger Crowd Part 2

This is part two of my top recommendations for folks reading in the classical young adult range. Most of these are speculative fiction (with a few classics thrown in for good measure). These books have a level of on screen violence and physical relationships that you’d see on the television or in a PG film.  Not all of these are marketed as young adult.  I only list the first book in a series, because it’s a good idea to make sure you like book one before picking up all of them.

Author’s name is at the top. 
Book title (only the first in a series will be listed)
– Notes or description preceded by a hyphen
Another book, maybe
– Another description

Nina Kiriki Hoffman
A Fistful of Sky
– A girl from a magic family doesn’t get her magic until very late, and then it’s the power of curses.
A Stir of Bones
– Some teens make friends with a lonely ghost.

Eva Ibbotson 
Which Witch?
– All the local and famous witches try to out wicked each other in order to win the hand of the handsome evil wizard.  Hilarity ensues.

Diana Wynne Jones 
A Charmed Life
– The first book published in the Chrestomanci heptalogy, but is not the first book in chronological order. This takes place in an parallel Britain, where there’s magic. These are clever and often hilarious.
– Sirius, the dog star, has been found guilty of murder, and has been sent to earth in a mortal form (puppy!).  He must prove his innocence before the real murderer can identify and kill him.

Ellen Klages
The Green Glass Sea
– Historical fiction involving the town of scientists and support folks who were working on the atom bomb

Katherine Kurtz
Deryni Rising
– Sword and sorcery series.  Ritual heavy magic based on hypnotism, adventure, ethnocentrism, and a really nasty archbishop.  We’re reading the third book in this series with our 12-year-old.

Gail Carson Levine
Two Princesses of Bamarre
The timid, clumsy sister has to go on an adventure to cure her brave sister’s illness
Ella Enchanted
Cinderella story (it’s better than the movie), Ella was given a gift from a fairy at birth – she must obey any order.  But headstrong Ella finds ways around orders.
The Wish
Contemporary fantasy.  A girl wishes to be popular, and suddenly she is.  And it’s a bit much, but at the same time, she doesn’t quite want it to end.

Rebecca Lickiss
Eccentric Circles
– Contemporary fantasy. A young woman inherits her grandmother’s house.  On her first morning, she finds a handsome elf hanging out in her kitchen insisting her grandmother was murdered
Never After
– Fractured fairy tale.  An adventurous princess goes to explore the castle wrapped in brambles.  She’s captured by someone out for treasure, makes acquaintances with an odd little man with a whole lot of magic, and encounters a plethora of princesses.  There’s also something about a frog.

Anne McCaffrey
– Science fiction with dragons. The first book of the Dragonriders of Pern series.
– First book in a young adult specific trilogy that takes place in the Pern world, but can be read on its own
– Science fiction, space opera.  Planet pirates killed her family and made her a slave.  When she was freed, Sassinak joined Fleet to hunt down the pirates.

Robin McKinley
Spindle’s End
– A delightful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a rich interesting world
– A retelling of Beauty and the Beast written with YA audience in mind
Rose Daughter
– Another retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with significantly more challenging language, probably not written with a YA audience in mind, but it’s suitable for older or stronger readers

Garth Nix
Mister Monday
– Contemporary fantasy.  The first book in the The Keys to the Kingdom series.  Middle grade reading level, but interesting and engaging for older readers.
– Fantasy with Victorian and steampunk hints. Marketed in Britian as both YA and adult (with separate covers).  Fascinating rich world, intriguing magic, and good necromancy. 
Across the Wall
– Collection of short stories primarily fantastic or magical in nature. Includes one of the best Hansel and Gretel retellings I’ve run across.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu 
Zahrah the Windseeker
– Middle grade afrofuturism.  A compelling coming of age story in a world that has an interesting mix of magic and nature.

Check out part one and part three of this list.

Books for the Younger Crowd Part 1

This is a list of my top recommendations for folks reading in the classical young adult range. Most of these are speculative fiction (with a few classics thrown in for good measure). These books have a level of on-screen violence and physical relationships that you’d see on the television or in a PG film.  Not all of these are marketed as young adult.  I only list the first book in a series, because it’s a good idea to make sure you like book one before picking up all of them.

Author’s name is at the top. 
Book title (only the first in a series will be listed)
– Notes or description preceded by a hyphen
Another book, maybe
– Another description

Douglas Adams
 A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
– Science fiction, humor. This is the first in a series. I read this when I was 12.

Richard Adams 
Watership Down
– Anthropomorphic bunnies.

William Alexander
Goblin Secrets
– Clockwork magic

David Almond 
Kit’s Wilderness 
Both are dark fiction, not truly horror, but mysterious with magical elements.

Natalie Babbitt
Tuck Everlasting
– Fountain of youth

Aiden Beaverson
The Hidden Arrow of Maether
– Fantasy, coming of age in an interesting world

Gail Carriger
Etiquette & Espionage
– Steampunk, coming of age, self discovery.  Takes place in the same world as her adult Parasol Protectorate series. Some of her adult fans loathe this series, but they are wrong, and this is witty and fun, and explores some complex themes (racial bias anyone).

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games
– Future dystopic science fiction. This is the first in a trilogy, but it can stand on its own.  My son read the entire series over the course of three weeks when he was ten, and it spurred a lot of conversation about politics, policy, and socioeconomic imbalance.  Some parents are squeamish about these because of the premise, but I assure you that despite the nature of The Games, the violence isn’t depicted in a graphic or gruesome fashion. The focus tends to be on the planning, the impacts, and vivid descriptions of things other than the violence itself.  Worth noting that the main character clearly has depression (and PTSD in later books), that her mother has a history of mental illness; these are depicted in a way that feels very real.

Suzy McKee Charnas
The Kingdom of Kevin Malone
– Contemporary fantasy in New York City and a specialized other world

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling 
The Green Man:Tales From the Mythic Forest
– Collection of fairy tales, retold by mostly well-known speculative fiction authors

Gordon Dickson
The Dragon and the George
– While trying to travel to another world, man accidentally projects his consciousness into a dragon

Clare Dunkle
The Hollow Kingdom 
– A young woman tries to outwit the king of goblins while protecting her younger sister
By These Ten Bones 
– Scottish werewolf tale

David Eddings
The Pawn of Prophecy
– Sword and sorcery, the first book in the Belgariad series

Cornelia Funke 
The Thief Lord
– The Thief Lord feels very magical, though there’s actually very little magic in the story.
– A girl’s father can read things to life out of books (but there’s an unfortunate cost).  
Igraine the Brave 
– Igraine has to take care of the castle while her family is busy, and of course marauders come to call.

Neil Gaiman
– Contemporary dark fiction.  Kids read it as an adventure and adults tend to read it as a child in danger. 
The Graveyard Book
– A boy whose family is murdered is raised by the spirits of a graveyard.
– Fantasy adventure, includes a prophecy, magic, and a fallen star.  There is a non graphic sex scene in the first chapter.

Margaret Peterson Haddix
Just Ella
– A story of what happened after Cinderella was brought back to the castle, only to realize the prince was hella stupid and totally not her type.

Shannon Hale
The Princess Academy
– All the girls in town have to go to a boarding school for a bit to learn how to act like princesses so they can compete in an event not unlike The Bachelor

Jim C. Hines
The Stepsister Scheme
– fantasy, fractured fairy tale, several fairy tale ladies come together (not unlike Charlies Angels) to save the day.

Check out part 2 and part 3 (coming soon) of this list.

Graphic Novels for the Younger Crowd

Graphic novels are a ton of fun to read, even if you’re an accomplished reader, and they can make some stories accessible and appealing to struggling readers.  These are my top recommendations for graphic novels for folks reading in the classic young adult range. These have a level of on screen violence and physical relationships that you’d see on the television or in a PG film. I only list the first book in a series, because it’s a good idea to make sure you like book one before picking up all of them.

Author’s name is at the top. 
Book title (only the first in a series will be listed)
– Notes or description preceded by a hyphen

Vera Brogsol
Be Prepared
– Autobiography of a Russian-American summer camp experience.  The main character is the daughter of a Russian immigrant, and she has heard about the wonders of camp for years.  When she finally gets to go to Russian summer camp, it’s not quite as she expected. How will she survive? How will she make friends

Cardcaptor Sakura Vol 1
– The new omnibus editions are nice because they are a lot of manga for the money, but the bindings may get a bit stressed, strong female characters, magical girls, sensitive boys, classic manga.

Michel Gagne
The Saga of Rex
–  Wonderful fox adventure, told more in pictures than in words, beautiful art.

Shannon Hale
Rapunzels Revenge
– Steampunk western fractured retelling of Rapunzel, where she saves herself.  Lots of fun fairy tale stuff, ethnic diversity, and growth.

Real Friends
– Autobiography. A great look at relational aggression, bullying, and “mean girls” and how to make real friends without getting sucked into the drama.

Ben Hatke
Zita The Spacegirl Book 1
– Strong female protagonist, who takes responsibility for her actions, and makes tough choices because they are the right thing to do. Victory is not attained merely by force or might, and relies heavily on the main character’s ability to make friends.  Great for younger readers.   

Kazu Kibuishi
The Stonekeeper: Amulet #1
– Fantasy, magic, strong female characters.

Kanata Konami
Chi’s Sweet Home Vol 1
– Another omnibus, very little text, a sweet story about a kitty, for very young and sensitive kids you may want to have ample time to get to a point where Chi has been adopted (my daughter was so worried about the poor lost kitten).  Great for younger readers.

Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures 
–  Short tales of what Team Avatar was doing in between episodes or in their off screen time. The stories fit into the television show’s storyline.

Mike Maihack
Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice
–  science fiction with strong female characters.  A fun adventure that seems to have been influenced by a number of geeky sources, reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with elements of a boarding school story plus some Indiana Jones components. 

Marvel Comics
Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
– Superheroes. This is a collection of comics that have been assembled as a cohesive story.  Kamala is the daughter of immigrants and she is Muslim, so it’s some nice diversity in our reading material.  In this volume we see her struggle to figure out her place as a new super hero.

Ted Naifeh
Polly and the Pirates
– Steampunk-ish.  Strong female character.
Courtney Crumrin and the Night things Collection 
– Contemporary magic, goth/dark fiction/horror (but not too scary), strong female character, first in an excellent series. If getting for a younger kid, maybe screen it first.

Dana Simpson
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: Heavenly Nostrils #1
– Contemporary fantasy, lots of sass, strong female characters

Christian Slade
Korgi Book 1 Sprouting Wings
– Fantasy.  Other than an intro, this has no words.  The artwork is gorgeous.  Strong female characters.

Noelle Stevenson
Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
– Think over-the-top, hard-core Girl Scouts and add in some magic. Strong female characters, friendships, and adventure.

Rumiko Takahashi
Ranma 1/2 Vol: 1
– Manga. Contains some vague nudity and exploration of gender.  Ranma is cursed, and every time he gets hit by cold water, he turns into a cute girl version of himself.  He’s a fantastic martial artist, and his grandfather (who is cursed to turn into a panda when he gets wet) is arranging a marriage for him with a girl who likes him better when he’s a girl.

Gene Luen Yang
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise
–  Picks up right where Avatar:The Last Airbender leaves off. The tone and characters are consistent with the series, making it a perfect follow-up. This is available in three separate volumes or a pretty hardcover “library” edition containing all three.

Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
– Strong female characters, urban fantasy (give it time, it gets there) with faeries and magic.

Check out my recommendations for more book ideas.

Book Categories Marketed to Younger Readers

I’m preparing some book recommendation lists (finally), and I think it would be handy for folks to have this information for reference.  These are the rough definitions used in the marketing and packaging of books intended for a younger audience.  Keep in mind, some publishers and book stores may be more liberal with these definitions, and that these do change over time, some folks splinter these groups even further, and that these designations are subjective as heck.

Picture Books – target audience is age 3-8
These have great pictures and very few words (and some have no words at all).

Early Readers – target audience is age 4 and up
Also sometimes called easy readers.  These include my entire collection of Dr. Suess books.  These still strongly feature pictures.

Middle Grade – target audience is age 7-12
Sometimes called intermediate readers, or early chapter books. We used to have two or three genres for this age group, but they’ve really blended together in the last 10 years or so, which is a bit unfortunate. You’re going to find a wide range of complexity here. The easier (emergent reader) end of the scale includes books with 1-2 page chapters and occasional pictures, running right around 75 pages in length. The more traditional middle grade end of the scale books have more complex plots and longer chapters, and run around 320 pages.  The first three Harry Potter books are technically a middle grade.

Classic Young Adult – target audience is age 12 and up
This genre is a bit of a mess.  It includes a lot of classic literature that has been repackaged for younger readers, things more complex and longer than the middle grade work, and all those teen books that don’t quite tread into the controversial topics of 14 and up books.  Books four through seven of Harry Potter tend to go here, as they are longer and more complex than their middle grade counterparts, and they have more graphic violence, but they aren’t quite sexy or violent enough to go in the next category.

14 and Up Young Adult – target audience is age 14 and up
Sometimes referred to as gritty YA.  These are likely to have more on screen sexual content, controversial content, and graphic violence.  You’re also likely to find books that would be labeled as classic YA if not for their GLBTQ characters (this is a stupid thing, I know, I’m the wrong person to complain to).

New Adult – target audience is age 18-30
Think of this as 14 and up YA, but for people who are now considered adults, and are trying to do the whole adulting thing for the first time. Themes focus on finding yourself, leaving home, developing sexuality, negotiating education and career choices, and college and dating mishaps.

My YA work tends to fall in the classic and 14 and up YA camps.  My adult work tends to fall in the new adult category mostly due to protagonist age and the tone or voice of the narrative.  Though I wasn’t as familiar with them, it looks like no one uses “intermediate readers” or “ten and up” to refer to genres anymore, though they used to be distinct and commonly used categories.