1,000 words or less. Promise.
My niece made it through Leukemia when she was a toddler. She continued to go to LA Children’s hospital for blood tests, bone marrow, for everything a fully grown adult shouldn’t have to go through, let alone a little kid. Yet, when she got a bit older, what’s the one thing she wouldn’t do? What she couldn’t bear to do? She would not read. That’s what she fought against. What she hated and in the all caps of a resilient kid Would Not Do.
Until she found Harry Potter.
Now, I’ll admit that Harry Potter is special, but she found that one book that drew her in. That gateway book is so important and so special to any reader. I’m hoping to help your child find that one book. The one they keep forever because it’s the first time they remember being completely in love with binding, words, and pages.
Thing with that one book? It can be anywhere. Maybe it’s not recent, maybe it’s crazy old or really far out in left field. May I mention, this is also to help your child fall back in love with reading. You’ll notice I have a couple books in here that are very definitely for teenagers and not middle grade. Those are for the kids who used to read for hours and then suddenly stopped.
So, dear parents, oh yee who have exhausted Google’s ‘Top Ten Books to Give Your Kids.’ While those articles can be a great resource, there’s sure to be some repeats, and also some that suck. For this list, I’ve tried to stay away from the big ones like HP, His Dark Materials, and Percy Jackson. Some titles are old, sure, but I’m including them because they are worth the nod. A book has got to be pretty good to stay with me for 20+ years, right? This is a quick compilation of everything I’ve stumbled across along the way. I hope I can help the reader who isn’t yet, and the reader who was.
Red Rising: by Pierce Brown
This is a story of rising beyond your station. On Mars, there is a group of people (The Reds) who are forced to dig into the ground under terrible, awful conditions for viable resources. The Reds are told that their hard work is all so the people of Earth can be saved. So that when Earth dies, it will be the Reds who made Mars livable. Their labor is meant to be heroic. Little do they know, humans have been living comfortably on Mars (and other planets) for generations. Darrow will have to rise up (hence, Red Rising) above his station and lead a Red rebellion to free his people. I’ve read and pretty much worship the first three but I think the series has six books in total. It’s got touches of Greek/Roman mythology throughout and is a perfect, successful cross between The Hunger Games and Star Wars.
Ender’s Game: by Orson Scott Card
I don’t know how to not recommend this book because it’s space opera. I am personally a huge fan of anything in space. While this book is many things, I think how our differences make us stronger is the consistent theme. And the horror of this book too really touches on something I believe is necessary for children: The game Ender thinks he’s playing has layers and winds up being so, so much more complicated. Real life has real consequences.
The Red Queen: by Victoria Aveyard
Mare’s world is divided into two types of people: The Red and the Silver. The Red are the workers. The Silver have powers akin to those found in the Marvel/DC universe. Through a series of events, Mare discovers that even though she’s Red, she too has powers. Anxious to keep this mutation a secret, the royal family of Silvers take her under their wing. This tosses her into a world she doesn’t know and into a greater war than she could ever imagine. I’m anxiously waiting for this series of four to become movies. Not only is the story riveting and fucking exceptional, but the colors, the powers, and the atmosphere are something I can’t wait to see with more than my mind’s eye.
Slasher Girls and Monster Boys: a compilation of short stories
This is for a teenager, and one who likes horror. The majority of these stories have hints of other books (or movies, like I Know What You Did Last Summer.) They’ve all got voice, so if your kid is so inclined, I recommend listening to this book via audible.
Fire Bringer: by David Clement-Davis
This was part Hamlet, part Bambi, with a Lord of the Rings epic fantasy feel. Rannoch is a young buck who is born the night his father dies. I believe he’s with the herd for a bit before he has to flee, but at a certain point, he’s chased away from family and friends, and will one day return to fulfill a prophecy. This is for the child who is beginning to get interested in epic fantasy and maybe some light horror, but isn’t ready for the real stuff yet. I say light horror, because the deer are mean! They sharpen their antlers to kill fawns! While I did eventually outgrow this book, I remember reading it and feeling like I was somehow sneaking an adult book. The language was elevated without being out of my grasp. This author also wrote The Sight and Fell—both of which were good. So, if your child ends up liking Fire Bringer, check the other two. Those are about wolves!
The Dear America series
(This is a series written by several different authors. The ones I remember liking the best were the ones about the Dust Bowl, the Oregon Trail, and the Mayflower. Heard good things about the Coalminer’s Wife too.)
While I am a big advocate of everybody reading whatever they want regardless of gender, I really do recommend these books for girls around nine or ten. That’s the age of most of the girls in these books. Some may be as old as twelve, but I think those are few and far between. The Dear America books are historical fiction, so I feel these books deserve a place on my list because they introduce the reader to the idea that growing up has never had a clear path, regardless of what era you are living in. There are twists and turns, but your road will be your own adventure. As a mostly only child, these books were my favorite companions. Not only were they a pleasure to read, but I felt a kinship to the girls who were just a thin bit of paper away.
She has a place here because she’s written some really magical and timeless YA, and also some very, very well done middle grade. I sort of just recommend the author in general. Is that cheating? Oh well. So, if you listen to the podcast, you’ve heard me gush about the Winternight trilogy; a story of a young girl who falls in love with a frost god while coming into her own interesting powers. But, Arden also has another series out. It’s called Small Spaces. I’m currently working through it and I have good, strong feelings for this book in the hands of, say, an eleven year old. It’s light horror, but it’s all kid. Feels very much like a younger version of Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life.
Thanks very much for reading. Hope there is something in here for your child who either needs to read, or needs to fall back in love with reading. Or, hell, maybe you’ve run out of things to give the avid reader and this will help? Best of luck, happy school year! As always, stay dark & stormy.