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20 Reading Gifts for Ages 8-12 & 12-16

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If we’ve done right by the younger set, they should love reading by the time they’re in elementary school and go into middle school. My goal in life, as a big cousin and then as an aunt, was to foster that love. Light the spark if need be, and nurture the tiny little flame, of the love of reading and I knew I’d done it right if they were more interested in starting the books hidden in my bag than sitting down for lunch and catching up. Catching up and spending time together is important, of course, but there’s something delightful about growing that book hunger.

My eternal hope is that kids in this age group have learned to love reading and are raring for more complex and interesting stories of a world and a life they’ve never lived. Opening a book, for me, is always about entering a new world, in another time, another place, another reality, and the immersive experience always leaves me feeling transported. This was a comfort during those tumultuous teen years where up was down and right was sideways.

We firmly believe in encouraging literacy – reading opens windows into so many worlds that we may never personally experience and what better way to spend your rapidly changing teen years than exploring the world?

The Best Reading Gifts for Ages 8-12 & 12-16

Two Naomis

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Two kids, both named Naomi, at first only have their names in common. They then have to learn how to become a family when their divorced parents begin dating.


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The companion to Newbery Medal winner, The Crossover, this book takes readers into the past, focusing on a critical formative summer in Chuck Bell’s young life, long before he had children. This is when he discovers basketball and learns more about his roots.

The Tea Dragon Society

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This wonderful all ages story about the care of tea dragons and their caretakers will warm your heart as it explores traditions and friendship, a little bit of sword swinging, and monster slaying.

The Princess Who Saved Herself

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Based on the eponymous song by folk rock musician Jonathan Coulton, the princess myth expands to include a delightful Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion, the princess with a pet snake and played guitar. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t understand the love of princesses growing up but this welcome, fun addition to the pantheon is one I can kind of relate to!

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible

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Speaking of princesses, who said they all had to be human? Harriet Hamsterbone takes the spinning wheel curse and turns it on its head in the most delightful way: this destiny means that until the curse comes true, she’s invincible!


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Refugee kids from three different places and times: Mahmoud escaping Syria in 2015, Isabel escaping Cuba in 1994, and Josef escaping Germany in 1939. Each child has to cope with their world being shaken apart and find a way to survive.

The Witch Boy

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No matter how firmly adults try to uphold and enforce tradition, a little rebellion always breaks through. In this case, Aster who is destined to be a shapeshifter isn’t (yet). What’s going to happen to him and his forbidden interest in witchcraft when the boys need to be saved?

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales

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This anthology collects a group of award-winning authors and their re-imaginations of classic fairytales, perfect for kids and adults alike.

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!

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Happy readers tout this adorable story about Babymouse as a great gateway book for reluctant readers to learn to love reading and that alone recommends it for any audience.

Under the Lemon Moon

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This is a fresh take on the idea of “turn the other cheek” lesson that’s often taught. This bilingual story shares a young girl’s journey from anger and being trespassed on, to seeing new perspectives and having compassion, patience and forgiveness.

Charmed Life (The Chrestomanci Series)

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Orphans Gwendolyn Chant is a gifted witch who is thrilled to be taken to Chrestomanci Castle while her less talented brother Eric only goes along because he doesn’t want to be separated from his beloved sister. Plot twists abound.

Home at Last

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It’s nearly impossible to feel comfortable in a world where you can’t speak the language to communicate your needs or even have a simple conversation about your day but learning a new language is no easy task. A scary incident pushes Ana’s mother to work on her English language skills and, in the process, feeling like she belongs.

Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Castle Book 1)

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It took me years to discover that Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle was actually based on Diana Wynne Jone’s bestselling series. The original book series is every bit as delightful and engaging as the animated film that came after it.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

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In 1963, Audrey Faye Hendricks, all of 9 years old, stood up with thousands of other young children and teens to march in Birmingham, AL, in the Children’s Crusade. For an adult to take a stand during an incredibly scary time is one act of courage, for this young girl to spend a week in jail to stand up for freedom as a child is truly something else.

Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnagivated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

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This beautifully written story has a flavor all of its own as it pulls us into a fantastical journey with September, a young girl from Omaha missing her father who’s gone off to war and longing for her own adventures.

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

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Dan Yaccarino’s great grandfather came to America through Ellis Island carrying a small shovel that goes on to be passed down through the generations becoming a symbol of their new lives and the history that came before.

The Birchbark House

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Omakayas tells the story of our country’s history of westward expansion from the eyes of the Native Americans who were here first: a family and community that works hard to ensure the family survives through hard winters, sibling relationships, and personal beliefs and courage. This is a worthwhile portrayal of life on the prairie.

My Two Blankets

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Change is hard. For a young Cartwheel, leaving her home to move to a new (unspecified) country, everything feels unfamiliar so she takes refuge in an old blanket. A moving tale about metaphor, refugees, friendship, and acceptance.

Princess Princess Ever After

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Two princesses, one tower prison, a powerful friendship in the making. Put the two together and you have a team formidable enough to take on the sorceress who comes after Princess Sadies.

May B.

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Young May is sent to work for a neighbor homesteader and his wife over the winter months, and goes reluctantly, but finds herself in far worse circumstances soon after when the wife leaves and the husband leaves May all alone on the homestead to go after his wife. She has some supplies but not enough to last until her father returns to fetch her at Christmas so she needs to quickly learn how to survive on her own.

Kabu Kabu

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Kabu kabu are the Nigerian version of our unlicensed hacks. In this book of short stories, they take the readers into a wealth of West African culture, history, religion and mythologies we have yet to encounter elsewhere.


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Sierra Santiago is expecting a typical summer of hanging out with friends when she discovers not only that she’s a legacy of the shadowshapers, but that they’re in danger, and she needs to save them.


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Tillie Walden was a dedicated figure skater for a decade but as she came of age, changing school and finding love with her first girlfriend, she found that she’d outgrown the world of skating and it was time to find her place and her voice.

Adventure Time Vol. 1

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Adventure Time has been a massive hit for good reason – the comic adaptation of the animation is funny, highly entertaining, and engaging for an all ages audience.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

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Original poetry is side by side with classic poetry from the Harlem Renaissance in this moving homage to the artists of the period and the African American experience.

Audubon, On The Wings Of The World

John James Audubon, an adventurer and artist, followed his passion for birds across a young America, capturing the country’s birds in his unique illustrations.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

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These poems dive into a history of Cuba that has been otherwise obscured from our view, from this side of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a massive political divide, sharing the stories of healers, freed slaves, and refugees.

In Real Life

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In this story, the fictional MMORPG that’s strikingly similar to WoW becomes a place of discovery for a teen girl named Anda. She’s good at the game but while playing, she gets a look at economics, repression, and child labor in the real world.

This One Summer

In this coming of age teen graphic novel, Rose and Windy are friends who see each other every summer at their lake house. But this summer is different with fighting parents and teens getting into serious trouble.

A Fire in My Hands: Revised and Expanded Edition

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Poetry drawn from a Latino youth growing up in California’s Central Valley, Soto’s poems resonate with all ethnicities.

The Hate U Give

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The most powerful art touches you deeply, challenges your perceptions, tries to share the artist’s truth. Angie Thomas takes a real risk sharing a vision of today’s world in all its complexity.

The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching)

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The first of the Tiffany Aching books – a wonderful adventure full of Crivens! and

All the Broken Pieces

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An adoptee from war torn Vietnam, Matt Pin, has to face a past in which his soldier-father abandoned him, his mother couldn’t care for him, and his brother was irreparably injured.

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed

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It looks like a children’s story but it’s not all sweetness and light. This story has three endings: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Keeping Corner

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Married at 9, Leela’s future seems cut short when she’s widowed at 13. Required by culture and custom to be sequestered in the home for a year, and never marry again, once widowed, she and her family must find a way forward.

Dactyl Hill Squad

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Dinosaurs + civil war + a field trip in 1863. What could possibly go wrong? The better question is, will Magdalys and her Dactyl Hill Squad save the day?

Out of Darkness

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Naomi, newly arrived in New London, Texas, in 1937, must navigate the politics of a racially divided oil-mining town as a 15-year-old coming into her own during a particularly tense time in history.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

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Arturo is about to enjoy a relaxing summer in Miami until a land developer moves into town and threatens to gentrify the neighborhood. He can’t stand for that and fights back for his family and community.


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Living in California, the prospect of drought is always looming, one bad streak away from serious catastrophe. Dry takes it one step further toward the natural conclusion of when the water runs out – what does Alyssa do to protect herself and her brother?


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In a world where a video game has become a lifestyle, Emika is a teenage hacker / bounty hunter and finds herself embroiled in a security investigation that’s far deeper than she ever suspected.

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