It wasn’t unusual for people to compare Tom Harriman to a superhero, but they never knew how right they were. Zach Harriman knew his dad was special, but he didn’t realize how special until after Tom’s death in a mysterious plane accident. With his father dead, Zach starts to exhibit powers he never had before. He knows when danger is coming. His senses are heightened and he can move with amazing speed. On top of that, Zach keeps finding himself and those he loves in dangerous circumstances.
Now Zach learns the bedtime stories his father told him about ‘the Bads’ may not have been stories after all. ‘The Bads’ are real and, with his father gone, they are after Zach. For all comic book and superhero fans, Hero is a perfect blend of fantasy and real life. Zach Harriman is an everyday kid learning to be a superman. The action is fast-paced and the characters are believable. It is mild enough for younger readers, but interesting enough for an older audience.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Jake and Lily Wambold are twins so inseparable that they can read each other’s thoughts. They can’t play hide and seek, because they always know where to find each other. But the summer they turn twelve, things begin to change. Jake makes some new friends and Lily feels abandoned and lost without her brother. At first she reacts in anger, but then her Poppy inspires her to find her ‘just Lily’ life. As Lily finds her own life, she learns more about herself and others. Jake, through his experiences on his own, learns about himself as well.
Told from the journal writings of both twins, Jake and Lily is a wonderful story of finding yourself and where you belong. Although it focuses on twins, the book echoes feelings most kids deal with through the tween years. With both a male and female protagonist, it is a perfect for tween boys and tween girls. Jake and Lily are likeable characters with believable experiences. Their story teaches the importance of relying on your family as well as yourself.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
In late winter 1858, Early Whitcomb and his family were struggling to save their farm. After a dry year and poor harvest, their savings were barely enough to pay the mortgage. Threats from the bank were becoming more severe and financial ruin seemed inevitable. About this time, the farmers began to hear rumors of gold found out West at Pike’s Peak. Early’s Uncle Jesse is caught up in the gold fever and is sure that digging for gold will solve all their problems.
When Jesse disappears, Early joins a wagon train to follow his uncle and join the rush for gold. This I Witness book gives a realistic look at the culture and struggles of emigrants and gold diggers in the Old West. Avi includes illustrations and photographs that help teach history as well as share an intriguing story.
Once again, Sharon Creech uses poetic writing and endearing characters to create a heartwarming story. Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are two orphan girls living in the town of Blackbird Tree. One summer day, a mysterious boy falls from a tree and into their lives. With the appearance of the ‘Finn boy,’ unexpected happenings and curious surprises begin to occur. Through these events and a wide variety of characters, Creech shares a tale that illustrates how ‘a delicate cobweb link[s] us all.’
The Great Unexpected is a story of coming of age and finding your place in the world. It also teaches the power of kindness and the importance of forgiveness. Creech’s characters are intriguing, quirky, but also very real. The story is a mystery whose resolution shows the interconnectedness of the world. Creech’s intended audience is tween readers, but I think her story can reach younger and older readers, too. It is a good book for reading aloud in a family with a variety of ages.
Recommended for independent readers ages 9 and up, and reading aloud for all ages.
In the country of Carthya, the royal family lies dead and civil war is imminent. The nobles of the country are grasping for power in their own ways, but one chooses deception. Conner is far from a place on the throne, but he plans to produce the missing and presumed dead Prince Jaron. In an attempt to create a false prince, Conner chooses three orphan boys near the prince’s age and attempts to train them to become royalty. Through his chosen prince, he will rule the country.
Sage is one of those boys pulled from an orphanage and forced into Conner’s treasonous plan. Even while he struggles to avoid enemies and fight against Conner’s plan, Sage knows he must be chosen as the false prince to survive. The False Prince is a story of adventure and intrigue, but also about self-discovery and being true to what you believe. Both the characters and story are entertaining, making the book an exciting read for tweens and teens alike. I enjoyed the ending that resolved while still leaving room for further development.
Recommend for ages 11 and up.
When thirteen-year-old Mary Lou Finney is given the assignment to keep a summer journal, she has no idea her summer will be so eventful. First, her cousin Carl Ray comes to live with her family bringing all kinds of mystery with his silent and sad ways. Soon after, their neighbor has an unexpected heart attack. In the middle of that excitement, Mary Lou deals with her best friend having her first romance and Mary Lou encounters some unexpected romance of her own.
Through the voice of Mary Lou, Creech effectively captures the emotions and events of a interesting but archetypal tween summer. She captures the chaos of a house full of kids with a new teen caught in the middle. Also, she includes some profound life lessons about family, friends, and growing up.
Recommended for ages 9-12
For as long as she can remember, Cecelia has been told she is the true princess being raised in hiding. Her parents were murdered when she was a baby and she was sent to a remote village to be kept safe. All her life she has been a village girl by day studying politics and royal subjects in secret at night. However, when strange things start happening around her little cottage, it appears her identity has been revealed and she is no longer safe.
Cecelia travels to the palace with her best friend Harper in an attempt to take her place as the true princess and right the wrongs she sees in the kingdom. When she arrives at the palace, the current princess has a different perspective. Both girls learn that things aren’t always as they appear and finding who to trust is a constant battle.
A Palace of Mirrors is a mystery, fairy tale, and coming of age story rolled into one. Readers will be kept in suspense, but also learn valuable lessons about trusting yourself and learning to recognize and appreciate your abilities. It is a good story to teach young girls about self-worth and the ability to see the world from different perspectives. One warning, it is a companion novel to Just Ella. You will follow the story fine without reading the other book, but it might give away some plot surprises from Just Ella.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
This intriguing retelling of Snow White is a companion book to Ella Enchanted and takes place in the neighboring fantastical kingdom of Ayorthia. In this version, Aza is not the fairest in the land, but she is gifted with a magical voice. Her voice and a cursed mirror lead to adventures and new self-awareness for a variety of characters. Levine writes an entertaining story and manages to teach life lessons through interesting characters. A good read for teens who enjoy a magical, but real-to-life fairy tale.
In my opinion, a creative retelling of a fairy tale can cover a multitude of sins. This one combined elements of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “The Billy Goats Gruff” and was written in rock and roll type lyrics. The thing that truly caught my admiration was an inclusion of Dairy Princesses, mention of the Minnesota State Fair butter heads, and Lake Superior. My loyalty to Minnesota forced me to love this one. It is a light fairy tale retelling with a strong heroine and a fun story for tweens and above.
This short historical fiction book is perfect for tweens interested in the Wild West. We recognize names like Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy, and Wyatt Earp with their questionable heroics in a wild time, but not many have heard of the truly heroic Bass Reeves. One of the most successful federal marshals in the late 1800s, Reeves worked in Indian Territory arresting criminals and fighting for justice against amazing odds. Reeves, the only recorded African American marshal, was known for his honest devotion to duty as well as his uncanny ability to get out of tight spots.
Little is recorded about this hero of the Wild West, but Paulsen has combined known facts with fiction to create a compelling historical figure. Paulsen creates a believable childhood and combines that story with actually known events to show the shaping of this man. The reading is interesting for all ages, but it does deal with the violence that so filled that time period—raiding Indians as well as the cruelty of white men. None of the writing is explicit, but the themes make it better for 10 and older.