Looking for a story set in one of the American states?
Here are some of my favourites!
Kidd, Ronald. Night on Fire. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Company, 2015.
Hoping that the arrival of Freedom Riders in her town will help her community shed its antiquated views, thirteen-year-old Billie is forced to confront her own mindset when things turn tragic.” – CIP. [Alabama; Civil rights movements; Courage; Freedom Rides, 1961; Friendship; Racism; Violence]
Levine, Kristin. The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Dit hopes for a new friend. But when the new postmaster arrives in Moundville, Alabama, he has a daughter instead of a son. And most townspeople are not pleased to see that the family is not white. But Dit Sims and Emma Walker, nevertheless. True friends. How will people react? This powerful novel of loyalty and love, set in 1917 and based on a true story, will be appreciated by readers 11-years-old and up. [Country life, Family life; Friendship; Historical fiction; Prejudice; Race relations]
[Alabama; Capote, Truman; Friendship; Historical fiction; Lee, Harper; Mystery and detective stories]
Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Ballard Creek. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.
What a cheerful story! Set in Alaska in the late 1920s, this inspiring novel of a much-loved little girl will appeal to fans of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Bo – abandoned by her mother, a good-time girl who is leaving town – is taken in by Jack and Arvid, two unmarried gold miners who can’t bear to see her sent to an orphanage. So now she has two papas. No mama, but as Jack tells her, “sometimes mamas don’t stick around, you know. Just walk off. Lot of animals like that” (2). But he adds, “…lucky for us, someone giving away babies. Just what me and Arvid needed” (2). And just what all the other villagers in Ballard enjoy: a little girl who sees life as an adventure. She learns both Eskimo and English. She encounters a bear. She joins in the festivities when an airplane arrives, and lovingly welcomes a little motherless boy whose father has died. This novel by an accomplished Alaskan author – and former teacher – is highly recommended for readers – and listeners – 7 years old and up.
Hill, Kirkpatrick. Winter Camp. New York: Puffin Books, 1993.
“Eleven-year-old Toughboy and his younger sister must survive the harsh Alaskan winter at a friend’s winter trapping camp after their parents die.” – WAFMS. A short powerful novel for readers 9 to 13 years old. [Brothers and sisters; Orphans; Survival]
Hitchcock, Bonnie-Sue. The Smell of Other People’s Houses. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2016.
Abandonment. Loneliness. Grief. Friendship. The lives of four Alaskan teenagers – Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank – overlap in this coming-of-age novel set in 1970. A strong sense of place and a captivating sense of voice make this an outstanding story for thoughtful readers 13 years old and up. [Alaska; Friendship; Grief; Parent and child]
Hobbs, Will. Wild Man Island. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
“After fourteen-year-old Andy slips away from his kayaking group to visit the wilderness site of his archaeologist father’s death, a storm strands him on Admiralty Island, Alaska, where he manages to survive, encounters unexpected animal and human inhabitants, and looks for traces of the earliest prehistoric immigrants to America.” – WAFMS. A fast-moving story of suspense for readers 11 to 15 years old. [Adventure stories; Survival]
Lawrence, Iain. The Skeleton Tree. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Chris and fifteen-year-old Frank, two recently bereaved boys from Vancouver, struggle to survive in the wilderness after their sailboat capsizes off the coast of Alaska. They also struggle to get along with each other. This 278-page novel full of descriptive details – and a bit of the supernatural – will appeal to competent readers 11 to 15 years old who enjoy realistic stories. An afterward provides background information about the author’s experiences in the Pacific Northwest. [Alaska; Fathers and sons; Survival; Ravens; Wilderness areas]
Mikaelsen, Ben. Touching Spirit Bear. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
“After his anger erupts into violence, Cole, in order to avoid going to prison, agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative based on the native American Circle Justice, and he is sent to a remote Alaskan Island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life.” – WAFMS. Recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [Anger; Child abuse; Forgiveness; Juvenile delinquents; Tlingit Indians]
Smelcer, John. The Trap. New York: NY Square Fish, 2006.
“In alternating chapters, seventeen-year-old Johnny Least-Weasel, who is better known for brains than brawn, worries about his missing grandfather, and the grandfather, Albert Least-Weasel, struggles to survive, caught in his own steel trap in the Alaskan winter.” – NVPL. Highly recommended novel for competent readers 13-years-old and up. [Survival; Winter]
Hilmo, Tess. With A Name Like Love. Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
Thirteen-year-old Olivene Love gets tangled up in a murder mystery when her itinerant preaching family arrives in the small town of Binder, Arkansas in 1957. – CIP (Mystery and detective stories; Faith; Country life; Family life; Historical fiction)
Levine, Kristin. The Lions of Little Rock. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.
Twelve-year-old Marlee is shy. She likes thinking and she likes math, but she doesn’t like talking so much. And she is not courageous. But when high schools are closed in her home town because local officials oppose integration, Marlee learns to speak up. Well-researched and based on true events from 1959, this novel will appeal to readers twelve years old and up. [African Americans; Arkansas; Racism; Schools; Family life; Mothers and daughters; Historical fiction; Friendship; Courage; Mathematics; Faith]
Ryan, Pam Munoz. Esperanza Rising. Scholastic, 2000.
Twelve-year-old Esperanza’s life goes from wealth to poverty when her father dies, her uncles take over the family’s ranch in Mexico, and she and her mother are forced to become farm labourers in California during the 1930s. This novel is based on the life of the author’s grandmother. [Child labor; Depressions – 1929; Farm life; Historical fiction; Immigrants; Mexico; Poverty]
Yep, Laurence. The Dragon’s Child. New York : HarperCollins, 2008.
Ten-year-old Gim unhappily moves to America with his father in this novel based on the life of the author’s father. Set in 1922, the novel shows how Chinese immigrants had to pass detailed tests before being admitted to California. Includes an afterward with additional historical details. [China; Chinese Americans; Emigration and immigration; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Stuttering]
Yep, Laurence. The Star Maker. New York: Harper, 2011.
Artie learns how to deal with a bully with the help of his uncle Chester in this short novel set in 1954. Includes an afterward with information about the Chinese customs in the story. Recommended for readers eight to eleven-years-old. [California; Chinese Americans; Chinese New Year; Family life; San Francisco (Calif.); Uncles]
Avi. The Good Dog. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2003, c2001.
“McKinley, a malamute, is torn between the domestic world of his human family and the wild world of Lupin, a wolf that is trying to recruit dogs to replenish the dwindling wolf pack.” – WAFMS. [Dogs; Wolves]
Resau, Laura. Star in the Forest. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010.
Life for illegal migrants is vividly portrayed in this easy-to-read novel. “After eleven-year-old Zitlally’s father is deported to Mexico, she takes refuge in her trailer park’s forest of rusted car parts, where she befriends a spunky neighbor and finds a stray dog that she nurses back to health and believes she must keep safe so that her father will return.” – FVRL. Despite a few far-fetched coincidences in the story, such as both the dog and Zitlally’s father suddenly disappearing and then being injured by jumping out of trucks, this heart-warming novel set in Colorado will be appreciated by animal lovers 9 to 13 years of age. [Dogs; Fathers; Friendship; Illegal aliens; Mexican Americans]
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. One for the Murphys. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012.
Twelve-year-old Carley is astonished at the kindness she discovers when she is placed in a foster home with three young boys. She is used to a tough life with her mother in Las Vegas and suspicious of this family that treats her with generosity and consideration. Just when she is becoming comfortable, though, her mother decides she wants her back. What will happen? Recommended for readers in grades 5 to 8, this novel could be compared to Close to Famous by Joan Bauer. [Connecticut; Family life; Foster children; Mothers and daughters; Stepfathers; Trust]
Amateau, Gigi. Claiming Georgia Tate. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2005.
“Twelve-year-old Georgia Tate feels loved and safe living with Nana and Granddaddy, until her sexually abusive father tries to win her custody.” – FVRL. Sent to live with her father in Florida, Georgia escapes with the help of a transsexual living in a neighbouring apartment. On the long bus journey back home to Mississippi, she meets an African-American on his way home after being falsely imprisoned. This 196-page novel told from the first-person point of view is recommended for readers 13-years-old and up. Shorter and easier to read than The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, it is similar in its depiction of a character who learns to stand up for what is right. [Abuse; Courage; Custody of children; Fathers and daughters; Grandparents; Incest; Mississippi; Racism]
Bloor, Edward. Tangerine. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 1997.
Paul wants to play soccer even though he is nearly blind, even though his father seems to have time only for his football-playing older brother, even though everything seems to be against him in his new school in Florida. He is tough, but is he strong enough to face the slowly-returning memories of what happened to damage his eyes? A suspense novel for sports fans in grades 7 and up. [Blindness; Bullying; Fathers and sons; Soccer]
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn Dixie. Toronto: Scholastic, 2000.
“Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni describes her first summer in the town of Naomi, Florida, and all the good things that happen to her because of her big ugly dog Winn-Dixie.” – WAFMS. A Newbery Honor novel recommended for readers 9 to 14 years old. [City and town life; Dogs; Florida; Moving, Household]
DiCamillo, Kate. Three Rancheros series:
Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2019.
The third in a trilogy about three friends, Beverly, Right Here tells the story of fourteen-year-old Beverly who runs away from home and gets a job in a neighbouring town.
Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2016.
The first in the series was Raymie Nightingale, about a girl who misses her father, who hopes if only she can win a beauty contest, he will come home.
Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018
The second story was Louisiana’s Way Home in which the main character’s grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night to tell her they’re leaving town right now and never coming back.
Three elegantly written novels, set in Florida, with a consistent theme:
Life is not always the way it should be. Your parents may not have enough energy or interest to properly care for you. The people you depend on may not always be dependable. You probably will have to make important decisions all on your own. But there is hope. Someone will come along – even if only for a moment – to give you words of encouragement and wisdom. Life will never be the way you’d hoped it would be, but it will still be good. And remember: you are loved.
Highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old.
High, Linda Oatman. One Amazing Elephant. New York: Harper, 2017.
All sorts of surprises await twelve-year-old Lily when she travels to Florida to attend the funeral of her grandfather. She stays with her grandmother in a circus community. She spends time with her mother, a trapeze artist. She makes a new friend, Henry Jack. And she discovers that her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace, is not frightening after all. This 258-page novel told from alternating points of view is a surprising delight, a heartfelt story of finding love. Highly recommended for animal lovers 11 to 15 years old.
Holm, Jennifer L. Turtle in Paradise. New York: Random House, 2010.
In 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle’s is sent to live with relatives in Florida when her mother gets a job with an employer who dislikes children.” – CIP. A Newbery Honor Book.[Adventure and adventurers; Cousins; Depressions – 1929; Family life; Historical fiction]
Scanlon, Liz Garton. Great Good Summer. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2015.
“Loomer, Texas, twelve-year-old Ivy Green, whose mother may have run off with a charismatic preacher to Panhandle, Florida, and classmate Paul Dobbs, who wants to see a Space Shuttle before the program is scrapped, team up for a summer adventure that is full of surprises.” – CIP. A marvellous lyrical novel for readers in grades 5 to 8. [Christian life; Faith; Friendship; Mothers and daughters; Runaways]
George, Jean Craighead. Tree Castle Island. New York: Scholastic, 2002.
“Something about the Okefenokee Swamp of southern Georgia has always called to 14-year-old Jack Hawkins. But when a nervous mama gator takes a bite out of his handmade canoe, Jack finds himself stranded on a remote island, forced to find his own food and shelter-and to unravel a mystery that reaches far into his past and could change everything he thinks he knows about himself.” – WAFMS. A highly recommended novel by an acclaimed author for 11 to 15 year old readers. [Canoes and canoeing; Islands; Mystery and detective stories; Outdoor life; Survival]
Bauer, Joan. Almost Home. New York : Viking, 2012.
After twelve-year-old Sugar Mae and her mother are evicted from their home, they leave Missouri, hoping for a new start in Chicago. Despite living in a shelter, Sugar does not lose hope. She stays in contact with her former English teacher, writes poetry, rescues a lost dog, and accepts help from a foster family. A cheerful story for middle school readers. [Dogs; Foster families; Homelessness; Hope; Mothers and daughters; Poetry; Poverty]
Balliett, Blue. Hold Fast. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013.
On a cold winter day in Chicago, Early’s father disappeared, and now she, her mother and her brother have been forced to flee their apartment and join the ranks of the homeless – and it is up to Early to hold her family together and solve the mystery surrounding her father. – CIP While the plot line is similar to some of Joan Bauer’s novels, the writing is more sophisticated. Highly recommended. [Homelessness; Poverty; Missing persons; Kidnapping; Fathers and daughters; Family life; Chicago (Ill.); Smuggling; Mystery and detective stories]
Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Finding Langston. New York: Holiday House, 2018.
After the death of his mother in 1946, eleven-year-old Langston moves with his father from Alabama to Chicago. Living in a lonely apartment building and bullied at school, Langston finds refuge in the school library where he discovers the magical poetry of Langston Hughes.Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt misunderstood by those who love you? Have you ever found hope in unexpected places? Then you know how the main character feels in this outstanding novel for readers 9 years old and up. Told in present tense from the first person point of view, the sentences come alive with the cadence of the main character’s Southern speech. If you like stories by Patricia MacLachlan, you will love this 104-page novel. [African Americans; Books and reading; Bullying; Chicago, (Ill.); Grief; Historical fiction; Moving, Household; Poetry]
Hilmo, Tess. Cinnamon Moon. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2016.
Ailis and her brother are orphans living in a boarding house in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.
If you’ve read Sweep by Jonathan Auxier, you’ll remember how children were snatched by unscrupulous men to work as chimney sweeps. In this novel, children are also enslaved, this time by devious men who force them to work as rat-catchers in the sewers of Chicago. But twelve-year-old Ailis is fiesty and brave. She is determined to save herself and her brother from a grim future.
Cinnamon Moon is not a difficult novel to read as far the reading level is concerned. The narration is written in present tense and from the first person point of view, so the story feels up-to-date in its style. Furthermore, the font is a comfortable size and the lines of print are well-spaced. But the story itself is serious and based on historical facts which are explained at the back of the book. However, rather than being discouraging or depressing, this novel is filled with humour and hope. I think the history will interest you and the ending will inspire you. [Brothers and sisters, Chicago, Illinois; Courage; Kidnapping; Orphans; Refugees]
Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.
“In a small town near Chicago in 1953, twelve-year-old Tommy faces escalating problems at home, among his Catholic school friends, and with the threat of a communist living nearby, but taking over his hospitalized sister’s paper route introduces him to neighbors who he comes to rely on for help.” – CIP. Based on the childhood of the author’s father, this quickly-paced but thought-provoking novel is highly recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [Bullying; Child abuse; Communism; Conduct of life; Family problems; Friendship; Historical fiction; Illinois; Newspaper carriers]
Peck, Richard. A Season of Gifts. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family move to move to a small Illinois town in 1958 when Bob’s father becomes the minister of a derelict church. But his loneliness is eased and life becomes adventurous when he meets their new neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel.(Moving, Household; Historical fiction; Family life; Faith; Illinois; Humorous stories]
Ylvisaker, Anne. Button Down. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012.
Tugs’s cousin Ned is the hero in this sequel to The Luck of the Buttons. He learns strategy from his ailing grandfather, battles bullies, and discovers that he can play football despite his small size. This lively novel is highly recommended for readers ten-years-old and up. [Depressions; Family life; Football; Friendship; Grandfathers; Historical fiction; Humorous stories; Iowa; Poverty]
Ylvisaker, Anne. The Luck of the Buttons. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012, c2011.
Twelve-year-old Tugs wins a Brownie camera and solves a mystery about a newcomer who says he wants to start a newspaper in her small Iowan town in 1929. This lively novel inspired by a photograph of the author’s grandmother, is highly recommended for readers who like spunky heroines and appreciate brilliant writing. [Family life; Friendship; Depressions; Historical fiction; Iowa; Mystery and detective stories; Photography; Poverty; Summer]
Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Trouble the Water. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
An old yellow dog brings Cassie and Wendell – a black girl and a white boy – together in racially segregated Kentucky in 1953. Buddy leads them to a ramshackle cabin in the woods where two invisible boys are waiting to cross the nearby river. Partly historical fiction, partly a ghost story, this memorable novel by a thought-provoking writer is highly recommended for readers 10 to 15 years old.
P.S. Do you know the story of how Jesus healed the sick man by the pool of Bethesda? The man who never got to the pool in time to be healed after an angel ‘troubled the water’? You might like to read about it in John 5 after you read Dowell’s story. Then you might like to think about the Pharisees in the Bible and the townspeople in the story. And think about that pool at the end of the novel. Might you be called to be an angel?
Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Curley Hines lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Most of his relatives have died, his father in a coal mining accident and his mother and younger brother in a mud slide caused by the mine. So now he lives with his grandfather who – every week – gives him a new word to learn: 26 letters x 2 = 52 weeks and 52 new words every year.
Right from the first sentence, this debut novel is full of the joy of life: love, hope, and determination. And the power of words! Which is exactly what Curley needs to use when the mine announces their plans to blow the top of Red Hawk Mountain. Coal is needed and a new mine manager is resolute in his decision to expand operations. Curley and his best friend Jules – with the help with her new boyfriend, the mine manager’s son – get together to oppose the destruction of their beloved home.
Each chapter in the story emphasizes one of Curley’s words and ends with a definition. The humour in the format is delightful and never feels overbearing or didactic, probably because of Curley’s spunk and his grandfather’s loving wisdom. This novel is highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Appalachian Region; Coal mines and mining; Environmentalism; Friendship; Grandfathers; Kentucky; Orphans]
Kelly, Erin Entrada. The Land of Forgotten Girls. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2016.
“Abandoned by their father and living in poverty with their heartless stepmother in Louisiana, two sisters from the Philippines, twelve-year-old Sol and six-year-old Ming, learn the true meaning of family.” – CIP. A heart-moving story of loss and resilience highly recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old. The design – large margins and widely-spaced lines – helps to make this 299-page novel easy to read. [Filipino Americans; Friendship; Grief; Immigrants; Louisiana; Neglect; Sisters; Stepmothers]
Napoli, Donna Jo. Alligator Bayou. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.
Fourteen-year-old Calogero can’t understand the racism and prejudice he encounters when he moves from Sicily in 1899 to join his uncles and cousin in Louisiana. He wants to make new friends and learn American customs, but not everyone likes his way of trying to fit into small-town society. (Italian Americans; Historical fiction; Country life; Prejudices; Racism; Moving, Household; Poverty; Uncles)
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Sugar. New York : Little, Brown, 2013.
“In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.” – CIP [African Americans; Chinese Americans; Courage; Friendship; Historical fiction; Individuality; Orphans; Race relations; Racism]
Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Gifts from the Sea. New York : Dell Yearling, 2005, c2003.
Twelve-year-old Quila lives with her father, a lighthouse keeper. They never get to leave their rocky island and hardly anyone ever comes to visit. But then a baby is washed up by the sea and, two years later, a stranger comes to visit. Everything changes. This novel is best-suited for readers 10 to 14 years old or anyone at all who has enjoyed Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. [Fathers and daughters; Infants; Historical fiction]
Kline, Christina Baker. Orphan Train Girl: the Young Readers’ Edition of Orphan Train. New York: Harper, 2017.
Molly, a foster child in Maine, is court-ordered to do community service after stealing a book from the public library. Forced to help an elderly woman clean up her attic, she makes a friend who shares her own past as a homeless Irish-Catholic child sent out to work without pay in order to earn her keep. A powerful story based on history as explained – and illustrated with photographs – in an afterward. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up. [Foster children; Historical fiction; Orphans]
Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013.
“Odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.” (Provided by publisher.) Jack has to leave Kansas behind after his mother dies and his father, a naval officer, sends him to boarding school in Maine. Only when he meets Early Auden does he finally start to come alive again. A wonderful adventure story, highly recommended for readers 8 to 13 years old. In an afterward, the author writes that her characterization of Early was inspired by reading Born on a Blue Day by autistic savant Daniel Tammet but did not mention autism in the novel because it would not have been diagnosed when the story was set, in 1945. [Adventure and adventurers; Boarding schools; Eccentrics and eccentricities; Grief; Historical fiction; Maine]
Schmidt, Gary D. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Clarion Books, 2004.
Turner is not pleased when his father moves the family to Phippsburg, Maine. He is even less pleased when his father, a church minister, expects him to always behave with dignity and diplomacy. But when he is also expected to go along with the growing racism that is forcing African Americans from their homes, he takes a stand which brings about surprising changes. Set in 1911, this novel for sixth to ninth graders is a Newbery Honor Book. (Clergy; Maine; Newbery Medal; Faith; Moving, Household; Fathers and sons; African Americans; Racism; Historical fiction; Coming of age)
Wolk, Lauren. Echo Mountain. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2020.
Twelve-year-old Ellie meets Larkin when she and her family have to abandon their home during the Great Depression in 1934. She and her younger brother move, with their parents, to the mountains of Maine, building a cabin and making do with what the land will provide. Tragedy follows. But Ellie gains courage and learns how to be healer, bringing hope back to life in the midst of poverty and despair. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
Avi. The End of the World and Beyond: Continues The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of my Follies, Fortune & Fate Written by Himself. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2019.
In this sequel to The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, twelve-year-old Oliver suffers the horrors of transport from England to America in 1724 before being sold into servitude to a violent man and set to work with a black slave in the fields outside the town of Annapolis. How will Oliver survive? Will he escape? Will he ever be reunited with his sister and father? Full of historical details, this action-packed novel will appeal to readers whether or not they have read the previous novel.
Voigt, Cynthia. Seventeen Against the Dealer. New York: Simon Pulse, 1989.
Twenty-one-year-old Dicey has to make a decision about her future: should she marry her boyfriend Jeff or should she pursue her career as a boat builder? If she waits, will the right answer come to her? It doesn’t matter how long she waits, her grandmother tells her, life is never settled. There will always be decisions to be made and we can never know the outcome ahead of time. This seventh novel in the ‘Tillerman Cycle’ will be appreciated by readers in grades seven to twelve. [Entrepeneurs; Boats and boatbuilding; Grandmothers; Young adult fiction]
Balliett, Blue. Out of the Wild Night. New York: Scholastic Press, 2018.
The historic homes on Nantucket Island are being redeveloped to make modern new homes for newcomers. The ghosts of the people who once lived in them are not happy. But what can they do? What if they call on children to help? What will happen?Past and present mingle in this action-packed 291-page ghost story. Highly recommended for adventurous readers 11 to 14 years old.
Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks of Gardam Street. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2008.
The four sisters are aghast when they suspect their widowed father has started dating someone. And so they make all sorts of crazy plans to put an end to any romance. A happy story for nine to twelve year olds who have enjoyed The Moffats by Eleanor Estes. [Sisters; Fathers and daughters; Single-parent family; Family life; Humorous stories]
Paterson, Katherine. Lyddie. Dutton, 1991.
In hopes of leaving her life of poverty on the farm, Lyddie Worthen becomes a factory worker in Massachusetts during the 1840s. [Factories; Historical fiction; Industrial revolution; Poverty]
Pennypacker, Sara. The Summer of the Gypsy Moths. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2012.
A foster child named Angel and twelve-year-old Stella, who are living with Stella’s great-aunt Lousie at a cottage colony on Cape Cod, secretly assume responsibility for the vacation rentals when Lousie unexpectedly dies and the girls are afraid of being returned to the foster care system. [Secrets; Determination; Death; Aunts; Courage; Humorous stories]
Scattergood, Augusta. Glory Be. New York: Scholastic, 2012.
“In the summer of 1964 as she is about to turn twelve, Glory’s town of Hanging Moss, Mississippi, is beset by racial tension when town leaders close her beloved public pool rather than desegregating it.” FVRL [Courage; Friendship; Historical fiction; Mississippi; Racism; Segregation; Sisters; Summer]
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Puffin Books, 1994.
“Huck Finn and Jim, an escaped slave, make a break for freedom down the vast Mississippi River on a raft.” – WAFMS. A classic American adventure novel, originally published in 1884. [Mississippi River]
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Modern Library, 2001.
“The adventures of a mischievous young boy and his friends growing up in a Mississippi River town in the nineteenth century.” – WAFMS. Another classic American adventure novel, originally published in 1876. [Fugitive slaves; Humorous stories; Mississippi River Valley; Runaways]
Yep, Laurence. When the Circus Came to Town. New York, NY : HarperCollins, 2002.
Ten-year-old Ursula’s adventures with her friends come to an end when she contracts smallpox and is covered with scars. But with the encouragement of a Chinese cook hired by her parents, who run a restaurant at a small stagecoach station in Montana, she regains her confidence. Based on a true story, this short novel by a skilled storyteller is recommended for readers in grades three to six. [Chinese Americans; Chinese New Year; Circuses; Frontier and pioneer life; Historical fiction; Self-esteem; Smallpox; Winter]
Avi. Catch you Later, Traitor. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison enjoys reading detective novels and listening to radio dramas. But in 1950s America, the government’s search for communist sympathizers leads to a real-life mystery when the FBI shows up at Pete’s home in Brooklyn, New York. Could there be Communist spies in his family? A note at the end of the story provides more information about this time in American history, describing the author’s connections to his own life growing up in New York City. A fast-moving suspenseful novel highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
Brown, Marc. In New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
The acclaimed author of dozens of books – including the stories of Arthur, the aardvark – takes readers on a tour of his favourite city: New York. The conversational style of writing and softly detailed illustrations – in watercolour and gouache – depict a city full of exciting things to see. Recommended for readers 7 years old and up.
Fox, Paula. Monkey Island. New York: Yearling, 1993.
Eleven-year-old Clay meets two men who help him survive on the streets of New York City after his mother abandons him. Highly recommended for ages 12 and up.[Homelessness; New York City; Survival]
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Gingersnap. New York : Wendy Lamb Books, 2013.
“When her brother Rob, a Navy cook, goes missing in action during World War II, Jayna, desperate for family, leaves upstate New York and their cranky landlady, accompanied by a turtle and a ghost, to seek their grandmother, who Rob believes may live in Brooklyn. Includes soup recipes.” – CIP Another inspiring novel by this competent author. Recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Could be compared to Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous. [Brothers and sisters; Cooking; Families; Ghost stories; Historical fiction; Missing in action; New York (City); Orphans; World War 2]
Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Becoming Chloe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
Two homeless teenagers, a fearful girl and a gay boy, become friends, leave New York City and take a road trip across America in search of beauty. “Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Alfred A Knopf, 2006) is the story of Jordan who lives a lonely life in the streets. This all changes when he meets Chloe. Chloe, a small blonde girl who has also lived her life in the streets, thinks the world is ugly and full of misery. But when, Jordan takes Chloe on a road trip across the country to show her that the world is a wonderful place, they have lots of adventures, make many memories, and Chloe changes her mind. She realizes that the world really is a beautiful place. This book entertains, heals your heart, and feeds your soul. I really enjoyed reading it and I recommend this book to children ages twelve to fifteen.” – Megan
Parry, Rosanne. Last of the Name. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2019.
After surviving a horrific voyage, twelve-year-old Danny and his older sister Kathleen arrive in New York City. But the prejudice against Irish Catholics is as bad in America as it was in Ireland. Determined to stay together, the siblings find work as house maids. But they can only stay as long as Danny can keep pretending to be a girl. This novel – set in 1863 and based on historical facts – is highly recommended for competent readers 11 years old and up.
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. The Dead and the Gone. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2008.
“After a meteor hits the moon and sets off a series of horrific climate changes, seventeen-year-old Alex Morales must take care of his sisters alone in the chaos of New York City.” – CIP. Part of an exciting trilogy for readers twelve years old and up. [Brothers and sisters; Natural Disasters; New York (City); Puerto Ricans; Survival]
Raschka, Chris. The Doorman’s Repose. New York: New York Review Books, 2017.
What goes on in a New York City apartment building? What secrets are hiding behind all the doors? What goes on in the lives of little creatures – such as mice? How do the machines that keep the building running feel? This collection of 10 interconnected short stories – by an astonishingly talented storyteller – will amaze and amuse readers 10 years old and up.
Rubbino, Salvatore. A Walk in New York. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009.
“Illustrations and text follow a young boy while his father takes him on a tour of Manhattan, and they visit Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, Union Square Park, and other places.” – WAFMS. Part of a series of picture books about cities of the world. [Historic buildings; Walking]
Rundell, Katherine. The Good Thieves. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019.
After Vita’s grandfather is swindled out of his home, she and her mother sail to New York City to take him back to England. But once they arrive, Vita comes up with a new plan: to reclaim the family mansion. With the help of newfound friends – two circus performers and a reluctant pickpocket – she sets out to accomplish her mission. Katherine Rundell accomplishes her usual magic with this latest novel set in the 1920s. Mixing the sadly all-too-real and the impossibly-foolhardy-and-unrealistic, she once again tells a rollicking tale of adventure which will inspire readers 10 to 14 years of age. Highly recommended!
Sasek, M. This is New York. New York: Universe, 2003, c1960.
A picture book for all ages.
Sedgwick, Marcus. She is Not Invisible. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2014, c2013.
16-year-old Laureth and her 7-year-old brother run away from their home in London, England and fly to New York City to find their missing father. A fast-moving story with a surprise ending from an outstanding writer. [Authors; Blind; Brothers and sisters; Fathers; Missing persons; Mystery and detective stories; New York (City); People with disabilities]
Stead, Rebecca. Goodbye Stranger. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2015.
“As Bridge makes her way through seventh grade on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her best friends, curvacious Em, crusader Tab, and a curious new friend–or more than friend–Sherm, she finds the answer she has been seeking since she barely survived an accident at age eight: ‘What is my purpose?'” – CIP. Another great novel about friendship and love and forgiveness by a Newbery Medal winner. Recommended for readers 12 to 15 years old. [Family life; Forgiveness; Friendship; Love; New York (City); Schools]
Steptoe, Javaka. Radiant Child: the Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Brilliant double-page illustrations help tell the true story of a collage-style New York artist who died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of only 27. The colour, energy, and detail in Steptoe’s paintings are astonishing. An afterward tells more about both Basquiat and Steptoe and could be used to start all sorts of discussions on the effect of childhood experiences and the nature of creativity. This sophisticated picture book – winner of the Caldecott Medal – is highly recommended for artists of all ages. [Artists; Biographies; Caldecott Medal; Creativity; New York (City)]
Woodson, Jacqueline. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun. New York: Puffin Books, 2010, c1995.
“Almost-fourteen-year-old Melanin Sun’s comfortable, quiet life is shattered when his mother reveals she has fallen in love with a woman.” – WAFMS. Another outstanding novel by an award-winning writer. Recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [African Americans; Lesbians; Mothers and sons; Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)]
Madden, Kerry. Gentle’s Holler. New York: Viking, 2005.
Twelve-year-old Livy and her eight siblings live in the hills of North Carolina. Their father plays the banjo and dreams of getting a singing contract. Their mother, struggling to keep them all alive, wants him to get a paying job. Livy writes her own songs and reads books from the travelling library in between helping her mother and trying to keep the peace in her family, especially after her grandmother comes to visit. Set in the 1960s, this heartwarming story based on the childhood of the author’s husband is recommended for quiet daydreamers ten-years-old and up. It might also be appreciated by readers who have enjoyed stories by Patricia MacLahlan, Cynthia Rylant and Ruth White. [Blindness; Family life; Historical fiction; Music; Poverty]
Moses, Shelia P. The Baptism. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007.
Twelve-year-old Leon worries about whether he wants to give up sinning so he can be baptized along with his twin brother. (African-Americans; Humorous stories)
Moses, Shelia P. Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-kee Man. Scholastic Press, 2007.
Set in North Carolina, this easy-to-read novel describes that difficult time in life when you have to start earning money to get the things you want. Sallie Gal wants ribbons for her hair. But her mother cannot afford them. So Sallie Gal and her cousin decide to sell lemonade and earn enough money to buy their own ribbons from the travelling salesman who regularly stops by their house. Based on the author’s own African American childhood, this heartwarming story is suitable for children starting to read novels and adults who remember their own first lessons on the importance of honesty.
DeFelice, Cynthia C. Wild Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
Twelve-year-old Eric is sent to live with his grandparents. But he misses his parents who have been deployed to Iraq, especially when his grandfather remains distant and unfriendly. So, Eric takes his dog and runs away. Into the cold bleak countryside of North Dakota.[Runaways; Grief; Family life; Grandparents; War]
MacLachlan, Patricia. Fly Away. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014.
“While in North Dakota helping her Aunt Frankie prepare for a possible flood, Lucy finds her voice as a poet with the help of her two-year-old brother Teddy, the rest of their family, and a few cows.” – CIP. A beautifully lyrical story highly recommended for imaginative readers of all readers. [Brothers and sisters; Cows; Family life; Floods; Poets]
*Dutton, Sandra. Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.
“Ten-year-old Mary Mae, living with her parents in fossil-rich southern Ohio, tries to reconcile, despite her mother’s strong disapproval, her family’s Creationist beliefs with the prehistoric fossils she studies in school.” – CIP. Highly recommended for readers 7-years-old and up. [Christian life; Creationism; Faith; Family life; Mothers and daughters; Schools]
Bruchac, Joseph. Two Roads. New York: Puffin Books, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Cal and his father, homeless, travel across America by rail. It’s 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, and countless poverty-stricken men are clambering onto freight trains, hoping not to be caught by the guards. But Cal is caught – by a surprise. His father tells him that they are Creek Indians. And now he is going to join a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to defend the rights of World War I veterans, so Cal is being dropped off in Oklahoma to stay at a residential school for native Americans. Joseph Bruchac, author of numerous novels and picture books, skilfully tells a story of grief and hope recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Note: All books published by Puffin are well-written. All stories by Joseph Bruchac are worth reading.
Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
Fifteen-year-old Billie Jo lives with her family on a wheat farm in Oklahoma during the the Depression. Written as a series of poems. A Newbery Medal winner. [Farm life; Historical fiction; Poverty; Stories in verse]
McKinnon, Hannah Roberts. Franny Parker. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.
“Through a hot, dry Oklahoma summer, twelve-year-old Franny tends wild animals brought by her neighbors, hears gossip during a weekly quilting bee, befriends a new neighbor who has some big secrets, and learns to hope.” – FVRL. A wonderful story of first love for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Artists; Coming of age; Droughts; Family life; Family violence; Farm life; Friendship; Neighbors; Wildlife rescue]
Parry, Rosanne. Heart of a Shepherd. New York: Random House 2009.
Ignatius “Brother” Alderman, nearly twelve, promises to help his grandparents keep the family’s Oregon ranch the same while his brothers are away and his father is deployed to Iraq, but as he comes to accept the inevitability of change, he also sees the man he is meant to be. – CIP [Iraq War, 2003; Faith; Family life; Christian life; Oregon; Ranch life; Grandfathers; Responsibility]
Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
Twelve-year-old Jack spends the summer of 1962 helping an elderly neighbour write obituaries after his mother grounds him for mowing down the garden his father wants to use for a bomb shelter. Much like in Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones, there is concern about a possible nuclear war with Russia. This humorous novel, based on the author’s own childhood in Pennsylvania, is the Newbery Medal winner for 2012. [Family life; Summer; Old age; Historical fiction; Newbery Medal; Humorous stories]
Harshman, Marc and Anna Egan Smucker. Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2017.
I like picture book biographies. They expand my general knowledge of history in little snippets that stay in my memory, unlike longer books that give me far more details than I will ever remember. And picture books are generally beautifully written with illustrations that bring history to life.
Fallingwater is no exception. It is written – using present tense – in an elegantly simple style and enhanced by LeUyn Pham’s sophisticated illustrations. The author’s and artist’s notes at the end of the story will be of interest to readers who want to learn more about the famous house in Pennsylvania designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Smith-Ready, Jeff. This Side of Salvation. New York: Simon Pulse, 2014.
“After his older brother is killed, David turns to anger and his parents to religion, but just as David’s life is beginning to make sense again his parents press him and his sister to join them in cutting worldly ties to prepare for the Rush, when the faithful will be whisked off to heaven.” – FVRL. This 368-page novel is highly recommended for competent readers 13-years-old and up. [Cults; Faith; Families; Grief; Schools]
Donaldson, Joan. On Viney’s Mountain. New York: Holiday House, 2009.
“In the Cumberland Mountains during the fall of 1879, sixteen-year-old Viney is shocked to hear that Englishmen will arrive on her mountain and build a new community, massacring the beautiful area that inspires her weaving.” – CIP. A quietly romantic novel recommended for readers 13 to 16 years old. [Country life; Dating (Social customs); Family life; Historical fiction; Sisters; Weaving]
Vawter, Vince. Paperboy. New York: Delacorte, 2013.
“When an eleven-year-old boy takes over a friend’s newspaper route in July 1959, in Memphis, his debilitating stutter makes for a memorable month.” – CIP. A Newbery Honor Book, highly recommended for readers 10 to 15 years old. [Bullying; Family life; Newspaper carriers; Race relations; Stuttering; Tennessee]
Crowley, Suzanne. The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous. Greenwillow Books, 2007.
“In a small Texan town, thirteen-year-old Merilee, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, tries to live a “Very Ordered Existence” but everything seems to go out of control when a new boy arrives and starts to spend more and more time at Merilee’s house.” – WAFMS. Recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Autism; City and town life; Friendship]
Gipson, Fred. Old Yeller. New York : HarperTrophy, 2004, c1956.
A classic dog story, about a 14-year-old boy and his yellow dog, set in Texas in the 1860s. Highly recommended for all readers 11-years-old and up. [Dogs; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction]
Hobbs, Will. Take Me to the River. New York: Harper, 2012, c2011.
“When North Carolina fourteen-year-old Dylan Sands joins his fifteen-year-old cousin Rio in running the Rio Grande River, they face a tropical storm and a fugitive kidnapper.” – WAFMS. Hobbs is superb at combining conflict with nature and conflict with self. This novel is recommended for readers 11 to 15 years old. [Canoes and canoeing; Cousins; Criminals; Rio Grande(Colo.-Mexico and Tex.)]
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Henry Holt and Company, 2009.
Eleven-year-old Callie Vee isn’t interested in learning how to be a proper lady. She’d rather be outside studying the natural world with her grandfather. Set in Texas in 1899, this Newbery Honor Book will be enjoyed by competent readers in grades five to seven.(Texas; Historical fiction; Grandfathers; Sex role; Family life; Naturalists)
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Callie continues her investigations into the natural world in this sequel to the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. When a veterinarian comes to town, Callie expands her knowledge of animal care but secretly, as only her grandfather encourages her dreams and hopes for the future. Observant readers will notice that each chapter begins with a quotation from The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, the English naturalist whose own father disapproved of his unconventional life but whose maternal grandfather encouraged him. This 312-page novel is highly recommended for readers 10 years old and up. [Family life; Historical fiction; Naturalists; Sex role; Texas; Veterinarians]
Kelly, Jacqueline. Skunked! New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016.
Eleven-year-old Travis adopts two baby skunks in this historical novel for young readers. Set in a small Texan town in 1901, this easy-to-read story focuses on the younger brother of Callie, the main character in two previous novels for older readers: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. While this new novel still features Callie as narrator, the action centres on Travis and his escapades with two wild creatures. A great story for readers 7 to 11 years old. [Country life; historical fiction; naturalists; pets; skunks; Texas]
Winter, Jonah. Born and Bred in the Great Depression. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011.
The author tells the story of his father’s childhood in Texas during the 1930s. Told from the second person point of view, this beautifully designed picture book with pencil, ink, and watercolour illustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root is accompanied by black and white photographs. Recommended for readers 8 years old and up.
Ferruolo, Jeanne Zulick. Ruby in the Sky. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Ruby has secrets to keep. No one is supposed to ask any questions about her mother and father. But when she meets a recluse who lives near her new home in Vermont, life starts to change. And when she meets Ahmed – a Syrian refugee – at her new school, friendship develops despite her reluctance. Maybe it is possible to find a new home, after all. A wonderful story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Friendship; Schools; Moving (Household); Single-parent families]
Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. True Colors. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.
“In 1952 Vermont, ten-year-old Blue decides to set out in the middle of her town’s sesquicentennial celebration to find the mother who abandoned her as a baby, but a series of events reminds her that she already has everything she needs.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Identity; Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; People with mental disabilities; Foundlings]
Moulton, Erin E. Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey. New York: Puffin Books, 2011.
“Nine-and-a-half-year-old Maple and her older sister, Dawn, must work together to face treacherous terrain, wild animals, and poachers as they trek through Vermont’s Green Mountains seeking a miracle for their prematurely-born sister.” – CIP. Highly recommended for readers – nine to fourteen years old – who appreciate adventures and country life. [Adventure and adventurers; Family life; Nature; Poaching; Sisters; Vermont]
Winthrop, Elizabeth. Counting on Grace. Random House (A Yearling Book), 2006.
Twelve-year-old Grace and her friend Arthur go to work with their mothers in a mill in Vermont in 1910. After they write a letter to the Child Labor Board, a famous reformer comes to gather evidence and Grace’s life is forever changed. [Child labor; Factories; Friendship; Historical fiction]
White, Ruth. A Month of Sundays. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
“In the summer of 1956 while her mother is in Florida searching for a job, fourteen-year-old April Garnet Rose, who has never met her father, stays with her terminally ill aunt in Virginia and accompanies her as she visits different churches, looking for God.” – CIP. A smoothly flowing story, far more engaging than most novels written in first-person present tense, recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Could be compared to the more humorous story, The Canning Season by Polly Horvath, also about a girl sent north from Florida to live with aunts. [Aunts; Christianity; Country life; Faith; Family problems; Fathers and daughters; Historical fiction]
Parry, Rosanne. Written in Stone. New York: Random House, 2013.
A grandmother recalls her youth in the 1920s. Her tribe, the Makah on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, struggles to survive after her father dies and outsiders threaten her people’s way of life. This engrossing 175-page story – told from the first person point of view – is accompanied by a map, a glossary, an extensive author’s note explaining historical details, and a list of resources. The relatively large font makes the book inviting for competent readers as young as 10 years old. The quality of the writing and depth of historical information make this a compelling novel for readers of any age. Highly recommended! [Historical fiction; Orphans; Racism; Washington State]
Porter, Tracey. Billy Creekmore. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2007.
Ten-year-old Billy suffers the cruelties of life in an orphanage. Not enough food. Not enough warmth. And no love, at all. Everything changes, though, when an uncle and aunt claim him and take him off to live with them in a coal mining town in West Virginia. Billy’s spunk and love of storytelling, though, cause trouble when he gets involved with the union. This is 1905 and the mine managers are angry. So Billy runs away to join the circus and find the father who long ago abandoned him.
This modern-day Charles Dickens novel could also be compared toThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. It is highly recommended for readers 9 to 14 years old. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud for a fifth grade class. [Aunts and uncles; Circus; Coals and coal mining; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Honesty; Orphanages; Runaways; Self-reliance; West Virginia]
Bauer, Joan. Hope Was Here. New York: Speak, 2000.
Hope reluctantly leaves New York City to move to a small town in Wisconsin when her aunt gets a job running the local diner. Hope is a waitress and used to thinking on her feet, but she faces a lot more surprises than she expected when the diner’s owner decides to run for election against a corrupt mayor. Recommended for readers 12 to 16 years old. [Aunts; Friendship; Cancer; Moving (Household); Waiters and waitresses; Newbery medal books; Young adult fiction]