What my adolescents are reading

These days, the books my three oldest children like to read are heading toward the depth and genres I’m interested in myself. Here are some good ones they’ve read recently.

Serve God, Save the Planet: a Christian Call to Action

J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D.

Nonfiction, 2007

One of the delightful things about having a teen in the house is book swapping. In fact, I can outsource some of my reading. I bought this book for myself, but Aarick got his hands on it first, and we discussed what he read. (I call him Mr. Environmentalist as a term of endearment; he rolls his eyes at me and I consider us equal.) He loved this book. He said that the environmental books he’s read tend toward one side of the argument or the other – either Pff, it’s not that bad and besides, heaven! or WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE AND SOON. To find a book that mixed eternal hope for the world with responsible handling of its resources was a treat.

The Boys in the Boat

Daniel James Brown

Nonfiction story, 2014

Another winner for Aarick. The subtitle is Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It’s a good adventure story, but deep and well-researched, with nerve-racking politics in pre-and-postwar Germany, a dark horse victory, and a satisfying finish.

The Magician’s Nephew

C. S. Lewis

Fiction/Fantasy, 1955

The magical beginning to The Chronicles of Narnia, this story recounts the creation of Narnia and sets up the redemption of the next book. My daughter is newly permitted to read the series on her own, and she loved it. Mommy, I THINK the Lion is going to turn out to be Aslan. This is one of my favorite books in the series – a touch scary, a touch sad, and incredibly joyful.

The War that Saved My Life

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Historical Fiction, 2016

Very few young adult books really capture me these days; it takes something special to draw me in. This random find at our library made me very happy. So I’m reading it, and passing it on to my children. Historical fiction based on the evacuation of children from London in WWII, it’s so much more than another war story. It explores belonging and home and what it means to let go of a painfully misshapen identity. I love the kindness of Sarah Smith. She is the sort of mother I would like to be.

Mild violence and danger, and allusions to lesbianism; preview first.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

Fiction, 1952

“Have you ever read The Old Man and the Sea?” I asked my son. “No,” he said, and then several pages in, “The descriptions are amazing!” I love the generational relationship in this story, how the old man and the boy each need the other.

The Mad Scientists’ Club: Complete Collection

Bertrand R. Brinley

Fiction, 1965

This series is always a favorite at our house. I haven’t read the books myself, but Ryan grew up on them and my boys and girl love the humor, creativity, and ridiculousness. I believe they consider Henry, Freddie, and Dinky to be personal friends.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Mark Twain

Fiction, 1889

Here’s a darker and more advanced read, and a great conversation starter for a young teen. After reading the book, Aarick researched the story of its writing and confirmed his own hunch: that Mr. Twain was slightly surprised himself by how the book turned out. What starts as an adventure story turns dangerous and cynical, reflecting questions the author was wrestling with at the time.

How does change happen in a society? Should the church and the state work together? What happens when old and new ways mix? Is technological advancement our friend or foe, or both?


Roald Dahl

Fantasy, 1982

The BFG is one of my favorite fictional people ever (also he was born the same year I was). His private twist on the English language is fantastic. “I is telling you five or six times, and the third will be the last.”

Kelly says, “I like the interesting things the BFG does with Sophie,” and her favorite scene is when they blow the dream to the Queen.

The Light in the Forest

Conrad Richter

Historical Fiction, 1953

Both my boys read this one, and found it sad but revealing. Many studies have been done about the adaptation of white children into Native American tribes, and how they were fully assimilated and never the same again; in fact, reluctant many times to return “home.” This fictional story tells of a child caught between his two worlds.

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell

Fiction, 1877

My daughter is in love with the idea of horses. I don’t know if she is in love with the real animal or not, but she adores the idea.

She read an abridged version of Black Beauty, but I’d like to unleash her on the original. (It’s easier than buying a horse.)

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And no, just in case you are wondering, my children do not read a straight diet of classics and Newbery Medals. There are plenty of junk books mixed in, cheap detective series and a great many volumes on car makes and models. Grin. What books of this age level would you recommend?

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5 years ago

I’ve just ordered my copy of the Mad Scientist’s club… sounds perfect for my boy right now. Pass my thanks to Ryan.
And from your description, I’m going to hunt down The War that Saved My Life at our library. I love these book recommendation posts.

5 years ago

Ooohh, some of my childhood favorites (and, admittedly, also favorites as an adult) are in there. The Magician’s Nephew (along with the whole series), The Mad Scientists’ Club, The BFG, The Light in the Forest.

Priscilla F.
5 years ago

My older boys will be thanking you for this list! (They liked “Boys In The Boat” too). We’ve recently moved, and though the new house is bigger, it doesn’t have the built-in bookcase of the old house, and therefore the boxes (and there are MANY) of books remain closed until bookcases can be built. Thank the Lord for a great library system in my neck of the woods. And am I ever so relieved by the disclaimer stating there are other books consumed than just those good old classics and so forth, because occasionally I have a few boys who fancy themselves to be the next Frank and Joe Hardy. Car and truck and airplane and train and battleship books abound here. Maybe this would be a bit under the level you’re interested in, but if you can find The Melendy Quartet books by Elizabeth Enright, they’re good, as are her other books, and so are the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series by Sidney Taylor, and the lesser-known books by Beverly Cleary such as “Otis Spofford”. The trilogy by Jean Craighead George including “My Side of The Mountain”, etc. is another good set. And we’re reading aloud The Caroline Years series, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother when she was a girl. “Caddie Woodlawn” by Carol Ryrie Brink is good, and “Hatchet” and “Haymeadow” by Gary Paulson, and can’t forget “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson. Also I’ve been happy with the books by Janet and Geoff Benge, on historical figures and various missionaries. “Battle of the Bulge” (Young Reader’s Adaptation) by Rick Atkinson and “In The Heart of the Sea” (Young Reader’s Adaptation) by Nathaniel Philbrick and “Titanic: Voices from the Disaster” by Deborah Hopkinson were listened to in audio book form, and much enjoyed. They liked “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis, though it might not be for everyone. I am so thrilled to have kids who love books as much as their mother… and now I know what my mom felt when she called my name and there was no answer because I was so engrossed in the story…

Linda Stoltzfus
5 years ago

I am thrilled that you’ve taken to book selections for adolescents. I have several in my house who are constantly ‘out’ of books to read. Although I personally enjoy reading and see the value of rich literature, I did not grow up with a literature rich heritage to draw from. I depend on booklists from people I trust to broaden our reading worlds. Thank you. I hope you do it again soon. 🙂

book luv'n Mamma
5 years ago

Thank-you for this list, as I too, have children who live in times of hardship– “there’s nothing to read!!!” The Boys In The Boat.. ahhhh…. we splurged, bought the audio version, and the story was long enough to last the whole way to Texas! We wished there would have been enough to last the whole way home, too!! We all, from ages 9 to 35, loved it 🙂

Rachel Habegger
5 years ago

Adolescents are super fun!! I might be naïve, but I can’t wait till mine get to that age. At that stage, I liked the old book “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates” by Mary Mapes Dodge, any Underground Railroad book I could get my hands on, At The Little Brown House and it’s sequels by Ruth Alberta Brown; I was older when I read Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series, but those, too!

5 years ago

Oh good! You’ve got some here my crowd hasn’t read yet! Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, The Mysterious Benedict Society ( that one may have been mentioned on your site already), The Pushcart War, The Sign of the Beaver, almost anything by Andrew Clements… and my girls enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series. We found Elli of the Northland while studying the Laplanders and I read it aloud.. they loved it. The Bronze Bow, The Golden Goblet, The Cat of Bubastes.

5 years ago

My adolescent is currently reading Cheaper by the Dozen. He keeps reading me snatches or sits there rolling with laughter. He’s also reading Angels in the ER. I’m always looking for book suggestions and I think The Mad Scientist Club sounds right down my boys alley.

5 years ago

Ours (13 & 14) enjoy Lord of the Rings. Books by George MacDonald – Sir Gibbie, The Princess and Curdie. A Child Called It and it’s sequel The Lost Boy. (Very disturbing, true stories.) Books by Pat McManus. All of the previous suggestions from comments. Father Brown stories (detective) as well as Sherlock Holmes. Indian in the Cupboard series. With a house full of boys, the selections may be geared that way but they did thoroughly enjoyed Anne of Green Gables. (Who wouldn’t?) They also devoured The Scarlet Pimpernel and then discovered there’s a series. There’s a constant flow of books here with full shelves and two grandmas who also have too many books. Lol

5 years ago

i enjoyed The Bronze Bow and Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Love your list!

5 years ago

Thanks to your recommendation there are 3 holds on the Mad Scientist’s Club in the Lancaster county system 🙂

5 years ago

See if you can get hold of homeschool curriculum catalogs that use real books. Sonlight or My Fathers World. There’s probably more too. They have great book lists.

Dawn Harshbarger
5 years ago

We grew up reading My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara. I suppose they are for older teens/adults, but I was a book worm and read them by the time I was in 4th grade. (A least My Friend Flicka) I was a little bit older before I read the others. Of course everyone in your family will want to move to Wyoming and live on a ranch by the time you are done with the books. – Dawn (There is some swearing and falling in love, especially in the last book of the series. The falling in love that is. Some swearing in all the books.)

Lynn Yoder
5 years ago

So I debated if my favorite middle-school books of 2018 fit into this “adolescent books” post. If I as an adult enjoyed them and am still thinking about them, I’m pretty sure adolescents will enjoy them. Shooting Kabul, Saving Kabul Corner, and Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. All 3 books are written from a Muslim adolescent perspective—Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner are from an immigrant’s view of fleeing Afghanistan/life in America. Escape from Aleppo follows a young girl’s story as she flees the Arab Spring uprising in Syria. Don’t forget to have a map handy, ask questions after your book-lover finishes the books, and initiate conversations about immigration/Arab Spring.

Wendy Zook
5 years ago

After your recommendation I read “The War that Saved my Life.” I loved it and was delighted to find there was a sequel; “The War I finally Won.”

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