15 Books That 9- to 12-Year-Old Boys Say Are Awesome

by Kari Ness Riedel

Finding the right book is the key to transforming a kid who says they don’t like to read into a self-described “reader.” This applies to all kids, but as the parent of two boys, I’m keenly aware of the importance of this shift with elementary and middle school boys after they finally find a book they love.

To compile this list, I talked with a wide range of 9- to 12-year-old boys, a mix of avid and reluctant readers. Here are the books the kids raved about because they had the perfect combination of suspense, action, and character drama, plus storylines so engaging they didn’t want to put them down.

  • If they like a heaping of funny with their mystery-adventure:

  • Addison Cooke Series

    by Jonathan W. Stokes

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    JD, 9, shares, “You just have to read this. It is awesome. I can’t wait for the next one.” Addison Cooke convinces his sister and best friends to hop a plane to South America for the adventure of a lifetime. They are on a mission to rescue their aunt and uncle who have been kidnapped by someone trying to steal ancient Incan treasure. Hilarious characters, fast-paced action scenes, and lots of archaeology references make this a favorite for fans of “Indiana Jones.”

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  • Welcome to Wonderland Series

    by Chris Grabenstein

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    If anyone can save the Wonderland motel, it’s the outrageous 11-year-old storyteller P.T. Wilkie and his brilliant, business savvy best friend Gloria. Hijinks and hilarious adventures are abundant in this book by one of the most prolific and loved middle grade authors. Mack, 11, recommended it to other kids saying, “It is funny and original…I have never read a book like this before.”

    RELATED: 9 Mysteries Fourth and Fifth Graders Recommend to Their Friends

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  • Hilo Series

    by Judd Winick

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    When Hilo, a robot boy with superpowers, crashes to earth with no memory of how he got there, he meets two human kids, D.J. and Gina. The trio form an unbreakable friendship as they go on crazy adventures to try to figure out the secrets of Hilo’s past. Themes of bravery, self-confidence, and friendship coupled with laugh-out-loud action scenes give these books some emotional depth and is great for fans of series like Dog Man and Big Nate. Fabio, 11, says it plainly, “This book is so cool. You need to read this.”

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  • If they like thought-provoking dramas:

  • Beyond the Bright Sea

    by Lauren Wolk

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    Crow, an orphan rescued from a boat when she was just born, finds herself on an unplanned journey to discover the truth about where she came from. The story and its characters are compelling and beautifully crafted. Jackson and Aiden, both 10, agree that this is one of their favorite books. “You really don’t know what is going to happen next and you just can’t stop reading it.”

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  • My Side of the Mountain

    by Jean Craighead George

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    Sam lives in New York, unhappily, with his crowded family. He runs away to the mountains and starts a new life. He faces many dangers and must use his courage and ingenuity to survive in nature while also taking a deep look inside his heart. Kurt, 11, loves this book because "it is sad and makes you think about your life and what is possible."

    RELATED: 10 Short Middle Grade Books Under 250 Pages

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  • Before the Ever After

    by Jacqueline Woodson

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    This poignant novel-in-verse tackles a tough issue that doesn’t get much attention: the impact of professional sports on bodies, especially Black bodies. Everybody loves ZJ’s dad, a charming, former pro football player. But at home, he seems to be getting angrier and more forgetful. ZJ learns that concussions from his dad’s time on the field have caused serious brain injuries that are affecting him physically and mentally. Riley, 12, highly recommends it, “This book was really good especially because it showed kids what to do in real life situations.”

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  • If they like action-packed fantasy with good characters:

  • Ranger’s Apprentice Series

    by John Flanagan

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    Beck, 9, says “This is one of the best series ever. I raced through every book to find out what happened next.” This is an epic fantasy adventure based on the journey of Will, a 15-year-old boy who discovers that he has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice and must be trained to be a protector of the kingdom. Fans of books like Lord of the Rings  or The Inheritance Cycle will love the dramatic battles and intertwined relationships in this story.

    Can't get enough of Will and his many adventures? Return to the world of the Ranger’s Apprentice in The Royal Rangers series where Will takes on an apprentice of his own.

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  • The Apothecary

    by Maile Meloy

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    Janie and Benjamin uncover dangerous secrets from the apothecary’s sacred book as they try to rescue Ben’s kidnapped father. Their mission gets even more dangerous as they must keep these secrets out of the hands of Russians spies. “I love this book. It is full of mystery, action, and drama,” says Carmel, 11.

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  • The City of Ember Series

    by Jeanne DuPrau

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    Everyone in Ember, including kids, are assigned jobs to help keep the lights on in this city that was designed to protect the human race. Two kids, Lina and Doon, discover an ancient scroll that shows a different way to save the people of Ember but the adults won’t listen. High levels of suspense and epic world-building make this a favorite for fans of dystopian stories. Max, 10, says, “I recommend this book to 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who love to really put yourself in the characters' shoes.” Young readers love both the ‘regular’ book and the newer graphic novel version.

    RELATED: Mind-Blowing Dystopian Books for Middle Grade Readers

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  • Minecraft: The Island

    by Max Brooks

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    A young hero finds himself stranded on a strange island filled with blocks and must use his creativity to survive. Creepy zombies, funky forests, and oozing lava are just some of the obstacles he must overcome in this mystery and humor filled adventure tale. Gavin, 11, gives it high praise, “I LOVE it. You NEED to read it if you're a fan of Minecraft.”

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  • The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne

    by Jonathan Stroud

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    Two young fugitives – outspoken and clever Scarlett McCain and quieter but capable Albert Browne – are unlikely partners who find themselves on the run in a futuristic version of England. Fantasy, action, and humor abound in this fast-paced story. Max, 11, raves, “[This is] a very exciting adventure book with many plot twists and cliffhangers sure to keep readers gripped [until] the end!”

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  • If they like timeless adventure tales:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

    by Jules Verne

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    This classic science fiction book tells the adventures of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus as they travel around the world. Oliver, 10, highly recommends this book. “I was hooked in the first few pages. It’s a gripping story that sucks you in.” Some kids will dive into the original 450-page version, while this graphic novel version will be just right for others.

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  • Mexikid

    By Pedro Martín

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    Pedro is not too excited about his Abuelito moving in. With eight siblings, their home is already bursting at the seams. Packed into a Winnebago and a truck, the family embarks on a road trip to Mexico to bring their abuelo back to the States. Expect exciting adventures, funny stories, and experience what it means to be a part of a large family in this remarkable graphic memoir that one reader declares "By far the best graphic novel! If I could rate it six stars, I would."

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  • Hatchet

    by Gary Paulsen, illustrated by Drew Willis

    Brian is in a small plane that crashes in the Canadian woods. He finds himself alone in the wilderness with only the clothes on his back and a hatchet his mother gave him. This is a modern-day classic tale of survival that mixes nonstop adventure with the kind of deep introspection that can only come when you’re truly alone. Mason, 12, recommends this book to his friends, “It’s an amazing adventure story that makes you feel like you’re in it as you read it.” This is my ‘go-to’ book to engage self-proclaimed reluctant boy readers. One pro tip is to listen to the audiobook as you follow along with the written book.

    RELATED: Timeless Books for Sixth-Grade Readers

  • Bud, Not Buddy

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

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    Set during the Great Depression, this is a heartwarming, humorous, and emotional story about 10-year-old Bud who runs away from foster care and embarks on a journey to find his father. Persistence, bravery, and the real meaning of family come alive in this award-winning classic that is still loved by young readers today. Cole, 12, thinks it’s a great pick for any reader, “I give this book 5/5 stars because the plot is amazing, and the characters are even better.”

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2024.