13 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.” I find this to be especially true for boys.

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 and the Treasure of the Incas

    by Jonathan W. Stokes

    Available from:

    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.”

    Also available from:
  • Word of Mouse

    by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Joe Sutphin

    Isaiah, a talking, reading, and writing mouse, has lost his family and must survive in the dangerous outdoors as he tries to find his way back home. His search introduces him to new friends and his fair share of funny mishaps. “This book is downright hilarious. I was laughing the whole time and couldn’t stop reading it,” raves Ailon, 11.

  • Belly Up

    by Stuart Gibbs

    Teddy and Summer suspect foul play when Henry the hippopotamus from the FunJungle is found dead. Their quest to find out the truth leads to hilarious predicaments and action-packed scenes. Aden, 10, loves this series because it’s a great blend of animals, mystery, and humor.

  • If they like thought-provoking dramas:

  • Beyond the Bright Sea

    by Lauren Wolk

    Available from:

    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 new books. “You really don’t know what is going to happen next and you just can’t stop reading it.”

    Also available from:
  • My Side of the Mountain

    by Jean Craighead George

    Available from:

    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."

    Also available from:
  • Left Out

    by Tim Green

    Landon just wants to fit in with everyone else but his deafness keeps others from seeing what he can really do. As one of the biggest kids at school, he thinks that football might be his way to get in. This is a moving story about overcoming bullies and fighting through obstacles. Aiden, 11, highly recommends this book to kids "who like sports and great books that tackle real issues that everyone can relate to.”

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

  • Ranger’s Apprentice Series

    by John Flanagan

    Available from:

    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.

    Also available from:
  • The Apothecary

    by Maile Meloy

    Available from:

    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.

    Also available from:
  • Sky Raiders (Book #1 of Five Kingdoms)

    by Brandon Mull

    One Halloween, Cole and his friends realize the spooky haunted house they’re in is actually a portal to the Outskirts, another world that lies somewhere between reality and imagination. As kids are whisked away to this magical land, Cole must figure out how to rescue his friends and find his own way back home. “This book has the perfect mix of action, magic, and real life issues. I love the whole series,” says Brendan, 10.

  • Half Upon a Time

    by James Riley

    Elliot, 9, loves this modern spin on classic fairy tales. “It’s a page-turning adventure with very funny characters.” Jack, son of the infamous Jack who stole the magic beans, is looking for a princess to save but he despises most of the snobby royals he’s met. When Princess May falls into his life from the “real” world, they end up on a wild adventure where they must dodge famous fairy tale dangers to find her grandmother.

  • If they like timeless adventure tales:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

    by Jules Verne

    Available from:

    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 the abridged version will be just right for others.

    Also available from:
  • 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.”

  • Guts & Glory: The American Revolution

    by Ben Thompson

    Nathan, 12, loves all things historical and devoured this nonfiction book. Written like your favorite uncle is telling you a story past your bedtime, this series gives a highly engaging look at lesser known characters and events during major historical time periods like the American Civil War and World War II.