Books Like Holes: 12 Imaginative and Adventurous Next-Reads for Tweens

by Denise Schipani

Louis Sachar’s Holes is one of those books that grabs readers by the imagination and doesn’t let go. In case you haven’t read it, or don’t live with a Holes enthusiast, the novel tells the story of Stanley Yelnats (yes, his first and last names are mirror images), a boy who is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to the mysteriously creepy Camp Green Lake. There, “campers” are made to dig holes — exactly five feet deep — over and over, every day. It’s a tale of mystery and misery, but also of adventure with a generous dollop of suspense and side of dark humor.

Oh, and it was made into a 2003 movie.

The first step in choosing a Holes-adjacent book: Identifying what aspect of Sachar’s classic tickles your reader’s imagination. Consider…

  • If your kid likes tales of intrepid adventure:

  • Everest Trilogy

    by Gordon Korman

    In three books — The Contest, The Climb, and The Summit — Korman, author of scores of familiar middle grade novels, brings us the story of four adventurous kids from across the country who attempt a dangerous climb of the world’s tallest peak. Once you start you kind of can’t stop until you reach the end … or the summit!

  • My Side of the Mountain

    by Jean Craighead George

    The story of a child who yearns to run away and seek adventure, solitude, and self-sufficiency is a theme covered in generations of books for kids on the cusp of adolescence. In this Newbery Award-winning classic, city-dwelling Sam Gribley is sick of cramped apartment living and sets out for the Catskill Mountains of New York State … all alone, but for a weasel and a falcon he treats as family. George wrote two more books — On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain — that are available as a set with the original.

  • Lemons

    by Melissa Savage

    What could be more adventurous than the search for the legendary Bigfoot? When Lemonade Liberty Witt, known as Lem, moves to California with her mom, and is then left in the care of a grandfather she never met after her mother passes away, she’s unsure how her mom’s “make lemonade when life gives you lemons” adage is going to work for her. That is, until she meets Tobin Sky, a fellow adventurer who enlists Lem’s help to find the mysterious Bigfoot. The pair — feisty girl, nerdy boy — discover more than they bargained for.

  • Our Only May Amelia

    by Jennifer L. Holm

    May Amelia, 12, is the only girl in a family of Western pioneers at the tail end of the 19th century. She chafes against her parents’ instructions to be a Proper Young Lady. Nothing can stop her from exploring the wilderness in what will eventually become Washington State. Holm based her engaging first novel on real-life diaries of the actual May Amelia Jackson, Holm’s own great aunt.

  • Bud, Not Buddy

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

    In this Newbery Medal- and Coretta Scott King Award-winning book, Bud Caldwell hits the road in search of a father he’s not only never met, but whose name he doesn’t even know. It’s 1936 in depressed Flint, Michigan, and times are hard. But Bud has his suitcase, tantalizing clues to his father’s identity, and his own book (Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself). Plus he has the kind of adventurous spirit that keeps readers who are craving an engrossing story hooked till the end.

  • For kids who dig mystical and spooky stuff:

  • The Transall Saga

    by Gary Paulsen

    The author of the popular wilderness-survival novel Hatchet, Paulsen writes in this novel about a boy who gets caught, terrifyingly, in a mysterious beam of light while on a solo camping trip in the desert. He’s transported to another world where he encounters primitive tribes of gentle people, but also war and conflict — all while he searches for the way back home.

  • Inkheart

    by Cornelia Funke

    Meggie’s dad has a strange and terrifying secret. When he reads aloud, the characters he voices come to life. When he opens a book called Inkheart, an evil ruler lands in Meggie’s living room — and it’s up to her to grab hold of the magic and wrest the fictional beings back where they belong. This is the first book in a trilogy that includes Inkspell and Inkdeath.

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

    by C.S. Lewis

    This story — book two in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series — combines the mystical and the adventurous, and if your Holes-adoring kid hasn’t yet picked it up (or has only seen the movie), now’s the time. Step into the back of the wardrobe with English siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucie, and enter Narnia. The world they encounter, frozen into eternal winter by the White Witch, needs salvation. Then the Great Lion, Aslan, returns and … well, we’ll keep you in suspense.

  • Tumble & Blue

    by Cassie Beasley

    A century ago in Florida’s Okefenokee swamp — by nature a place you wouldn’t be surprised to find harbors secrets — the legendary golden gator Munch grants good fortune to the children and grandchildren of anyone brave enough to face him during a rising red moon. When two such brave folks arrive at the same time, their fate is split: the descendants of one face fortune; the others, generations of bad luck. Until the present day, when two of those descendants (the titular Tumble and Blue) team up to try to reverse their fates.

  • For kids who dig dark humor:

  • James and the Giant Peach

    by Roald Dahl

    Roald Dahl was a master of penning epic stories full of twisted humor for children. This particular tale centers on an orphan boy who escapes living with his awful aunts when he happens upon some magical crystals. Soon, James is off on an extraordinary and absurd journey in a ginormous peach, making friends with friendly human-sized insects as he, quite literally, rolls away to a happier life.

  • Hoot

    by Carl Hiaasen

    When middle-schooler Roy Everhardt spots a boy running barefoot through his new neighborhood in Florida, his curiosity is piqued and he unwittingly finds himself on a mysterious adventure involving a kid named “Mullet Fingers,” a construction site, an endangered owl species, and a pancake house. Hiaasen is known for his dark humor, particularly for adults, and he flexes his comedic muscles for this Newbery Honor-winner in a kid-friendly way.

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events Series

    by Lemony Snicket

    Lemony Snicket’s fascinating series following the lives of three gifted — yet remarkably unlucky — siblings who are sent to live with their villainous uncle, Count Olaf. With a cast of unforgettable characters, a distinctly literary air, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, this is a great match for dark comedy fans. (Plus, it’s rumored that Lemony Snicket’s character Sir was inspired by Mr. Sir in Holes!)

What other books would you recommend to Holes fans? Share with us in the comments below.