15 Classics That 8- to 12-Year-Olds Say Are Worth Reading Today

by Kari Ness Riedel

If you have read any of my other articles on Brightly, you will know that I’m a firm believer that kids will want to read more if they have voice and choice in their book selection, rather than us parents pushing “classics” or other highbrow literature that that we might want our kids to read.

That said, there are lots of classic books that have stood the test of time and continue to be beloved by 8- to 12-year-old readers today. Here are 15 timeless classics that kids on, a site where young readers share book reviews and recommendations with peers, are raving about these days.

  • Peter Pan

    by J.M. Barrie

    You know the story — a mischievous boy who never wants to grow up has adventures with pirates, fairies, lost boys, and the Darling family. “This is my kind of style of book!” says Logan, 11, because “it has action, adventure, and fights ... I recommend this book to everyone!”

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

    by E.L. Konigsburg

    Claudia and her brother Jamie run away from their suburban home in Connecticut to New York City to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They become obsessed with solving an art history mystery and end up being part of an even bigger adventure than they expected. Gabe, 10, recommends it, “Great book and I really like the ending. A MUST READ!!!!!!!!”

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

    by L. Frank Baum

    Another classic that many kids (and adults) know only as a movie. But, the book provides an even more complex look at Dorothy’s journey to find home and the friends she meets along the way. “I love this movie but maybe the book even MORE!!!” raves Lucy, 11.

  • The Swiss Family Robinson

    by Johann D. Wyss

    The Swiss Family Robinson survive a shipwreck and find themselves stranded on a tropical island with nothing but their ship of supplies, survival skills, and sense of humor. Adventures abound for this family as they deal with the dangers of island life. Sarah praises this story: “Amazing. I could read it all day, every day.”

  • The Hundred Dresses

    by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

    This 1945 Newbery Honor book shares the story of Wanda, a girl who wears the same faded dress every day but tells everyone she has a hundred dresses at home. As Payton, 10, says, this book is “awesome because it gives you a life lesson about bullying and [how to] stand up for people when they are getting bullied.”

  • Treasure Island

    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Jack, 12, sums up this classic adventure perfectly. “This is my favorite pirate book of all times. Even though it is a long book, it is full of action, mutiny, adventure, and loot.” This fast-paced story also reveals deep lessons about the human spirit through legendary characters like Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver.

  • Danny the Champion of the World

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

    Nine-year-old Danny loves his peaceful life working as a car mechanic with his dad who is also his best friend. When he learns a shocking secret about his dad, he ends up on a series of planned shenanigans to retaliate against a mean, wealthy landowner. Full of humor and a few inappropriate words, this is a great book to share as a family. Joe, 9, says, “I like this book because it is about an awesome friendship and love between a father and son.”

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

    by Mildred D. Taylor

    A powerful and moving story about Cassie Logan and her family’s struggle to hold on to their land as an African American family living in Mississippi during the Depression. The Logan family shows how pride, love, and integrity can help combat racism and social injustice. Adrian, 10, gave it five out of five stars and says, “This is a very serious book and teaches you a lot,” specifically about how African Americans were treated in the early 1900s.

  • Where the Red Fern Grows

    by Wilson Rawls

    Keep tissues handy for animal lovers who read this story about a deep and special friendship between Billy and his two coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. Billy works hard to save up enough money to buy these dogs that become his loyal hunting partners and protectors. This compelling story is full of adventure, gore, fun, despair, and hope. Carissa, 12, highly recommends it: “Amazing story. It's written so powerfully that it can make you laugh out loud and then make you cry for hours.”

  • The Twenty-One Balloons

    by William Pène du Bois

    This Newbery Medal winner is great for fans of fantasy-adventure stories. Professor Sherman is planning to fly across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon but ends up on the fantastical land of Krakatoa. Emily, 10, shares, “I loved this book! It was definitely an adventure and I couldn't put the book down.”

  • The Outsiders

    by S. E. Hinton

    You may have read this classic story when you were in middle or high school about Ponyboy and Sodapop and the rivalry between the Socs and the Greasers. The cover may be different now, but the timeless message of what it feels like to be an outsider still resonates with kids today. Addison, 12, raves, “The book taught me so many life lessons. I loved the characters and the plot, and how it expressed how different things are depending on where you live.”

  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins

    by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater

    Mr. Popper is a humble house painter who dreams about faraway places like Antarctica. After sending fan mail to an explorer of the South Pole, he receives the gift of one penguin and then another and another, ending up with twelve penguins. Hilarity and adventure ensue, as inevitably happens when there are so many penguins around! James, 9, says about this Newbery Honor winner, “If you like to laugh, you have to read this.”

  • Heidi

    by Johanna Spyri

    Cheerful and optimistic despite tough circumstances, young orphan Heidi is sent to live with her mysterious and feared grandfather in the Swiss Alps. Heidi, unlike most others, finds him interesting and fun and loves her life with him. Chaos and adventure ensue when she is taken away and forced to live with a new family and embarks on a journey to get back to him. Bailey, 12, shares, “I usually don't like old classics but I adored Heidi,” praising how Heidi's “bright nature helped warm her grandfather's heart” and “change a crippled girl's life.”

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood

    by Roger Lancelyn Green

    This beloved tale of social justice follows the escapades of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men who use trickery and humor to rob from the rich and give to those in need. According to Maria, 10, it is “full of adventure and creativity. It is hard to stop reading it.” This is a thick book with lots of fighting and action scenes, so it’s not for the faint of heart. Elena, 11, recommends it “if you like old language, adventure, and a vocabulary challenge.”

  • Pippi Longstocking

    by Astrid Lindgren

    For kids who like to laugh, try this story about 9-year-old Pippi, a spunky and independent girl who lives with no adults, just a pet monkey. She is constantly getting into mischief and has many adventures with her neighbor friends, Tommy and Annika. Josephine, 10, gives this book five stars, “[It is] very funny and weird. If you like comedy, you will love this!” Unlike many other classics, this is part of a series so readers can continue to enjoy Pippi’s hilarious exploits through multiple books.