The Best Bookish Birthday
Gifts for Tweens

by Denise Schipani

Photo Credit: momentimages/ Getty Images

I was a tween so long ago that “tween” wasn’t even a word. I say this not in my characteristic curmudgeon style; in fact, it’s the opposite: it would have been pretty great if people seeking to buy me a gift of a book or book set (my preferred gift, always) had some handy age-geared guidelines. Readers in that amorphous 9- to 12-year-old range aren’t kids, necessarily, but they aren’t teens yet, either. If you’re in the market for an impactful gift for the tween in your life, look right here, at these nine book choices we curated for you. There’s everything from the classics you remember to fresh new takes for the modern tween.

  • Raspberry Pi Projects Workbook

    by DK

    You can’t STEM some kids’ devotion to techy pursuits like coding and computer programming (sorry for the pun!), nor should you. You might pick up this book and not understand a word of it yourself, but a computer-savvy pre-teen will be delighted with its visually engaging, workbook style and tons of projects to play with.

  • The Call of the Wild and White Fang

    by Jack London, illustrated by Scott McKowen

    Forbidding wilderness, American history (the Yukon Gold Rush!), dogs, and wolves. Got it. These two classic tales have populated middle school reading lists for decades, and for good reason. The themes of wildness, adventure, and the longing to belong fit perfectly with this age group. In this two-book set, McKowen’s illustrations are rendered in a unique chalk-engraving style, which matches art in the period.

  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

    by Rick Riordan

    Book one in this wildly popular series, The Lightning Thief, introduces mythology-mad readers to Percy, a boarding school kid with some … interesting powers, and an intriguing family history. He’s half-Greek-god (Poseidon is his dad; his mom is mortal), and once he finds that out he hooks up with his other half-Olympian companions, and they embark on great adventures that draw middle-grade readers into a magical, mythical world.

  • Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (Books 1-4)

    by Carolyn Keene

    Confession: I never owned a single Nancy Drew book, though I read all of them, many times over (thank you, public library!). I could see myself buying this set for a tween in my life and then selfishly shelving it at my own house, or at least fighting the urge to do so. Such is the power of Nancy and friends. Which is exactly why I — or you — should buy this set of the first four books and share it with a youngster so she (or he!) can also fall in love.

  • Puffin Hardcover Classics Box Set

    by Various

    Let’s say you’re staring at a bookstore shelf of classics you once adored, trying to choose among titles like Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables, and The Wind in the Willows, among others. Why leave any of them out? This boxed set packages those titles, plus four more, in fresh, beautifully designed hardcover editions.

  • The Seeds of America Trilogy

    by Laurie Halse Anderson

    A trilogy set in Revolutionary America (the books are titled Chains, Forge, and Ashes), the books absorb middle-graders interested in less-well-known slices of history. Specifically, the role of slaves in the 1770s, who rightly thought: If the colonists can fight for independence from England — what about our freedom?

  • DC Super Hero Girls Adventure Collection #1

    by Lisa Yee

    Bam! Pow! Wham! The heroines of this freshly packaged set are familiar figures (Wonder Woman, Supergirl), but in an unfamiliar setting: high school! Hey, every heroine has to do her algebra first. This brightly illustrated duo of titles (Wonder Woman at Super Hero High and Supergirl at Super Hero High) give us the two title characters in the halls of one very special school, mastering the art of superhero-dom.

  • The Emotionary

    by Eden Sher, illustrated by Julia Wertz

    Yes, it’s that Eden Sher, who plays the delightful (and — in the estimation of my devoted family — underrated) Sue Heck on TV’s “The Middle”. Sher has always had trouble communicating her feelings (sound like any pre-teen/tween/teen you know?), so she hit on the idea of making up names for the confounding emotions she was feeling. This graphically illustrated book is billed as “a dictionary of words that don’t exist for feelings that do.”

  • Puffin Pixels Series

    by Various

    The six titles in this series (sold separately) are classic novels (Treasure Island, The Swiss Family Robinson), as well as collections of classic stories (Tales of Greek Heroes). What pushes them into “modern” is their clever art: It’s the 8-bit, pixelated, old-school video game style familiar to Minecraft devotees. And if the cover art inspires a tween to set aside the screen and dive into stories about Robin Hood or King Arthur? That’s a great gift.

What other books are your favorites to give to tweens?