Published: 1975
Theme: Good Battling Evil
Best for: ages 12 and up

“The music of the golden harp,” said the blue-robed lord, “has a power that may not be broken either by the Dark or by the light. It has the High Magic in it.” Susan Cooper is a fabulous writer. She doesn’t ever let it get over the top with bad stuff. The settings are magical, and some of the characters are larger than life…

Published: 2013
Theme: Recovering from Loss
Best for: girls 11 and up

“She’s white as a snowball but she’s warm, not frozen. She’s squishy and soft and sweet as a marshmallow. But she’s delicate as an orchid graceful as a ballerina miraculous as an angel. I can’t believe my luck.” I found this book mesmerizing. I loved the very real descriptions of the effect of the kitten on the young girl, and how she continued to work on opening her dad’s heart, who is grieving…

Published: 2001
Theme: The Power of Story
Best for: 12 and up

“Queen Emmeline glided up to her husband and laid her hand on his arm as Sylvie disappeared in the direction of page 6. She found a comfy spot on the left-hand margin beside the seventh paragraph and rested her head on ‘grandiloquent,’ the largest adjective in sight.” Do you know a young teen who likes quirky books, with a touch of fantasy mixed with the metaphysical and psychological? If so…

Published: 2013
Theme: Reading, and Teamwork
Best for: good readers 10 and up

“Early access to the Electronic Learning Center will be tonight’s second prize,” said Dr. Zinchenko. “To win it, you must use the library’s resources to find dessert, which we have hidden somewhere in the building. ..So use your wits and use your library. Go find dessert!” Welcome to the library of the future, and a brand new children’s book that glorifies reading, research, and most of all, honest team work. This very odd children’s book is …

Published: 2002
Theme: Healing after Trauma
Best for: ages 9 and up

“We’ve got some amazing secret recipes,” Sairy said. “Beat-the-blues broccoli and anti-cranky crumpets and–” “Hey, with us here now,” Dallas said, “maybe you ought to make yourselves some getting-used-to-kids-again stew.” Picking up a Sharon Creech children’s book, I always wonder what difficult topic she’s taking on now. This one didn’t disappoint me–orphaned children who no longer believe…

Published: 2012
Theme: Courage and Perseverance
Best for: 11 and older

“Food is considered a luxury in Carthyan orphanages. They operate on whatever money an orphan inherited upon the deaths of his parents, which inevitably is little more than the shirt on his back after debts were settled.” I cannot explain what it is about the writing style in these children’s books, but from beginning to end, it is impossible to put the book down.

Published: 2013
Theme: Heroism
Best for: ages 9 and up

“In what way was attacking a peaceful neighboring country heroic? He degraded Erick’s men for being thieves even as he planned to steal all of Carthya from me. My fingers itched to pick up my knife and start the fight.” I love heroic characters. I don’t have much tolerance for fighting. Somehow they always seem to go together. Yet in The Runaway King, the fighting seems to be somewhat tolerable, especially because the good guy always wins…

Published: 2009
Theme: Grieving and Healing
Best for: ages 9 and up

“The knuckleball wasn’t just a pitch. It was an attitude toward life; it was a way of being in the world. It was a philosophy. “You don’t aim a butterfly,” her father used to say. “You release it.” This is a book anyone could love. Boys who love baseball could surely appreciate it. Girls who want to try something out of the ordinary could love it. I certainly loved it…

Published: 2001
Theme: Perserverance
Best for: ages 9 and up

“Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo. But you must not tell your body. It must think one hill, one valley, one day at a time. In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to way.” In this lovely, art-inspired children’s book about a potter and his apprentice, the feeling of the way of the ancients comes through loud and strong. The image of the apprentice who serves the master potter for the love of the art is…

Published: 2013
Theme: Kindness and Survival
Best for: children over 10

“The heart is like an apartment,” Madame Marie tells me. “Every day you must clean it and make it cheerful…If you make your apartment extra nice, God will come to visit you too.” Here is a breathtakingly beautiful children’s book about a breathtakingly horrendous episode in history: the Holocaust…

Published: 2001
Theme: Women’s Strength
Best for: Girls, age 11 and up

“Her band might somehow help folk to help themselves, Rowan thought, rather than just giving them gold stolen from rich men’s packs, gold soon spent. But she could not say that, for she loved everything about Robin Hood.” The book has a wonderfully clever premise — that Robin Hood actually fathered a daughter by an aelfen woman… If you love tales of Robin Hood, this is a perfect complement, bringing in the feminine…

Published: 1998
Best for: 12 and up
Theme: Magic and Nature

“Did Niko see this way all the time? Didn’t his eyes get tired? There was magic everywhere in Winding Circle, she’d found…in the south gate…, in the stones in the path…, in windows and doors…” I decided to review all these children’s books together because they are similar in many ways, and also, quite different than the first book in the series…

Published: 2011
Theme: The Madness of War, and Survival
Best for: over 11

“If they hate us, Karly, it is because we have also bombed their cities. What we are seeing now is a world gone mad, children, a world full of brutes, all intent on killing one another. And we should not forget that we are all responsible for making it happen.” This children’s book is an utterly fascinating and unique piece of historical fiction. In essence, this is a story of WWII from the point of view of a family of German refugees…

Published: 2010
Theme: Community, Honoring the Past
Best for: 11 and older

“Death is like an explosion,” Miss Sadie said, her accent thick, like the humid air that hovered heavy around me. “It makes people take notice of things they might have overlooked.” This is a serious historical fiction children’s book, covering some pretty intense topics, all set in 1936 and earlier. From bootlegging to the Ku Klux clan, from immigrants to war casualties, this book is no light reading.

Published: 1938
Theme: Compassion for all creation
Best for: good readers over age 10

“The Wart did not know what Merlyn was talking about but he liked him to talk. He did not like the grown-ups who talk to him like a baby, but the ones who just went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned.”

Published: 2000
Theme: Compassion, Friendship
Best for: Boys age 10 and up

“You know, it wasn’t so much about being in the wheelchair that I learned about, but how people reacted to me being in the chair. People treat you different. They act like you’re…you’re…” “Stupid!” David snapped.” What a courageous book for someone to write. And what a perfect book for middle school boys. The author is a middle school teacher, and clearly knows the issues boys are up against…

Published: 1962
Theme: Fantasy & Mystery
Best for: ages 11 and up

“The sky grew blue-black, and they left the shadowy earth behind. There were stars above them and below them. Their wagon floated gently among them as though it had been a rowboat floating in the Concord river.” How delightful to find a children’s book with so many of my favorite people: the transcendentalists, Krishna, and children who love adventures.

Published: 1990
Theme: Breaking Conventions
Best for: ages 12 and up

“What could I do? All my life I had been trained to obey, educated to accept. I could hardly change in a moment. ‘Please lead me,’ I mumbled, as near to fainting as one could be without actually succumbing.” What an unusual children’s book. I admit I was riveted, despite the amount of drama and violent scenes. There was something so compelling about the way it was written, as a first person journal of a 13-year-old…

Published: 2003
Theme: Finding One’s True self
Best for: ages 12-14

“It’s important to know stories. I felt the earth shift to make a place for you when you were born, and I came to tell you stories while you are young.” Just as Ani’s aunt knows the power of story, and passes it to her niece, so author Shannon Hale passes that same power to today’s young readers…

Published: 2012
Theme: Ethical Choices
Best for: 12 and older

“What to do? She thought of History, Ethics, and Diplomacy, as well as Peder and Esa’s ma, who said ‘Truth is when your gut and your mind agree.’ This sequel to Princess Academy is a wonderful way to bring the questions of change, ethics, and choices to young people.

Published 1975
Theme: Chinese Immigrant experience
Best for: 12 and over

“All of a sudden I saw that if life seems awfully petty most of the time, every now and then there is something noble and beautiful and almost pure that lifts us suddenly out of the pettiness and lets us share in it a little.” This beautifully written and sensitive book covers the experience of the Chinese immigrants in the 1900s in San Francisco.

Published: 1983
Theme: Knights, Women’s Equality
Best for: girls age 12 and up

“Maude said I should use my Gift of healing. She said I had the power to heal more than most people. She said if I didn’t heal, I wouldn’t make up for the killing I did as a knight.” In this series of four books, Tamora Pierce weaves an odd world of knights, magic, and the feminine in a way I haven’t encountered before…

Published: 2003
Theme: Self-Reflection, Service to Others
Best for: 12 and older

“The secret is not to dream,” she whispered. “The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder. I have woken up and I am real. This powerful fantasy book by Terry Pratchett has so much depth to it that one realizes it needs several reads…

Published 1979
Theme: Being Different
Best for: 11 and up

“Belladonna had always been a white witch...Flowers sprung up where she walked, … and from the age of 6, there had always been someone nesting in Belladonna’s golden hair.” This is probably the most unlikely children’s book I would have ever expected to find myself recommending. Especially after writing a blog post saying…

Published: 1972
Theme: Light over Dark
Best for: 11 to 12 year olds

The second in a series of five books, The Dark is Rising is an exciting, somewhat complex fantasy about the battle of the dark vs. the light with references to Arthurian legend, as well as Celtic and Norse mythology. Compelling writing…

Published 1994
Theme: Loss and Healing
Best for: 12 and older

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” If young readers came away from this profoundly moving children’s book with only the above as their understanding, that alone could change the world. Imagine how our culture would develop…

Published: 1973
Theme: The Value of Time
Best for: ages 10 to adult

“There’s a place like the one you visited in every living soul, but only those who let me take them there can see it, nor can it be seen with ordinary eyes.” If there was only one children’s book I could put on the list of must-read, yet hardly known, children’s books, it would have to be Momo. I fell in love with the book, despite the fact that when I first went to read it…