Published: 1997
Theme: Self-control, Development of inner powers
Best for: Ages 10 and up

“Meditation teaches self-control,” Lark told the children firmly. “It teaches discipline. You learn to govern and organize your mind. Since a few of you were sent here because it was thought you were ungovernable…, meditation could turn out to be the most important thing you do here.” This book is pure fantasy, from the location to the premise, and done with great skill and care. It’s a fantasy book that is perfect for younger readers, as there is nothing scary or too out of the ordinary in it.

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: 2013
Theme: Don’t be Gullible
Best for: Pre-teen girls

“Either the witch would be reasonable, or she would not. Imogene had read enough fairy tales to worry that a royal decree on the matter was less likely to soften the witch’s heart and more likely to make her stubborn.” If you are looking for a fun, light-weight summer children’s book, one to take on a trip, this new book is a good choice. It’s a silly little take-off on the princess-kissed-frog story, with amusing and sometimes dangerous twists of the plot.

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: 1986
Theme: The Grass is always greener…
Best for: 5th or 6th grade

“What was he looking for, a prince in fine velvets and a crown cocked on his head? Was it clothes that made a prince, Jemmy wondered, just as rags made a street boy?” What a great children’s book this is! I first heard of it last year when the fifth grade class in my Waldorf Charter school was reading it. A superb example of writing with humor, and capturing an era of the past…

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: 2002
Theme: Valuing the Past
Best for: Girls up to 12

“We speak the same language, but sometimes it’s hard to believe. Some things have changed so much that it’s hard for us to understand each other at all.” Finally — a multicultural story to enrich my list of children’s books. This book reminds me how much we deprive children of interesting experiences when we don’t invite them into other worlds.

Published: 2011
Theme: Courtesy
Best for: 6 to 9

“King Arthur covered his eyes with his hands. Sometimes in those early days he wondered what it would take to prove to his knights that courtesy was as important as courage.” In this series, Morris takes some of the same King Arthur legends, but reworks them for a younger audience. Children could read this book cover to cover, and enjoy both the writing and the message.

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 2005
Theme: Self-discovery
Best for: Girls 11 and up

“Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat. The world was as dark as eyes closed, but perhaps the goats could smell dawn seeping through the cracks in the house’s stone walls. This beautifully written tale weaves fantasy, adventure and great lessons into a memorable read. Don’t let the title put you off!

Published: 2012
Theme: Magic, Family
Best for: 12 and up

“Her mother and father, despite living in a small town, owning a mini-van, and sometimes wearing fanny packs, were kitchen magicians.” A contemporary attempt at magic in daily life, this book can amuse kids, though it is not by any means a lasting piece of literature.

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: 1998
Theme: Dealing with Divorce
Best for: 7 and older

“I, Amber Brown, don’t get what she means by the paws refreshing…But there are a lot of things grown-ups say that I don’t get.” Is this great literature or not? I must admit, I cannot say yes. But I can say that this children’s book is a great example of the kind of contemporary writing that floods the market today…

Published: 2005
Theme: Wisdom and Foolishness
Best for: 5 and older
Five Stars

“In the forbidden City of the Celestial Emperor Kwan-Yu lived a white cat with such beautiful green eyes that she was called Dream-of-Jade.” Lloyd Alexander, perhaps best known for his fantasy children’s books for older readers, has completely captured the genre of classical Chinese folk tales in an impeccable style…

Published: 1990
Theme: Being Oneself
Best for: ages 10 and up, especially girls

“Being a dragon’s princess is a perfectly respectable thing to do, so my parent’s couldn’t complain. And it would be much more interesting than embroidery and dancing lessons.” An easy-to-read adventure with dragons, wizards, and a princess who breaks the mold…

Published: 1997
Theme: Thinking for Yourself
Best for: Girls over 11

“Decisions were a delight after the curse. I loved having the power to say yes or no, and refusing anything was a special pleasure.” This lightweight modern fairytale explores what happens when a young girl can no longer think or choose for herself. An apt pre-teen subject….

Published: 2000
Theme: Kindness
Best for: Ages 6-11

“You got to remember, you can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now.” Part of what I love about this children’s book is the simplicity of the writing and the story line. That makes it perfect for early readers…

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: 1972
Theme: Meeting Life with Joy
Best for: 5-8

How did the world ever manage without me before I was born,” he wondered. “Didn’t they feel something was missing?”. In this simple children’s book, William Steig brings his imaginative power into the written word with great feeling…

Published: 2000
Theme: Adjusting to Loss
Best for: 10 and up

“I wondered if the same was true of children, that sometimes you can’t control things and sometimes you have to let go. Maybe you even have to let go of your parents.” This is a simple and beautiful children’s book that deals with a difficult situation: a child losing her parents in an accident…

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…