Books

Top 5 Read Aloud Recommendations for 11- and 12-Year-Olds

When kids hit 11- and 12-years-old, it’s challenging to find appropriate read aloud material. They abandon middle grade fiction and gravitate toward young adult and adult fiction.

Intellectually, they’re ready to transition to adult fiction, but often the mature content gives me pause, especially for read alouds.

For many reasons, this in-between stage is tricky, a short but brutal bump in the road. Without fail, it coincides with an overall lack of motivation with reading due to less leisure time, more time with digital media, and forced reading in school.

via GIPHY

Over the years, I’ve found books that work. Below, I share my top five read aloud recommendations for 11- and 12-year-olds.

These choices come from different genres (fantasy, gothic horror, historical fiction, coming-of-age, time travel, and mystery). I won’t bore you with full plot synopses. Click on the images posted below my comments to find detailed information about the books from the publishers via Amazon.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is a young adult story of Nobody “Bod” Owens, who is adopted and reared by the supernatural occupants of a graveyard.

Genres: coming-of-age, folklore, mythology, gothic horror, fantasy

Why is it a go-to read aloud?

  • The setting fascinates tween readers! The supernatural raising a human boy in a graveyard…how does that even work? I guarantee your 11- and 12-year-olds haven’t read anything like this before.
  • The story hooks readers from the start. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the action starts on page one.
  • Gaiman writes quirky, memorable characters. Bod. Silas. Scarlett. Miss Lupescu. Liza. Readers say Bod is the most Goth kid you’ll ever meet 😉 Years after I read this book to my tweens, they remembered its characters. That tells me they’re special.
  • Gaiman builds atmosphere through setting and characterization. The tone is both moody and hopeful.
  • The Graveyard Book makes the perfect Gaiman primer. I’ll admit I’m an avid Gaiman fan. I’ve read every book he’s ever written. His stories fascinate me for their out-of-the-box thinking and creativity.
  • Get this: The graveyard represents a library where each grave is a new book. It has also been said The Graveyard Book was written as a reimagining of Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
  • 2008 Newbery Honor

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she receives mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think it’s too late.

Genre: sci-fi, mystery, time travel, school story

Why is it a go-to read aloud?

  • The story’s puzzle keeps readers hooked. The timeline can get complicated, but it all makes sense in the end.
  • The book’s twists and turns will surprise readers. The last couple chapters caught my kids off guard and left them feeling astonished. Can you say “mindblown?”
  • The storyline takes on a wonderful, unusual shape while still being believable. Stead’s style engages readers.
  • The story makes the concept of time travel accessible to this age group.
  • Fantastic chapter titles like “Missing Things,” “Different Things,” “Things That Sneak Up on You,” and “Things You Hide” act as mini-hooks to keep readers engaged.
  • Stead doesn’t talk down to her readers. The book is short, but it’s surprisingly complex and packs a powerful punch.
  • Main character Miranda reads L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time throughout. Stead pays homage to her favorite childhood book, and it becomes a talisman of sorts for Miranda.
  • My kids ended up reading every other Stead book out there after I read this one to them.
  • 2010 Newbery Medal

See Also: Liar & Spy


The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars is a witty, compelling story about Holling Hoodhood’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967-68 school year in Long Island, New York.

Genres: historical fiction, coming-of-age, realistic fiction, school story

Why is it a go-to read aloud?

  • It reads aloud well because it’s hysterical and catchy. Some books do; others don’t.
  • The story has humor and heart. It captures all the complex, nostalgic feelings of middle school.
  • Shakespeare! After Holling is forced to remain in class with Mrs. Baker and read Shakespeare, he falls in love with the plays. Schmidt shows young readers the transformative power of literature. My tweens shouted “toads, beetles, bats” for days. Mrs. Baker changes Holling’s life forever. It reminds us all that educators have the power to change the lives of their students.
  • Your reader will learn a little 60s history with the Vietnam War, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Schmidt writes believable, nuanced young characters.
  • 2008 Newbery Honor

See Also: Okay for Now, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy


Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

Genres: fantasy, sci-fi, Norse mythology

Why is it a go-to read aloud?

  • These books have excellent pacing and lots of action.
  • The characters are hilarious! 😂😂😂😂/5😂
  • Quirky, fun chapter titles like “Come to the Darkside, We have Poptarts,” “I Psychoanalyze a Goat,” and “The Terror that is Middle School” act as mini-hooks and foster engagement.
  • This trilogy is the YA “Who’s Who in Norse Mythology.” My tweens learned a lot of mythology from these books. Some even went on to do their own research after the read alouds concluded.
  • Loveably flawed characters fill the pages of these books.
  • These books are a step up from Percy Jackson and The Kane Chronicles. If your reader liked Riordan’s other series, they’ll enjoy this one, too.
  • Epic fantasy works well as read aloud material. I don’t know if it’s the pacing, the complicated world-building, or the multitude of characters, but these are solid buddy reads.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Genres: historical fiction, coming-of-age

Why is it a go-to read aloud?

  • This is a good add to your historical fiction list with a story that illuminates the plight of Mexican-American laborers during the Great Depression. It touches on the Mexican Revolution, Great Depression, and the Dust Bowl.
  • It’s rich in ideas for discussion about racism and immigration.
  • Ryan includes lots of Spanish in her text, which presents another way for readers to learn Spanish vocabulary.
  • The pages evoke richness and passion with lyrical prose.
  • Readers get a strong female protagonist in Esperanza. The rich characterization gives the story emotional depth. Esperanza is like the mythical phoenix rising from her own ashes.
  • The story is a retelling of Ryan’s grandmother’s story.
  • The cover alone is #goals.

See Also: Echo

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