When it comes to finding the perfect books for 11-year-olds, relatability is the name of the game!
Just flourishing into their own unique little people, they’re on the hunt for stuff that speaks to their burgeoning identities, and as their guardians, it’s up to us to provide the right titles.
The problem is that there are just so many children’s books out there that a wicked case of option paralysis is a given, and with every misstep you take, your 11-year-old falls more out of love with reading — Noooo!
Not to worry, though, as I’m going to be guiding you through what is inevitably a tricky selection process with 30 amazing suggestions spanning a wealth of different genres.
Best Books For 11-Year-Olds
Changing in all manner of ways, enduring the first cravings for independence, and with high school cresting on the horizon, 11-year-olds have a lot on their minds, so it’s small wonder why books (and parents) get the cold shoulder from time to time.
However, they need the escape a good story provides more than ever at this point in their life, so let’s delve into the books that will keep them reading, starting with the fantasy genre.
Keeper Of The Lost Cities — Shannon Messenger
Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities seems set to dethrone Harry Potter as the book that mesmerizes both children and adults alike — It’s that good!
It all starts with 12-year-old Sophie Foster and a supernatural secret… she can hear your thoughts!
Unsure how or if she should tell somebody about her gift/curse, she keeps it under wraps, leading to feelings of repression and loneliness, but when a mysterious boy named Fitz shows up out of the blue who can also read minds, her world gets turned upside down.
- Perfect pacing — This book is a non-stop thrill ride.
- Incredible characters — Messenger is a dab hand at creating very real and likable characters.
- Un-Utilized characters — Messenger lets characters fall by the wayside, leaving you missing them.
Greenglass House — Kate Milford
There’s no better family-read-aloud than Kate Milford’s Greenglass House. Milo is in a race against time to unearth the mysteries of the eponymous property (rumored to be a hotel for spies and smugglers) before the adults.
What I love about this book is that it addresses Milo’s inner conflicts at the same time as he wrestles with the external conflicts provided by Greenglass House and its suspicious guests.
- Intriguing content — 11-year-olds love reading about spies!
- Teaches about identity and differences — Milo’s adoptive parents are Caucasian, but he’s Chinese, leading to an identity crisis that weaves seamlessly into the plot.
- Slow pace — The pacing is a little sluggish to begin with.
Winterhouse — Ben Guterson
A cozy mystery book with elements of magic creeping in through the later pages, Winterhouse is both captivating and calming, and the Christmastime setting makes it a great holiday season read.
The fun (and mystery) begins when Elizabeth Somers is sent by her aunt and uncle guardians to Winterhouse, a ski hotel sitting not just atop a mountain, but a horde of secrets too!
- First in a trilogy — Your kid can read the whole adventure before outgrowing Guterson’s style.
- Captivating — Kids and adults alike are gripped by the mystery element of Winterhouse.
- Clunky dialogue — Younger readers won’t care, but the dialogue’s a bit blah at times.
The Mysterious Benedict Society — Trenton Lee Stewart
Moving swiftly onto the mystery genre, we have The Mysterious Benedict Society, an exceedingly clever middle-grade book that follows a group of gifted children recruited by Mr. Benedict to infiltrate a nefarious organization run by his evil twin brother.
- Wholesome themes — Unlikely friendships, overcoming fears, truth… there’s a lot of good stuff in this book.
- Super engaging — Neither you nor your kid will be able to put it down.
- Lots of deception — Some children may imitate the characters’ deceptions, even though they mostly only lie to protect their cover.
The Van Gogh Deception — Deron R. Hicks
Dan Brown meets Jason Bourne rolled up into a middle-grade mystery masterpiece, The Van Gogh Deception is a fast-paced, art-centric caper that starts with a boy waking up with amnesia in the National Gallery.
With no idea who he is or how he got into the museum, a struggle for the truth unfolds whilst an abominable art fraud plot ramps up.
- Art-oriented — Can encourage an interest in art.
- Digitally interactive — QR codes introduce reader to renowned paintings.
- Confusing ending — The crescendo could be a little clearer here.
Escape From Mr. Limoncello’s Library — Chris Grabenstein
To call this just a book would be incredibly reductive, for the reader gets to take part in the wealth of puzzles and hidden games the characters must complete to win Mr. Lemoncello’s game and escape his library.
It’s an absolute blast that won’t just convince your kids to read; it’ll get them straight-up stoked for reading!
- Interactive — The puzzles make for a super fun and immersive reading experience.
- Encourages teamwork — Both the characters and the readers will only win Lemoncello’s game if they work together.
- No character development — Relies on the puzzles to do the heavy lifting, so character nuance gets the boot.
The Vanderbeekers Of 141st Street — Karina Yan Glaser
With The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, we segway comfortably into the family genre. This charming tale follows the struggles of a bi-racial family who face eviction after an absentee landlord refuses to reissue their lease on the property.
While it deals with a very gritty, down-to-earth issue, the madcap antics so typical of large families inject some levity into the story.
- Heart warming — The way this family rallies to save their beloved home will make you cry happy tears.
- Real issues — There are a number of life lessons to be found in this book.
- Predictable ending — It doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable though!
Pay Attention, Carter Jones — Gary D. Schmidt
This book is full of laughs and heartbreak — Carter’s brother passed on two years before the start of the story, his military father is deployed in Germany, he has three younger sisters, and his mother is understandably struggling to keep it together.
Carter is also just about to start 6th grade, so it’s not just his home life that’s gone wacky — Entropy has taken hold of everything in this poor boy’s life.
To make matters worse, Carter’s grandfather also passes on, but a little (okay, BIG) surprise in his will, might be just what this struggling family needs to get back on their feet.
- It’s an emotional rollercoaster — The rises and falls of this narrative will remind your 11-year-old of the power of writing and reading.
- Dark subjects tackled with sensitivity — The perfect way to gently introduce children to concepts of grief.
- Very cricket-heavy — If you’re not into cricket or at least sport, certain parts of this book will be a bit of a snooze fest.
The Penderwicks — Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks is – shock horror – about the Pendwick family comprised of a widowed father, four remarkably distinct daughters, and their dog going on a summer vacation to the Arundel Estate.
They rent a cottage owned by the snooty Mrs. Tifton, but thankfully, her son Jeffry is a lot more likable.
What follows is a deluge of inter-family dramas underscored by one looming threat… Mrs. Tifton plans to ship Jeffry to military school!
- Promotes a hands-on approach to problem-solving — The girls in this book face a number of problems, but they face them head-on, learning life lessons in the process.
- Award winner — This title won a 2005 National Book Award in the Children’s Literature category.
- The father character isn’t up to much — Many would consider the father neglectful, as he’s not all that involved with the plot.
The Invention Of Hugo Cabret — Brian Selznick
Roughly half the pages of my first historical fiction pick are dedicated to beautiful illustrations.
The writing that separates the pictures is only one paragraph in length, so although it looks like a weighty tome, you’ll fly through this title in a matter of days.
The story follows the eponymous orphan, Hugo Cabret, who works as his uncle’s apprentice keeping a Parisian train station’s clocks in order.
After his uncle dies, he keeps it a secret and continues his work so he can carry on living behind the walls of the station, but a chance discovery one day triggers an adventure that will lead him far from the meager shelter he calls home.
- Gorgeous illustrations — Think 11-year-olds are too grown up for picture books? Think again!
- Satisfying for reluctant readers — Closing the last page on such a thick book can boost confidence a great deal.
- Writing isn’t top-notch — Selznick is a much better illustrator than he is a writer, but his book still provides a magical experience.
Refugee — Alan Gratz
I consider Refugee to be the kid-friendly equivalent of a Sebastian Faulks book. The reader is swept away by three distinct refugee narratives that confluence elegantly towards the end.
Each protagonist is roundabout 13 years old, yet they’re forced to face adversity that would leave the strongest adults feeling utterly defeated.
It doesn’t shy away from tough topics, such as death and war, but Gratz portrays the struggles of each character with grace and sensitivity.
- Heavy topics portrayed correctly — Kids will learn a lot about the strife in the world, but the hopeful aspects of the story keep it from being too depressing.
- Relevance — The plight of the refugees in this story is more poignant than ever in today’s world.
- Graphic at points — Descriptions of concentration camps may be distressing to some children and adults.
As the latter variation of the title suggests, this is a book about three magically gifted children and their equally gifted pooch.
Upon meeting each other, they become outlaws of Medieval France and embark on an epic adventure involving knights, kings, and a particularly flatulent dragon based on the Tarasque of French folklore.
- Fantastic morals — Despite the historical setting, the morals in this story are pertinent in today’s world.
- Clever story — From the narrative structure to the plot, it’s a spellbinding story.
- Lots of indirect speech — Can make the book less engaging for some readers.
Ban This Book — Alan Gratz
We’re back with Alan Gratz as we wade into the “school setting” portion of this list, starting with Ban This Book, a hilariously meta title for a story about Amy whose favorite book gets banned from the school library.
In a righteous act of defiance, she opens a little library in her locker stocked with all the blacklisted books she can get her hands on.
Needless to say, this secret stash doesn’t stay secret for long, leading to an almighty clash of ideals centered around the right to read.
- Encourages independent thought — It’s essential to teach our kids how to think for themselves, and this book can help us do that.
- Tons of booky references — Gratz name-drops a bunch of awesome books for tweens throughout this story, giving you plenty to move on to after finishing it.
- Some dated language — Terms like “knuckle sandwich” detract from the realness of the children in this modern release.
Wonder — R.J. Palacio
Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a child with a facial abnormality making the transition from homeschooling to 5th grade at Beecher Prep, a public school.
It’s all about kindness, love, and embracing the things that make us unique, and I couldn’t love it anymore!
- Encourages acceptance — This book teaches the ultimate moral… being kind and loving to one another, even if we’re different.
- The craft — R.J. Palacio doesn’t use the emotive premise as a crutch in Wonder. Her writing is legitimately amazing.
- Similar character voices — Some different viewpoints aren’t distinct enough to warrant being in the book.
The Boy At The Back Of The Class — Onjali Raúf
The titular boy in The Boy at the Back of the Class is Ahmet, a Syrian refugee who upon trying to flee his war-torn home has been separated from his family.
Naturally, the other kids in Mrs. Khan’s 4th-grade class are a little bemused by the new kid at first, but when they learn his story and see how the adults in their lives are letting him down, they take it upon themselves to help their friend, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
- Told with both humor and heart — While the setup for this book is quite heavy, the story is both emotive and heart-warming.
- Encourages compassion — The children in this book resist the urge to outcast Ahmet, and instead come to his aid.
- Some characters lack depth — The ancillary characters could be a little more fleshed-out.
Spy School — Stuart Gibbs
Moving onto spy fiction, we have Spy School, which is exactly what you’d expect it to be — Ben Ripley is recruited and trained by the CIA to take down Spyder, an evil organization hellbent on causing chaos.
Sounds like a relatively simple concept, right? But in actual fact, there are some real le Carré-esque subtleties at play here. Your child will enjoy the challenge of sussing out double agents under Spyder’s payroll.
- Entertaining plot — It’s a real page-turner full of surprises and intrigue.
- Memorable dialogue — Good dialogue is hard to come across in tween books, but there are plenty of great interactions in Spy School.
- Insane premise — There is zero realism in this book, which I think plays to its strengths, but some may find it inane.
City Spies — James Ponti
Similarly to Spy School, in City Spies by James Ponti, children are recruited into the espionage industry, but this time by MI6.
They attend a spy training academy that fronts as a boarding school, before being deployed as operatives in Paris, forming a group known as, you’ve guessed it… the City Spies.
- Tons of action — Your 11-year-old will never be bored reading City Spies.
- Female lead — A female protagonist in a spy-themed book is beyond rare, so it offers up a great blurring of traditional gender roles.
- A little over the top at times — It does get a little comic book-y here and there, but most kids enjoy the OTT nature of the story.
Charlie Thorne And The Last Equation — Stuart Gibbs
Here we have yet another middle-grade book in the spy genre with a female lead — Hooray!
When evil entities known as the Furies are hunting for Albert Einstein’s secret code to aid in their nefarious plot, the CIA calls upon the only person that has a chance of stopping them…
Charlie Thorne, child genius and number one code cracker on the planet.
- Strong female lead — Charlie has an empowering influence on tween girls or any kid that doesn’t subscribe to notions of traditional masculinity.
- Action-packed — There are plenty of pulse-raising passages in this exciting book.
- Sluggish start — The action doesn’t kick in for a good few pages.
The Book Thief — Markus Zusak
Arriving at the WWII-themed books on my list, we have a very special book indeed. Narrated by Death himself, The Book Thief instantly intrigues both younger and older readers alike.
The man in the black hood tells us a story set in 1939, Nazi Germany. Liesel, a young girl, is a foster child using stolen books to learn how to read, but this isn’t a book club of one, oh no.
She’s sharing her stolen stories with the Jewish man hiding in her basement.
While it’s considered more of a YA book than a tween years book, the poignancy of this tale makes it suitable for children a little younger… no younger than 11, though.
- Exhibits the power of books — The books help to sustain both the primary characters in this book, inspiring a reverence of reading in young ones.
- Fantastic end — The story really weaves together into a breathtaking narrative tapestry at the end.
- Little momentum — This story takes a while to get going, and it may not give younger readers the drive to keep turning the pages.
The War That Saved My Life — Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The brilliantly written The War that Saved My Life will have tears of joy and sadness rolling down your cheek within minutes of one another.
It’s a love vs. the world story surrounding the escape of Ada and her little brother from their abusive mother. Ada has a club foot and lives in a small room, looking out at the world through a single small window.
After secretly teaching herself to walk, her truncated existence opens up, allowing these daring siblings to use the evacuation of children from London during WWII to facilitate their escape.
- Fantastic prose — Bradley is an astounding writer!
- Inspiring — This story teaches children that they’re not defined by their weaknesses.
- Some improbable aspects — Realism is what makes this book great, so, for instance, when Ada masters horse riding almost immediately, you lose a bit of interest and are left with a bit of narrative whiplash.
The Dollmaker Of Krakow — R.M. Romero
R.M. Romero puts on a magical realism clinic with The Dollmaker of Krakow, a story about a living doll who meets a dollmaker in Krakow just as tensions on the world stage boil over into WWII.
Steadily, she melts the heart of the dollmaker, opening him up to the people around him, some of which are Jewish. What proceeds is a compassionate bid to protect their new friends from the evils of the Nazi regime.
WWII is always a tough topic to introduce to children outside the purely academic, but the magical realism in The Dollmaker of Krakow takes the edge off a little, making the tale more digestible for the middle grades.
- Magical realism — The off-kilter realism of this book makes the stark horrors of WWII a little easier for young ones to bear.
- Good vocabulary booster — For 10–11-year-olds, there’ll be tons of new words to chew on and add to their vocabulary.
- Plot predictability — It didn’t keep me guessing as much as I’d hoped, but a child will likely feel differently about this.
Song For A Whale — Lynne Kelly
Now we emerge from the darkness of war into the levity and brightness of the feel good genre, starting with Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly.
It’s a story about a deaf girl who struggles to fit into her community, forming an unlikely bond with Blue 52, a whale who has also become rather dislocated from his own aquatic community.
Full of heartbreak and triumph, the characters in this book are on the hunt, not just for external connection and validation, but the inner strength that can only be found through facing adversity.
- Incredibly moving — If the end of this book doesn’t make you weep, I’d hazard a guess that nothing will.
- Genuine middle grade voice — The story is told from the perspective of an adolescent, and Kelly has absolutely nailed the voice, giving the narrative an authenticity that will draw your 11-year-old in.
- Quite simple — Advanced young readers may have already surpassed the difficulty level of this book.
Hello, Universe — Erin Entrada Kelly
In Hello Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly seamlessly weaves together four different narratives into a heart-warming, hilarious, and wonderfully poignant tale of differences, bravery, and togetherness.
The trouble starts when Chet Bullens pulls a prank that results in Virgil and his adorable pet dog getting stuck down a well, thus triggering a sequence of events that pulls unlikely pals together in an effort to find the missing boy and his pooch.
- Witty writing — Kelly’s writing is funny and whimsical, which is a fairly accurate representation of a middle grader’s mind.
- Distinct characters — Each child is unique, both out and in, which makes for a more inclusive and enjoyable story.
- Feels incomplete — I know a book should always leave you wanting more, but I felt the end was less of a conclusion and more of another beginning, which made for an unsatisfying coda.
Front Desk — Kelly Yang
In Front Desk, a story about a Chinese family trying to make ends meet in California, Kelly Yang (apparently all feel good authors have Kelly somewhere in their name) tackles American racism head-on.
And for this, it has been challenged and even banned by certain schools — You’ll most likely find it in Amy’s black market locker library in Gratz’s Ban this Book.
The story follows Mia, the daughter of the émigré family and her struggle to carve out a life for herself in a land that resents her presence, and of course, her own strife is mirrored by that of the family as a whole.
- Valuable lessons — The rawness of this book imparts some key life lessons surrounding race and tolerance.
- Eye-opening — It’s also a fantastic way to teach children about the struggles of immigrants in the modern world, as it doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
- Not the best for independent reading — There are few things in this book that merit an adult explanation, so it’s better for reading with your child.
Belly Up — Stewart Gibbs
When a hippo suddenly perishes at FunJungle zoo, Teddy and Summer suspect foul play, but it’s not a straightforward job trying to prove a hippo homicide has taken place!
- Hilarious — Both the concept and the writing are an absolute hoot in Belly Up.
- Educational — You learn lots about hippo physiology and real-life zoo operations.
- Jokes aren’t for everyone — Some parents may not deem some jokes in this book suitable for their 11-year-olds.
Hoot — Carl Hiaasen
If you’re looking for a tasty pile of pancakes, there’s no better place to grab one than Mother Paula’s Pancakes.
But when this restaurant reveals a not-so-sweet side by attempting to open up a second site smack bang in the middle of an endangered owl habitat, new kid in town, Roy, has to step up and try to save the day.
- Emphasizes the importance of conservation — Nature takes priority in this book, just as it should in real life.
- Fast-paced — No one will get bored reading this exciting book.
- Complex nature Vs. industry issues — You might need to unpack some darker content in this book for your 11-year-old.
A Wolf Called Wander — Roseanne Parry
This is the story of Swift, a young wolf trying to make his way back to his family. There are 1000 dangerous miles between them; can Swift go the distance?
- Fantastic illustrations — The art is just one of the things that make this such a wonderful book.
- True story — This stuff actually happened, which makes it all the more gripping.
- A little slow in places — Passages between the action feel a bit sluggish.
Holes — Louis Sachar
Finishing my list with the classics, we have Holes, the tale of a boy bearing the burden of an old family curse.
His unlucky life leads to internment in a juvenile detention camp in the desert where the inmates are forced to dig large holes every day in order to “build character”… or so say the wardens.
- Clever plot — This is one of the most perfectly plotted books for kids ever written.
- Amazing characters — Each of the main characters is distinct and intriguing.
- Complex flashback — The flashback section addresses the rampant racism of the South, and you might need to be around to explain what’s going on to your kid.
The Westing Game — Ellen Raskin
When the wealthy Mr. Westing dies, his will challenges the residents of Sunset Towers to solve the mystery of his demise in order to claim his immense fortune.
- Gripping — It’s a real page-turner!
- Can be hard to follow in places — The dense mystery makes this story a little tricky to parse out.
The Egypt Game — Zilpha Neatly Snyder
Round the back of an antique store play 6 “Egyptians”, but when someone is murdered in the area, the kids’ role-playing game turns into something far more dangerous!
- Super exciting — The stakes are high in this imaginative masterpiece.
- Character exposition — Some find the character descriptions a little long-winded.
Best Books for An 11 Year Old Buyer’s Guide
Buying a book for an 11-year-old can be tricky, so before we go our separate ways, let’s take a look at a few tips and tricks.
Know The Child
As 11-year-olds are keen to identify with elements of the stories they read, it’s important you really get to know them before buying them a book.
Check Out Their Other Books
Look at their existing book collection and see if there are any favorite authors, series, or subject matters.
Choose Something That’s Going To Expand Their Awareness
Now’s the perfect time to introduce your child to more complex social matters so they grow into a world they understand more fully.
Introduce Them To Different Genres
At this age, the world of reading really opens up to a kid, and one of the best ways to keep them interested is to highlight the diversity and never ending excitement of books, something that can be accomplished by introducing them to lots of new genres.
Was there anything in this list that you think the 11-year-old in your life might enjoy, or perhaps something you remember reading when you were younger?
There’s plenty to choose from, and we really only scraped the surface here, so in the small chance nothing seemed all that appealing, there’s still hope of inspiring your not-so-little one to keep reading.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Should 11-Year-Olds Read A Day?
It’s generally accepted that 30 minutes of reading a day will greatly benefit middle grade children.
What Is The Average Reading Rate Of An 11-Year-Old?
The average reading rate for children between 11 and 12 is 185 words per minute.