Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our amazing gift guides!
Elementary schoolers can be difficult to shop for, book-wise. Some are just getting the hang of reading, while others are ready for middle school length, but maybe not the mature topics of teen plots. Here, I’ve gathered ten selections that fall into that slippery territory of middle-grade readers, with plots that are engrossing, but not too advanced, and text that isn’t too babyish.
Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman
What happens when you’re out of milk for your cereal and your dad agrees to go out and get some? Time travel, of course! This hysterical book about all the things that go berserk on a trip to the store involves pirates, aliens, ponies, crazy flying machines, and, fortunately, milk that’s rescued at every turn.
Saint Louis Armstrong Beach, by Brenda Wood
This is a gripping true-to-life novel about a young clarinet-playing boy named Saint, his beloved dog Shadow, and how they survive New Orleans’ devastating Hurricane Katrina. Chock full of cultural details and a suspenseful plot, Wood’s story blends both history and fiction.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a docile gorilla (and artist!) who lives in a glass enclosure at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Through him and his comrades—Stella, an old elephant, and Bob, a stray dog—young readers will gain insight into the best and worst of human nature. Tear-jerking and life-changing (but still appropriate for growing readers), this is an important book about the relationship between people and animals.
Sideways Stories From Wayside School, by Louis Sachar
Wayside School was intended to be one story with 30 classrooms. Instead, it was built on its side, becoming 30 stories high—befitting for a place where everything goes completely batty. Kids will love the laugh-out-loud wackiness of these tales and all the characters that fill them, from mean Mrs. Gorf to terrible Todd to upside-down-reading John. From the acclaimed author of Holes, this is a great choice that’s both silly and smart.
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Make no mistake: this riveting classic will appeal to boys and girls alike. It tells the tale of sour-faced Mary Lennox, sent to live with her uncle in a cold, dark manor on the English moors. Unhappy and resistant to change, Mary eventually befriends energetic Dickon and her sickly cousin Colin, and together they blossom after discovering a secret garden. This one’s full of imagery, hope, and transformation.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
Milo’s a bored little boy who thinks there’s nothing interesting about life. That is, until he drives through a magical tollbooth in his room and heads toward Dictionopolis, where he meets the Whether Man, goes through the Doldrums, teams up with a watchdog named Tock, and encounters all sorts of otherworldly characters and places, such as the Mountains of Ignorance and twin princesses Rhyme and Reason. This droll and witty fantasy is the perfect introduction to wordplay and irony for young readers.
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
Here we have a poignant story about a young boy who writes to his favorite author about the challenges in his life: adolescence, a new town, school troubles, and his absent, truck-driving father. This Newberry Medal–winning Cleary selection has timeless appeal for both boys and girls.
Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
Ten-year-old Flora is obssessed with superhero comics. And thank goodness she is, because it’s up to her to rescue a squirrel from a vacuum cleaner incident—an incident that leaves the squirrel with the ability to fly…and write poetry. Cynical since the split of her parents, Flora’s heart melts on her magical adventure with her new furry and fantastical friend, Ulysses.
What books would you buy for a kid in elementary school?