2021 Holiday Book-Giving Guide for Tween Readers

I recently learned of the “4 Gift Rule” for holiday giving for kids: 1) Something they want, 2) Something they need, 3) Something to wear, and 4) Something to read. You can guess which one is my favorite.

Here is a hand-picked list of books that would make great gifts for 9-to-12-year-olds. I marked a few that are most suited for advanced readers based on the difficulty of the text and/or maturity of topics covered. Click the book cover to read the full summary and reviews from other young readers on Bookopolis.

Need book ideas for older or younger readers? Check out our 2021 Young Adult and Chapter Book recommendation lists.

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After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies are gearing up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents working for the British Secret Intelligence Service’s MI6 division have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. 

Nothing is what it seems and there’s always more than one side to the story as a group of strangers trapped in an inn slowly reveal their secrets in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author. Good for advanced readers.

The time by the lake is everything perfect about a childhood summer…and maybe it also holds the answers Max needs. Give this tender middle grade novel to readers who love the mystery, friendships, and touches of magic in novels by Rebecca Stead and Laurel Snyder.

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Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor

A wondrous and provocative fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them. If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka, who is destined to become a sorcerer. But, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Good for advanced readers.

This new series opener is a tour de force from international bestseller Jonathan Stroud. Scarlett McCain is an outlaw, a bank robber and a sharp shooter-a girl of formidable skills. Fueled by a tragic injustice in her past, she travels the broken kingdoms of England alone, carrying out daring heists in the surviving towns and fending off monstrous beasts in the wilds outside their fortified walls.

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The beloved author of Posted and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day returns with the first book in a coming-of-age sci-fi duology about Leo, a kid trying to navigate the galaxy in order to save his family-and, possibly, the planet Earth.

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world. In a time of war, a mysterious child, Beatryce, appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. As a monk nurses her to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all.

New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan pays homage to Jules Verne in his exciting modern take on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. 

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The stunning sequel to Out of My Mind. Melody is now a year older and a year braver. But not as brave as she wants to be, as she’s terrified of horses. Even though she loves horses–loves loves loves them–from afar. Not one to be thwarted, Melody decides summer camp, one with horseback riding, should be her next challenge. Except, are there even riding camps for differently-abled kids? Ones that would welcome a kid with cerebral palsy? She’s going to find out!

Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor winning author of The Parker Inheritance Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man. Contains theme of addiction.

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant debut novel-in-verse. Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules-like no making waves, avoid eating in public, and don’t move so fast that your body jiggles. 

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A middle grade novel-in-verse about Samira, an eleven-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, who finds peace and empowerment in a local surf club for girls. Samira thinks of her life as before and after: before the burning and violence in her village in Burma, when she and her best friend would play in the fields, and after, when her family was forced to flee. 

Black boy joy is…Picking out a fresh first-day-of-school outfit. Saving the universe in an epic intergalactic race. Finding your voice-and your rhymes-during tough times. From seventeen acclaimed Black male and non-binary authors comes a vibrant collection of stories, comics, and poems about the power of joy and the wonders of Black boyhood.

The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings readers another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who’s unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom. Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. Good for advanced readers.

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From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes the long-awaited sequel to Pax; this is a gorgeously crafted, utterly compelling novel about chosen families and the healing power of love. It’s been a year since Peter and his pet fox, Pax, have seen each other. Once inseparable, they now lead very different lives.

New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang is back with another heartwarming and inspiring story of Mia and friends Mia Tang is going for her dreams After years of hard work, Mia Tang finally gets to go on vacation with her family – to China.

New historical fiction from a Newbery Honor-winning author about how middle schooler Ariel Goldberg’s life changes when her big sister elopes and she’s forced to confront her family’s prejudice and define her own beliefs. Her family’s Jewish bakery has shut down because of financial trouble, and her older sister has eloped with a young man from India following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that strikes down laws banning interracial marriage. Good for advanced readers

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New York Times bestselling author Steve Sheinkin takes readers on a terrifying journey into the Cold War and our mutual assured destruction. As World War II comes to a close, the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the two greatest world powers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum. Good for advanced readers.

A unique account of the amazing Thai cave rescue told in a heart-racing, you-are-there style that blends suspense, science, and cultural insight. On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. 

A middle grade adaptation of the adult bestseller that chronicles Alex Honnold’s free-solo ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It tells the gripping story of how a quiet kid from Sacramento, California, grew up to capture the attention of the entire globe by redefining the limits of human potential through hard work, discipline, and a deep respect for the natural world.

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Perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli and The Tea Dragon Society, this is a magically heartwarming graphic novel about self-acceptance and friendship.Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy-the best magic school in the realm-even though her magic is shaky at best. 

In this sequel to the Eisner Award-nominated book, a mystery is afoot in the Cardboard Kingdom. Vijay, the Beast, renounces his title after being bullied by neighborhood teenagers. An unknown monster has been spotted roaming the Kingdom after dark. It’s ghastly, it’s quick, and it might even have giant tentacles. Or claws. Or wings. Okay, there might be some varied testimonies on what exactly this monster looks like.  

An irresistible new middle-grade graphic novel series about growing up, friendship, heroes, and cats (lots of cats )–perfect for fans of Guts, Awkward and Real Friends. Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp–something that’s way out of Katie and her mom’s budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way earn the money for camp herself.

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