Our Recommendations for 9 to 12 Year Olds

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle

Just occasionally, a book comes along that feels more ‘real’ than reality. From the instant Joseph steps off the train in London, angry and frightened, you are right there with him. It’s 1941; children are being evacuated but Joseph has just arrived, sent to live with Mrs F as his family cannot care for him. Settling in isn’t easy, but hope begins to appear in the form of Syd (determined to befriend Joseph whether he likes it or not), their essential work at London Zoo, and a silverback gorilla called Adonis. A brilliant, moving read.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

In 1920s New York, Vita and her mother have just arrived from England. After Vita’s grandmother died, her grandfather was the victim of a scam, losing his home and money. Determined to help, Vita sets out to infiltrate the criminal underworld and uncover the key to restoring her grandfather’s happiness. From the glittering parties of the rich, to sultry speakeasies, an indoor circus and a castle, Vita’s quest introduces her to three remarkable friends. Together, they become partners in an audacious heist. A sparkling adventure which shines a spotlight on social injustice and celebrates trust, friendship and helping those we love. 

My Friend the Octopus by Lindsey Galvin

I really couldn’t put this brilliant Victorian mystery down. Set in 1890s Brighton and centred around its new aquarium (with an extraordinary new occupant), My Friend the Octopus charts Vinnie’s journey to understanding more about herself and these remarkable creatures, stepping outside her comfort zone and uncovering some dark secrets along the way – with the help of new friends Charlie and Temitayo. Brilliantly researched, readers will love the historical detail and fantastic characters which bring this story so vividly to life.

Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling

Our children’s book group loved this magical adventure, which combines fantasy with a cast of unforgettable characters. On the sea-battered Isle of Little Drum, music is more than a way of life – it IS life. Each person’s soul is twinned with an instrument, so when the Red Duchess announces an order of silence, their future is threatened. Oran may be young, but she is already showing signs of a rare gift, which could be the island’s only hope to save the Far Isles from the Duchess’ thrall. Meeting a fantastic mix of characters along the way, Oran discovers that friendship, bravery and honesty may be as powerful as talent.

Race to the Death by Annelise Gray

The first of a gripping new series, this exciting read takes us to the dangerous world of Roman chariot racing. Girls are banned from taking part, but Dido has other ideas. Talented and determined, sharing a unique bond with her horses, Dido knows she can rival the best racers on the track. But will she get the chance to race at the Circus Maxiumus – and can she handle the danger this opportunity may bring? With compelling characters and a cracking plot, this book will have you on the edge of your (ringside) seat!

The Accidental Stowaway by Judith Eagle

This book brilliantly captures a different era with an eye for period detail and if you like a mystery with an unconventional heroine then you are in for a treat! Set in 1910, Patch who has never really had a proper home, instead staying with distant relatives all over the country, has been moved to stay in a girl’s school in Liverpool. Within hours of arriving in the city, her adventurous spirit has her stowing away on a ship setting sail for New York. As the land falls away into the distance, new friendships appear on the horizon, but not all is as it seems on both the upper and lower decks.

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell Boyce

This is an entertaining story of survival where a small group of children on a class trip find themselves stranded on a small uninhabited island – no grownups, no food and to top it off, Noah breaks the internet! As the realities of life without mobile phones and no web access become increasingly challenging, the necessity to work together with everyone’s unique skills is crucial. A clever, humorous cautionary tale where even the delivery of the narrative through letters demonstrates the ingenuity of seeking out ways to do things when there is no internet and we’re solely reliant on the human brain and our whole set of fingers, not just our thumbs!

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore

This is a wonderful blend of folklore and mythology in modern-day Nigeria. When Simi is sent to spend the summer with the grandma she has never met before, she encounters a way of living in complete contrast to her urban existence. In Ajoa, there are no indoor toilets, no running water, and no mobile reception. In time, Simi discovers a richness in these cultural differences and village customs but despite her family’s warnings, there is danger lurking as she becomes intrigued by old myths and the disappearance of her uncle as a child. Told with Efua Traore’s amazing gift for language, the imagery she creates is stunning; your senses heightened, you cannot fail to be there alongside these wonderful characters.

The False Rose by Jakob Wegelius

What a joy to be in the company of Sally Jones again! Having loved Wegelius’s The Murderer’s Ape a few years ago, where we were introduced to a unique heroine, an array of brilliant characters and a masterful plot, I had my fingers crossed this next book would be as special in its captivating storytelling. Indeed, it is! On discovering a beautiful necklace hidden during the restoration of their beloved boat ‘Hudson Queen’, Sally Jones and the Chief set out to solve the mystery surrounding who the jewels belong to. The clues take them to Glasgow where they must survive the gangster underworld of this dark city, with testing dramas and dangers that stretch our heroine’s ingenuity, compassion, and bravery.

Lampie by Annet Schaap

This is most definitely a fairy tale with extra bite, sometimes quite literally! Lampie is the daughter of a disgraced lighthouse keeper who’s forced from her own home and made to work in the grand but sinister house of the mysterious and absent local Admiral. There’s great sadness in the house and the admiral’s son, Edward, lives hidden away from the world, enclosed in a tower room where no one ever ventures. But why is he so miserable, scared, and angry (hence the biting!) and what is he hiding? This is a brilliantly rendered story of acceptance and belonging, insightfully describing the courage it takes to bring more than one estranged family back together.

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr

This book kept me up reading late into the night as I just couldn’t put it down! Written with great sensitivity, it is also a fantastic adventure story with an intriguing mystery at its heart. Evacuated to rural Wales, Jimmy and his younger brother Ronnie find themselves uprooted from everything they know. As they begin to settle in and make new friends, the discovery of a skull hidden in a tree reveals that all is not as it seems, and that even this quiet community may have its secrets…

The Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

This novel is a perfect combination of adventure, historical fiction and the most moving of family dramas. Set just after the end of the First World War we find children Lotti and Ben, lonely and afraid, both having lost beloved family members. But resilient and resourceful, they’re determined to seek out their remaining relatives and to do that they must make an heroic sea journey to France on Ben’s boat, the Sparrowhawk. The devastation of the war-torn country is revealed to them as they travel doggedly onwards trying to reach Lotti’s grandmother and desperately hoping to discover the fate of Ben’s brother, a soldier who’s been missing since the end of the conflict.

The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

This book is a delight from start to finish! Leonard and Sedgman take the classic ‘mystery-on-a-train’ and add humour, five Samoyed dogs and two young sleuths to create a fast-paced plot with plenty of twists and turns. As the Highland Falcon’s final journey unfolds, Hal, his friend Lenny and his Uncle Nat find themselves embroiled in a mystery as a precious jewel goes missing. Will Hal’s flair for sketching and Lenny’s bravery be enough to secure the evidence they need to capture the culprit??

By Ash Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison

This is a delightful tale of the Hidden Folk, the tiny beings who are the guardians of the natural world, be it in a suburban garden, wild wood or within the unlikely environs of our busy cities. Cumulus, Burnet and Moss are three such beings who set out on a perilous journey to try and solve the mystery of Cumulus’s growing invisibility. Melissa Harrison’s glorious writing has everything; humour, beauty, honesty, and her unique ability to bring the wonder of nature alive, in a tale which never shies away from confronting the challenges friendships face when life becomes difficult.

The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger

Inspired by The Secret Garden, Risbridger takes the classic tale of an orphaned girl leaving India for a life in Britain on an entirely new (and highly entertaining) trajectory. On board the S.S. Mariana, Isobel is shocked to witness somebody being pushed overboard. The problem is, it is dark, and the identities of both the murderer and victim are a mystery. Isobel struggles to connect with others, but with the help fellow passengers Lettie and Sam, she learns as much about the joys of friendship as she does about solving mysteries. A thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

This is a Dutch classic written in 1962 but only translated into English in 2013. It sits in high esteem on bookcases in the Netherlands as classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit adorn our British shelves. This legend of knights unfolds the adventure of our hero Tiuri, who finds himself undertaking a dangerous quest to deliver a secret letter on a perilous journey to a distant kingdom. It is a story of courage, the power of friendship, posing questions of who to trust and how our moral compasses develop. This is traditional storytelling at its best, an action-packed tale told at a skilled steady pace that enables the characters and landscape to develop fully and vividly. It is a book to read gathered around a fire; a perfect family read.

October, October by Katya Balen

October is wild, living in the woods with her Dad and a rescued fledgling owl, in a house he built for them himself. But when her Dad is seriously injured, she’s forced to leave her beloved woods and move to London to live with her Mum. A new school in a hostile urban environment brings a harsh sense of alienation to October’s life. But then she finds a friend in Yusuf, a boy in her class, and begins to reconcile her two very different lives. This is an incredibly moving book about learning to hold on to what you love while rising to the challenges everyone faces as they start to leave childhood behind.

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This hugely satisfying novel is imbued with a spectral luminosity. Set in the Lake District in 1899, we follow the fortunes of the 12-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith as she finds herself cast out of Gosswater Hall to live in a cramped cottage with a man who claims to be her father. As Aggie struggles to adjust to this situation, she becomes bound up in a mysterious chain of events. As the year turns, a ghost girl creeps through a chink in time to reveal hidden secrets and lead Aggie to discover her identity. Along the way, Aggie meets Bryn, whose fantastic grin belies the harsh hand life has dealt him, and together they delve deep into Gosswater’s history to uncover the truth and right the wrongs of the past…

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski

This is a superb fantasy adventure with a tantalising mystery at its heart. It all begins when Flick moves to a new town with her family, she’s feeling bored and a bit left out, when she meets Jonathan, the owner of a very odd travel agency indeed.  The ‘travel’ in question is not between countries but entire worlds, all reached through the portal of a variety of suitcases. However, there’s more to Jonathan’s story than meets the eye; he has lost both his parents in sinister circumstances which he’s determined to investigate. Meanwhile on her own journeys off-world Flick starts exhibiting powers she wasn’t aware she possessed and begins to question who she really is. Fabulously full of intrigue, I absolutely loved this book.

Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin

Could dragons exist? This is the question facing Syms Covington, assistant to Charles Darwin on his famous voyage of discovery aboard The Beagle. Washed ashore on one of the Galapagos Islands after an expedition goes awry, Syms meets with a helpful creature whom he names Farthing and presumes to be a species of lizard. However, he also encounters a very different, extremely large, and very threatening animal on the island: could it really be a dragon? As Syms battles to stay alive, escape a volcanic eruption, and return to the ship, he knows he needs to find Mr Darwin and try to explain his incredible discovery.

Horse Boy by Tanya Landman

This is a fantastic adventure story. Set at an indeterminate time in prehistory, it follows tribal chief’s son Oak; a somewhat spoilt, arrogant character who takes his position, family, and friends very much for granted. But when he is suddenly separated from his home with only a wild horse as a companion, he quickly learns about the importance of cooperation, consideration, and the ties of friendship. As horse and boy come to rely on each other in order to survive and embark on their perilous journey homeward, this develops into a suspenseful tale filled with courage and danger; testing the bond between the pair to its very limits.

North Child by Edith Pattou

North Child by Edith Pattou is an epic, vivid retelling of the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with a hefty dash of Beauty and the Beast and a few sprinklings of Narnia thrown in. When north-born child Rose is visited by a huge white bear, it’s only the start of a remarkable quest that will change her life forever. North Child is a feast of rich storytelling, with a wonderfully courageous yet realistic heroine in Rose. It’s also the perfect escapist combination of myth, fairytale and love story - a lovely read for adults as well as children!

Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll

Emma Carroll brings 17th century Somerset wonderfully to life in this gripping novel that tells the story of Fortune, a young girl who must fight to save not only her friends and family from the devastating floodwaters that swept the West Country in 1607, but herself from accusations of witchcraft. Fortune is a wonderfully relatable heroine as she learns to trust herself and her instincts, finding her own way in a world that is not friendly to women. Done with Emma Carroll’s usual flair and gift for great storytelling, this is one of our favourite book group reads.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood

This is a masterful piece of storytelling, drawing on the legacies of Watership Down and fantasies such as The Hobbit. The young rabbit Podkin is the son of one of the greatest chieftains in the Five Realms. Spoilt and lazy, he isn’t exactly hero material – but when his warren is attacked by the terrifying iron Gorm, Podkin must step up to save himself, his family, and his home. This comes recommended by both adults and children, and is fast becoming a modern classic!

The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton

This is a wonderful take on a who-dunnit for older children – full of magic, mystery, red herrings, and a talking cat! Seth is the downtrodden kitchen boy at the Last Chance Hotel, where his only friend is his cat Nightshade. Seth longs to be a chef, but when an important guest is poisoned by Seth’s special dessert Seth must prove his innocence – a task made all the more difficult when there’s magic afoot…

​Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love

Reading these thrilling tales you really are entering into another world with the characters from myth and legend bursting forth from the pages in Jeffrey Alan Love’s amazing illustrations. The stories of Odin, Thor and Loki are not for the faint hearted, as the gods are uncompromising beings, who create the world as they see fit, often fighting amongst themselves and paying scant attention to the welfare of us mere mortals!

​Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

If you’re looking for a children’s book in the 10+ age range then this would make an excellent choice. It is a beautifully written book telling the story of a unique friendship between a Native American boy and a young English boy, as settlers begin to colonise the New World in the seventeenth century. This is a wonderful story of lives lived close to nature and of the growing rift between communities who are unable or unwilling to understand one another.

​Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Humanity is at the heart of this perceptive and moving story. Set in February 1941, siblings Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devon. Since their father’s plane was shot down over France and their older sister Suki is missing during the bombings in London, their family know only too well about the trauma caused by war. Emma Carroll’s writing is impressive: what appears as a clear, straight forward story of evacuation and the British wartime efforts on the home front is underlined with some very large moral issues relating to antisemitism and society’s ability to help refugees. This would make an excellent class read.

​Riddle of the Runes by Janina Ramirez

Vikings, runes, wolves, a feisty heroine and the quest for a mysterious casket…all the ingredients for the perfect adventure! Join Alva and her beloved wolf Fenrir as she investigates kidnappings, deciphers clues, and heads off on the trail of treasure – and her long-lost father. Full of historical detail and Norse mythology, this takes you right to the heart of Viking Scandinavia!

​Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

If you’re looking for a bold fast-paced adventure full of cliff-hangers, suspense and magic, then Sky Song has it all. Set in the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald at a time where the feuding tribes are hiding from an evil ice queen, it is down to Eska and Flint to change the fate of their land. Their journey is full of danger and discovery but this is also a story of friendship, the importance of understanding one another and belonging.

​What We See in the Stars by Kelsey Oseid

This exquisite illustrated guide to the stars is bursting with mythology, art, history, and science. 100 pieces of magical art interweave fact and myth to create a book full of the night skies. Adults and children can revel in the enchantment and beauty of the constellations, the moon, the planets, the northern lights, deep space, and nebulae. It is a delightful ride through outer-space which will make you want to grab a pair of binoculars or simply a pair of boots… and get outside under the stars.

​The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

The book is set in 1909 where Sophie Taylor is an employee of Sinclair’s, the grandest new department store in London. However, before the store even opens, there’s a burglary in which Sophie is implicated and she needs the help of her friends Lily, Joe and Billy to prove her innocence. This is a superb adventure with great characters, creepy villains and a genuinely exciting plot. Excitingly, all the brilliant elements of Katherine Woodfine’s storytelling continue in the following instalments!

​Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin

Chloe Daykin’s superb debut novel Fish Boy, tells the story of Billy, an idiosyncratic boy who doesn’t really fit in at school, but who finds comfort in the natural world and his hero David Attenborough. Billy is a fantastic swimmer; a passion passed from his mum who is now too tired to leave the house due to an undiagnosed illness. This troubles Billy dearly and he increasingly seeks solace in his underwater world where one day he encounters a talking mackerel! Intrigued, he returns to the sea, drawn to its carefree allure. This is a book about friendship, with endearing, funny observations about the quirks of family life and finding one’s place. Chloe’s writing is beautiful, poetical and moving; truly fantastic storytelling.

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