The other day, my ten-year-old son, who would remind you that he is almost eleven, declared that he was also almost an adult. As such, he will no longer touch a book with a cartoonish cover, illustrations, or talking animals.
He loves being included in adult conversations, being given new responsibility, and feeling like he’s doing adult things. For all his whip-smart poise, he’s still a sensitive, innocent ten-year-old on the inside.
One way we’re helping him experiment with this new-found quest for adulthood is through letting him test the boundaries of his reading list.
We’ve had mixed luck with YA. He doesn’t like romance. At all. And the Maze Runner books were too scary/violent for him. I’m making him wait on Hunger Games, although I will admit that he is currently reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and LOVING it and also devoured both China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun and Michael Scott’s Alchemyst series. And of course, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents will be my recommendation for the follow-up to Terry Pratchett’s hilarious MG Wee Free Men.
I remember the first “adult” book I read when I was about his age: Little Women. I felt so grown up and I want to give him that same feeling. So here are my recommendations for books that are technically adult, but clean enough, more or less, for the advanced middle-grade reader. Most of these are classics, with a few sci-fi/fantasy favorites thrown in because, well, that’s what we read in my household.
From Indiebound: Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.
The Odyssey by Homer – For all those Percy Jackson fans that want to read the myth behind the popular series.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare – Although schools seem to teach Romeo & Juliet first, I find the humor and absurdity of this particular play a little more appropriate for a younger audience and there are a variety of “young reader” editions for those who might struggle with the more complex language of the original.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – Although my son wouldn’t touch this one (romance, ewwww!), I remember loving it when I was in elementary school. Mr. Darcy was indeed my first literary love.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
From Indiebound – Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – This classic coming-of-age story was a favorite, along with Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – OK, it’s got animals, but this is nothing like Dick King-Smith.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan-Doyle – All the recent reboots of this series have put Sherlock Holmes firmly back in the center of pop culture, so I’m anxious for my son to read the original.
From Indiebound – With its rousing cry of “One for all, and all for one,” Alexandre Dumas’s thrilling adventure novel has captivated generations of readers since its initial publication in 1844. Action, intrigue, and romance abound in this swashbuckling epic, which traces a country lad’s path to the French court of the early 1600s and the glorious fraternity of the king’s men, the Musketeers.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
From Indiebound – This chilling portrait of an all-boys prep school casts an unflinching eye on the pitfalls of conformity and corruption in our most elite cultural institutions.
One of the most controversial YA novels of all time, “The Chocolate War” is a modern masterpiece that speaks to fans of S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” and John Knowles’s “A Separate Peace.”
From Indiebound – Tom Sawyer is as clever, imaginative, and resourceful as he is reckless and mischievous, whether conning his friends into painting a fence, playing pirates with his pal Huck Finn, witnessing his own funeral, or helping to catch a murderer. Twain’s novel glows with nostalgia for the Mississippi River towns of his youth and sparkles with his famous humor, but it is also woven throughout with a subtle awareness of the injustices and complexities of the old South that Twain so memorably portrays.
What adult books did you read as a kid? Which ones are you dying to share with your children/students?