Skip to content

Cross-Unders: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers

by flickr user erin_everlasting
by flickr user erin_everlasting

Tween readers — those ages 9 to 12 — come to the teen section for a variety of reasons.

In some cases, tweens are drawn to teen books because of popularity and media exposure. For example, many tweens request titles such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. Some tweens are avid readers of a particular genre and have exhausted the titles available to them in the children’s fiction section.

The tweens at the library where I work are a good example. One girl (I’ll call her Alicia) is 11 going on 12. Alicia loves horror and ghost stories and is a huge fan of Mary Downing Hahn. However, she’s read all of the titles that we have, and now she goes downstairs to the teen section in search of new, more intense scares. She’s currently reading The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.

When we asked the Hub bloggers for their thoughts on cross-unders (I don’t love the term, but I have to admit it’s succinct), Diane Colson commented that

…novels provide so much vicarious experience for readers. Reading “ahead,” or into the lives of older characters, is a way of preparation. And in many cases these readers are psychologically and intellectually ready for more mature reading. Rates of development and life experience have roles to play as well.

In my experience, the teen books that appeal to this “reading up” impulse offer the lure of new experiences, without offering more than they feel ready for. Diane concurs, citing the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot and the Ranger’s Apprentice series as excellent cross-unders, because “they aren’t completely safe, meaning that there are risky situations that require mature thinking. But the author provides a framework that allows for a character’s fallability. There are examples of advice seeking, lessons learned, and respect for others.”

I would add that the both are examples of the type of series where readers can feel that they are growing up with the character as they tackle new challenges in each book. Other examples of this type of series include the Percy Jackson series, the Harry Potter series, the Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series.

In addition, some tweens want titles that deal more directly with tough issues, whether because of their own experiences, the experiences of someone close to them, or simply a desire to explore those issues in a safe way.

This post won’t attempt to cover where these titles are shelved, which differs from library to library; however, today’s YALSA blog post on cross-unders will be addressing some of those questions. I would like to present a list (compiled by myself and Diane Colson) of teen titles with strong appeal to tweens.

Suggested Titles

  • Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard
    Jack has grown up on a space station his whole life and has strong views about Earth-dwellers, or “rats,” until he meets a rat named Kit and gets drawn into helping her and her artificially-intelligent robot escape the people who are chasing them. A great stand-alone SF adventure.
  • The Amaranth Enchantment and Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry
    These gentle fantasy romances are great for the tween reader who loves authors like Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George and is looking for more amaranthenchantmentin that vein. For other readalikes, check out Edith Pattou’s East, Sarah Beth Durst’s Ice and Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter or Spindle’s End.
  • The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
    This series has a winning combination of humor and romance and mixes realistic teen life with fantastic wish fulfulment. It starts with main character Mia Thermopolis’s first year of high school and follows her all the way to graduation in the course of ten books and several shorter side stories.
  • The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
    These books follow the adventures of Cammie Morgan and her friends at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Woman — i.e., spy school. The first one is I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You. These are great for readers who like some action-adventure with their romance, and the suspense increases with each book.
  • Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper
    The first in Draper’s popular Hazelwood High series, Tears of a Tiger is a good read for tweens who like books about tough issues and are ready to “move up.” Her novel Fire From the Rock would also be a good choice for tweens who like historical fiction. Walter Dean Myers is another popular choice.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
    Duncan’s blend of mystery and horror has many fans among tweens; this is one of her more horror-oriented titles. Mystery fans who don’t want as big of a scare might try The Third Eye or Ransom. Joan Lowery Nixon is another good source for this type of story — they may be very 80s in style, but in my experience tweens still like them. Caroline Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton is also a possible readalike
  • The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
    Beginning with The Ruins of Gorlan, this series follows fifteen-year-old Will’s adventures as an apprentice to the mysterious Rangers. Classic goodstormbreaker vs. evil fantasy that gets more complex as the series goes on.
  • The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
    The first title is Stormbreaker. Great for readers who want intense action-adventure set in the real world; readalikes include Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series. Horowitz’s other teen series, The Gatekeepers, appeals to readers of supernatural horror and suspense. The first novel is Nightrise.
  • No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
    Misunderstood Wallace Wallace, who refuses to tell a lie — especially about how much he hates boring books where the dog dies at the end — will generate plenty of laughter for readers who enjoy realistic fiction.
  • Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
    This title would appeal to readers, especially boys, who enjoy realistic fiction and want to read up. Lubar writes great humor but doesn’t shy away from the challenges of freshman year.
  • The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer
    For the tween reader who likes their historical fiction filled with intense action, this series (beginning with Bloody Jack) follows the adventures of disguised ship’s boy Mary “Jacky” Faber. These are for readers who can handle intense and sometimes gross scenes, as they don’t sugarcoat the conditions of the era.
  • The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix
    This series (beginning with Sabriel) appeals to strong tween readers who like epic fantasy adventure. Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: the First Adventure vampiresassistantis also a good choice.
  • Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
    The first book in a series, Angus follows the laugh-out-misadventures of fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicholson as she copes with the ups and downs of British teen life.
  • The Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan
    This series, which begins with The Vampire’s Assistant, is a popular choice for tweens with a high scare tolerance who are ready to move on from Goosebumps.
  • The Fear Street series by R.L. Stine
    Stine’s series for older readers is mostly out of print, but our library system’s copies are still frequently checked out, despite covers that might sweetthangbe described as “old-school.” Hang onto these if you’ve got ’em!
  • Sweet Thang and Hollywood and Maine by Allison Whittenberg
    It’s 1975, and Charmaine Upshaw is fourteen and frustrated. Her little cousin is taking over the family, her parents won’t let her have her own room, and the boys at school only seem interested in her light-skinned classmate Dinah. But Charmaine’s not going to let it get her down! A good growing up story for readers who’ve enjoyed realistic-but-optimistic stories about family life, like Sharon Flake’s Money Hungry or Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys.

This is just a sampling of good teen titles for tweens; I’ve tried to mix familiar and less well-known titles, and include a variety of genres. We welcome your feedback, especially if you have more titles to share!

— Erin Bush, currently reading City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster