5 coming of age books every kid should read

5 Coming of Age Books Every Kid Should Read

5 Coming of Age Books Every Kid Should Read

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5 coming of age books every kid should read

Why Kids Should Read Coming of Age Books

Back when Chuck and I were first married and our large family was just a dream in the distant future, we used to talk about what we wanted our family to look like. We wanted our kids to have a strong faith, but beyond that we wanted them to be hard workers, adventurous and have integrity. Our dreams were never about our children being the most popular, the richest or having the “best” job. There were certain character qualities we really wanted to encourage in our children. We didn’t care if they grew up to be doctors or teachers or taxi drivers. We wanted to focus on their character.

At 19 and 23 we really didn’t have any idea how to instill these traits in our future children and I suppose we still don’t. I have been surprised as our children have grown and headed out on their adventures to Honduras, Zambia, Colombia, Guatemala and Malawi (so far!), that not every teen is jumping at the chance to test their endurance. Not all teens are driven to push themselves physically and mentally for the sake of adventure. Not every kid fantasizes about an overseas adventure. And of course, not every parent wants that for their children.

Our Favorite Coming of Age Books

I’m not sure how we managed to get where we are with our kids, but I can share with our favorite coming of age books. Books we feel demonstrate the very traits we desire for our children. Books that contain characters that look far beyond themselves and their own feelings. Characters that persevere and sacrifice for others. Characters that overcome their own fears to help others.

So here is my personal list of Coming of Age Books Every Kid Should Read.

Lost in the  Barrens {I recommend this for ages 10 and up}

Lost in the Barrens tells the story of Jamie and Awasin, two young boys who are thrown together and must somehow find a way to survive in the Canadian barrens all alone. Building shelter, making clothes, finding food, fighting off wild animals. This adventure story has it all. This book is written by Farley Mowat, most famous for another excellent book he wrote, Never Cry Wolf.

Where the Red Fern Grows {I recommend this for ages 10 and up}

You have no doubt heard of this classic tale of growing up. I include it because when I quizzed my teens about their favorite coming of age books, they insisted this one make the list. Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls,  is, of course, the story of Billy and his two hounds, Little Ann and Old Dan. One thing I love about this story is Billy works and saves his money for years to purchase the pups he wants so badly. Years! Can you imagine? If that isn’t an important lesson for today’s kids, I don’t know what is.

A Day No Pigs Would Die {I recommend this for ages 12 and up}

Where do I even begin with this one? A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck, is my all time favorite coming of age book. The story’s protagonist Rob, changes from a boy who has his own wants and desires to a young man who realizes he is capable to do what is right for his family even when it involves personal sacrifice.

This book can be intense and is marketed as young adult Historical Fiction. It is not for the faint of heart, but Peck does an amazing job of showing the changes that come over Rob over time and describes perfectly the emotions of this young boy when he is faced with the most gut-wrenching decision of his life. If this book doesn’t make you shed a few tears, I don’t know what will.

A Single Shard {I recommend this for ages 10 and up}

This book, by Linda Sue Park, takes place in 12th century Korea. The protagonist Tree-ear is an orphan who longs to be successful and belong somewhere. When he is finally taken on as an apprentice to a potter he finds it much more challenging than he ever dreamed. After an accident that brings on his master’s anger, Tree-ear must embark on a perilous journey to improve his life and that of his master.

Bound {I recommend this for ages 12 and up}

Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli, follows female protagonist Xing Xing in ancient China. She is raised by her distant father and vindictive step-mother who calls her Lazy-One. She can barely walk, due to the tradition of foot binding, yet works faithfully for her family. Xing Xing shows strength and dignity throughout her hardships. You really, really need to read this book!

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How about you? Do you have a favorite coming of age book you’d like to share? I would love to hear about which books you love and why

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31 thoughts on “5 Coming of Age Books Every Kid Should Read”

  1. I loved My Side of the Mountain and its sequels, about a boy who runs away from home and learns to live off the land in the Adirondack mountains, making a house in a hollow tree, learning to hunt, making friends with a weasel (and a few humans) and taming a peregrine falcon. This story is suitable for younger kids who are reading chapter books.

    A tougher version of the same kind of story, by the same author, Jean Craighead George, is the Julie of the Wolves series, about an Alaskan girl who escapes a premature and abusive marriage and finds herself lost in the permafrost. She befriends a wolf pack and survives. This story is for somewhat older children.

    My children and many of my friends’ children also loved the Harry Potter series, although it gets darker and darker as the series goes on. There are some episodes I just skipped when I read these books to my children, and some I summarized for them without reading all the details. The later books seem more suitable for teenagers than younger children. I don’t know why this series got a bad reputation among some conservatives. It is clearly a Christian allegory about sacrificing self and loving others instead of using violence to solve the world’s problems.

  2. Peg in Seattle

    The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun. It’s about a young boy age 8 or 9 who is very precocious who has an invention and decides to travel to the Patent Office in D.C. to get a patent for it. Due to a mistake the police aren’t looking for him after his parents report him missing. The story is about his adventures, good and bad, while traveling from California to D.C. by bus. The author is Paul Gallico, he also wrote the Poseidon Adventure.

  3. When I was younger I was a big fan of “lost alone in the wilderness” stories, and now so are my kids. Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen is a good one, and so is The Sign Of The Beaver, by Elizabeth Spear. Summer of The Monkeys is another by Wilson Rawles that has a good message. It’s well suited for younger kids, my 9 year old loved it. We’ve all enjoyed the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle, some of the later ones, Many Waters especially, got my older kids talking about morality, and decision making. I could talk about kids’ books all day, one of my favorite things about being a parent is getting to go back and reread all the books I loved as a child.

  4. A Day No Pigs Would Die is one of my all time favorites! I remember struggling a little bit with the southern drawl when I read it as a child, but I’ll never how powerfully moving the story is!

  5. I love a good coming of age story, and I’ve read all but one of the books on your list. Did you notice, though, that aside from Bound, they all have male protagonists? I want my daughters to have great role models, too. Here’s our list:
    Girl Who Owned a City, OT Nelson, about finding independence, learning self reliance, and recovering from ones mistakes, 10 and up
    First Test (and the other three books in the Protector of the Small series), Tamora Pierce, fantasy, about determination, hard work, and not giving up. Also addresses sexism and gender roles. (It’s essentially a girl-joins-the-armed-services story), 12 and up
    American Girls books, about historical girls who serve their country, help others, and love their families, 7 and up
    Dealing with Dragons, Patricia Wrede, fantasy, about self reliance, service to others, problem solving and finding your passion in life.

  6. Oooo, don’t forget Ralph Moody! We loved Little Britches, but I think The Dry Divide is even more inspiring. Autobiography. From Amazon:

    Ralph Moody, just turned twenty, had only a dime in his pocket when he was put off a freight in western Nebraska. It was the Fourth of July in 1919. Three months later he owned eight teams of horses and rigs to go with them. Everyone who worked with him shared in the prosperity—the widow whose wheat crop was saved and the group of misfits who formed a first-rate harvesting crew. But sometimes fickle Mother Nature and frail human nature made sure that nothing was easy. The tension between opposing forces never lets up in this book.

    Especially great for boys.

    Julie

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I know plenty of people who love, love Moody’s books, but for some reason I couldn’t get into them 🙁

  7. A perfectly timed list, thank you! I’ve been on the hut for books that can help build up resilience and wiser knowledge in a very sensitive 10 year old who loves to read.
    For me, books like The Silver Sword, I Am David and Hitler’s Daughter were all important for developing greater knowledge of history, empathy and a sense of self in the wider world. I also love Harry Potter and as I was essentially the same age as Harry when each book came out they were great books for developing maturity as the story grew. I would have hated to have them censored but would have found it difficult to not read them all at once if I could have!

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks for sharing these! I agree, books build and shape us, so I am always on the lookout as well.

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Shannon- that was a typo! I am a huge Farley Mowat fan, and certainly aware that he is a man. Thank you, I have it corrected now.

  8. Three books my just-turned-ten year old and I have enjoyed recently are:

    Rules by Cynthia Lord, written from the perspective of a girl with a brother who has autism who befriends a boy her age with cerebral palsy.

    Wonder by R J Palacio, about a ten year old boy with severe cranio-facial differences entering school for the first time. A rich story including the perspectives of his sister an friends.

    Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, about a ten year old girl with severe cerebral palsy who struggles to make those around her understand just how smart and funny she is.

    I loved reading these with her. Having a kiddo with special needs in our family makes them all the more applicable.

    I also seek out biographies and autobiographies. Some of my daughter’s favourites included Amy Carmichael, Florence Nightingale, Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place is one of my favourites, she hasn’t read it yet), and Joni Erikson Tada.

    I loved Harry Potter, the kids know they will get the first on their 11th birthday then one a year from then on. I also really like Hunger Games, but depending on the kid I’d say 15+

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I have heard of Rules and Wonder, but haven’t read either. I honestly read very little fiction these days (though I read it avidly as a teen and young adult). My kids still read mostly fiction.

  9. Behind the Beautiful Forevers was a good book which takes place in a slum in Mumbai. It is about a boy who works hard for his family until a terrible event takes place and rocks the family’s life. It involves so much more though.

      1. I loved the book Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool, an adventure story about a boy grieving the loss of his mother who befriends an autistic boy at his new school. They row (in a boat) into the woods in Maine and find friendship and themselves in the process.

        Looking for Alaska (recommended by another commenter) is a good book, but has multiple examples of inappropriate teen behavior (smoking, drinking, boy/girl relationships . . .). I would only ever recommend it with parental pre-reading, for older teens, if at all.

  10. I was honored to see Where The Red Fern Grows on your list. My great uncle was Wilson Rawls and the book will always be a special book to my families hearts!

  11. I want to vote against Where the Red Fern Grows. I was emotionally scarred in fourth grade by hearing a graphic description of the child who is killed by falling on an axe in fourth grade. The teacher who read it out loud to our class had to go cry in a closet. I’ve never quite gotten over hearing about that horrible moment.

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I am sure you aren’t the only kid who was traumatized by that scene. My sixth grade teacher read the book aloud to us, and I could hardly believe that happened. I read the book out loud to my kids last year and they loved it.

  12. Caddie Woodlawn and Mrs. Mike are two of my favorites, especially for girls.

    The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok are two excellent books. Really anything by Potok is excellent, but these two are my favorites. The Chosen could be read somewhere between 10-12, but My Name is Asher Lev is probably more appreciated by a 13-15 year old.

    1. bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I personally never got into the Caddie Woodlawn books (though I tried to enjoy them). I was a fan of Potok back in high school, but haven’t read any of his books in years. Thank you for mentioning them!

  13. Not a coming of age book, but a book about books to read. This arrived in the mail about a fortnight ago, and we’ve had 3 sets of visitors ever since. It’s been picked up and read by every visitor, one of which took copious notes. My kids have also spent a stack of time taking it in. It has a half to full page synopsis of 1001 children’s books, divided into categories by age. They are not all originally in English, and are from many different countries. 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.
    http://www.amazon.com/1001-Childrens-Books-Must-Before/dp/0789318768

  14. I personally think my favorite is The Summer of the Monkeys, also by W Rawls. Not sure why its not mentioned as much. Love that book.

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