42+ of the Best Books for a 12-Year-Old

The best books for a 12-year-old

Looking for the best books for a 12-year-old? We’ve got the perfect list for you!

Having raised 4 kids through this particular age, we are well-equipped to give suggestions for children with all kinds of book preferences. We’ve got suggestions for Harry Potter-obsessed fantasy fans and graphic novels for reluctant readers.

Below, you’ll find lots of great stories divided by category. Many of the books for a 12-year-old have links to book lists with even more recommendations, so be sure to poke around.

Table of Contents

Looking for more options? We’ve got tons of genre-specific lists of books for 12-year-olds!

*The best books for a 12 year old post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you. Some books have been gifted. All opinions are our own.

Best Fantasy Books for a 12-Year-Old

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Berry

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Berry

This Peter Pan retelling finds Peter aboard a ship of sailors. He and a bunch of other orphans aboard the ship have to protect a treasure locked in a chest hidden on the ship from pirate captain Black Stache.

Think of this as the origin story of Tinkerbell, her fairy dust, and how Peter gained his ability to fly. It’s one of our favorite fairy tale retellings and is the perfect book for a 12-year-old.

Greenglass House and more family audiobooks for road trips

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

This middle-grade mystery reminded me of Harry Potter in some ways. A child is trying to uncover the secrets of Greenglass House, a hotel for smugglers and spies before the adults do.

We read this as a family read-aloud and it was wonderful. It’s one of the books for an 12-year-old that younger readers might struggle with.

Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Move over Harry Potter, there is a new middle grade fantasy series poised to take your throne! Meet Sophie Foster, a newly found elf living in the human world.

In book one of this ever-growing series, she’s taken back to the Lost Cities and sent to Foxfire Academy to learn to harness her powers as a Telepath.

In the process, she is welcomed into a new family, makes loads of friends, and uncovers a secret organization trying to destroy the human world. Books about secret societies, magical creatures, and magic? Yes, please.

All 5 of our children loved this middle grade fantasy series, and frankly, Jackie and I did too! It’s also a great family-friendly audiobook for long car trips.

We’ve got a whole list of books like KOTLC if you have already read this series of the best fantasy books for 12-year-olds.

For more fantasy books for 12-year-olds, check out our list of fantasy books for tweens.

Love Fantasy Books? We do too! That’s why we created a list of Books Like Harry Potter and Books Like Percy Jackson!

Mystery Books for 12-Year-Olds

the misfits

The Misfits by Lisa Yee

Olive is usually a misfit at every school she attends, but at her latest school, RASCH, her differences are why she’s chosen for an elite crime-fighting squad.

As she and the other Misfits go undercover to nab a prolific jewel thief, they must learn to work together and lean on one another.

Why We Love This Book: The diverse cast of characters comes alive in this story – each bringing their own quirks, skills, and differences to create a cohesive team. #Gifted by Penguin Kids
Appropriate for ages 8-12
Find this book in
Best Audiobooks for Kids / Books for 12-year-olds / Mystery Books for Kids / Best Mystery Books 2024

The Sweetness at the bottom of the pie

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

This is the first book in the Flavia De Luce series.  This 11-year-old aspiring chemist is a wonderful heroine.  I love her- she is smart and precocious.  This is a great mystery book that does not have violence. 

It is 1950 and Flavia has a love of poisons. When she finds a man taking his last breath in a cucumber patch, she is not scared at all, rather, she delights in solving the mystery. These are perfect books for a 12-year-old who loves a historical fiction mystery.

the Van gogh deception

The Van Gogh Deception by Deron R. Hicks

The first in a series of middle grade novels, this first story captured the attention of my D.C.-obsessed son. After all, it opens in the National Gallery when a boy wakes up with amnesia.

Described as Dan Brown meets Jason Bourne, it lives up to those clever titles. It’s a fast-paced art caper that will keep your tween fully engrossed. It’s the first in a must-read series of books for 12-year-olds.

For more mystery books for 12 year olds like these, check out our list of Mystery Books for Tweens

Best Family Books for a 12-Year-Old

We were liars and more books for 12-year-olds

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I chose this as my pick for books with unreliable narrators and it did not disappoint.  I will not spoil and give too many details about it.

A group of four friends spends every summer together on a private island.  Money, family, love, and an accident lead to secrets and lies. 

This book was the perfect suspense which I did not expect.  Even though I knew that the narrator was unreliable, I still had no idea where this story was going and I didn’t know it was a Shakespeare retelling of King Lear until years after I read it.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones and more 12-year-old books

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

⁣My son adored Pay Attention, Carter Jones. He loved the premise of the butler coming over to teach Carter to play cricket. He liked how Carter learned about how to be a gentleman from the butler who is strict, but exactly what the family needs during their troubling time.⁣

He’s recommended to a few of his friends already and my mom even read it and enjoyed it!⁣ It’s a heart-filled, thought-provoking read in all the best ways. It’s one of our favorite books for 12-year-olds.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and more middle grade books

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

This charming story is about a bi-racial family in Harlem with 5 kids who are about to lose their home because their reclusive landlord won’t renew their lease.⁣

My entire family enjoyed this delightful tale of the siblings trying to win their landlord over so they don’t have to leave home. Don’t worry. This is one of the best feel-good books on the list.

It was full of all the antics you would expect of a big family. ⁣You can find this book on our list of 40 of The Best Books for a 12-Year-Old as well as on our list of The Best Family Audiobooks For Road Trips and Home Listening.

The Ultimate List of Middle Grade Books for Tweens

Ultimate List of Middle Grade Books for Tweens

For even more books for a 12-year-old, this list has great picks across multiple genres.

Historical Fiction Books for 12-Year-Olds

Stella by Starlight

Stella and the Starlight by Sharon M Draper

This historical fiction novel for 12-year-olds takes place in the Depression era. Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina- the segregated south where the Klan still exists.

The book touches upon so many important concepts like the depression, voting rights, racism, family, and finding your inner strength. The book has a realistic ending, not a happy one and that left my daughter begging to read more.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Three tales in one, the book is told in alternating chapters by three narrators.  The stories feature Josef, a Jewish refugee fleeing WWII Germany, Isabel a Cuban girl on her way to Miami in 1994, and Mahmoud a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Germany in 2015. The chapters rotate between the three characters and their stories do connect at the end in a meaningful and moving way.

The characters are all about 13-years-old but shoulder burdens that would be hard for an adult to handle. Gratz accurately portrays each child’s struggle with both grace and clarity – not shying away from difficult emotions and even death. If you love this YA historical fiction book, we have a list of Powerful WWII Books for Kids.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret and more of the best books for a 9-year-old

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Don’t let the length of this mystery book for kids deter you. Even though it is on our list of long books, there are gorgeous illustrations on every other page and the writing is only a paragraph at a time.

This middle grade mystery is an amazing story of Hugo Cabret who is an orphan in the Paris train station where he winds the clocks so that nobody will discover his secrets. Soon he discovers a drawing and a notebook that will lead him to the biggest adventure of his life. This is one of the must-read books for 12-year-olds.

Best Audiobooks for a 12-Year-Old

Far from the Tree and more books for 12-year-olds

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

This novel for tweens is the winner of the National Book Award for good reason.  I adored this middle grade fiction book.  I spent half of it crying and the other half smiling.  This is such a wonderful story about Grace who is adopted at birth. 

When she finds herself pregnant, she puts her daughter up for adoption.  This prompts her to look for her biological mother.  What she finds are two siblings that she never knew about. This is an amazing story told from multiple points of view. Even though we included it in books that make you cry, you will love every moment.

The Parker Inheritance and more middle grade mystery books

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Parker Inheritance was such a fun listen! It reminded me of The Westing Game, which it references frequently and was clearly a source of inspiration in the best way.

Two new friends, both overcoming personal struggles, end up on a hunt to find a hidden fortune in the town of Lambert, South Carolina. Along the way, they encounter the racist past of the city and learned how the deep-rooted racism impacted Lambert long-term.

I loved the modern twist and more thought-provoking spin on the classic book trope of The Westing Game. It’s a must-listen and one of my favorite audiobooks for tweens!

Echo and more full cast audiobooks

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I listened to this feel-good book and it was unreal.  I want my son to read this so badly but, I also want him to listen to it as well. The full-cast audiobook plays music so it is a full sensory experience. 

The story is three tales woven together in one with a magical harmonica at the center. The story follows a harmonica as it lands in the hands of Freidrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California set during WWII.

Part fairy tale and part historical fiction, this is one of the novels about music that is amazing for middle grade and adults alike. This is a magical realism book for 12-year-olds

For more books for 12-year-olds like these, check out our list of Family Friendly Audiobooks

Books for 12-Year-Olds Set at School

Restart and more middle grade fiction

Restart by Gordon Korman

My kids all read this book one after another. In fact, they passed it to each other to read so they could all discuss it.

Chase wakes up in the hospital after falling off a roof and doesn’t remember anything- including his name. When he gets back to school, he sees how the kids react to him. Some kids worship him and other kids are terrified of him.

The questions become, who he was and who he wants to be. This is one of the best books for 12-year-olds.

Wonder and more books for a 12-year-old

Wonder by R.J Palacio

A must-read for kids in middle school, this is an amazing book about embracing differences, kindness, and being yourself.  However, this would also be a wonderful read-aloud book for a younger audience. CW: This is one of the books that will make you cry.

August Pullman is a boy with an extraordinary facial difference.  He has been homeschooled his entire life and is starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep.  This book for 12-year-olds is amazing and has a lesson about love and acceptance that everyone needs to read.

Ban this book and more realistic middle grade fiction

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

This realistic middle grade fiction story is so relevant to society today. The heroine of this story is a girl whose favorite book was just banned from her school library. She starts her own locker library filled with more banned books from the school’s library.

As she stands up for her right to read, she challenges adults in her community and learns about books’ power to unite everyone.

Love Back to School Books? We do too! That’s why we created the School Hub with all things school.

Best Spy Books for a 12-Year-Old

Mystery books for tweens

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt

What a fun story about an orphan girl tasked by the U.S. Marshalls to keep a family alive. As she enters into witness protection with them, she puts her street smarts and pick-pocketing abilities to good use.

But can she keep her new family safe? Will she be able to hide from her own past? All while avoiding any C’s in school… You’ll just have to read this tween mystery book to find out.

city spies and other mystery books for tweens

City Spies by James Ponti

MI6 has recruited a bunch of kids to be their newest spy group – the City Spies. They attend boarding school while learning various spy tactics.

Soon they get to go on a mission to Paris to put what they learned into action. Subsequent books take place in San Francisco and Beijing. At this point, this series is on our pre-order series list.

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation and more spy books for kids

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs

Charlie Thorne is a child genius and the world’s best code breaker. So the CIA has dragged her into the hunt for Albert Einstein’s hidden code. She’s trying to get it before the Furies use it to destroy the world.

Charlie is hunting for something from Charles Darwin and Cleopatra in the subsequent sequels. Each story has her using her wits to outsmart everyone around her. We love that this genius from our list of mystery books for tweens is female!

For more books for 12-year-olds like this, check out our list of spy books for kids.

WWII Books for 12-Year-Olds

Diary of a young girl

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This is the quintessential book about the Holocaust written by Anne Frank, a Jewish girl in hiding during WWII.  Although she did not live to see freedom, her father survived as did the diary that she kept during her years of hiding. 

This is a powerful book that captures the neverending capacity for hope in the human spirit. After all, Anne said it best when she said “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart”.

This is one of the non-fiction picks on the list of WWII books for kids.

The war that saved my life

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I read this realistic fiction book in a few hours and immediately ordered the sequel The War I Finally Won.  Ada is a 10-year-old girl who lives in a one-room world gazing at the world from one window.  She was born with a club foot and teaches herself to walk in secret.  When the children who lived in London were evacuated to go to the country at the start of WW2, Ada escapes her abusive mother and leaves London with her little brother.

There is so much depth to this book.  It is a Newbury Honor book and the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade. This middle grade historical fiction is a story of love and survival in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Do not be fooled by this middle grade fiction. It is emotionally crafted and brilliantly written and is my favorite on the list of WWII books for kids.

the book thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is a magical realism book that is narrated by Death. And in this haunting magical realism book, he tells the story of Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany in 1939. Liesel is living with her foster parents and learning to read from stolen books.

She also shares these books with the Jewish man who is hiding in her basement. This book is brilliant, powerful, poignant, and unforgettable. While technically a YA historical fiction book, this book is fiction at its finest and is a must-read from our list of WWII books for kids. This is one of my favorite thought-provoking books.

For more books for 12 year olds like these, check out our list of WWII books for kids.

Feel Good Books for 12-Year-Olds

Goldfish boy and more books for 12-year-olds

Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Another great read in middle-grade books.  This story is about a boy named Matthew who has severe OCD and has trouble leaving his house due to his anxiety.

Matthew is the last person to have seen the toddler next door before the four-year-old disappeared.   I love the fact that this book looks at the world from Matthew’s point of view.  It is a very readable, eye-opening book for 12-year-olds.

Hello, Universe and more books for a 12-year-old

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

This book for a 12-year-old was a Newberry Award winner for a reason. It gave the mom in me a bit of an anxiety attack when one of the characters fell down the well, but all’s well that ends well.

This tween book is a read that I’d recommend for all ages. In particular, I liked how it addressed bullying, being different, and overcoming shyness.

Song for a whale and more books for tweens

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Wow. This was one of the audiobooks for tweens I listened to with my own kids and we all just adored it.

It’s a story about a deaf girl who is struggling to connect with her community and a whale named Blue 52 who can’t find his ocean community either. She sets out to connect with Blue 52 and along the way she finds her inner strength in a beautiful way.

This middle grade book for 12-year-olds is delightful for adults too!

Animal Books for 12-Years-Olds

Pie and more realistic fiction books

Pie by Sarah Weeks

This is another realistic fiction book that every one of my children has read and loved. When Alice’s Aunt Polly dies, she takes her world-famous, secret pie crust recipe with her. In her will, she leaves the pie receipt to her cat, Lardo.

Who does she leave the cat to? Alice. Now, Alice and her friend have to find the recipe for happiness together in this endearing and funny book.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Mother Paula/s Pancakes is the most popular pancake restaurant around and they want to open their new restaurant on the site where endangered owls live.

Can the new kid in school find a way to save the owls? This book is a Newberry Honor Winner and is perfect for animal lovers of every age. This is one of the must-read books for 12-year-olds.

belly up and other mystery books for tweens

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

The first book in the FunJungle series shows Gibbs at his best – funny and clever!

After a hippo dies at FunJungle zoo, it’s up to Teddy and his friend Summer to prove that the Hippo was actually murdered.

But investigating Hippo homicide is a dangerous affair. This funny story kept this former zoo employee quite entertained. Make sure you add this book for a 12-year-old to your summer reading list!

Classic Books for a 12-Year-Old

Peter pan and more classic kids books

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is one of Kirsten’s favorite childhood stories. The magical world of Neverland with it’s pirates, mermaids, and natives is so engrossing.

The story of Peter Pan and his adventures with the Darling children have inspired countless spin-off books, movies, and theatrical productions for a reason. It’s a must-read for everyone. It’s one of the must-read books for a 12-year-old.

Holes and more mystery books

Holes by Louis Sachar

A great middle grade book about camp (and yet another that was adapted into a movie!) Holes should be on every child’s list. And, if you are looking for bedtime stories for kids, this is a great read-aloud for a younger child that cannot read this themselves.

When a boy under a curse is sent to a detention camp he’s taught to behave by digging holes all day, every day.  It doesn’t take long for him to realize he’s digging for a reason – but what are the camp wardens looking to find?

I love this pick from our mystery books for tweens, it is one that be can enjoyed by adults as well.

The Egypt Game and more family audiobooks for road trips

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Neatly Snyder

This middle grade fiction enchanted me as a young girl. The 6 “Egyptians” play in the back lot of an antique store, dressing up, performing rituals, and speaking with Oracles.

Then, a murder happens in the area and trouble comes to the lot. Don’t worry, there is a happy ending to this tween mystery book and also a sequel about gypsies!

Sports Books for a 12-Year-Old

ghost and more books for a 12-year-old

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost runs and has been running since he was a small child. He started running when his father chased him down to the street with a loaded gun and he has not stopped since.

Now, he has been chosen for an elite track team that could go to the junior Olympics if Ghost can get his act together. He has natural, raw talent that can send him all the way if he can stop his past from catching up to him. This National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature is the perfect book for a 12-year-old.

dragon hoops

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Gene does not like sports. He doesn’t like to play or watch but, the high school where he teaches is obsessed with their basketball team, the Dragons.

This graphic novel is one part memoir as the author tells about the current students and their quest for the state championship as well one part biography as we see the history of the team- including racism and sexism in the sport.

The Crossover and other books for a 10-year-old

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander has won many awards for his incredible proses. This tween novel, the first in a series, is no exception having won both the Newberry and The Coretta-Scott King Award.

The Crossover is all about Josh Bell a basketball-loving middle-schooler who also loves to rap. He learns to grow up in this coming-of-ask story about Josh, his twin, and his family.

This is one of the many tween books for a 12-year-old being adapted. Look for the book adaptation starring LeBron James coming to Disney+ soon!

Coming-of-Age Books for 12-Year-Olds

The long way down and other books for a 12-year-old

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This book for a 13-year-old takes place over the course of a 60-second elevator ride, 15-year-old Will is taking on his way to shoot his brother’s killer.

Visited by spirits at each level as he descends, he needs to decide if he should continue the cycle of street violence or let his brother’s death go unavenged. This moving book about grief is perfect for teens.

A kind of paradise

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

This is a best children’s book of 2019 for a reason. I read this as a read-aloud with both of my children (boys 6-8) even though it’s technically a middle grade book.

The story revolves around Jaime, who is being punished with community service hours at the library for the summer after she did something wrong in school. Jaime is reluctant to volunteer at first but quickly grows to love the staff and regulars at the library. I adored this charming tale and so did my kids. This is one of the books for 12-year-olds that adults will love too!

Bridge to Terabithia and more books for 12-year-olds

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

I’m pretty sure this coming-of-age tween book is required reading for everyone! Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia.

One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief. This realistic fiction book set in the 70s is an award winner for a reason.

Graphic Novels for a 12-Year-Old

New Kid and other Back-to-School Books

New Kid by Jerry Craft

This graphic novel has won numerous awards and for good reason. This is a thought-provoking story of a 7th-grade boy who wants to pursue his dream of becoming an artist.

Instead, his parents send him to a prestigious private school where he is one of the few diverse students. He can’t seem to figure out where he fits in at home or at school. This is a good one for kids who aren’t yet ready for Angie Thomas’s books.

witch boy and more graphic novels

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Boys grow up to be shapeshifters and girls become witches.  But, what if you are a boy who loves witchery? Would you show your talents if it meant you would be exiled? 

This Middle grade challenges gender stereotypes and is a perfect witch book for any middle-grade fantasy reader. Not only is the story great and the illustrations gorgeous, but the message of this book made it a must for best graphic novels of all time. This is one of the books for a 12-year-old that every child should read!

Roller Girl  and other books for a 10-year-old

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

This graphic novel is a Newbery Medal Winner and was an easy pick for a list of the best graphic novels of all time. Astrid and Nicole have done everything together until now. Astrid wants to go to roller derby camp.

And thus begins a summer of friendship, finding yourself, perseverance, and girl power. Astrid may be strong enough to endure middle school. Snag this if you are looking for a book for 12-year-olds.

Non-fiction Books for a 12-Year-Old

THe boys and the boat and more nonfiction books for kids

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I was enthralled by the heroics of the team. The sheer force of will and strength it takes to get in that boat and win. I thought I would be bored by the minutia of rowing, but I wasn’t.

The mechanical part of it, the precision, just made me appreciate the skill of rowing even more. The Olympic games gave me such a heightened sense of American pride. I was rooting for the team and cheering them on the whole time. This book for a 13-year-old has an adult version too!

Hidden Figures and more books for an 11-year-old

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Woman Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

This true and amazing story of the black mathematicians and their role in the space race reads like a fiction novel.

So many people know this story because of the movie but, the book gives so many more details- as is usually the case with adaptations. This is one of the books for a 12-year-old that adults will love too!

All Thirteen and more books for a 12-year-olds

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

This is one of the books for a 12-year-old that is a multi-award winner. It won the 2021 Newbery Honor Winner, the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Young People’s literature, and so many other awards. It is the true story of the Thai cave rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach in 2018.

The boys and the coach had gone in to explore the cave and when they went to leave, the floodwaters left them trapped inside. Complete with pictures, this story is told in a style that makes you feel like you were there.

Did you find any books for a 12-year-old to add to your home library? For more options check out our list of books for 11-year-olds or age up with our book suggestions for 13-year-old.

Book lists for 12-year-olds

Book Lists for 12-Year-Olds

For more of the best books for 12 year olds, check out this list.

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