Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Poor Margaret, an earnest, funny sixth grader whose world is turning upside down by puberty, is an Everygirl if there ever was one. From shopping for her first bra to wrestling with her religious identity, her coming of age is equal parts thrilling and frightening. Any young reader will remember the words to Margaret and her friends’ yearning chant ”We Must, We Must, We Must Increase Our Busts” for the rest of her life.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
L’Engle’s 1962 science fantasy classic was first rejected by over 26 publishers. The industry questioned heroine Meg Murry’s appeal, just as Meg’s own community underestimates her capabilities. She proves everyone wrong when she embarks on a trip with her little brother and their new friend to discover the fate of her missing physicist father. Evil exists, but it is no match for the courage of children.
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Peterson (1977)
The friendship between 10-year-old Jess and new-girl-at-school Leslie is one of the most moving in all of children’s literature. The imaginary world the two create to escape their rural small-town lives is vivid and inspired, and Peterson’s smart-kid talk keeps the fantasy real.
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Two days after her 13th birthday, and three weeks before she and her family were forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank started keeping a journal of her life by writing letters to imaginary friends. The result is an enduring and profound document not just of the Holocaust but of adolescence itself.
From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg
If only every child, who in some explosive fit of pique, had the option of running away to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s where Claudia Kincaid and her little brother Jamie hole up when their suburban life grows tedious. Grand adventures and the formidable owner of a mysterious statue await them. Running away in real life was never this much fun.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The magical parallel universe Pullman creates in his beloved His Dark Materials trilogy is intricate and fraught and crazy heart-wrenching. In the provocative first installment we meet brave Lyra, a girl bent on rescuing her friends from the terrible experiments conducted by an evil organization.
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
If you don’t already know Harry, you don’t know Jack about children today in general. Introduce yourself immediately to the embattled, bespectacled star of J.K. Rowlings’ phenomenal seven book series. He’s a good, brave lad, with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead and magic in his heart.
Holes, by Louis Sachar
After a long time atop the lofty heights of Wayside School, Louis Sachar got down in the dirt with this classic YA novel. Ancient curses, hidden treasure, and larger-than-life villains like Mr. Sir, never end up burying the human story at its center, or its excavation into the meaning of childhood friendship.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
Nothing’s going Percy Jackson’s way in the delightful first installment to the Olympians series. His enrollment in boarding school is in question, his Dad’s a no-show, there’s threat of a friend’s betrayal, and he’s got just 10 days to return Zeus’ stolen lightning belt and save a Mount Olympus from imploding in on itself.
The Series of Unfortunate Events series, by Daniel Handler (or just The Bad Beginning)
The dizzyingly bad luck that plagues the marvelous Baudelaire siblings would be a downer if the author Daniel Handler weren’t having such a ball warning the reader of all the misery and woe (and courage and wit!) contained within his Lemony Snicket series.