The Book Clinic: Too young for teen books

In a new fortnightly feature, Isabel Popple, lead bookseller at our Truro bookshop, answers your book-based questions to help you in your search for the perfect read. This week she’s looking at finding great books for advanced younger readers whilst avoiding those teen titles which might not yet be so suitable…

“My daughter is 10 but has a reading age of 14, and I don’t want her reading teenage books with lots of violence or adult content. What do you recommend?”

The teenage section can, for parents, be a real minefield, especially for parents with younger children who want to read older books. The tricky thing is, of course, that a lot of the books in this department are written for teenagers, emphasis on the teen, so their themes are always going to be darker than books written for younger age-groups. There will be boys and kissing, there will be ‘issues’ (eg. familial problems, or growing-up dilemmas), and quite often they will be written from a genre perspective – a touch of fantasy, sci-fi or dystopia – genre being a subtle and simple way of introducing adult concepts without being preachy. I do find that a lot of parents who visit the teenage section are adverse to genre, but a lot of the best books for younger teen readers do come under this category because the more ‘reality’ based titles tend to have much more adult themes and content, which probably wouldn’t be suitable for your daughter. I’ve outlined below some great teen books to get your daughter started – some ‘real’, some ‘genre’ – but that don’t delve too deeply into subject matters that she might not be ready for.


One Dollar HorseThe One Dollar Horse, Lauren St John

A book that feels like a classic and a modern fairytale all wrapped up in one, it tells the story of Casey Blue, a horse fanatic who dreams of competing in the Badminton Horse Trials. But growing up as part of a one-parent family in East London means this is likely never to happen – until she buys a horse for one dollar and gets the chance to change her future. It’s a story not so much about horses as about following dreams and believing in yourself; Casey encounters various struggles but always picks herself up and keeps going. There is a romantic interest, but it’s very chaste.


Eagle of the NinthEagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

One of the first examples of historical fiction I remember reading as a child, a book that has lasted the test of time, and is now a movie to boot. It is the story of a Roman soldier, Marcus, as he and his slave Esca travel into the northern wilds of Britain to try and uncover the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion. With both adventure and an enticing view into the details of Roman, this would be a good choice if your daughter has enjoyed books like the Percy Jackson series or Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.


EragonEragon, Christopher Paolini

This is the story of a boy – Eragon – transported from his lowly farming life to one of adventure and magic after he finds a strange, highly polished stone in the forest – not a stone, but a dragon’s egg. Eragon is classic fantasy, and Paolini has clearly been influenced by world such as The Lord of the Rings, but has brought his own fantasy world to life in an easier and more engaging manner. The first of four chunky books, there’s plenty here for your daughter to get her teeth into.




HolesHoles, Louis Sachar

A really excellent character story. Stanley has been sent to a juvenile detention centre for a crime he – obviously – didn’t commit. But this is no ordinary detention centre: told to dig holes five foot wide by five foot deep, Stanley soon starts to question what is really going on, to challenge authority, and is ultimately led into digging up his family’s past. Anything by Louis Sachar is a good bet for your daughter, with his well-rounded characters, sense of adventure, and literary style, especially if she likes books by Frank Cottrell Boyce or David Walliams.


Northern LightsNorthern Lights, Philip Pullman

Equally real and fantastical, Northern Lights’ protagonist, Lyra, lives in a world remarkably similar to our own and yet remarkably different. Sometimes known by it’s filmic title, The Golden Compass, this is a book full of mysteries and ideas and interesting concepts to bring out the philosopher in your daughter, but it is also a true adventure, with hot air balloons, talking bears, witches, and plenty more to capture her imagination. It’s also exceedingly well written and has great depth.




IngoIngoHelen Dunmore

When Sapphire and Conor’s father is lost at sea, they refuse to believe the worst, but in their search for him they’re drawn into a new world: Ingo, the underwater world of the mer people, a place that draws you in, where time and life mean different things to what they mean on dry land. Set in picturesque Cornwall and written by an award-winning author, Ingo is a book that both flows like the tides and the rhythm of the sea whilst asking questions and generating a gripping adventure. A natural step up from Liz Kessler’s Philippa Fisher series.


You could also try:

2012 Costa Children’s winner Maggot MoonSally Gardner (actually, anything by Sally Gardner); The Seeing StoneKevin Crossley-Holland; The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater; I Am Number Four, Pittacus LoreThe Knife of Never Letting Go by the award-winning Patrick NessThe Graveyard BookNeil GaimanThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeMark Haddon; SabrielGarth Nix, Mortal EnginesPhilip Reeve; Un Lun DunChina Mieville. Or why not try some classics such as Anne of Green Gables, Lucy MontgomeryLittle WomenLouisa Maway Alcott; or Swallows and AmazonsArthur Ransome.


Isabel Popple, for


Do you have a question for The Book Clinic?

Whether you’re trying to find the next fix for your Science Fiction addiction, looking for the perfect literary page turner for your holidays, or just can’t face ploughing through all the PG Wodehouse books to find the truly great ones – whatever the dilemma, let us know in the comments below…


11 thoughts on “The Book Clinic: Too young for teen books

  1. Thanks very much for this post. I read a fair few of these titles (which were all excellent!) when I was in my teens and wasn’t always in the mood for the usual, sometimes grittier ‘teenage’ subject matters that now seem to dominate the shelves of this genre. We need more books like this!

  2. Aged 8, my reading age was 14. My parents aren’t readers so they never paid too much attention to what I was reading, namely my teenage sister’s books! However, now I’ve grown up into a responsible bookseller, it’s helpful to know which books to recommend to today’s advanced readers. Great post!

  3. I’m almost 12 I have a mature reading age, do you think I would be able to read books from the teen section. If not what books do you recommend?

  4. Hi Ana, in the bookshop I work in, we often get lots of people your age who want to read books from the teenage/YA section, so I definitely think you could. Honestly, the main difference between the 9-12 section and the teen section is the subject matter: the words and language will probably not be much more difficult than you’re already reading – it’s mostly the types of stories and the things that happen within them that are different. The thing with the teenage section is that it includes books that adults would consider to be suitable for your age, as well as books that are aimed at older teenagers (‘older’ meaning subjects and content that adults consider to be ‘more adult’). And the thing with people is that everyone is different and are ready for different things at different ages. So if you feel like you want to be reading more mature stuff than you find in the 9-12 section, then definitely take a look at the teen section…

  5. (cont). If you’re not sure about any of the books I suggested above, have you tried ‘Geek Girl’ by Holly Smale? Or you could pop along to your local bookshop and have a chat with the booksellers in there – they should be more than willing to help – to find out what you like and what you’re looking for and help you pick something out

    • Loads! I’ll do a full book clinic edition on this subject, but meanwhile check out David Levithan, or Alex As Well, or Ask the Passengers

  6. Great post! I love the “one dollar horse” it sounds incredible and it is incredible! :) I’m nearly 12, and my teachers are very strict about the books our class read, and this one they all thought was perfect!!

    thanks again! :P

    • Thanks Jessica! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Lauren St John’s got a new horse story coming out next year, so keep your eye out for it!

  7. Recommendations please for short story compilations good for reading aloud to groups of children aged 7-9 and 9-11.

  8. Helen – Im wondering if something by Roald Dahl would be suitable for your reading aloud ? Also I’d recommend The Black Stallion as a good book for reading at that age group. Louis Sachar was very popular at that age in our house. Hover Car Racer was a good one too. And especially the Jenny Nimmo books are fabulous at that age – there are various titles and series that are good !

What do you think?