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Best Books: Grade 6–Grade 8

"Live always in the best company when you read," said Sydney Smith, a nineteenth-century clergyman. But how does one determine what is "best" when choosing books for young people? Good books, like good companions, should broaden a student's world, encourage him to appreciate what is lovely, and help him discern between truth and falsehood. These three concepts undergird the choices we have made for Best Books. The works listed in the general bibliographies are intended for recreational reading and focus on the first two ideas. The two sections titled "Books for Analysis and Discussion," one for grades 6-8 and another for grades 8-12, focus on the third concept and are included for the distinct purpose of helping students develop discernment. The annotated bibliographies as well as the final section, "Guidelines for Choosing Books," will provide valuable insight and help clarify how the works in these two sections might be used.


Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins. 1875. In this engaging Alcott story, one girl and seven boy cousins find plenty of adventure and a good deal of mischief to keep them-and the reader-occupied.

---. Jo's Boys. 1886. In this, the last of Alcott's family books, the "little men" are in their twenties. The boys' school has now become a fine college, and Mr. March, Laurie, Amy, and the widowed Meg have all been drawn to Plumfield, reuniting the family once again.

---. Little Men. 1871. In this Alcott classic, Jo and her German husband have established a boys' school called Plumfield. Along with the boys, Meg's twins, Demi and Daisy, and a tomboy named Nan keep Plumfield in an uproar.

---. Little Women. 1862. In this the most famous of Alcott's classics, Victorian family life is portrayed with poignance and humor. The four March girls are vivid, compelling characters whose "growing up" experiences still have universal appeal.

---. Rose in Bloom. 1876. This sequel to Eight Cousins centers on Rose's homecoming. The cousins are now all "grown up," though some of the antics reveal that there is still a good deal of childhood in them yet.


Aldrich, Thomas B. The Story of a Bad Boy. 1951. This is an adventurous, funny, and sometimes moving account of a young boy growing up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the 1800s.


Arnold, Elliott. A Kind of Secret Weapon. 1969. This story is about a young boy named Peter Andersen who must learn the meaning of loyalty, patriotism, and sacrifice as he works with his parents in the Danish Resistance against the Nazi occupation.


Burnford, Sheila. The Incredible Journey. 1961. This is a classic animal realism story about the journey of two dogs and a cat through the northwestern part of Ontario, Canada. When the animals' new owner, John Longridge, leaves for vacation, the animals set out to find their former owners. Their 250-mile journey is filled with adventure, and their story is one that animal lovers will thoroughly enjoy.


Byars, Betsy. The Summer of the Swans. 1970. In this Newbery award winning story, Sara longs to be as beautiful as her older sister Wanda. This longing makes her dissatisfied with just about everything until her younger brother Charlie, who is brain-damaged, disappears. Only then is she reminded of what is truly important and of the unique value of every individual.


Davis, Rebecca. With Daring Faith. BJU Press, 1987. This biography of Amy Carmichael shows how her strong faith and indomitable courage aided her in her mission work and in her attempts to rescue Indian children from Hindu temples.


Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. 1843. In this classic Dickens tale, the miser Scrooge receives a visit from his former partner Marley-who has been "dead as a doornail" for several years. The fettered Marley informs Scrooge that he will be receiving three more "visitors." These visitors take the old miser on myriad adventures, the result of which brings the "squeezing, grasping, clutching, covetous old Scrooge" back to his senses.


Eggleston, Edward. The Hoosier Schoolmaster 1959. In this intriguing story, Eggleston draws on his personal experiences as a Methodist circuit riding preacher for his detailed, realistic portrayal of Indian backwoods life in the 1800s.


Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. 1988. In this wonderful book of poetry, Fleischman uses vivid imagery and wonderful imaginative comparisons to recreate the "joyful noise" of a myriad of insects from bookworms to butterflies.


George, Mean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain. 1988. This is an exciting survival story about a young boy named Sam Gribley who decides to go out on his own. Having learned from his father about his great-grandfather Gribley's land in the Catskill Mountains, Sam sets out. After a fairly uneventful journey, he finds himself deep in the forest-lost, hungry, and exhausted. As time passes, however, Sam succeeds in creating a life for himself. The only problem he cannot solve is loneliness. But the coming of spring brings a surprise that solves this problem as well.


Gray, Elizabeth Janet. Adam of the Road. 1942. This is an intriguing tale set in thirteenth-century England about a young boy, Adam Quartermayne, who travels across England with his minstrel father. During these travels, Adam makes many friends and experiences many difficulties, all of which help him to mature.


James, Will. Smoky. 1926. This award-winning classic shows how a cow pony relates to western life. Milo, a young boy who has a hard time figuring out what to do with himself, discovers a phantom tollbooth and sets out on an adventure that he-and the reader-will long remember.


Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. 1957. In this Civil War story, Jefferson Davis Bussey, a farm boy, joins the Union army. While a scout, he is captured by and forced to fight for Stand Watie's rebels. He also falls in love with Lucie, a rebel girl.


Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. 1894-95. The British novelist Somerset Maugham said that in The Jungle Book Kipling's "great and varied gifts find their most brilliant expression.” This classic work captures the imagination on the first encounter and grows in richness and meaning with every reading.


Kjelgaard, Jim [James Arthur]. Big Red. 1973. This is a moving story about a champion Irish setter named Big Red and the part he plays in helping his young trainer, Danny, in his struggle toward maturity.


Latham, Jean Lee. Carry On, Mr Bowditch. 1955. This fictionalized biography of Nathaniel Bowditch is a sea story to be remembered. Bowditch is known for his pioneering in scientific navigation procedures. His story is full of adventure and provides a vivid impression of how life was in the late 1700s and early 1800s.


McCauley, David. Cathedral. 1973. This is a highly detailed, interesting picture book which not only tells but also shows how a cathedral was constructed.


MacDonald, George. The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman. 1869. Edited for young readers by Dan Hamilton, 1897. This is a rollicking adventure story about a young boy growing up in the heather hills of Scotland.


Meader, Stephen W. Boy with a Pack. 1939. Seventeen-year-old Bill Crawford peddles "Yankee notions" in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in 1837. His journeys also bring him into contact with horse thieves, canal boats, and the Underground Railroad.

---. Clear for Action. 1940. In the War of 1812, a Maine boy, Jeff Robbins, ships out on a cargo schooner bound for Cuba. But he and others are soon captured and impressed on a British frigate.

---. Whaler 'Round the Horn. 1950. This is an interesting story about a New Hampshire farm boy whose whaling career is brought to an unexpected end. After several adventures, he eventually finds a new life in Hawaii.


Meigs, Cornelia. Invincible Louisa. 1933. This is interesting biographical fiction about the life of the famous author Louisa May Alcott. The revelation of Alcott's family life will provide fascinating insights into her fiction.


Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. 1908. This is the heart-warming story of the orphan, Anne, who finds a home with an elderly brother and sister. Anne, a redheaded tomboy who loves to dream, is a winsome girl who is at times hilariously funny. Her story is a classic that is full of adventure and memorable characters.

---. Anne of Avonlea. 1909. Anne, the tomboy, has come of age and is now a teacher. But maturity has in no way diminished Anne's indomitable spirit, her penchant for the dramatic, nor her heart-warming personality.


Morey, Walt. Gentle Ben. 1965. This is a classic tale for animal lovers. The story is set in Alaska and tells of a young man named Mark Anderson who befriends a huge brown bear.


O'Dell, Scott. The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day. BJU Press, 1987. This fictional biography on the life of William Tyndale is told from young Tom Barton's viewpoint. Tom and his Uncle Jack smuggle Tyndale's newly translated Bibles into England. Their adventures keep the reader turning the page, and the lessons Tom learns prove equally engaging.

---. Island of the Blue Dolphins. 1960. Karana, the heroine of this nature story, is a young girl who has been left alone on her island. Her careful resourcefulness enables her to survive despite the dangers that surround her.

---. The King's Fifth. 1966. During the Spanish exploration of the Americas, fifteen-year-old Esteban is employed as a cartographer. In this adventurous historical tale, Esteban's work takes him on an exciting and dangerous journey in search of the fabled gold of Cibola.


Pyle, Howard. Men of Iron. BJU Press, 1993. This classic historical novel set in medieval England is about a young teen-age boy who, despite grave obstacles, rises from menial service to become a knight.


Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Yearling. 1938. This is a moving "coming of age" story about a boy named Jody Baxter and his pet fawn and their experiences in the scrub pine area of Florida.


Seredy, Kate. The Good Master: 1935. This is a moving epiphany story about a Hungarian girl, Kate, who comes to live with her uncle (the Good Master) on his farm.


Serraillier, Ian. The Silver Sword. 1959. This is a fascinating, compelling story about three Polish children who are searching for their lost father. Their search is a dangerous one and one which takes them across Europe during World War II.


Speare, Elizabeth George. The Bronze Bow. 1961. In this story, Daniel, desiring revenge for the murder of his parents by the Romans, decides to join Rosh's outlaw band in the hills. But a meeting with Christ changes his life.

---. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. 1958. Katherine "Kit" Tyler, an English girl from Barbados, comes to Connecticut unannounced to live with her Puritan uncle and aunt. Her different ways not only make her feel like an outcast but also place her in grave danger.


Sperry, Armstrong. Call It Courage. 1968. In this Newbery Medal winner of 1941, a Polynesian boy who fears the water and gains the scorn of his people must redeem himself by an act of courage.


Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. 1883. In this classic a young boy, Jim, narrates his many adventures with pirates and their quest for booty.


Street, James. Goodbye, My Lady. 1941. Skeeter lives with his Uncle Jess in the Mississippi swamps and finds a rare breed of hunting dog. Skeeter patiently trains the dog whom he has named Lady, and the two become close. The day comes, however, when Skeeter must choose between his love for Lady and doing what is right.


Sutcliff, Rosemary. Dawn Wind. 1961. An intriguing story of a Britisher, Owain, who survives the battle with the Saxons at Aquae Sulis and helps a young girl, Regina, regain her health.

---. Eagle of the Ninth. 1954. In this Sutcliff story, a young centurion embarks on a difficult and dangerous quest in Roman Britain.

---. Knight's Fee. 1960. This story takes place in England after the Battle of Hastings. The action revolves around Randal, a kennel boy who was won in a chess game and given to a knight to raise.

---. Lantern Bearers. 1950. Aquila, one of the Roman soldiers to leave Britain with the Roman auxiliaries, finds that he has grown accustomed to and longs for Britain.

---. The Mark of the Horse Lord. 1965. In this adventure story, Phaedrus, a former slave and Roman gladiator, becomes a prince of the Dalriadain.

---. The Silver Branch. 1957. In Roman Britain, a young centurion and a young surgeon bring back the lost standard, the Eagle of the Ninth, into a battle.

---. Simon. 1980. The scene is the English Civil War in Oliver Cromwell's time. Simon Carey and his best friend, Amias Hannaford, fight on opposite sides.

---. Warrior Scarlet. 1958. Set during the Bronze Age, this is the story of young Drem who must prove his manhood.


Trease, Geoffrey. Cue for Treason. 1941. In this mystery, set in Elizabethan England, Peter Brownrigg, a beginning actor, befriends Kit Kirkstone, a girl playing boy's parts in English plays. Together they help to uncover a plot against the queen.

---. Message to Hadrian. 1955. This historical story takes place when the Roman Empire was at its height. Young Paul from the wild island of Britain travels to Rome in the excitement and urgency of outwitting the Roman "Mafia."

---. Web of Traitors. 1953. This story, set in ancient Athens, tells of Alex who discovers a plot by the Spartans to overthrow the state.


Tunis, John R. Duke Decides. 1941. Duke Wellington, the "Iron Duke," is captain of the track team at Harvard and goes on to the Olympics in Berlin.

---. Go, Team, Go. 1954. A championship basketball team from an Indiana high school has a star player expelled for gambling. After an unexpected loss and resignation of the first string, the substitutes take the floor.

---. Silence over Dunkerque. 1962. Sergeant Williams and one of his men are left behind in the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Rescued by a young French girl, Williams is eventually reunited with his family.


Ullman, James Ramsey. Banner in the Sky. 1954. This is a compelling adventure story about a sixteen-year-old named Rudi who attempts to climb the highest mountain in Switzerland.


Verne, Jules. Around the World in Eighty Days. 1873. In this delightful classic, Phineas Fogg and his valet make their famous journey around the world.

---. Journey to the Center of the Earth. 1864. In this science fiction tale, Axel, his uncle, and a guide travel to the earth's center through an extinct volcano in Iceland.

---. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 1870. In this, another of Verne's science fiction classics, the brilliant scientist, Captain Nemo, explores undersea life in his submarine, The Nautilus.


Wyss, Johann David. The Swiss Family Robinson. 1813. This enduring tale vividly recounts the ingenuity, adventures, and antics of a Swiss family forced to survive on a desert island after being shipwrecked.


Yates, Elizabeth. Amos Fortune, Free Man. 1950. At-Mun, a young African prince, is captured by slave traders and brought to Massachusetts in 1710. As a slave, he wins others' respect by his honesty and competence. After buying his freedom, he touches many lives.

---. Sound Friendships. BJU Press, 1992. Willa Macy, who cannot hear, meets Honey, a Hearing Dog. Together they find a new world of independence and security.


Books for Analysis and Discussion


Note: The following books might be used on the junior high level for the purpose of developing discernment in reading. Before being recommended, however; each book should be previewed by a parent or a teacher to determine its value for the individual student. The student's reading should be followed by a guided discussion that addresses the issues mentioned in the annotation and any other issues of concern to the parent or teacher. (For additional information on evaluating books with these purposes in mind, see pp. 157-66.)


Armstrong, William H. Sounder. 1969. This is a compelling story about a black sharecropping family during the 1930s. The story provides an accurate, vivid portrayal of the circumstances faced by pre-civil-rights black families. The overall tone of the story is positive but the seriousness of the themes needs to be discussed.


Clifford, Eth. The Remembering Box. 1985. A well-written book about the relationship between a Jewish boy and his aging grandmother. The relationship between the grandmother and grandson is very positive, and the death of the grandmother is dealt with in a realistic but non-sentimental way. The story avoids the sensationalism that is prevalent in much of children's literature today. However, the concept of death apart from a Christian context should be addressed.


Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. 1944. This classic revolutionary war story centers on a young silversmith apprentice named Johnny Tremain. Through a tragic accident Johnny changes from a cocky, immature boy to a humble, courageous young man. Although the moral tone of the story is positive, there are a few objectionable elements (e.g., profanity) which should be addressed in their context.


Henry, Marguerite. King of the Wind. 1948. This moving story won the 1949 Newbery Medal. It is the story of Sham, a beautiful red stallion born in the Sultan of Morocco's stable, and of a stable boy named Agba. Their adventures take them from the Sahara to France and finally to England. This is a beautifully written book, and although racing and racehorses are included in the plot, these elements play a minor role. The primary action focuses on the relationship between Agba and Sham. However, such issues as horse racing would need to be addressed in the context of the story.


Kelly, Eric. The Trumpeter of Kracow. 1928. This 1929 Newbery Award winning fiction is set in Poland during the middle ages. The story opens with action and continues to hold interest to the last page. The Tartar invasion of Kracow and other historical moments are recorded with vivid, exciting detail. There are, however, some objectionable elements (e.g., magic and superstition) which should be discussed in the historical context of the story.


Lisle, Janet Taylor. Afternoon of the Elves. 1989. This story, though powerful, should be used only if the maturity level of the reader will allow him to glean positive lessons from a guided discussion of the story. The novel shows the vivid contrast between a child who has a secure, nurturing home environment and one who must face life without these advantages. The major drawback to the story is its resolution. Without a Christian context, there was no way to end the book without a lingering note of despair. This point must be discussed if the story is to be of value. The primary benefit of reading such a book is that it may broaden a child's perspective, helping him see what some children must face in a fallen world. Such a perspective can be used to develop a greater compassion and sensitivity toward those who need Christ.


MacLachlan, Patricia. The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. 1988. An intriguing, winsome story about a young girl growing up. The overall tone of the story is positive. There are, however, some objectionable elements which should be addressed (e.g., the erroneous concept of prayer presented in the story).


Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Shiloh. This is a moving story about a young boy who tries to reconcile his love for a dog with his responsibility to do what is right. The resolution of the story has merit, but there are also some ethical questions that need to be addressed (e.g., profanity, lying, the mistreatment of animals, the rights that come with personal property, and the concept of God). A good companion book to study with this one is James Street's Goodbye, My Lady. Street's book deals with some of the same issues, but reconciles them in a more clear-cut, ethical manner. The concept of God presented in this story should also be discussed.


Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins. 1978. This is a realistic look at a foster child's life and the problems such a child faces. The overall tone of the story is positive, and Bible reading and other religious activities are, for the most part, dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Also, the issue of understanding people who may at first seem unappealing is handled admirably. The ending, though not "happily ever after," is hopeful. Besides the serious subject matter of the book, there are also a few objectionable elements that should be discussed in the context of the story (e.g., profanity).


Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry. 1976. This is a 1977 Newbery Medal winner which provides a compelling portrayal of a black sharecropping family in Mississippi during the '50s. Some disturbing elements (e.g., burnings) which are historically accurate need discussion. Much, however, can be learned from the book. It is especially valuable for generating discussion on various historical and ethical issues.


Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Although not regarded as highly as Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer is enjoyed more by children. The adventures of Tom and Huck are exciting and often amusing. There are, however, several issues involving the behavior of the characters which should be addressed after the stories are read.