Please recommend books for a tween boy
June 9, 2011 11:18 AM   Subscribe

My eleven-year-old son needs more books. What would the hivemind recommend?

My first AskMefi question! I'd like to drag my son out of Minecraft and Angry Birds (at least some of the time) and into more books. He likes reading, but seems bored by most stuff meant for his age group. He enjoyed the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series and the "Bone" graphic novels. He always leans towards graphic novels and comics (which are great), but could use more straight text books that will grab his interest. He: is scary smart, has a dry/sarcastic/dark sense of humor, is very tech savvy, is quiet and introverted, is not interested in sports, is not very interested in strong fantasy or scifi themes (heck, that's all I read at that age). Books where a nerdy kid solves complex problems/puzzles and saves the day are a plus. What do your tweens like to read, or what did you love to read when you were eleven?
posted by bluemoonegg to Media & Arts (77 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

the Artemis Fowl series!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is very popular, too.
posted by estlin at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh lord. We go through about 2 or 3 books a week for my kids who are this age. I'll try to compile a list tonight.
posted by GuyZero at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth
posted by uans at 11:24 AM on June 9, 2011

Hatchet - I hope it's not too dated, but it was one of the few non-sci fi books boys read back in my day. It was like the male version of Julie of the Wolves.
posted by lesli212 at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Giver by Lois Lowry
posted by pointystick at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

My little brother and I liked Gary Paulsen at that age, especially Hatchet.
posted by MadamM at 11:26 AM on June 9, 2011

He's exactly the age I was when I discovered Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series. I know you said "no sci-fi," but the humor may carry it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Artemis Fowl. Amazing series!!
posted by AlliKat75 at 11:28 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My fifth grader with similar tastes in media likes Margaret Peterson Haddix's books.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2011

Books where a nerdy kid solves complex problems/puzzles and saves the day are a plus.

John Bellairs' books - start with The House with a Clock in its Walls and The Figure in the Shadows.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was addicted to reference books when I was his age, and really wasn't all that into novels/stories so much — that's what tv is for, right? Dictionaries, a medical encyclopedia, books about aircraft, National Geographic magazine, and anything else with a map in it was at the top of my stack. I read them the same way normal people read novels. I was the youngest in my family, and I was just trying to catch up so that I could understand all the grown-up things going on around me.
posted by heyho at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Holes by Louis Sachar.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Evil Genius and Genius Squad

Maybe Diana Wynne Jones more realistic ones? I'm rereading everything she wrote right now, and things like The Ogre Downstairs don't really strike me as straight "fantasy."
posted by wending my way at 11:35 AM on June 9, 2011

If he's not into scifi or fantasy, he might like Hatchet and the books that follow.

Maze Runner series

Scat, Flush, and Hoot by Carl Hiasen.
posted by Fairchild at 11:35 AM on June 9, 2011

My Side of the Mountain.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:39 AM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My 5th son was greatly impressed by Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk. So much so, that he sought him out here in LA.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:39 AM on June 9, 2011

Seconding Holes! And follow it up with a large dose of Sideways Stories.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It's a non-campy Clue for sarcastic teenagers, and excellent.
posted by carsonb at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

The AI Gang series by Bruce Coville
Space Station Ice-3 by Bruce Coville

Both out of print. Both totally awesome.
posted by Logic Sheep at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Artemis Fowl series as (probably) being something he would really enjoy, and really, all of Eoin Colfer's books are funny and excellent -- our 10 year old has eaten up everything this man has written. Half Moon Detective Agency is another Colfer that's a very good read.
posted by mosk at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2011

Seconding John Bellairs books, and The Westing Game.

If you can find it, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) (also by Ellen Raskin) is good too.
posted by Lucinda at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's about the age I was when I read Ender's Game. I wasn't really into sci-fi either and that book didn't seem very sci-fish to me.

I think I read about 125 of those Goosebumps books from 10-11.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Inasmuch as your kid sounds like me at that age, I'd like to second, My Side of the Mountain and its sequel, Far Side of the Mountain. Not whatever the third one was called, though.

Mainly, though, Maniac Magee.
posted by cmoj at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (series of 13 books). I loved those books when I was 12, and the theme and tone of the books fit perfectly with your description of him. Stay away from the movie, though.
posted by coraline at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things my 11-year-old is loving: Hugo Cabret (graphic novel, mystery + historical fiction), The Hunger Games trilogy, The Maze Runner books, Wrinkle in Time, Terry Pratchett (Only You Can Save Mankind, Johhny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb, Truckers, Diggers, Wings), Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, Coraline, Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass, the Oz books...

But if you're in the bay area at all, memail me. My daughter's 3 bookshelves are overflowing and I'm taking most of the contents of the answers above to Salvation Army in the next two weeks unless I find someone who wants 'em.
posted by Gucky at 11:49 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras
Bartimaeus Trilogy

I think given what you said about him he might also particularly enjoy Little Brother
posted by pyro979 at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Jerry Spinelli, and the YA books by Terry Pratchett and Carl Hiaasen.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2011

Seconding the Haddix books, Harry Potter (yes, I know, old news, but worth a mention), the Percy Jackson series, and my eldest is really into Ender's Game now.
posted by rich at 11:55 AM on June 9, 2011

When I was 11, I loved the books being named in this thread.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:00 PM on June 9, 2011

James Bond.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2011

Best answer: Your son and my son are practically doppelgangers.

Nthing the John Bellairs books. I LOVED those books as a kid and last weekend just got 6 of them for my son!

Westing Game, yes, but also my childhood favourite by the same author: The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)

There's Meanwhile: Pick Any Path, which my son also likes a lot.

Also the Blue Balliet books. Yes!

I'm going against the grain and saying that I heartily dislike Artemis Fowl books. Even my child-self would have recognised that they're poorly written and dumb (read only the first two though). They're kind of like the Michael Bay of YA books.
posted by methroach at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2011

Daniel Half Human

Of Mice and Men


Anything by Markus Zusak (Book Thief is amazing, but probably a little too difficult at this point).
posted by guster4lovers at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2011

Best answer: The Mysterious Benedict Society is right up his alley.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:11 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

How does he feel about dystopian futures? Because Unwind by Neal Shusterman is super dark and all kinds of awesome.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:17 PM on June 9, 2011

Check out some books by Zylpha Keatley Snyder...some of her stuff is more girly but The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid (I think there are 4 books in the series) are awesome.

How about From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? Or anything by that author.

Oh and this is probably a given, but what about the Harry Potter series?

Seconding The Giver (that book blew my mind in 5th grade) and anything else by Lois Lowry.
posted by radioamy at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Phantom Tollbooth. It's a classic!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

For some old-school adventure:

The Horatio Hornblower Series - Totally swashbuckling with lots of action
Kim by Kipling - Follows the adventures of a boy about your sons age. Spies and Colonial India.
The Great Brain series - A somewhat true story told by the brother of a kid genius who uses his brain to get himself into a lot of money making schemes and a lot of trouble.
Of course, the classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:37 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Books where a nerdy kid solves complex problems/puzzles and saves the day are a plus

From this, The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy.
posted by qldaddy at 12:40 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My 11 year old niece is just starting to get into Terry Pratchet books, I know they are set in a fantasy world, but I wouldn't call them fantasy novels as such, they just happen to be set in a fantastical world. He's written a whole bunch of books for YA my niece likes the Tiffany Aching books but he's done a whole series "Truckers", "Diggers" and "Wings" which might appeal to a boy more. I got into the discworld novels at about his age.

If he's not into reading fiction have you tried non fiction books? They are all my nephew will read. He thinks fiction is a waste of time but will plough through adult books on dog training or birds or science with a dictionary in one hand. Or take him to the library and let him pick out any books that interest him, if he's picked them he might be more invested in reading them.
posted by wwax at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2011

I just noticed AbeBook's feature "50 Books for an 11-year-old." Of the books on the list which I have read, I think he would most like Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth (still a favorite of mine), and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series. When I was his age I also enjoyed E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game.

Although I've never read it, your son may enjoy Ellen Raskin's puzzle mystery, The Westing Game.
posted by lrrosa at 12:44 PM on June 9, 2011

Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass series?

Intriguing introduction to internal politics and shifting alliances, while being absolutely epic. (avoid the so-so movie).
posted by vitabellosi at 12:54 PM on June 9, 2011

2nding Mysterious Benedict Society (and its sequels, MBS & Perilous Journey + MBS & Prisoners Dilemma). The series is precisely about scary smart quiet and introverted kids saving the day.
posted by apparently at 12:59 PM on June 9, 2011

I loved the McGurk Mysteries by E. W. Hildick when I was that age.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:00 PM on June 9, 2011

Everything Gary Paulsen is worthwhile. There's a reason he's got 10 bazillion Newberries.
The Giver, as mentioned
I read "The Yearling" at 11, super awesome.
My Side of the Mountain
Harry Potter--all
Secret of NIMH
The Great Gilly Hopkins
...that's what pops into my mind.
posted by TomMelee at 1:05 PM on June 9, 2011

Seconding the Great Brain series. I also remember liking the Wrinkle in Time books and the Fairy Book series.
posted by troywestfield at 1:24 PM on June 9, 2011

When I was around that age I remember reading a lot of Bruce Coville, Avi, and William Sleator. Coville's mostly sci-fi, but I don't know, they're more settings than "hard sci-fi."
posted by Busoni at 1:31 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to recommend Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, which I first read around age 11 too. It is SF but very accessible, and it definitely fulfills your smart kids solving problems and saving the day criteria.
posted by maybeandroid at 1:43 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

His Dark Materials
Anything (YA) by Roald Dahl
Harry Potter (nthing)
posted by getawaysticks at 1:43 PM on June 9, 2011

Anything by William Durbin (my father). Start with The Broken Blade.
posted by rdurbin at 2:00 PM on June 9, 2011

Seconding the Hunger Games trilogy, the teenage dystopia of choice according to my mother the middle school teacher.
posted by vecchio at 2:03 PM on June 9, 2011

Best answer: In addition to the recommendations for The Phantom Tollbooth and Roald Dahl...

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths
Lemony Snicket
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (no previous affection for sci-fi necessary)
Good Omens
The Annotated Alice
Lies My Teacher Told Me (it'd be great to read this while still in grade school!)

I would also recommend, believe it or not, Gödel, Escher, Bach. My dad gave me that book when I was about his age. Changed my life, even if I only understood so much of it. He told me to start off just reading the dialogues, but of course my curiosity took me to the denser chapters. I'd also heartily recommend the easier Hofstadter books Metamagical Themas and The Mind's I.

When I was his age, I read a lot of nonfiction on various topics of interest, plus Stephen King, Piers Anthony, and Clive Barker, but that's all firmly fantasy/horror stuff.

Personally, I think it might be best to take him to the library and let him go to those sections of the library where there are nonfiction books in categories that interest him. He can leaf through those sections until he finds something of interest.

I'd also recommend letting him pick some books that are just slightly above his reading level. I'm seeing a lot of books aimed squarely at bright 11-year-olds, which is good, but I remember reading grown-up books as a kid, with a dictionary by my side, and accepting that as a challenge.

Your kid might also just plain enjoy reading an actual encyclopedia - not Wikipedia, but an old Encyclopedia Britannica (none of this World Book crap). My dad bought an EB, albeit outdated, from a library sale, and it was one of my favorite things on the planet to read. It was also a good pointer towards finding topics to explore more deeply.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:17 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd second, third, Nth many of the books already mentioned, but I want to single out Kim for special mention. I didn't read it as a kid because I was all, "ew, dumb boy book about boring stuff". I didn't read it as a teenager because I was all, "Kipling colonialist patriarchal irrelevant dumb-face blah blah blah". Then a few years ago a friend recommended it to me - and it's amazing! Whatever reservations you have about it, seriously, Kim is still one of my favorite novels to this day. People who don't like Kim don't like reading.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 PM on June 9, 2011

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole - Sue Townsend

The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay (?)
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:23 PM on June 9, 2011

Knee Deep in Thunder by Sheila Moon. My mom read to my two sisters and I at bedtime until we were well past your son's age, and this is probably the book that I most remember her reading to us. I suppose you would class it as fantasy, but there are no small persons with hairy feet or unicorns. Powerful book.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. No, I know Bradbury always gets lumped into SF, but this is not science fiction. Closer to autobiography. I read it first when I was your son's age, and then re-read it yearly throughout junior high and high school.

Also when I was eleven, I started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. You'd need to reckon whether Holmes would tickle your son's fancy--I mean, I know I was a great big nerd who absolutely reveled in the period-ness of the plots, characters, sensibilities, language, etc, and I LOVED the original illustrations that my copy reprinted. I also know it's not for everyone.

I have never read Kim, but I did read and enjoy the stuffing out of Kipling's The Jungle Books--NOT the Disney movie take; the original. There's a lot more in there than Mowgli's story.
posted by miss patrish at 2:53 PM on June 9, 2011

Ooooooo! I'll plug a couple of Australian Authors. I enjoyed them a lot as an adult, but then I read a lot of "kids" fantasy.

Garth Nix's books are excellent, both the Keys to the Kingdom and the Abhorsen series. Both fantasy. Keys to the Kingdom fits the "nerdy boy" pre-req as well.

My neice, who is frighteningly smart and about his age, also loves the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish, called Foundling in the States. Bonus, illustrations, but not a graphic novel. Also fantasy.
posted by arha at 2:54 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, the Hitchhiker's series. They're only incidentally sci-fi books; they're primarily works of humor. I had all four books when I was about his age, and I read them so many times they fell apart. The humor is more on the zany side, but there are definitely dry/dark/fatalistic elements in there, as well.

They may be aimed at a slightly younger audience—I don't remember how old I was when I read them—but I loved The Three Investigators books when I was a kid. They fit "nerdy kid solves puzzles and saves the day" to a T.

I was probably around eleven when I first read Poe.
posted by ixohoxi at 3:07 PM on June 9, 2011

For "nerdy kid solves complex problems/puzzles and saves the day," Raskin's The Westing Game as mentioned above is a must. It's probably my favorite book I read during childhood.

Around that age level, I was also reading a lot of Konigsburg. The View from Saturday was my favorite, but ...Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler seems to be a particularly popular selection.

The Boxcar Children series was full of fun little mysteries. I can't remember if I was still reading those by the time I was 11, but it might be worth a try to see if he likes.

Per Flannery Culp's (nice nick, btw, I love The Basic Eight) post above, I agree that Shusterman's Unwind is fantastic, but it might be a little dark for his age level. I think I could've handled it at 11, but it's something I would judge based upon my kid's maturity level. It's certainly thought-provoking and would be a great read in a couple years if he's not ready for it yet.
posted by 1901gunner at 3:08 PM on June 9, 2011

He might like A Wrinkle in Time. Slightly fantastic, but it's really a clever, philosophical book. I read it around that time, and I loved it.

Definitely A Phantom Tollbooth! The word-nerdery alone was glorious for me.

I also enjoyed (and still enjoy!) The Dark is Rising and all the other books in that series. It's based on Welsh myth and a lot of older English folklore and tradition, and I was drawn into that world. Plus it's got the whole boy-saving-the-world thing going on, and I can't imagine he'd dislike that!

If you get him into Roald Dahl now, then he'll love Dahl's adult short stories, some of which are deliciously evil. I read many of them when I was in middle school.

There are some fantastic books in this thread.
posted by ElectricBlue at 3:20 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What incredible suggestions! I've got an Amazon cart building up and he's excited about getting new books. He gets a little overwhelmed in book stores and libraries and has a hard time trying to pick something. I'm hoping getting some of these will give him a great summer of reading. "Iron and Silk" looks especially promising as I forgot to mention his fascination with Chinese culture and history. All recommendations are very welcome and very much appreciated and I have a feeling I'll be reading many of these myself...
posted by bluemoonegg at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2011

Two "kid-tested" recommendations coming from a son with similar tendencies:

The Shredderman series are very entertaining. Tales about a kid who happens to be an undercover secret agent.

Also, recently featured here on MeFi, I can't recommend enough the Cartoon History of the Universe volumes by Larry Gonick. These may be the most "re-read" books in my son's library.

Also, no mention of Harriet the Spy yet? Man, I loved that book around that age, come to think of it I need to get a copy for my son.
posted by jeremias at 5:31 PM on June 9, 2011

In reference to the awesome people who suggested Ellen Raskin books - last year a lot of her books that had been out of print for YEARS went back into print. I am completely stoked about this as they were very hard to find for a long time.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:18 PM on June 9, 2011

The AI Gang series by Bruce Coville
Space Station Ice-3 by Bruce Coville

Both out of print. Both totally awesome.

the My Teacher Is An Alien series is also great. i love Bruce Coville

the Horrible Histories series is fun

his fascination with Chinese culture and history

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
can't go wrong with kung fu detective stories

I read Edgar Allan Poe at that age. Maybe some Sherlock Holmes as well. and lots of crappy Star Wars tie-in novels
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:19 PM on June 9, 2011

I want to second stitcherbeast's suggestion of making above-grade-level books available too.

Right around that age is when my sister and I started reading "adult" books. Of course, you may not want to start him with The World According to Garp, as happened in my family, but he may enjoy some fiction that you like as well. If he was into Japan, I'd recommend giving him Shogun (I read and loved it at around that age). Maybe look for historical fiction set in China?

Looking at my shelves, I might recommend the following:

Nthing Ender's Game - I think it explores how much a kid can do when really pushed/allowed

Young Miles - hero is 17, but after failing the physical military academy entrance exams winds up in control of a mercenary fleet.

Nthing the Hunger Games series ... 1st is best. (yes, I'm 25 and still buy young adult novels)

Nthing Perseus Jackson - I'm in the middle of this series. not as good as Harry potter, but entertaining. Probably a lower reading level than anything else I've listed

Harry Potter - obviously :)

1632 - if he's at all into european history, this book is a fun thought experiment of what would happen if you transplanted a west Virginia town into seventeenth century Germany. Democracy and upheaval ensues. Has some young adult characters, but not really preteens.

Nthing Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett ... They should be a great match for your sons sense of humor. All their books, not just the ones aimed at kids. Terry Pratchett's are probably easier to read. I think an aunt gave me Small Gods at around your sons age, and Good Omens made the rounds of my 9th grade class.

I really liked Tom Clancy in middle school, as much as I hate to admit it now :)

I had a collection of nicely-bound classics that I loved at that age, and asked for for birthdays - lots of Twain, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

The same 12-year-old summer my dad gave me garp (I loved it, went off to read more Irving) he also gave me Stranger in a Strange Land (also loved), slaughterhouse five and catch22 (didn't really get into these, but reread when older).
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:32 PM on June 9, 2011

The same 12-year-old summer my dad gave me garp (I loved it, went off to read more Irving) he also gave me Stranger in a Strange Land (also loved), slaughterhouse five and catch22 (didn't really get into these, but reread when older).

Stranger In A Strange Land is, IMHO, way too sexual for an 11 year old. and Vonnegut is way too nihlistic
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:36 PM on June 9, 2011

Yup - wasn't meaning to recommend those in the last paragraph, just given for context (what I did and didn't like at that age). The nihilist part went over my head - I didn't get Vonnegut at all. I suspect the more sexual parts of stranger and garp also went right over my head, and I took a more innocent pleasure in them. I was given those books at age 12 with the warning that I shouldn't take the main characters for role models, and that I should ask dad any questions I had about them.

The others in the list above are all way more appropriate in content for a kid, at worst some violence and PG romance.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:15 PM on June 9, 2011

nth the Hitchhikers' Guide.
posted by pompomtom at 10:25 PM on June 9, 2011

I should also probably add books by Louis Sachar. I read the Wayside school series as a kid, I read Holes when it came out later, they're all pretty good.

Also, Roald Dahl.

I remember liking Sport, which involves I think the same universe as Harriet the Spy, but not being crazy about Harriet the Spy. Of course, the critical consensus says Harriet the Spy is by far the better book. So, as with many things, YMMV.
posted by Busoni at 11:44 PM on June 9, 2011

Oh, if he's interested in Chinese culture, he might enjoy The Examination.
posted by Busoni at 11:53 PM on June 9, 2011

Peripherally related to what you're asking, but you wanted to know what *I* was reading when I was 11, and the answer is Calvin & Hobbes.
I can't say enough good things about what Bill Watterson's made. Every boy should have a complete set.

I half suspect you'll tell me he read them all years ago.
posted by TangoCharlie at 12:02 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's too late for me to second The Westing Game, or even third or fourth it. But I'm happy to tenbillionth it.

Also, Sticherbeast's idea of getting him some nonfiction books is great. I worry that Godel, Escher, Bach might be a little dense for even the cleverest 11-year-old, but I second Sticherbeast's recommendation of Hoffsatadter's Metamagical Themas -- that's a collection of essays, which means your son can dip in and out of it, and easily skip the ones that don't interest him.

Another non-fiction book that was hugely influential on me at about that age: Jame's Randi's Flim Flam. A lot of the references are probably dated -- I can't imagine that a contemporary 11-year-old is going to care about Uri Geller! -- but that's the book that taught me how to think skeptically, and I think it will serve him well. Alternatively, I'm sure MeFites can suggest another, more contemporary book on skeptical thought.

Lots of people have suggested Roal Dahl, and I agree. Dahl's fiction is great, but don't overlook Dahl's "Boy," which is his memoir of growing up. It's a fascinating look into a very different childhood than your son will have had.

You might also try giving him a Dickens book. Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield are all wonderful books with young protagonists having incredible adventures. Dickens' prose might sometimes be challenging, but I'm willing to bet he's up to the challenge.

Finally... and I hesitate to suggest this, because I don't mean to imply that I'm putting myself within 1000 miles of the brilliant writers I just recommended... but I've written three books that seem to have lots of 11-year-old fans, even though they were originally intended for grownups. It's a bit too self-linky to mention them by name, but you can see them by clicking through to my profile. (The one with "Pirates" in its title would be rated PG-13, if books had ratings-- it has lots of references to rum and wenches, and one use of the word "brothel," although there's nothing at all explicit. The other two books would be rated G. )
posted by yankeefog at 3:54 AM on June 10, 2011

I think an aunt gave me Small Gods at around your sons age, and Good Omens made the rounds of my 9th grade class.

Ha, you know what, I got Small Gods (my first Pratchett book) at about age 11-ish too. I loved it but was slightly scared that my parents would discover I was reading something with swears ("bugger", mostly) in, heh. After reading Small Gods I continued to devour Pratchett's Discworld novels in the following years.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:42 AM on June 10, 2011

Coming in late to second Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, recommended by Lovecraft In Brooklyn) for the China connection - I read it at 12 or so - and to Nth Ender's Game, whether he likes science fiction or not.

The Godel, Escher, Bach mentions have reminded me of Raymond Smullyan's books of logic puzzles. The one I was given when I was ten is What is the Name of this Book?, which I thoroughly recommend.

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series; much like The Hunger Games, they're written to keep you turning the pages. They're contemporary spy stories with a teenage protagonist. Heh, and apparently they've even been turned into graphic novels. "You've read the graphic novel, now read the real novel it was based on"?

On the humorous side, Paul Jennings' books of short stories (_Unreal!_, _Unbelievable!_ and so on) tend to go down well with everyone, even the most reluctant of readers. The humour's quite broad, but the writing is tight and witty.

I'd also like to suggest The Kite Rider, by Geraldine McCaughrean, as another book set in China. (What I really want to recommend is another of her books, A Pack of Lies, because it was one of my absolute favourites aged 11-14; but The Kite Rider is probably a better fit for your son's interests.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:41 AM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: So lots of great suggestions. I got my suggestions from my 11 year-old as I left for work this morning. This was off the top of her head:

Not Sci-Fi or Fantasy
Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan
Starlight Barking - Dodie Smith (also I Capture the Castle and the original 101 Dalmations)
Click - ?
The Mysterious Benedict Society (plus 2 sequels) - Trenton Lee Stewart
The Name of this Book is Secret (first of a series) - Pseudonymous Bosch
Stormbreaker (Alex Rider series) - Anthony Horowitz
Hattie Big Sky - Kirby Larson
Seven Professors of the Far North - John Fardell
Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder and Paulette Moller [note this is not strictly a kid's book]
The Roar - Emma Clayton
Hatchet - Gary Paulsen [plus everything else he's written]
Al Capone Does My Shirts [plus Al Capone Shines My Shoes] - Gennifer Choldenko
Because of Winn Dixie - Kate DiCamillo [plus everything she's written]
Holes - Louis Sachar
The View from Saturday - E. L. Konigsburg
Hoot and Flush - Carl Hiaasen
everything by Eleanor Estes: The Moffats, Ginger Pye
everything by Edward Eager: Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Seven-Day Magic, etc.
everything by Kenneth Oppel, especially Airborn and it's two sequels. As a middle-ages dude I LOVE those books! They're the freshest alt-history novels I've ever read.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series) - Rick Riordan
The Kane Chronicles (series) - Rick Riordan
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (series) - Michael Scott
Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles series) - Suzanne Collins
The Time Travelers (The Gideon Trilogy) - Linda Buckley-Archer

(My kids like these fantasy series a lot and if you want pure volume they're the way to go. Also, the "Eragon" series. I find them tiresome for the same reason I find adult high-fantasy books tiresome: so. many. pages. so. many. characters.)

Also briefly mentioned were "the classics" of Laura Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie series) and L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables series).

And, to give a second vote because we read it ages ago:

From this, The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy.

Plus its sequel! So much fun!

My personal votes from her list go to The Mysterious Benedict Society (+sequels), Airborn (+sequels) and Eager's "Magic" series.
posted by GuyZero at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was 11, Stephen King was the hot thing. Not sure how many of us read them versus carrying them around to look cool, but anyway, both Firestarter (horror level = medium) and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (horror level = low) feature strong, resourceful kid protagonists. And his early short stories still pack a hell of a punch.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Harry Potter Series-J.K. Rowling
The Hardy Boys
The Boxcar Children
Ender's Game-Orson Scott Card
posted by ohtimorousme at 2:43 PM on June 11, 2011

Sharon Creech!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:01 PM on June 13, 2011

Oops, ignore that last one. Posted in the wrong thread, sorry.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:02 PM on June 13, 2011

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