Book Ideas for Every Young Reader, from Artists to Athletes

Chelsey Engel
Dec 13, 2018 · 7 min read

There is certainly no one-size-fits-all for reading preferences, especially for kids and teens who seem to change personalities and interests by the second. I know, because I was young once.

I compiled a list of my book recommendations for the young reader in your life itching for a new story or two this holiday season. From sports lovers and artists, to history buffs and romantics, I think there is something for every one of those stinkers.

Links to Amazon for every book are included in each title.


For your strong-willed warrior

Children of Blood and Bone

Instant New York Times Bestseller, TIME Top 10 Best YA and Children’s Books of 2018, NPR’s Book Concierge 2018 Great Reads List, Bustle’s Top 25 Best Young Adults Books of 2018, Paste Magazine’s 30 Best YA Novels of 2018, Newsweek’s 61 Best Books from 2018, Boston Globe’s Best Children’s Books of 2018, Publishers Weekly Best YA Books of 2018.

These are only a FEW of the accolades granted to Tomy Adeyemi’s debut young-adult novel Children of Blood and Bone. I read this novel in three days while on work-trip in Brazil, and I, like many others, enjoyed every magical minute.

Under the orders of a ruthless king, all magic-wielding Orishans are killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people in despair. But now, Zelie has a chance to bring magic back and revolt against the violent monarchy.

Soon to be a major motion picture, this novel is a must for any reader, old and young.

Amal Unbound

Amal lives in Pakistan and dreams of becoming a teacher. But after an unfortunate encounter with the village’s corrupt landlord, those dreams appear shattered as she must become his servant to pay off a family debt. While serving the sentence, Amal realizes she must work with others for her freedom and for her community.

This debut middle-grade novel made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, making it a solid choice for any young one.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region and prohibited girls from attending school. But, as we know, Malala fought for her right to be educated. On October 9, 2012, she was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one thought she would survive, but once again, she fought for her life and did just that.

Told in her own words, this young reader’s edition of I Am Malala is perfect for your social justice warrior.

For your history buff

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Joseph Bruchac brings the stories of the World War II Navajo code talkers to life for young readers through the fictional tale of Ned Begay. At sixteen years old, Ned became a Navajo code talker, one of many who served the U.S. Army during the war. Quiet yet inspiring, this book sheds light on the often forgotten heroes who braved the heat of battle for a country who still did not award them full civil rights.

The Librarian of Auschwitz

Antonio Iturbe brings us the true story of fourteen-year-old Dita, one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz who managed to keep safe eight precious volumes of books the prisoners managed to sneak into the camp. And so she becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.

This story highlights a young girl’s courage while staring death in the face during one of history’s darkest chapters.


Fever 1793 is based on an actual epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia that wiped out 5,000 people in only three months. The story focuses on 14-year-old Mattie Cook, whose mother and grandfather own a popular coffee house. When her mother succumbs to the epidemic, Mattie’s life is upended as she tries to grow the small shop into an enterprise.

This book is thoroughly researched and has won several well-known awards. It is also a #1 Amazon best seller.

For your athletic champion

Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win

From the same author who brought us Women in Science, this sports edition highlights the achievements and stories of fifty women athletes from the 1800s to today, including well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone and Patti McGee.

This illustrated book also includes “infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline of women’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams.”

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive

This adaptation of Unbroken, which became a movie thanks to Angelina Jolie, introduces young readers to one of history’s most thrilling survival epics about Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete, and his fight to survive sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and capture during World War II.

“On a May afternoon in 1943, an American military plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary sagas of the Second World War.”

For your budding artist

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

This multi-award winning book tells the tale of friendship between Vincent and Theo van Gogh, a friendship that shaped both brothers’ lives. The two shared everything, including suffering and success. Thanks to meticulous research by author Deborah Heiligman, readers are granted insight directly from the brothers themselves via hundreds of personal letters.

The Poet X

This debut book by award-winning slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo made waves this year, and for good reason. It is told completely in verse and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller.

“Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers — especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

The Art of My Neighbor Totoro: A Film by Hayao Miyazaki

Anime cult classic My Neighbor Totoro is a beautiful film, and this year, you can give the Miyazaki fan in your family an illustrative look into the phenomenon. This book, from 2005, has an array of sketches, fully rendered character drawings, and interviews from the production staff.

For your hopeless romantic


From Ibi Zoboi comes this Pride and Prejudice remix, a gorgeous retelling starring all characters of color. Zoboi manages to blend cultural identity, class, and gentrification with the awe and magic of first love, all while honoring the Jane Austen classic.

What If It’s Us

Authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in this heartfelt story about “two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together — or pulling them apart.”

Charming, sweet, and empathetic, What If It’s Us is a New York Times and Indie best seller that keeps you rooting for Arthur and Ben the entire time.

Eleanor & Park

This is another New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and NPR smash that evokes the frailty and innocence of young love. “Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”

Chelsey Engel

Written by

Chelsey is a writer and activist living and working in Pittsburgh. Her debut novel, A Summer of Fever and Freedom, is out everywhere now.

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