It’s time for some great fiction books that kids ages nine and up will love.  Families will also enjoy these as read-alouds.

Leo and the Lesser Lion
, by Sandra Forrester, is a story set during the Great Depression era about the relationships and life and death experiences among the members of a family. Leo rebuilds a boat for his sister, Bayliss, when she turns 12. However, on their maiden voyage, they experience a terrible accident and Leo drowns. Bayliss now goes through life with guilt and a desire to do something good in her life. Her life is about to change for the better when her father brings in two orphans to temporarily help their church and community. The lessons that Bayliss and her family learn will shed new light on the importance of families and love.
Seven Keys of Balabin, by Paul Haven, takes place in a country similar to Afghanistan and is full of adventure and mystery. Twelve-year-old Oliver has just moved to this dusty country where he befriends two natives and a store-owner. But all 3 are about to set out on a mystifying adventure as they try to discover what happened to the store owner who apparently has been kidnapped. Along the way, they find that a valuable carpet has been stolen and they are about to discover much more as a 500-year-old mystery begins to unravel. Hold on to your seats, and this book, because you’ll not want to put this exciting adventure down!
Also Known as Harper
, by Ann Haywood Leal, captures the essence of beautiful words through the injustices of life as 5th grader, Harper, discovers. She loves to write, especially poetry, and loves to hear her mom read “To Kill a Mockingbird” which was written by the author she was named after. Her father has left and now her mom, brother and herself have to leave their apartment because of being behind on the rent and they have no where to go. They find an old motel and two new friends who seem to also be down on their luck. These new friends live in a nearby tent encampment with their mother and are also struggling with homelessness. The story is truly a celebration of the love and strong bond of family and the importance of how standing by with support can make many good things happen. Reading about the lives of these two families will bring a deep appreciation to kids of the important blessings in their lives.
Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord, is a beautifully written story about a smart, spunky girl, Tess, who lives off the coast of Maine. The State is threatening to close the island’s only one-room school due to the drop in enrollment, but Tess’s town has an idea to keep the school open thereby preventing the children having to move to a landlocked school: they host foster-children which brings up the enrollment. However, this approach also brings about a whole new set of problems.
Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher, will take you into Bobby’s world where he loves spiders. In fact, he has a pet tarantula but his pet hasn’t eaten since his family moved into this new state. Bobby isn’t doing so well either since some of the kids at school make fun of him and one actually bullies him. Bobby learns much about himself and how to face his problems, including the bully, with courage and intelligence and this story will teach us all a lesson or two. There are also many interesting facts about spiders interspersed throughout.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, incorporates Chinese-folklore with fairy tales to create an adventure of mystical magic. Young Minli lives with her parents in a poor dwelling but her life is never dull because her father enchants her continually with stories of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon who knows all things. So she decides to set off and find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change the fortune of her family. And so this exciting adventure begins. This page-turner will have you spellbound as you become a part of her sojourn up the mountain as she seeks to get closer to the moon. This won last year’s Newbery Honor award.
Here’s another Newbery Honor book from last year: The Mostly True Adventures of Homor P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick.  This book is a packed adventure around the time of the Civil War and has such fun and vibrant phrases, and crisp characterizations, that make it great fun to read aloud!  Homor has just found out that his older brother, who is underage to legally be involved in the war, has been sold by his mean old uncle to go to the front lines to fight.

He immediately sets off to save his brother and so begins the mishaps and mighty adventures that befall him.
Regarding the Bees: a Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating and Other Sticky Subjects
, by Kate Klise, and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, is a most entertaining and involved story with many underlying stories going on at the same time. But what really makes this an unusual read is the format. It’s written entirely in letters as correspondence between students to friends and teachers to students and principals to students.  These letters contain all the dialogue, storyline and predicaments. The visual illustrations propel the story right along with perfect intonations. This fifth book in the series stands alone, but the other four books are just as fun.
Noodle Pie, by Ruth Starke, is full of ambiguities as eleven-year-old Andy accompanies his father on his first trip back to his homeland, Vietnam. He now lives in Australia, but his father is taking him back to meet his relatives, visit their famous restaurant and see the sites of Hanoi. But what Andy is about to experience is that the restaurant is little more than a storefront with the family living in a very tight space behind the restaurant. There are many lessons learned in this inviting and invigorating story. But there are also some great tendrils of food descriptions. So warning: don’t read while hungry. (Don’t forget to try some of the yummy sounding recipes located at the back of the book.)
Crows & Cards, by Joseph Helgerson, is written in the style of Mark Twain with life aboard a riverboat and all the trappings during the mid 1800’s. Zebulon is supposed to be heading to a tanner’s workplace to learn his trade. But he gets sidetracked when he meets a smooth-talking gambler who talks him into changing his trade to become an apprentice to cards. But Zeb soon realizes this trade isn’t for him as he has a conscience and can’t learn the cheating ways. Life portrayed in this book will surely sweep you back to a time long forgotten, but the adventures Zeb finds himself immersed in will keep you reading to the very end.

Holly Evans Newton is an award winning reviewer with over 10 years of experience of searching for the best and most appropriate books for kids. Her 25 years of teaching school and raising 5 children has helped her tap into books that kids want to read.