Favorite Contemporary (and Recent History) YA & MG Books

I didn’t really sort these, except that the early-mid 1900’s are near the top and the truly contemporary are near the bottom. 🙂

The Blossom Culp series, by Richard Peck. I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but it also belongs under the historical category, so here’s another shout-out.

The Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier. Although depressingly set in during the Spanish Flu, this is an uplifting story and a fine example of a real YA romance (e.g. no insta-love).

The Silent Bells, by William MacKellar, is a short children’s book about mysteriously silent bells and the Christmas gifts that the town hopes will bring them back to life.

I am David, by Anne Holm. A touching story about a boy who escapes a concentration camp only to discover that not everything on the outside is as nice or easy as he expected.

The War That Saved My Life (series). Despised by her mother for her club foot, the girl makes her escape with her brother and finds a better life in the country.

The House of Sixty Fathers, by Meindert DeJong. Caught in the middle of a war and separated from his family, a young boy finds solace among the enemy.

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. You might have seen one of the many movie versions, but I’ve never seen one that quite managed to capture the charm of this book.

The Great Brain series. A very smart (and not-very-ethical) boy tricks all his friends, to his younger brother’s dismay. Set in the early 1900’s and based on true stories of the author’s brother.

The Gawgon and the Boy, by Lloyd Alexander. Though his Aunt Annie is terrifying, David learns to love her and the adventures she shares with him.

White Fang, by Jack Landon. A boy and his dog–er, wolf. The story actually follows the canine through his many adventures.

Her Own Song, by Ellen Howard. A touching story of adoption and prejudice and the many people who love one small girl.

Lost Off the Grand Banks, by Arthur Catherall. I don’t know if you can get your hands on this one, but it’s an exciting sea adventure. A temporary cook on a fishing boat ends up helping to save the men of a sunken submarine. It haunted my memory enough that decades later, I found it worth an interlibrary loan.

Where the Red Fern Grows. Another boy-and-his-dogs story. Be prepared to cry. When I was a kid, three of us couldn’t get through a certain chapter because we were all sobbing too hard.

Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. Cheaper by the Dozen series. A funny family drama. The old movie is okay (though the book is better), but the new movie is a total disappointment. Read the books instead!

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith (like NIMH, I like the cartoon, but the book is so much better). Someone tried to argue with me that I liked this book because of the old-fashioned language, but they lost. I like the sweet characters and the happy ending.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and I’m-not-crying touching, this is the story of the horrible siblings who terrorized the school and took over the town’s Christmas pageant.

Caroline B. Cooney, Jennifer L. Holm, and Andrew Clements have written lots of great contemporary stories. Seriously, they can keep you busy for weeks (or at least days, if you read like me). No, I’m not going to list them all; that’s what the internet and your librarian are for. I’m just here to tell you they’re all great.

North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen. A girl with a birthmark has to learn what real beauty is.

Sex Education, by Jenny Davis (not what you’re thinking…) When their teacher gives them a service assignment for class, their lives are changed forever. (Seriously, no sex in it at all.)

The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle. The mystery behind a silent teenager is heartbreaking.

Halfway to the Sky, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Appalachian Trail). When her brother dies, a girl takes to the Trail to deal with her sorrow, only to learn that life is more complicated than she realized.

As always, feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments.

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

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