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50 Challenging Books for Young Advanced Readers

Are you trying to find books for your elementary-age or middle-school-age advanced reader who reads at a a higher reading level, maybe even a high school reading level? It’s tricky to find age-appropriate books, right?! Because it’s important to find a book that is both challenging but are also good for the reader’s maturity level.

This lst of books includes books that are around or above a 1000 Lexile Measure and appropriate for young advanced readers. (I used various websites to verify, including Amazon. Did you know Amazon sometimes lists the Lexile level?)

This number, the Lexile Measure, indicates the text complexity, more or less. Generally speaking, books that are above 1000 are around upper middle school to high school reading level.

If you want to check the Lexile level of a book, this site can help.

Age-Appropriate Books for Young Advanced Readers

Challenging Books for Young Advanced Readers

I’ve split up these high-level books into genre classifications so that your readers can find their favorites.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books for Young Advanced Readers

Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques
If you like epic animal fantasy adventures, this is the series for you! Veil is the abandoned son of the evil warlord Swartt Sixclaw. His foster parent Bryony thinks that Veil isn’t like his father until Vail does something unthinkable and Veil gets banished. When Swartt attacks Redwall, Veil must decide whose side he’s on.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (series)
Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Unfortunately, Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years, making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship. Furthermore is a uniquely creative plot that is very well written.

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett
Grisha is a dragon who spends a few hundred years enchanted as a teapot. Later, he meets a lonely girl whose first and only friend is him. The girl’s friendship comes many years after a wicked magician has imprisoned, or for the most part, enslaved, the world’s remaining dragons. Grisha, one of the dragons who has been working, begins to remember about the other dragons. So he and the girl, Maggie, quest to avoid the magician, find the missing dragons, and free them— no matter the cost. And there will be a cost. 

Savvy by Ingrid Law
Beaumont can’t wait to see what her savvy will be when she turns thirteen — but just before her birthday, Poppa has an accident, and she hopes she can save him with her savvy. But, of course, that won’t be how this story goes, will it?

Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
A great girl-power novel about Aerin, the outsider daughter of Damar’s king and a witchwoman. Aerin will become more than a princess, she will be the true hero who wields the power of the Blue Sword

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) by Christopher Paolini 
No epic fantasy round-up is complete without the Eragon fantasy dragon series. Ergon is the only book I loved in the series, but it’s still worth reading the entire Inheritance series, even the parts that drag. This epic fantasy begins with a 15-year-old boy who hatches a dragon egg and learns he’s a Dragon Rider. Good vs. evil, treachery, wisdom, growing up, wars, trolls, and elves, this fantasy book has it all.

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ged used to be called Sparrowhawk when his impulsiveness and arrogance unleashed an evil shadow on the world. Now, he is the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, trying to restore balance in the world; balance that he messed up.

The Princess Bride by Barry Denberg
Before it was a movie, it was a book, one my daughter read in high school and LOVED. In the country of Florin, we follow the saga of a poor boy who disappears at sea and what happens to his true love who is forced to marry the prince. When the boy, who didn’t die, hears of the forced nuptials, he’ll do everything to rescue his love.

The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
We all know the movie, but did you know this is a really good book, too? Follow Dorothy and her dog Toto through Oz, meeting the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion and eventually, the Wizard of Oz. They’ll fight the Wicked Witch of the West and her Winged Monkeys. Will she ever get home?

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Lyra travels to the far North of witch clans and armored bears to rescue her friend Roger, who was kidnapped with other children. But, in this epic journey of good vs. evil, Lyra doesn’t know who to trust — and won’t be expecting who will betray her.

Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Remember when the main characters of Harry Potter started reading this book of fairy tales to help them navigate the challenges in the Harry Potter series? Now you can read them, too!

Dragonsdawn: Dragons of Pern  by Anne McCaffrey
These dragon books are classic high fantasy dragon epics. You’ll find both science fiction and fantasy since it takes place on another planet with dragons.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The classic Tolkien epic fantasy from which everything begins is wordy, descriptive, and wonderful. Epic fantasy stories weave together a world of magical creatures where evil is threatening the land. Be prepared for writing that is complex, detailed, and intense with the memorable hero’s journey of Bilbo Baggins.

Historical Fiction Books for Advanced Readers

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Turner Buckminster hates Phippsburg, Maine, until he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, a girl from a poor island community founded by former slaves. Their friendship opens his eyes to the wonder and mystery of Maine’s coast. When the friends discover that Turner’s father and the town elders plant to force residents of Lizzie’s island out so they can launch a tourist trade there, Turner is forced to grow up and make hard decisions. This is based on a true story.

Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
In this medieval village, orphaned Brat becomes Jane the Midwife’s apprentice and picks the new name of Alyce as she grows in her confidence and knowledge.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Elijah lives in a runaway slave settlement in Buxton, Canada. He’s a “fra-gile” boy who’s scared of lots of things until a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend. Now Elijah is determined to find the thief and his own courage.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Bruno’s German soldier father moves him to a house next to the fences surrounding the internment camps during WWII. Bruno talks to another boy through the fence and realizes the truth of what’s happening and what his father is doing.

The Eagle (The Roman Britan Trilogy) by Rosemary Stucliff
I haven’t read this story about the Ninth Legion who went into Northern Britain―and were never seen again. It sounds interesting if you like mysteries and war stories. Marcus’s father led the legion so Marcus sets out on a quest to discover the truth.

Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
In South Africa’s apartheid times, a survivor named Peekay faces prejudice and tribal superstition but he learns the power of words and the power of one.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
In 1914, a farm horse named Joey was sold to the army during World War I. Joey worries about leaving his friend Albert, the farmer’s son. And in battle, he’s forced to charge the enemy, pull artillery, and carry wounded soldiers. Will the war ever end and will he find Albert again?

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
Set in medieval England, spunky 13-year-old Catherine does not want to get married like her dad wants. She prefers her wild and carefree life — and will fight to keep it that way.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Karana survives on a desolate island with a ferocious pack of wild dogs who killed her younger brother. She figures out how to find food and live with the predators despite the loneliness and fear. A Newbery Medal-winning classic.

Rascal by Sterling North
Sterling adopts a young raccoon named Rascal as a baby. They become best friends—until the spring day when everything changes.

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson 
Told from many different, well-developed characters’ points of view, this is a historical fiction story about the plantations with their abuse and enslavement contrasted with the thriving swamp community of Freewater filled with formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South. There are many intertwined story threads including escaped children, Freewater residents, and the plantation owner’s daughter, that weave together for a hopeful ending.

Adventure and Mystery Books for Advanced Readers

H.I.V.E. (Higher Institute of Villainous Education) by Mark Walden
Otto is a prime candidate to become a supervillain says the school H.I.V.E. that kidnaps him, enrolling him unwillingly in their island school for villains. Otto and his classmates plan a daring break-out. Plus they need to stop the mutant flesh-eating plant that’s attacking everyone in the school. A great adventure series!

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
After his plane crashes into the woods, Brian is stranded in the Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet. His journey of survival is incredible and will captivate readers.

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
Elizabeth, an orphan, is unexpectedly sent to a large, stately hotel with a kind, grandfatherly proprietor for Christmas vacation. There, she discovers a magical book, a sinister couple, a family mystery, and a new friend who loves puzzles as much as she does. The writing is mesmerizing, the mystery is fascinating, and the characters are enchanting.

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Neatly Snyder
Melanie and April love ancient Egypt and decide to play an Egypt Game. They invite friends to join them in wearing costumes, holding ceremonies, and working on their secret code. When weird things start happening, they start to wonder if it’s more than a game.

Jackaby by William Ritter
This YA mystery chapter book features an independent teen girl and an unusual Sherlock Holmes-type boy who solve crimes in historical New England in 1892. It hooks you from the first page. (It’s been over a decade since I read this — and I can not remember if there is romance.)

Classics for Advanced Readers

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The crew of a ship rescues a sick man who turns out to be the scientist Victor Frankenstein looking for his creature who escaped him to go on a murdering rampage.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Who else loves this book? Four sisters who are very different are living life with their mom without many resources because their father gone fighting in the war. It’s a beautiful family story with some romance.

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
The Swiss Family Robinson gets stranded on a tropical island, where they use supplies form their ship and the island to survive and thrive.

Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling writes stories about the Indian jungle, including the abandoned “man cub” Mowgli raised by wolves and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, the mongoose.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery
Orphaned Anne goes to live with a brother and sister in Canada, surprising them because they’d wanted a boy for the farm. But Anne, a fast-talking, impulsive girl wins them over, and they become a family.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Pirates and treasure and betrayal! Jim Hawkins is a cabin boy on an adventure across the Spanish Main which includes a mutiny led by the infamous Long John Silver and a search buried treasure.

Wind in the Willows by K. Grahame
These are the adventures of four friends, Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and Toad, who live in the English countryside.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I don’t think these are as well written as the adaptations, but if you want to try the originals, these are the stories set in Victorian London about detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Call of the Wild by Jack London
During the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush—a dog named Buck is stolen from his home and sold into the brutal existence of an Alaskan sled dog. I found the violence against dogs VERY DISTURBING. So you might not like this book.

Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
Not all of the King Arthur stories are age appropriate, so keep that in mind — there’s the whole wife/ affair story. The other stories are about Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round at the court of Camelot.

The Incredible Journey by Shelia Branford
A Labrador retriever, bull terrier, and Siamese cat journey through the Canadian wilderness to find their owner in this truly “incredible” adventure facing hunger, predators, and many more challenges.

Memoirs, Biographies, and Nonfiction

Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly
A well-crafted blend of the historical realities and inspiring life stories of four mathematically talented women who worked to build this country’s aviation and aeronautical programs starting from the Civil Rights era to the Space Race all the way to the Cold War. The text includes black-and-white photographs documenting the women’s lives and the historical events which add to the reader’s understanding. Hidden Figures will educate and inspire teenage readers.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
You don’t have to be a football fan to be mesmerized by this incredible underdog story of grit with the history of football as a backdrop. You don’t really know the history of football until you’ve read the history of Carlisle Indian School and Jim Thorpe. Did you know that a whole team played on the field all at once? Or that a president had to intervene because there were so many deaths from head injuries with no helmets? Jim Thorpe was clearly one of the greatest athletes in the world of all time, and his life wasn’t what you would ever have expected. Steve Sheinkin is one of the best writers you’ll read. The way he put together this book, which facts and how he told the story, is masterful. A must-read!

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose
If you’re teaching leadership or becoming change-makers, use this book! Knut and his friends couldn’t endorse their country of Denmark’s position on allying with the Nazi’s so they decided to do what they could to fight back. Even though they were just teenagers, they managed small acts of sabotage. But more than that, they inspired a full Danish resistance movement!

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
This is a powerful, self-reflective memori of Malala Yousafzai appropriate for middle-grade readers. Malala draws readers in with her accounts of daily life in Pakistan — the sounds, smells, sights, and habits. Readers are hooked from the first page. As the stage is set, we learn how her country used to be and the fearful place it became with the Taliban’s influence. After she is shot for her blog writing in support of educating females, she’s taken to England for recovery and safety. The confusion and contrast between the countries and cultures really stands out during this time. But what is even more striking is Malala’s hope, positivity, and belief in what she stands for. You can’t read this book and not be changed by it.

Untamed The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey, forward by Jane Goodall
This is not your average biography for kids with small font and ugly black and white photos. No, it’s so much better! Untamed is an excellent depiction of Jane Goodall’s life with kid-friendly language using kid-appealing layouts of colorful photos. Interesting insets throughout describe tips for kids and information such as sign language. I love the Gombe Family Scrapbook at the end with some of the significant chimps in Jane’s life. I also found it really interesting to learn how this English girl read about Africa as a child and fell in love with it.

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
Herriot writes about being a vet for remote hillside farms and valley towns in beloved, heartwarming stories.

 

Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat
Mutt climbs trees and ladders, rides in a car wearing goggles, and hunts! Talk about a not-dog!

 

 

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