11 December 2015 | Children's Fiction

Buying stand-alone Christmas books for kids

Children’s books that can stand alone, without any need to continue the drama or extend the characters, are pretty special because they are their own entity. We don’t need to look at the library for number 17, we’re not bored with the characters by book 11 and we can’t predict the pattern of the plot by book 9. These books are independently standing by themselves, confident that we will love them for their solo status! However, after writing this post, I did notice that some of these books, which we enjoyed as single books, now have a sequel. So perhaps it’s a list for single books and books with a sequel.

When choosing books for kids, it depends on whether your kids are obsessive readers or reluctant readers or somewhere in between. If my kids are reluctant to read a book I think they’ll enjoy, I’ll read the first chapter of a book to them, they’ll become engrossed in the story, then they’ll be happy to read it by themselves. Otherwise, I read it to them, one chapter at bedtime, and then we can share the story together. For reluctant readers, it’s probably better to go down a level, so they can gain confidence. And it’s always better to choose a high-quality book that your kids will want to read again.

Kids are usually aspirational readers – they like reading about a character who is a year or two older than they are. So if you’re not sure about the suitability of a particular book check the age of the main character, which is usually revealed in the first few pages of the book.

So, without further ado, here is a list of 12 fabulous books for 6-12 year old kids, in no particular order.


  • Holes by Louis Sacher – I’ve read this book twice, and I think Mr 11 has read it two or three times as well. It is one of the best examples of a perfectly constructed book – I return to it again and again to study it for writing practice. But, despite the craft in the construction, it is such a good, page-turning read. There are so many a-ha moments, where something that was set up slightly in the beginning of the book, comes to fruition by the end of the book. Anton Chekov is famous for saying, ‘If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.’ Louis Sacher’s book is a prime example of setting up the rifle scenario. It’s about a hapless boy, Stanley Yelnats, who gets caught up in the wrong thing at the wrong time, and ends up at a juvenile delinquent centre. He goes through many changes, becomes stronger – physically and mentally. It is for girls and boys – boys because the protagonist is a boy and it’s set in a boys’ detention centre. It’s for girls because the back story (history) includes a love story with a strong female character. I will probably suggest Miss 9 reads it over the holidays, or if she’s not quite ready to read it herself, I might read it to her, a chapter a night. Great for 9-12 year-olds.


  • Mrs Frisby and the rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien – I read this book to Miss 9 when she was 8. She loved it so much that I sewed her a bunch of felt mice, named after the various mice and rats in this book. There’s a strong plot and interesting animal characters. Mrs Frisby (a mouse) and her four children must move from their home before the farmer destroys it but one of her sons is sick and may not make the journey. Mrs Frisby needs to seek the council of other animals for help. While a children’s novel about mice may seem a little tame, this story has heart-stopping adventure with wonderfully developed characters. It would be fabulous to study in a classroom as there are themes of loyalty, survival, secrecy, courage. Perfect for girls and boys, 8-11 years.

Molly and Pim

  • Molly, Pim and the millions of stars by Martine Murray – I have reviewed this book here. Gorgeous, magical book for girls, aged 7-10 years, focusing on relationships with friends and mothers.


  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio – this book needs to be read by all kids, aged 9-12, in order for that generation to grow up with a little more kindness and compassion. Augie was born with a disfigured face and has had multiple operations. Because of this, he has been homeschooled. He starts school at age ten. It’s horrible – he’s stared at, pointed at, sniggered at. There are gasps of horror and shock when kids catch sight of him for the first time. Slowly, slowly, he makes friends, loses friends, makes friends and figures out how to navigate school. It’s told from multiple viewpoints – Augie, his sister Via, his new friend Jack, his new friend Summer, Via’s boyfriend Justin, Via’s friend Miranda. Another great classroom read to explore the themes of friendship, alienation, courage, love, family, bullying. It would also be a wonderful book to read as a family. (Technically, it should not be in this stand-alone series because there is a second book but it is so worthy of being read, I have snuck it in here!)


  • The accidental princess by Jen Storer – this one is definitely for girls. Take a look at the cover – a girl with a crown, lilac flowers and fairies! Because it has such a gorgeous cover, it looks like an appealing book to read. However, as well as fairies and lilac hedges, there is sibling rivalry between two sisters, dark magic, imps, a troll, a toad … It is full of adventure and fantasy. Perfect for girls aged 7-10.


  • Could you, would you? by Trudy White – this is a different sort of book, non-fiction, full of questions to start family conversations. I’m thinking it would be useful for long holiday car rides or leisurely family dinners. Here’s an example – What did your dad do when he was a boy? What makes you smile? Did you have imaginary friends? Could you recognise your family with your eyes shut? Could you travel to outer space? Great for girls and boys of any age.


  • Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt – my review for this book is here. Loved it. Miss 9 at age 8 thought it was a compelling read and couldn’t put it down. The protagonist is a girl but we meet a lovely boy character halfway through the book. Great for girls and boys, aged 8-12.


  • The invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – this is a graphic novel. I read it to Mr 11 when he was 8 and Miss 9 listened in as a six-year-old. It’s a thick, thick book, with illustrations taking up most of the book. So if you have a reluctant reader who still wants to manage thick books, this would boost their reading confidence. It’s fabulous for visually-minded kids – Mr 11 drew a lot of cross-hatching type of pictures after reading this. As this book is now a movie, it’s a nice idea to be able to read the book, and then compare it to the movie. And as the movie is set in Paris, the backdrop is spectacular. The story is wonderful, with an original plot and layered adult and kid characters. It’s a useful tool to teach kids (intentionally or accidentally) about ‘reading’ pictures. Lots of questions to ask about the pictures – look at her expression, what is she feeling, what’s happening in the background, how do we know this is a tense situation, why is he frightened? Absolutely wonderful for boys and girls, aged 8-12.


  • The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer – I blogged about this book here. Another fabulous book from Jen Storer about siblings, this time 14 year-old Angus and 10 year-old Martha. This one is great for girls and boys, aged 9-12.


  • Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein – Mr 11 read this last year when he had just turned 11. He put it on my bedside table and told me I had to read it. The main character, Kyle, is not a reader but loves board games. He decides to enter a competition because his friends are entering it – to spend the opening night in the town’s new library. Kyle has to use all his skills at board games, plus learn some new library and reading skills, to find his way through the competition clues. This book is wonderful for literal-minded kids, for kids who like facts and figures, for kids who like figuring out clues. I was not, and am not, that type of reader. I loved the original nature of the story, and I thought it was well-written. But I rushed through it because I wasn’t interested in working out the clues – I just wanted to read the story! Kyle is the main character, but there are girls in the story as well. Book 2 is coming out in January 2016. A really interesting read for detective-minded, clue-hunting, fact-finding readers, girls and boys, aged 9-12.


  • Withering by Sea by Judith Rossell – I read this, chapter by chapter, to Miss 9 when she was 8. We sometimes broke our own rule of one chapter a night because it was so exciting that we had to read on! Miss 9 will probably pick it up to read herself within the next year – it is a book that could be read again and again. Gorgeous cover, beautiful illustrations inside. Probably marketed for girls but I think I will read it to Mr 6 in a couple of years because there is an interesting boy character. Stella lives with her three horrible aunts in a hotel, and has an amazing, dangerous adventure. I have broken my own rule again here, because there is a second book coming out later. But as there is only one now, I am going to count it as a stand-alone book! This book has won quite a few prizes and is well-regarded in the publishing world. Lovely for girls (maybe boys) aged 8-12.

footy-dreaming book review

  • Footy dreaming by Michael Hyde – I wrote a blog post about this one here. It may be the wrong season for buying a footy book but it is a great book for boys aged 9-12. The boy characters are fifteen, but there is nothing too ‘teenagish’ about it which would make it unsuitable for younger readers.

Let me know in the comments if you have any stand-alone novels for children to recommend – I’d love to know what books your children enjoy. Next week I’ll write a blog post about picture books for Christmas shopping. Today is the last day for online ordering in-stock books at Readings and Booktopia if you want your books to arrive in time for Christmas. Just sayin’!

Author interview – Victoria Carless


Terri Dixon

Great blog. Wish it were available when my kids were young!

December 11, 2015 at 7:29 am


Loving these recommendations Karen – have already been to the bookshop and now after reading this will have to go back!!!! Thank you!!

December 11, 2015 at 8:16 am


Thanks Karen, these posts are so helpful. I am looking forward to a summer of reading.

December 11, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Nicole Melanson

Nice list! Just fowarded to some of my boys as there are many unfamiliar titles here and we’re always looking for new reads!

December 11, 2015 at 6:02 pm


I am loving this list ! Footy dreaming for my 9 year old for sure !

Thanks karen

December 11, 2015 at 8:23 pm


The Invention of Hugo Cabret was my boy’s FAVOURITE book when he was younger and it still sits in his bookcase. It sparked his interest in early cinema which he is now studying at uni. In fact, his major assessment was on the film, Hugo!

December 12, 2015 at 12:03 am

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