The following are highly biased and opinionated lists of books that I think aspiring writers and/or editorial assistants should read. The kids' and YA lists are mostly composed of books mentioned or used as examples in The Magic Words, but I've also edited the lists to bring in or indicate classics that are still worth reading (albeit sometimes for historic interest; marked with a C); modern (post-2000) titles that I would recommend for people who want to get up to speed on contemporary children's literature (marked with an M); and my personal favorites (marked with an F). Titles with a (‡) indicate books I edited (I have not marked any of them with an F); you can see a complete list of such books in the slideshow here. For additional children's and YA recommendations, see the annual selections of Notable Books for Children and Best Fiction for Young Adults from the American Library Association and Elizabeth Bluemle's A World Full of Color database. This list will be perpetually under construction and subject to revision. 


Chapter Books

The Best Friend Battle by Lindsay Eyre, illustrated by Charles Santoso (‡)

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han, illustrated by Julia Kuo

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee (C, M, F)

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (C, M)

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat (‡)


Middle-Grade Realistic and Historical Fiction

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (M)

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

El Deafo by Cece Bell (graphic novel; M)

The Penderwicks and its sequels by Jeanne Birdsall (M, F)

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (C)

The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (C, F)

The Ramona books by Beverley Cleary (C)

Frindle by Andrew Clements (C, F)

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (M)

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (C, M)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (C)

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (C)

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (C, M, F)

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (M)

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright (C, F)

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (C)

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (M)

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (C, F)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (C)

George by Alex Gino (M)

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (‡)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (M)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (C, M, F)

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

The Giver by Lois Lowry (C)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (C)

Saffy's Angel and the rest of the Casson series by Hilary McKay (F)

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (C, F)

The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life by Martine Murray (F)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (M)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (M)

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (C, F)

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (C, F)

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (C, F)

Stealing Air by Trent Reedy (‡)

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (‡)

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (‡)

The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (‡)

Esperanza Rizing by Pam Munoz Ryan (M)

Holes by Louis Sachar (C)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (M)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (M)

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (C, F)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (C, F)

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (C, M)

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (graphic novel)

The Dicey Tillerman books by Cynthia Voigt (C)

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (C)

One Crazy Summer and its sequels by Rita Williams-Garcia (M, F)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (M)

Millicent Min, Girl Genius and its companion books by Lisa Yee (‡)


Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (C)

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black

The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper (C)

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper (F)

The BFG by Roald Dahl (C)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (C)

Matilda by Roald Dahl (C, F)

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (M)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (C, F)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (C, F)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (C, F)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (M)

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison (‡)

The Borrowers by Mary Norton (C)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (C, F)

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (C, F)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (C, M, F)

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (M, F)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (C, M, F)

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (C, F)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (C, F)

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (M)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (M)

Goosebumps by R. L. Stine

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (graphic novel, C, M, F)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (C)

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu


Young Adult Realistic and Historical Fiction

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (F)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (M)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (C, M)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson (M)

Nothing But the Truth by Avi (C, F)

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (C, F)

Dangerous Angels (the Weetzie Bat books) by Francesca Lia Block (C)

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (C)

Forever by Judy Blume (C)

Hush by Eishes Chayil

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (C, M)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (C)

Staying Fat for Sarah Burns by Chris Crutcher (C)

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (F)

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (M)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (‡)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (M, F)

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green (M, F)

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (C)

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (M, F)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (‡)

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg (‡)

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen (‡)

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula K. LeGuin (C, strong F; the way most YA people feel about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I feel about this book)

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (M)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (M, F)

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (M)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (M)

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Cut by Patricia McCormick (M)

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (F)

Monster by Walter Dean Myers (C, M)

Slam! by Walter Dean Myers

Shine by Lauren Myracle

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (M)

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (C)

A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy (‡)

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (M, F)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (F)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (M)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter (‡)

Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher (‡)

Irises by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (C)

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (F)

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (M)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (M)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel; M)

The Kidney Hypothetical by Lisa Yee


Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Feed by M. T. Anderson (M)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigualpi

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Above by Leah Bobet (‡)

Tithe by Holly Black

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (M)

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (‡)

Graceling and sequels by Kristin Cashore (M, F)

City of Bones and sequels by Cassandra Clare

The Hunger Games and sequels by Suzanne Collins (M)

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (F)

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (C, F)

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (C)

A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels by Ursula K. LeGuin (C)

Ash by Malinda Lo

Legend by Marie Lu

Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (M)

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (C, F)

The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequels by Patrick Ness

Sabriel and its sequels by Garth Nix

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (‡)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (C)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (C)

The Thief and its sequels by Megan Whalen Turner (C; for The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, F)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (M)


Craft Books

The Poetics by Aristotle

The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (Please buy this used or borrow it from the library. It's an excellent writing book, but I don't encourage giving money to Card, who is a virulent homophobe.)

Voice Lessons by Nancy Dean

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Children's Books by Harold Underdown


Resources for "Power and Attention"

Links for Works Cited within the Essay

Additional Resources (under ongoing construction)

Marcelo in the Real World Bookmap

Chapter 1, Scene 1, Page 1 Marcelo Sandoval in a neurologist’s office, having his brain scanned by Toby (a lab assistant). Marcelo hears something he calls “Internal Music,” or IM, and the doctor is measuring his brainwaves when he listens to that vs. “real” music, like Carlos Santana.

Scene 2, page 2 Marcelo, Dr. Malone, and Toby talk about the IM and the scan results. The IM is always there and he is always tempted to slide into it. The brain scan shows that the IM activates his hypothalamus.

Scene 3, page 7 Aurora (Marcelo’s mother) talks to Marcelo and Dr. Malone about whether Marcelo should attend a regular school (Oak Ridge High) for his senior year. He has always been capable of it, but he wants to stay at Paterson, a school for the differently abled that he has attended since he was five.

Ch. 2, Scene 4, Page 10 Aurora and Marcelo drive to Paterson to see a newly born pony. Marcelo has a summer job lined up working with the therapy ponies at the school. He reflects on his father (Arturo) and Oak Ridge High. On the way home, he and Aurora talk about Arturo and Paterson.

Ch. 3, 5.17 Arturo proposes that Marcelo come work in the mailroom of his law firm (Sandoval & Holmes) for the summer. They talk about Paterson vs. Oak Ridge, the “real world,” and Marcelo’s capabilities.

Ch. 4, 6.25 Backstory of the treehouse where Marcelo spends most of his time at home. Aurora comes to see Marcelo in the treehouse. They talk about the job, her experience with Mr. Quintana, and being “gentle and strong.” Marcelo agrees to work at the law firm, but is insistent that he will not go to Oak Ridge in September.

Ch. 5, 7.36 The first day of work. Marcelo’s schedule. He talks to his sister Yolanda. He and Arturo take the train to work together. Arturo tells him the rules about talking about being at the law firm, and talking about religion.

Ch. 6, 8.47 Meeting Jasmine, the tour of the law firm, Marcelo’s explanation of his Asperger’s Syndrome. Stephen Holmes, Arturo’s partner, and Wendell Holmes, his son. Marcelo tells Jasmine his special interests are God and classical music. Tension between the Holmeses and Jasmine, but Jasmine and Marcelo understand one another.

Ch. 7, 9.63 Conversations with Stephen Holmes and with Wendell, where Wendell introduces idea of Marcelo’s sexual desire. Jasmine has made Marcelo a schedule.

Ch. 8, 10.74 Marcelo at work: copies pages, learns to bind documents. He tries to work at optimum speed. Jasmine has a sense of perspective rare in a law firm.

Ch. 9, 11.85 Wendell tells Marcelo about the three kinds of women: Earthy, Elegant, Elemental. He says Jasmine is Elemental, but she is turning him down for something.

Ch. 10, 12.93 Arturo takes Marcelo to the gym. Arturo has a conversation with another lawyer named Gustafson, who doesn’t work at the firm, about Vidromek, a Sandoval & Holmes client (their biggest one, we learn later), and their faulty windshields. Gustafson is organizing a five-person class-action lawsuit against Vidromek, and Arturo agrees that they can make payouts to these clients. Marcelo loses some of his faith in his father, that he does good things.

Ch. 11, 13.104 Jasmine and Marcelo file documents and talk about beauty at the playground.

Ch. 12, 14.114 Conversation with Rabbi Heschel about the ways sex can be used, for good and for evil.

Ch. 13, 15.121 Lunch at the Club with Wendell. Wendell asks Marcelo to try to get Jasmine onto his boat so he can roofie her, more or less, and Marcelo refuses. Wendell tells him the story of Minority Hire and Mayflower Lawyer (Arturo and Stephen), emphasizing their bond, and offers to help Marcelo get into Paterson if Marcelo will help him and work with him on Vidromek stuff.

Ch. 14, 16.135 On the way back from lunch, Marcelo gets lost and calls Jasmine, who comes to get him. They talk about the uses of anger and where she grew up, in Vermont. She shows him her apartment and plays music for him, which she has composed. She gives him a Keith Jarrett CD Marcelo feels lighter.

Ch. 15, 17.148 Wendell assigns Marcelo to sort documents involving Vidromek. He assumes Marcelo will help him with Jasmine still. Marcelo finds a picture of a girl in a box. “Half of her face is intact but the other side is missing. . . . There is a mouth with lips that end halfway, an ear that seems about to fall off. . . . Her eyes are unaware of what is happening with the rest of her face. And there is something else in her eyes: a question directed at me.” His father stops in. He’s pleased that Marcelo is working with Wendell and says he’ll make arrangements for this to continue.

Ch. 16, 18.157 Marcelo reflects on the picture, putting together that the girl must have been hurt by a Vidromek windshield. He empathizes with her suffering and is troubled by it.

Ch. 17, 19.160 In the mailroom the next day, he tells Jasmine about his reassignment to work with Wendell and shows her the picture. He asks her to help him figure out who the girl is.

20.163 At lunch, she confirms the girl’s family is probably suing Vidromek and asks him why he’s so interested. “It was like I wanted to fight the people who hurt her. But then I realized that might include my father. . . . How do we go about living when there is so much suffering?” They talk (flirt, almost) about Glenn Gould vs. Keith Jarrett. About what Marcelo should do next, Jasmine says, “I’m not the one playing the piano here. You’re the one that needs to decide what the next note will be. . . . The right note sounds right and the wrong note sounds wrong.”

Ch. 18, 21.170 With Wendell out, Juliet (Holmes’s secretary) assigns him to box up the possessions of Robert Steely, a lawyer who was judged “too soft” and is getting fired. Marcelo looks for a file that goes with the picture. Marcelo examines the picture and sees words in the background on a calendar. Robert Steely comes to his office, then goes to see Holmes, presumably to get fired.

22.178 Jasmine blows up the picture. The words on the calendar involve a taqueria and a zip code in Jamaica Plain. She suggests they research taquerias in that area that send out calendars and try to match them up with nearby lawyers who eat at said taqueries to try to find the girl.

Ch. 19, 23.183  Only one taqueria sends out calendars, and it has a frequent customer who is a lawyer named Jerry Garcia. Marcelo goes to see him in Jamaica Plain. Jerry went to Harvard Law with Arturo, and after Marcelo tells him why he is there, Jerry reminisces about playing poker with Arturo, who seems to have admired Jerry’s idealism once. When Jerry took on Ixtel (the girl in the picture) as a client, he sent a personal letter to Arturo because of this, asking for $68,000 in damages. Arturo sent back a letter saying, “Vidromek will not pay for any injuries to your client.” Jerry Garcia asks for a clue, something he can use to win justice for Ixtel: “What we have to do to stop this is find a document that shows [Vidromek] knew the windshields were not safe and they kept on making them nevertheless.”

Ch. 20, 24.198  Wendell sends Marcelo to have Robert Steely sign his firing document. He tells Marcelo he must get Jasmine on his boat by next week. Marcelo thinks about Jerry Garcia and his calm in his fight. Marcelo asks Steely about Vidromek. Robert tells him to look for a thirty-sixth box of Vidromek files.

25.206 Marcelo tells Jasmine everything he’s learned and asks her to look for the 36th box.

Ch. 21, 26.209 Marcelo tries to avoid Arturo, who wants to have lunch with him.

27.211 Jasmine has found a file, but before she gives it to Marcelo, she insists that he think through the possible consequences, as Vidromek is the firm’s biggest client, and if they leave, the other clients might as well. She tells him he should come with her to Vermont to think it over in peace before doing anything. The file contains a memo from the Quality Control chief to the president saying the windshields were unsafe. (Jasmine found the file in Arturo’s office, most likely, so Vidromek knew, and Arturo knew.)

Ch. 22, 28.216 Jasmine and Marcelo prepare to leave for Vermont. Flashback to Marcelo asking for permission from Arturo and Aurora. Arturo was reluctant to let Jasmine go.

29.218 Traveling, talking about Jasmine’s dad, Amos. Marcelo decides not to think about the memo just yet.

30.221 In Vermont:  introduction to Amos, who has dementia and a ribald mind. Jasmine shows him around the property, and he learns more of her backstory.

Ch. 23, 31.231 The Shackletons (friends of Jasmine’s family) come over. They are kind of checking out Marcelo, as he’s the first young man Jasmine has brought home. Jonah Shackleton has a “heart-to-heart” with him about it, and Marcelo is confused, as he has never thought about this question before. “Maybe attraction for another person is like the IM, where body and mind cannot be separated.” Marcelo talks with Jasmine about her future plans; she wants to move back to Vermont. Amos and the Shackletons talk some very funny bull about the bull and cow fucking.

Ch. 24, 32.247 The next morning, Jasmine and Marcelo leave for their camping trip. Long hike, fishing on the lake. Marcelo thinks about the memo. “I feel like what is right should be done no matter what. . . . I hear the right note. I recognize the wrong note. Maybe the right action is a lake like this one, green and quiet and deep.”

33.253 Marcelo and Jasmine have dinner. They talk about internal music. Marcelo is nervous about sleeping near Jasmine. They talk about love, including Marcelo’s own understanding of romance and sex. Jasmine tells him he’s always welcome to come back to Vermont. Chapter ends with Marcelo “feeling how it is not to be alone.”

Ch. 25, 34.262. Back at work on Tuesday, Marcelo definitively turns Wendell down, and Wendell, in anger about Marcelo’s weekend with Jasmine, gives him a letter from her to Arturo that reveals that the two of them did something (presumably had sex) in Arturo’s office after the Sandoval & Holmes Christmas party the previous year. Marcelo is angry, confused, and hurt by both of them, but he resolves he will not give the memo to Jerry Garcia to get revenge against his father.

Ch. 26, 35.267. Aurora has noticed how upset Marcelo is and takes him to see Rabbi Heschel. They talk about Marcelo’s disconnection from the IM and his new lack of interest in religion, as he feels it’s pointless. They have a gorgeous conversation about God’s will and divine fire. Marcelo determines that no matter his own confusion or hurt, “I can do justice for Ixtel.”

Ch. 27, 36.280. Marcelo returns to Jerry Garcia’s office and gives him the date of the memo, which will be enough for Jerry to request it. Marcelo has accepted that he’s going to public school because of this. Jerry invites Marcelo to come with him to see Ixtel and the nuns she lives with.

Ch. 28, 37.283 Wendell confronts Marcelo over his giving the memo to Jerry. He threatens to send a copy of Jasmine’s letter to Arturo to Aurora. Marcelo goes to see his father. Jerry has agreed to settle for $75,000. Arturo is angry and hurt that Marcelo did not come to talk to him about it. Marcelo points out that Arturo was willing to settle with Gustafson. Arturo says there are corporate, legal, and real-world rules Marcelo knows nothing about. Marcelo says he knew what would happen, and he would do it again. Marcelo is fired. As he leaves, he gives his father Jasmine’s letter.

Ch. 29, 37.291. Marcelo visits Ixtel. Her surgery has been scheduled. She seems to be at peace, and he asks her how that happened. She says that she decided to be kind to the ugly parts of herself, and then tried to be kind to other people’s ugly parts. Marcelo realizes everyone has ugly parts, and he must forgive those parts in Jasmine and his father. 

Ch. 30, 38.301 Aurora picks Marcelo up at the train station. He says, “Arturo is right. It is better for me to go to Oak Ridge High.” Marcelo reflects on the world’s suffering. “How is it possible to live without being either numb to it or overwhelmed by it?” He sympathizes with his mother, thinks about preparing for Oak Ridge, and does research on Vermont.

Ch. 31, 39.304 Arturo leaves Marcelo a letter saying he has “recognized the extent of my lack of judgment” with Jasmine. Jasmine stops by, but Marcelo is confused about how to talk to her. She says the firm will figure something out with Vidromek and Vidromek will make safer windshields. Marcelo tells Jasmine he knows about the Christmas party, and she says she and Arturo only kissed, and all their dealings since have been professional. She does not love Arturo. He tells her he wants to move to Vermont after he graduates, go to college there, become a nurse who does horse therapy with children, and (implicitly) be with her. She kisses him on the cheek. “I hear or I remember, I can’t tell which, the most beautiful of melodies.”