The Best Books of 2019 for ages 12-14

2019 was a great year for books for just-teens. From fantasy, to coming of age a wide variety of writing showed up on the bookshelves.

For fantasy lovers, Kwame Mblalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky fuses a 13-year old’s quest for glory in boxing with a fascinating fantasy element when he stumbles into magical land peopled by West African deities and characters from African-American folklore

Another one for the sports fans is a charming book – Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt. Carter Jones is a bit troubled, as is his family. Carter and his sister have lost a brother and their father has been sent off on military deployment. And mom’s not coping very well. Enter the butler. Yes, an honest-to-goodness real English butler, bowler hat and all show up on the doorstep. With a little guidance, lots of empathy and lots more of cricket, the butler gently helps them get it all together.

Cricket plays a role in this year’s Peek A Book Children’s Choice Award-winning Across the Line by Nayanika Mahtani. Inaya is from Rawalpindi; Jai from Delhi. It is not likely that their paths will ever cross. But they do. And when that happens the past catches up with the present in the most unexpected ways. An unusual book that touches upon the partition and how it touched the lives of those that lived through it.

Touted as one of the best middle-grade graphic novels This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews is a beautifully rendered graphic novel of a quest and of friendship. On the night of the autumn equinox, the townspeople gather to float paper lanterns down the river. But where do the lanterns end up? A group of boys set off on their bicycles to follow the lanterns and the river to discover as much about themselves as the lantern’s final destination.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee takes us to 1890s Atlanta where Chinese-American Jo Kuan works as a ladies maid by day. But she’s accidentally found herself a new job as an anonymous “agony aunt” for a failing newspaper. This cleverly written column quickly becomes a showcase for her voice that addresses many forms of prejudice.

While on the subject of historical fiction, I must mention Being Gandhi by Paro Anand. This one is quite a short book but has no qualms about touch on difficult topics like the 1984 riots after PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The hero Chandrashekar has no real idea to do a project on Gandhi, he hardly knows anything about him, but come October 2 he is expected to trot out the mandatory “Gandhi” project. But soon enough the riots occur and he begins to understand not just the man, but for what he stood for. Award-winning Paro Anand has yet a winner on her hands.

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds is a fascinating collection of 10 short stories that follow a group of children as they leave school to go home. The journey home could well be one of navigating life – showing all the different directions a walk home can take.

The Lies We Tell by Himanjali Sankar is more towards the 14-year-old end of this list’s readers. A beautiful emotional foray into the life and mind of a teenager who’s break up with his girlfriend sets him off on a road spiraling down into depression. This is excellent writing, with interesting characters as well as empathy leaping off the pages.

By Lubaina Bandukwala, Curator Peek A Book Literature Festival for Kids

Show a child love and care and save them from child labour and trafficking

I want to drive awareness about the evils of child Labour and child trafficking. 

Child labour is when a person or company employs a child to work. Poor family’s don’t have enough money to fulfill their needs. The adults in the family work but they don’t earn enough money so many times they are forced to send their child to work.

The children aren’t sent to school but have to work in places like farms, factories and construction sites. The children are made to do hard physical labour for more than 12-14 hours a day. For example, they are made to work in farms where they are exposed to harsh weather and harmful chemicals such as pesticides. At construction sites, they risk hurting themselves with falling debris.

The 4 main aspects of a child’s rights are Development, Survival, Protection, and Participation. The development aspect means that a child should mentally and physically grow in a normal way and have a normal childhood with basic education. Participation is that a child is able to freely express themselves, especially their likes and dislikes. Protection is that a child should have somebody protecting them like a parent or a guardian. Survival is that a child should have basics such as food and shelter to survive.

There are organizations that help to protect these children from companies that offer them cheap and strenuous labor but in turn, offer them a good education. I have interacted with a large NGO named CRY and I believe they do a fabulous job. To learn more about them here are their websites:

Child trafficking is another evil and takes place when somebody buys a child. Sometimes people tempt poor uneducated families to sell their children to them. They convince them that ‘ the city is a much better place your child will get food and his needs.’ Most times parents get swayed by the money and give in. It is very sad to see these children separated from their family and sent to the city where awful things happen to them.

In school, we had a guest speaker from the organization Bhachpan Bhachoo –

Their organization has helped 210 children from being trafficked. They started the organization in 1980. Till now they’ve saved 90,000 children. This was started by Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi who has helped so many children and fought for them. He is trying to abolish the child labor law that allows children under 14 years of age to “support” their families. This law is misinterpreted as financial support too. We wish him luck and hope he is able to change these horrible laws.

Tarika Choksey is a quirky 10-year-old who attends Bombay International School. She is an avid reader who loves all sorts of contemporary music, plays the piano, sings and dances for fun and never misses football practice

Because every child deserves a chance

I feel strongly about child rights and I want everyone to know that every child, if given a chance, can achieve anything and turn their life around.

At my home, I have a house help whose son, Logash is a football champion! Logash is 13 years old and he and he has gone through regionals and nationals! He comes from an underprivileged background and where he goes for training, everything over there is provided for free. Though his training is outside of his school, the organization has joined their school to help their training improve. Logash works very hard to achieve his dream and I think he will be able to go a long way ahead.

I went for a robotics competition and when the winners were announced the winner of the competition was a group of underprivileged girls who had come from a village near Akola, Aurangabad and they didn’t have the funds or money for even the basic necessities of life but yet they had the confidence, determination and will to do anything. They were in the eighth standard and started learning robotics in their school. All of the material was provided and they had one difficulty, they didn’t know how to speak English. Lucky for them their teacher was very sweet and helped them build the robot and project. Even though their teacher met with an accident and was in a wheelchair, she still didn’t give up and helped the girls achieve their dreams.

Akola girls team with their teacher

Airah Khandelwal is a feisty nine-year-old who attends Bombay International School in Mumbai. She loves football, art, and anything to do with music and dance.

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Children’s Books in 2019: Peek A Book’s top picks for 10-12 year olds

The world though books in 2019 as seen through children’s books was a fascinating one. Internationally, books reflected changing societies and issues that affect the lives of children. Characters, settings or stories touched up a wide variety of themes from racial discrimination to mental health. In India, storytelling became more innovative and non-fiction, more creative. Here are Peek A Book’s favs of 2019.

In 2019 two fabulous writers Katherine Rundell and Francis Hardinge were back with great books.

The Good Thieves (Bloomsbury), set in 1920s New York is a fast-paced adventure through the city with young Vita and her three intrepid, if slightly dubious friends. Their goal? To bring a notorious conman who has swindled Vita’s grandfather of his possessions, to justice. Written in Rundell’s inimitable style, with quirky loveable characters and great atmosphere.

Costa Award winner Hardinge, is in her element marrying fantasy with adventure in Deeplight (Pan Macmillian). Hark and his friend Jelt live on an island by a seas that once churned with the wrath of the under-sea gods who destroyed each other. But now the sea is once more stirring as something rises beneath the waves. Should Hark and Jelt heed the call? Then again, some things are left well alone.

While on adventures, one of the most unputdownable books for 10-11 year-olds this year was All of Me by Venita Coelho (Harper Collins India). This is Victorian London. The year, 1854. Eleven-year-old Castor has been locked away in a basement by his uncle for five years – he’s not alone, but accompanied by his “family.” When Castor managed to get out he finds that there is more danger without than within the cellar. He unwittingly gets embroiled in the search for the great Kohinoor diamond, gets tangled with a shadowy secret society, and runs into all kinds of people from royalty to common thieves.

Best-selling author Raina Telgemeier’s third graphic novel, Guts (Scholastic), came out – and didn’t disappoint. She continues to explore the trials and tribulations of middle school with one more complication – a case of full blown anxiety.

Depression is also the underlying feature in the poignant All the Grey’s on Greene Street Laura Tucker (Viking). Twelve-year-old Ollie’s dad has suddenly and secretly gone away to France and her mom cannot seem to get out of bed. This is a story of family, friendships, depression, and the healing power of art against the diverse backdrop of New York in the ’80s.

Arun is 7 years old and for the first time in his life has come into contact with a father he has never known. Balaji Venkatraman’s Pops (Duckbill) is a poignant, yet funny look at the child caught in the problematic relationships of adults.

Credit: This list was thoughtfully put together for you by: Lubaina Bandukwala, Curator Peek A Book Literature Festival for Children