The Complete List: What NPR's Backseat Book Club Has Read So Far

Carina Jaffe, 3; Larissa Jaffe, 9; Denali Jaffe, 10; Zahra Jaffe, 6; and their friend Christina Tonnu, 8, read <em>The Phantom Tollbooth</em> together in Philadelphia. (Courtesy the Jaffe Family)
Carina Jaffe, 3; Larissa Jaffe, 9; Denali Jaffe, 10; Zahra Jaffe, 6; and their friend Christina Tonnu, 8, read The Phantom Tollbooth together in Philadelphia. (Courtesy the Jaffe Family)

Ever since we launched NPR's Backseat Book Club in 2011, our young listeners have been busy reading — classics like The Wizard of Oz, Black Beauty and The Phantom Tollbooth, and newer tales, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Graveyard Book. If you know a kid age 9-14 who's looking for a great read, look no further: Here are all the books we've read so far. (And here's the list in printable form.)

The Complete List: What NPR's Backseat Book Club Has Read So Far


Roald Dahl's plucky heroine is able to survive her parents' neglect with the help of books. She teaches herself to read by age 3, finds her own way to the library by age 4 — and with the help of her magical abilities and her kind teacher Miss Honey — she takes on the brutish school headmistress Miss Trunchbull. With vivacious drawings by Quentin Blake, the story celebrates Matilda's love of books, and the joy they bring to her absurdly dark world.

Read More: Roald Dahl Wanted His Magical 'Matilda' To Keep Books Alive


In the 12 years that Michael Northrop spent working at Sports Illustrated Kids, he met excellent athletes who had a lot more going on in their lives than just sports. So in the book Plunked, Northrop tells the story of 12-year-old baseball player Jack Mogens — and his life both on and off the field. At the outset of Jack's last year of Little League he gets hit in the head with a fastball. Northrop says it's a comeback story, but not in the traditional sports sense.

Read More: After Getting 'Plunked' On The Head, A Little Leaguer Makes A Comeback


In Wonder, R.J. Palacio tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a serious facial deformity. He's a tough, sweet kid who's been home-schooled and protected by his close friends and family. Wonder follows his entry into the rough-and-tumble world of elementary school. Palacio says the book was inspired by a little girl who her own kids encountered at an ice cream store several years ago.

Read More: How One Unkind Moment Gave Way To 'Wonder'

Dork Diaries

Nikki J. Maxwell is the new girl at a fancy school (she has a scholarship because her dad is the school's exterminator). She's smart, but often feels like she has to decide whether she wants to be popular or embrace being a dork. Nikki navigates the challenges of teenage life with sass and a sense of humor. "I'd say probably about 80 percent of what we put in the book series is true or based on a true story," says author Rachel Renee Russell, whose daughters inspired her to write the books.

Read More: 'Dork Diaries' Reveal Secrets Of 'Not-So-Fabulous' Teen Life

Glory Be

Eleven-year-old Gloriana June Hemphill, better known as Glory, is just an ordinary little girl growing up in Hanging Moss, Miss. But this is no ordinary summer — it's 1964 and the town has shut down the so-called "community" swimming pool to avoid integration. It's a year that will teach Glory a lot about bigotry, loyalty and bravery. "She turned out to be a whole lot braver than I or any of my friends ever were," says author Augusta Scattergood.

Read More: Lessons In Bigotry And Bravery: A Girl Grows Up In 'Glory Be'

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan tells the story of a silverback gorilla living in a shopping mall. Luckily, Ivan has friends — an elephant, a dog and a young girl — and he enjoys watching TV and painting. But it's a newcomer — a baby elephant — who spurs Ivan into action and makes him face his own past. Fictional Ivan was inspired by a real gorilla who lived a similar life, alone in a circus-themed mall. But it's Applegate's imagining of Ivan's own backstory and relationships with the animals in his life that bring this tale alive.

Read More: Meet 'Ivan': The Gorilla Who Lived In A Shopping Mall

Lunch Lady #1

She yanks on her elbow-length rubber gloves and snaps the string of her apron into a knot — but this is no ordinary lunch lady. Not only does she serve food, she also serves justice. Like most cafeteria workers, she feeds breakfast and lunch each day to school children. But she also retreats to a Batman-like lair below the lunchroom. From there, she can monitor the whole school for suspicious characters like the Cyborg Substitute or the Video Game Villain. And like any good crime-fighter, she's loaded with cool gadgets like fish stick nunchucks, a spatu-copter, and a hairnet that catches the bad guys. Yes, these are fun, fired-up graphic stories that kids consume like popcorn. But they — like their author — have a sneaky depth that parents and kids alike can appreciate.

Read More: 'Lunch Lady' Author Helps Students Draw Their Own Heroes

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900, is one of the most beloved stories in popular American culture, but over the decades, the book has taken a back seat to the wildly successful Wizard of Oz film. We decided go back to where the yellow brick road began, with the original fairy tale authored by L. Frank Baum. In many ways it is a simple story of a girl who gets swept up in a Kansas cyclone and wakes up in a mystical land with flying monkeys, treacherous trees, scarecrows that sing and a scary green witch who rides bicycles. Baum had a strong sense that The Wizard of Oz would be a smash hit because it was a tale that touched on timely themes at the turn of the 20th century, but also timeless questions such as where does courage really come from? And why do humans always long to go back home? Magical illustrations by William Wallace Denslow capture the imagination of adults as well as kids.

Read More: Following The Yellow Brick Road Back To The Origins Of 'Oz'

Okay for Now

Fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. He has just moved to a new town, where he doesn't have any friends, and where his teachers — and the police — think of him as nothing more than a "skinny thug."

"He has a beat-up situation, a beat-up family, a beat-up house," author Gary D. Schmidt explains. "And he comes to a new town, trying to find a new way to start. But he brings all of his beat-upedness with him."

Eventually, Doug finds his way to the local library, where he discovers a beautiful edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America. When he notices that nine of the pages with plates of birds have been cut out with a razor blade, he resolves to track them down.

Read More: With Audubon's Help, Beat-Up Kid Is 'Okay For Now'

The Red Pyramid

Egyptian gods reign supreme in The Red Pyramid from Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. It tells the story of a brother and sister — Carter and Sadie Kane — who have lived apart most of their lives. One Christmas Eve, their father brings them both together for a trip to the British Museum, and a terrible, magical accident happens that unleashes the gods of ancient Egypt into the modern world. Carter and Sadie learn that they are descended from ancient Egyptian magicians. This means they are the only ones who have the magic that might be able to put the gods back where they belong — before the world spirals out of control.

Read More: In 'Red Pyramid,' Kid Heroes Take On Ancient Egypt

Black Beauty

Generations of children and adults have loved Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. With vivid detail and simple, yet lyrical prose, Black Beauty describes both the cruelty and kindness that an ebony-colored horse experiences through his lifetime — from the open pastures in the English countryside to the cobblestone grit of 19th-century England. Sewell wanted the reader to see the world from a horse's point of view and so Black Beauty tells his own story in these pages. His wise observations and unvarnished candor reveal much about both human nature and animal suffering.

Read More: How 'Black Beauty' Changed The Way We See Horses

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The wimpy kid of the title is Greg Heffley, who works hard to fit in and be cool at his middle school. The books are small and simple, filled with hangman-style drawings and text that looks as though it's been scribbled by hand with pencil. In fact, Diary of a Wimpy Kid actually looks like some kid's diary, and that's a big part of the appeal.

With jeans, tennis shoes and a broad, toothy smile, author Jeff Kinney looks a bit like a big kid himself. "I think I felt a lot like Greg Heffley as a kid," he says. "You know, I did a lot of the same sorts of things that Greg did and I wasn't always the best kid. I was average but I wasn't always the best."

Read More: Gross-Out Gags AND Life Lessons In 'Wimpy Kid'

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai begins in 1841, and is based on the sprawling true-life tale of Manjiro, whose destiny was almost determined before birth as a son in a long line of fishermen. But a storm blew his life on a new course, and he became one of the first Japanese to set foot in America. It's a story that's so fantastic, so full of twists and turns, that it would be hard to make up. Manjiro left Japan for his first fishing trip at age 14, but was swept away from the coast and shipwrecked, Preus explains. After surviving for five months on an island, he was picked up by an American whaling ship and brought to the U.S., where he studied and had many adventures.

Read More: Meet Manjiro, Japan's Unlikely Teen Ambassador


Seedfolks takes us to the heart of the city of Cleveland, and a neighborhood that has seen better days. It's filled with people — mostly immigrants — who live in close proximity but barely share more than an occasional "hello." They all stay in apartments surrounding a vacant lot that, in the course of this story, is transformed from a smelly junkyard into a lush community garden.

That garden in Seedfolks is like a big green magnet. It pulls in immigrants who yearn for vegetables they can't find at local markets. It beckons the wounded who find a reason to live as they watch life sprout from little seeds. And it calls out to the elderly who find memories in the soil.

Read More: Both Community And Garden Grow In 'Seedfolks'

The Mysterious Benedict Society

In The Mysterious Benedict Society, four exceptional children wind up going on the adventure of a lifetime after answering a rather strange newspaper ad. It reads, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Dozens of children answer the ad and try to conquer a series of mind-boggling tests. But only four are able to pass. All are orphans, and each is a genius in his or her own way. Assuming different identities, they attend a school run by the evil Mr. Curtain — and the kids must use their skills to stop his plan for worldwide mind control. The Mysterious Benedict Society is filled with twists and turns and constant conundrums. It's not just mysterious. It's also fantastic and heart thumping and just plain fun.

Read More: 'Mysterious Benedict': Solve A Puzzle, Save The World

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses, a children's classic written in 1944 by Eleanor Estes, is about Wanda Petronski, a Polish schoolgirl whose classmates tease her for wearing tattered clothes. The story was inspired by a little girl Estes remembered from her own childhood who was picked on by other kids. Over six decades, The Hundred Dresses has touched millions of kids with its poignant tale of bullies and bystanders.

Read More: Two Books For Kids About How Hard It Is To Fit In

Shooting Kabul

Fadi and his family escape from the Taliban's grip in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. During the harrowing journey, Fadi's little sister drops her doll and gets separated from the family as they climb onto a truck and speed away into the night. Fadi's family ends up in Northern California, and as they struggle to assimilate, Fadi also struggles with his guilt; he feels responsible for losing his sister Mariam, because he was supposed to be holding onto her hand.

Fadi arrives in the U.S. with just a few cherished items: his favorite book and his camera. The title — Shooting Kabul — refers to the photos he loves to take. In school, it's difficult for him to fit in; he struggles to learn the language, culture and customs of America. Then Sept. 11 happens, and navigating his new country becomes even more difficult for Fadi. "He, being an Afghan — he, being a Muslim — faces a lot of issues that happen in the grown-up world," says author Naheed Senzai. "And as we know, they trickle down onto the playground at school."

Read More: Two Books For Kids About How Hard It Is To Fit In

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis — describes the civil rights era from the perspective of a young (and extremely mischievous) boy and his family. When young Byron Watson becomes too much to handle, his family decides to send him from Flint, Mich. to his legendarily tough Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Ala. — in that incendiary year of 1963 when tensions over school desegregation were roiling.

Read More: 'Birmingham': A Family Tale In The Civil Rights Era


Breadcrumbs is an enchanting modern-day fairy tale by Anne Ursu, author of the popular Cronus Chronicles trilogy. Ursu says the story was inspired in large part by her own "snow coated" memories of growing up in Minnesota. Navigating the wintery world of Breadcrumbs are best friends Hazel and Jack, fifth-graders in a working-class Minneapolis neighborhood. Adopted as a baby from India, Hazel feels like an outsider, especially after her parents split up and she's forced to attend a new school. Meanwhile, Jack is facing his own family challenges, and the two friends begin to drift apart. Their all-too-familiar problems are given a supernatural twist when Jack disappears, supposedly lured into the forest by a woman in white. It's up to Hazel to brave the wintry woods and find her friend.

Read More: 'Breadcrumbs': Young Readers Follow A Wintry Tale

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth — written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer — tells the story of Milo, who lives in a state of constant boredom until one day a tollbooth magically appears in his bedroom with a map and a series of strange instructions. Milo dusts off an old toy car and drives through the tollbooth to the Lands Beyond. There, he has the adventure of a lifetime. He visits places like Digitopolis and Dictionopolis, and he meets people with silly habits and a very odd way of speaking. Generations of young readers have delighted in the 50-year-old classic, which is chock-full of puns, riddles and wordplay.

Read More: Kids' Book Club Takes 'Tollbooth' To Lands Beyond

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book opens with a dash of horror: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife ... It's a murderous knife — one that has just killed the family of the protagonist the readers are about to meet. The young boy, Nobody Owens, escapes the knife and toddles his way into a graveyard, where he's raised by ghosts. Gaiman says he'd describe the book as eight short stories — each story taking place two years after the story before it. It follows the boy through his teenage years; he's raised by dead people, but still learns the value of life.

Read More: Kids' Book Club: A 'Graveyard' Tour With Neil Gaiman

Copyright NPR 2022.




Listen Live