I was standing at the counter at Nicola's Books, and I heard someone ask a staff person, "I'm looking for a book for an eight-year-old boy..." which just set me off onto a rumination of kids' books.
This past year, I discovered two fantasy series I liked. I'm not pretending they are new, just that I hadn't read the Charlie Bone series of books (Jenny Nimmo) or the Garth Nix series Keys to the Kingdom.
Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered a new kids' mysteries author: Diane Stanley. (Try The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy.) They are different, but almost as good as, Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes mystery series, or Blue Balliet's art and architecture mysteries, like Chasing Vermeer. (Calling them art and architecture mysteries makes them sound lame, and they are so seriously the antithesis of lame).
Then I started thinking about The Secret Garden, The Moffats, and the book I read about fifty times in high school, The Hobbit (yes, a book can be a classic and fantasy too).
I was standing in line at Nicola's buying Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for my 11-year-old, who said, when I gave it to him, "I heard that's a good book." (I wonder who he heard that from?)
You could also try Avi's Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? (a lighter story about the radio), or Linda Sue Park's book about the Japanese take over of Korea during WWII, When My Name Was Keoko.
If you liked Harriet the Spy (which I will confess I did not), you will probably like Madeleine George's book Looks. At least, my husband told me the characters reminded him of the characters in Harriet the Spy. It is called realistic fiction because it has that real middle school/high school feeling--in other words, not everybody is nice...
Ever and always, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
Or if you want a really great anthology, try A Child's Anthology of Poetry, edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword.
Why am I telling you this? In case you end up at Nicola's like me, looking for that perfect book...