SPRING 2023: Paired Readings / Ages 9-14

This posting presents fiction and nonfiction titles  for middle years readers that are matched up in pairs because they can be connected by theme, content, or genre. 


GOING GRAPHIC x 2:  13 year old boys goes on a school trip to Europe


Picture book author and illustrator of novels ,Dan Santat (After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again); The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend (Caldecott Medal, 2015) takes a journey into his past in this graphic memoir depicting his life as awkward eighth gradel student.  The story is an artful recollection of a 17 day school day trip to Europe where encounters many firsts: drinking Fanta, eating Fondu, going to a nightclub and a venture into first love. Told with humour and heart, this autobiography will be enjoyed by middle readers who can identify with being teased, with trying to fit in, and with having their world open up as they take baby steps and giant steps into the passage of growing up. 

SCHOOL TRIP by Jerry Craft

Jerry Craft is a terrific graphic novelists. He is the author of New Kid (2020 Newbery Medal winner) and has since written two companion titles, Class Act and School Trip where we meet middle-school students who attend Riverdale Academy Day School. In this third book, Jordan Banks and a group of school mates go a school trip to Paris, France, where they navigate the sounds (and tastes) of this magnifique European city. The thirteen to fourteen year old boys and girls also find themselves navigating their friendships, worries and  class and race differences that they encountered back home. Jordon, the main protagonist of Craft’s series hopes that this trip will help him figure out WHO he is, and what he REALLY wants. He has just received admission to an art school and needs to decide whether he will pursue the dream of becoming an artist even though it means he will be the ‘new kid’ once again. I particularly like the black and white chapter interludes that cover such topics as ‘Tips for Not Shaking Hands’ ‘Airplane Etiquette’; and ‘Attack of Thumb-downers’.  For discerning graphic readers, there’s sure to be a laugh found within every spread. This is another great story that illuminates the awkwardness and concerns of being a middle-age student. Formidable! P.S. Thanks to Mr. Craft for including my birthday date (hidden in a billboard sign). 


FICTION x2: British Authors

THE CATS WE MEET ALONG THE WAY by Nadia Mikail (ages 12+)

Not satisfied with her family’s lifestyle or the prospect’s that await, her, June leaves her family home. But when news that the end of the world is imminent, June’s sister, seventeen-year old Aisha embarks on a journey through Malaysia in a campervan accompanied by her mother, Aisha’s boyfriend, his parents and a cat named Fleabag, to reunite with her sister. Though there is the calamity of the world ending in nine months time, this is not a typical  ‘dystopia’ science fiction story. The narrative by debut author, Nadia Mikails is a stirring account of grief, loss and healing.

THE NIGHT BUS HERO by Onjali Q. Rauf

British author, Onjali Q. Rauf (The Boy at the Back of the Bus) has written a story that connects the menace of a mean bully with the plight of homelessness. Told from the bully’s point of view, we learn of Hector’s mean tricks he plays on others (extortion); stealing the trolley of a homeless man. Hector seems to have no remorse until the day he gets caught in the mission to find out who is stealing items from some important monuments in London (the fountain in Piccadilly Square, Paddington Bear’s statue). In the later part of the story Hector seems to be ‘turning around’ after volunteering in a soup kitchen and after listening to the background stories of homeless characters. A wild adventure plot unfolds when Hector and the homeless Thomas embark on solving the thief problem. A rather engaging story where a bully becomes a hero but, more importantly, an eye-opener for readers to reflect upon the plight of the homeless and perhaps take action to find out more of homeless people in their own communities.

Both authors’ books have been recognized by Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize: The Cats We Meet Along the Way  by Nadia Mikail(2023); The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf(2019)


FICTION x2: British author, Katherine Rundell

THE GOOD THIEVES by Katherine Rundell

Rundell is a great storyteller who wraps the readers up in mystery and adventure and imagination. The setting is 1920’s in Manhattan. Vita is the central character of this story who learns that her grandfather’s mansion has been taken from him. To get justice, Vita is fiercely determined to fight a powerful real estate tycoon.  She is joined by a pickpocket and some circus friends who  get caught in a web of escapades, escaping danger chapter by chapter as they move closer to solving the mystery of a hidden jewel and get back what rightfully belongs to Vita’s grandfather. A compelling read. 

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers is the winner of several book awards, including Waterstones Children’ Book award and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. In the  opening pages of the book readers meet Sophie, survivor of a shipwreck floating in a cello case in the English Channel. She is rescued by an eccentric bachelor who gives her a unique cultural and literary education, much to the who threaten to send Sophie to an orphanage. Charles and Sophie, escape to Paris. When Sophie encounters a group of orphaned children who survive atop Parisian rooftops, she sets off an adventure hoping to fulfill her dream of being  reunited with her mother whom all believe to be dead. Nighttime rooftop adventures fill the last part of the story  that will engage readers who enjoy magical narratives. (I preferred reading about her life in London the early part of the novel). “Never ignore the possible” is Sophie’s mantra in life” that spurs her – and readers -on. Shout Out to Terry Fan’s spot ‘circular’  illustrations that introduce each chapter. 


FICTION x2: Robot Characters

ROBODOG by David Walliams; illus. Adam Stower

Another year, another great release from bestselling author David Walliams who hasn’t yet lost his sense of humour or sense of mischief. This is yet another wild ride with the Walliams and Stower team with the invention of Robodog, the newest recruit at the Police Dog School, the perfect hero for helping police solve crimes in the town of Bedlam, one of the most dangerous places on earth filled with villains, i.e. cat villains, Velma (a dog-hating feline who belongs to the chief of police and her partner), Slash (the most terrifying), Codger (the oldest) and Pavarotti (the biggest). 


Mr. Aidact has been assigned to teach at Brightling Middle School and students are wowed by his talents to remember song lyrics and trivia as well as his skill at coaching the girls’ field hockey team. Teachers at the school admire him because he takes over bus, detention and cafeteria duties.  Oliver Zahn, renowned rule-breaker and spitball champion becomes suspicious of Mr. Aidact’s background and when they learn that he is a robot, he and his sidekick, Nathan Popova, embark on a mission to protect this popular teacher, especially when the parent community is up in arms and want to get rid of him. Once again, Mr. Korman presents a plot filled with hi-jinx, mischief and the world of middle age students. The narratives of each chapter are presented through alternating voices. Another super read from the superauthor, Gordon Korman. 



BIG TREE by Brian Selznick

Big Tree is a big book. At 525 pages, it may seem to be a daunting read for middle-age readers. However, in Brian Selznick’s masterful style, the story is mostly told through black and white graphite pencil illustrations  Even some of the verbal passages are less than 1/4 page, some being only one-sentence in length.  Imagine a story told about two brave seeds. Louise and her brother, Merwin hope to settle down one day and become trees. A forest fire forces the two seed siblings to be separated from their mother and they are catapulted into a world of the unknown where they encounter, dinosaurs, meteors and volcanoes. Will they ever find a place to take root, settle down, and grow into trees? Will these two wee sycamore seeds be the salvation of the natural world from the Cretaceous Age into the future? As with other Selznick stories (The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Wonderstruck) text and visuals work together to tell a story. A captivating read filled with science, planet protection,  anthropomorphic heroes, and hope. WOW!

FINALLY SEEN by Kelly Yang

Lina Gao has been living in Beijing under her grandmother’s care. Her parents and younger sister have been living in California and have finally made plans for reunite with Lina. Although she will miss the special times she had with her grandmother, Lina is excited to be living in the United States. Kelly Yang coneys the trials of being an ELL student, the hardships of being an immigrant family who struggle to pay the rent, the challenges of being teased and confronting racism. But Lina is resilient and eagerly joins in her mother’s plans to establish a worthwhile business of selling bath bombs. She slowly discovers the hard work life of her father who helps out on a local farm with hopes of getting a green card. Kelly Yang’s gives her characters (and her readers) and optimistic outlook on life, even though living the American Dream may be but a dream. As one caring teacher tells Lina, “Your dreams matter. You Matter. Never forget that.” (p, 181).

You’re the daughter of first-generation immigrants. Your blood is made of iron will and determination. Your backbone is uildt from the sacrifices and impossible decisions of all those who walked before you.” (p. 235)

I first encountered Kelly Yang’s talents with Front Desk and though I’m not usually fond of reading sequels, I continued to be enamoured with her engaging style and her depiction of Asian American identities in the Front Desk series. I was aggravated to read that her book Front Desk was getting banned in some school districts because it was considered ‘divisive’.  Are you kidding me? (The issue of conquering book banning is beautifully conveyed in this new novel ) I was surprised (and very pleased) to discover a new 2013 release. It seems that I just finished reading New From Here and Room to Dream. Prolific she is too. Kelly Yang is the amongst the best of the best contemporary authors for middle-age readers. Her books need to be read!