An 8th grade girl said something very interesting today. During a conversation about why parents are so often “missing” from young adult novels, the conversation turned to Harry Potter. We talked about the reasons why authors might decide that their young protagonists would be better off without parents. We also discussed other thematic elements of the Harry Potter novels and what they meant to the story.
“I liked the novels better the first time I read them – when they were just about the story,” said the student. As I thought more about it today, I think her point was a good one. Other students agreed that, while it was nice to learn about Rowling’s influences and to understand the symbols, it was even more fun not to know and to just read the series oblivious to the way things work.
There is that special time in a reader’s young life when they aren’t burdened by figuring things out or understanding the scaffolding of the story. That’s when reading is most magical. It’s why picture books are so enchanting to very young children or, as my student pointed out, why they remember the first time they met Harry Potter and Hagrid. Here are 5 middle grade novels that are guaranteed to add a touch of whimsy – and magic – to the holidays.
Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck (I just finished this book today and think I laughed on every page. An adventure story with mice. It’s 1887, and the mice are sailing to England to help “their” human find love. Need I say more? It’s excellent.)
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor (I’ve written about this one before. I love Barbara O’Connor’s novels for middle grade readers. They are charming, well-written and have memorable characters – no easy task, but O’Connor makes it seem effortless)
The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson and John Paterson (An updated version of the 1910 fairy tale)
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (If you read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you know why this one is on the list. A triumph of the imagination)
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (I saw a reference to the excellent game of Pooh Sticks today and was reminded how timeless the Pooh stories are. Not new, but absolutely necessary in any conversation about fun and whimsy)