Middle Grade Book Club 2020 Wrap-Up

The Mad Hatters Middle Grade Book Club (Dragons and Unicorns Alliance) is made up of five kids aged 9 – 12. Every fortnight during the school term we explore both fiction and non-fiction targeted towards kids in upper primary school. We cover a range of genres and writing styles to broaden their variety of reading material as well as take into consideration what they do and do not like to read.

I’ve condensed our reads into a yearly wrap-up, rather than term-by-term as 2020 was a year. The first term was affected by social gathering restrictions due to COVID-19 so we unfortunately couldn’t continue after our second meeting; second term meetings were also cancelled. We were able to meet again in terms three & four where we moved to the big table to accommodate new members. And while life/school balance felt weird for lots of COVID19-related reasons, all our book club members tackled their reads with humour and good spirits and lot of laughter this year.

Each fortnight the kids read a new book and rated it on a 3 star scale:
1 star = okay; 2 stars = good; 3 stars = great.

Our holiday read was Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth by Lisa Nicol (Penguin Books), which was read by half the members (holiday activities got in the way of reading time which was understandable!) and very well liked for its imagination. There was a lively debate about which room we would stay in if we were at the hotel!

Rating:  two ★★½ and one ★★ ratings.

Book #1: The Thing About Oliver by Deborah Kelly (Wombat Books)

Our first official book of the term was The Thing About Oliver by Deborah Kelly. This book was chosen as members have a preference for contemporary stories about kids, and this was no exception. They empathized with the characters in this story and had a great discussion about how the story could have been different if it was set from the perspective of Tilly’s brother, mother or aunt. They compared the book to Everything I’ve Never Said by Samantha Wheeler, which they’d read the previous year.

Rating: Three 🐟🐟🐟 and  three 🐟🐟½.

Book #2: The Truth App (Liars #1) by Jack Heath (Schlastic)

Our second book, The Truth App (Liars #1), is a mystery thriller. This was a slightly darker book than we normally read, and one of the members had reservations that it would be too scary for them. We decided to go ahead and read it (cautioning that if it felt too scary to skip the scene or stop reading).  But we felt it was important to read as the members were getting older and it would be good to test the waters of a more upper age-appropriate read. The Truth App was decided to be scary at times, but enjoyable, and most of the members continued reading the series to the end (while spoiling the ending for me!)
Note: the series itself is higher primary, lower YA appropriate.

Rating: Four ★★★ and one ★★ ratings.

Book #3: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (Allen & Unwin)

Our first book of Term Three was Lalani of the Distant Sea was a very left-of-centre pick. An adventure story inspired by Filipino-folklore, our MG readers liked the concept and haunting folklore, but felt the plot took an odd turn and took too long to get to the ending. We also chatted about how the book had similarities to Moana in the main girl character setting out on a sea voyage to save her small island village. As an activity, we illustrated our favourite mythical creatures from the book.

Rating: One ★★½, two ★★, one ★½ and one ½ star ratings.

Book #4: Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams (Allen & Unwin)

Our second book of Term Three was a gothic mystery, Her Perilous Mansion. Our Book Club members love mystery books and so this book was very well-received. Admission: I did not finish the reading it as I didn’t like the book (😂) and so MG members spent 20mins answering my questions about the plot while very strongly recommending I finish reading it. They enjoyed the gothic elements of the book, the plot twist, the setting and main characters – and they also had fun writing down the names of Etta’s eleven sisters.

Rating: Two ★★ and two ★ ratings.

Book #5: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (Walker Books)

Our third book of Term Three was Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai. Book Club members previously read Pie in the Sky – and some even got to attend an illustration workshop Remy hosted in-store – and were looking forward to reading her new book. Members liked the writing and illustration style of the book, the fun, adventure elements of the plot, and we had a long chat about the nuances of friendship, (in particular growing out of friendships, making new friends and how we can sometimes misinterpret situations) and fitting in at school. We also spent some time illustrating our own three-part comic strips which were hilarious.

Rating: One ★★★ and two ★★ stars.

Book #6: Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Our second book of Term Two (first meeting cancelled due to unavailability) was Across the Risen Sea. We had previously read Bren MacDibble’s book, The Dog Runner. While members liked the plot, the sea voyage, and some of the characters, they ultimately felt that the plot, setting and some of the themes were confusing for them at times.

Rating: One ★★ and three ★ stars.

Book #7: Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus by Steven Herrick (University of Queensland Press)

Our last book of the term and year was Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus, a verse novel about a group of kids who face challenges in riding their bikes to school. This was the first verse novel we read for Book Club, though members had seen the format before – with it becoming an increasingly popular format for younger readers. MG members found the book very accessible, the voices distinctive, and as a bonus, we had a nice chat about the ethics of the book’s ending (a council petition was suggested as an alternative action!)

Rating: Four ★★ ratings.

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