When you’re a writer, a story or blog post doesn’t come easily. With such benefits as cramped hands, frustration, and procrastination, something you love doing can also become a real pain at times. That’s how I’ve been feeling this past month. I knew I wanted to write about something, but I didn’t have any ideas that inspired me to write a blog post I actually ended up finishing. I’ve craved the feeling, the sensation of writing, but my idea vault has been bone-dry.
Hoping to get at least one more post in this summer before school starts, I looked over at my sister in desperation one morning. She’d just woken up, so I knew she’d still be cranky, but hey, like I said, I was desperate for a good idea. I opened my mouth to ask her for an idea of something I could write about, but the words died on my lips. For in that moment I realized that my sister was the idea.
Sophie and I share an age difference of 3 and a half years. Me being the older sister, those 3 and a half years can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because she’s not so much younger that we can’t relate, and I’m able to share my advice with her on topics like middle school and periods.(Yes, I put the word “period” in writing. People all over the world are menstruating for more than 40 years of their lives. Something so common shouldn’t be taboo! But that’s a blog post for another day.)
Like I was saying, our age difference can be a curse because we’re at different stages of development, and have widely varied likes and interests. But this time our differing interests worked in my favour.
When it comes to books, I’ll read whatever tickles my fancy. Historical fiction, YA fiction, graphic novels, even Sci-Fi if the premise is enticing enough. But Sophie has a different way of doing things. She refuses to read books from libraries and book boxes because “You don’t know who’s touched those books! Someone could have sneezed on them!”. So, as a result, she isn’t exposed to as wide a variety of books as I am. Instead, her book intake consists primarily of old class read-alouds, books she’s been given as gifts, and a few that she saw promoted in her favourite magazine, Girl’s World.
Anyways, the morning I almost asked her for blog post ideas, she was reading a former class read-aloud called Restart by Gordon Korman. Seeing Sophie in the act of reading jumpstarted my brain, and made me wonder which of her selective reads were her favourites. Surprisingly for so early in the morning, she actually gave me fairly detailed list.
If any pre-teens in your life need book recommendations, look no further. Each of the books you’ll see on this list have been chosen by an actual pre-teen(Sophie), and then reviewed by a teenager(Me). All have been highly praised by Sophie, and in some cases her classmates, too. I’ve broken Sophie’s book picks into three distinct categories since she gave me a lot to work with, so feel free to skip down to whatever category suits your reading tastes. Without further ado, I present to you Sophie’s Picks!
Category 1: All About School
When it comes to books targeted towards tweens, school is a pretty safe location to set the story in. The main characters are usually students, so it’s easy for readers to relate to their experiences. School is also a location that lends itself perfectly to drama. Having the same group of kids together every weekday for 10 months, it’s practically a scientific fact that day-to-day classroom life will get a little crazy.
For those two reasons, it’s no surprise that books about school are usually the ones that end up being chosen as class read-alouds. Students can write endless reflection pieces on how they relate to a certain character or event, which makes lesson plans a whole lot easier for teachers. And besides, school-set books are written by current or former teachers 7 times out of 10, so you know the book has been developed to appeal to children’s interests and attention spans. All together, it’s a recipe for the perfect tween read-aloud.
In my experience, there are generally two types of books whose plots revolve around school. The first type focuses on the students themselves as they navigate the ups and downs of the school year. The second type is about a student or group of friends whose lives change for the better with the introduction of an incredible teacher who understands them like no one else. For the All About School category, I’ve chosen 1 book for each of the types I mentioned.
Wonder by R.J Palacio:
This book probably doesn’t need an introduction, as it’s been topping best-seller lists for years now, and was made into a highly successful movie in 2017. But for those of you who’ve not yet had a chance to discover this incredible book, here’s a quick synopsis.
August (“Auggie”) Pullman is normal in every way but one. Born with a facial deformity, he’s undergone 27 different surgeries to improve his quality of life, and hides his face behind an astronaut helmet whenever he goes out in public. For those reasons, Auggie has always been homeschooled, but his parents decide that 5th grade is the perfect time for him to start attending a regular school. As you can imagine, Auggie has a hard time adjusting at first, being stared at wherever he goes, and even bullied. But slowly his classmates warm up to Auggie, and he finds a group of friends who will stand by him no matter what.
This book is a real tug on the heartstrings, and beautifully written. You can see yourself in each of the characters who narrate the story, from Auggie’s patient sister Via, to his closest friend Jack Will. Auggie is a loveable character who worms his way into your heart, and his story will remain with you long after the last page. Honestly, I’m hard-pressed to find something about Wonder that I didn’t like!
Sophie read Wonder a little later than I did, but she’s certainly made up for lost time. One of the companion books to Wonder is called 365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Precepts. In Wonder, Mr. Browne is Auggie’s English teacher, who gives his students a new precept(a life lesson, or rule to live by) to write about each month. As the title suggests, 365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Precepts takes that to the next level by giving you a new precept for every day of the year. Sophie has used these precepts to inspire her, and puts the daily quote up on her whiteboard so she can see and reflect upon it throughout the day.
The Mr. Terupt series by Rob Buyea:
Peter, Alexia, Anna, Danielle, Jessica, Jeffrey, and Luke are 7 members of a 5th-grade class lucky enough to be taught by brand-new teacher Mr. Terupt . With his calm and cool demeanour, his students soon come to love him, and start to notice the differences he’s made in their lives. But when an accident puts Mr. Terupt’s life in jeopardy, the kids realize just how much they really need him, and come together as they await the news they anxiously hope for, or the news they dread.
I’ll tell you right here and now that I didn’t expect to like this series. Sophie’s re-read the Mr. Terupt series a great deal of times, so I knew I couldn’t leave it out of this post. But I still thought that it would be just another one of those books/book series about a miracle teacher, with dialogue better suited to Sophie’s age range than mine. So imagine my surprise when I read the entirety of the first book(Because of Mr. Terupt) in one sitting, and actually really enjoyed it! Like Sophie had mentioned when she was trying to talk up the book to me, I found it interesting to witness several (or 7) different perspectives of the same event. You really feel like you’re inside the characters’ heads because each has a different reaction to a specific event, and you can see from their backstories why that reaction is what it is.
Speaking of backstories, I have to give Rob Buyea credit for making the Mr. Terupt series one of the most realistic school-set series I’ve read in a long time. Instead of giving everyone a happy, “normal” family life, his characters have widely varied personal lives and struggles that represent the situations everyday kids are experiencing. For example, Alexia falls in with the wrong crowd, and struggles to break free. Anna was the result of a teen pregnancy, and has a hard time reaching out to people because she’s worried that they’ll leave, like her father did. Luke, normally an enthusiastic learner, ducks into the shadows when he discovers how different middle school is. The list goes on. And these characters don’t have their backgrounds to simply add interest to the story, or to be used in an attempt to make the series more inclusive. Throughout all three books in the series(with a fourth coming out this fall), their situations remain focal points in their lives, and aren’t fixed by magic. Well, maybe not by magic, but Mr. Terupt certainly helps the students with whatever they’re dealing with in a way that could be considered magic. He’s the perfect example of a trusted adult readers can go to in real life if they need help. And even if readers feel uncomfortable telling a trusted adult about their issue, they can clearly see in the books how the characters moved forward from similar experiences. I know not every child will come into contact with the things the characters in the Mr. Terupt series did, but reading about it is a great way to realize that not everyone’s situation is the same, and learn to be more considerate of your own friends’ situations. Needless to say, I am very impressed by the Mr. Terupt series, and I can’t wait to find out what happens in book 4.
Category 2: Bake It Up
During COVID, Sophie’s been staving off boredom by finding ways to create. From her newfound love of photography, to the miniature yarn hats she assembled to spell out a message for our grandmother, Sophie’s made her fair share of creations these past few months. But out of all of Sophie’s crafts and hobbies, the one I love the most is her skill in the kitchen. Using some of the recipes from the cookbooks I’ll talk about in a second, Sophie will whip up everything from brownies and cupcakes to cookies and lemon loaf. And I don’t know whether she does something special when she bakes, or if she just has the magic touch, but her treats turn out delicious every single time.
While she will occasionally help out with more substantial meals, Sophie’s specialty is baked goods. Knowing that, she’s ended up with a collection of cookbooks over the years that cover almost any sweet treat you can think of. These two cookbooks below are the ones Sophie uses the most frequently, and for good reason.
Baking All Year Round by Rosanna Pansino:
Being a big Youtube watcher, Sophie was thrilled to discover that one of her favourite Youtubers, Rosanna Pansino, had written two cookbooks filled with recipes from her cooking show Nerdy Nummies. Rosanna’s second cookbook, Baking All Year Round, particularly caught Sophie’s eye for the appeal of baking treats that correlated(to use Sophie’s favourite word) with a specific holiday. For a girl all about organization, it was perfect. Since then, Sophie’s used the recipes in this cookbook most memorably to make a Rose Cupcake Bouquet for Mother’s Day. Obviously she’s not a professional baker like Rosanna, so her final result turned out a little different from the picture in the book. But we could still tell it was made with love!
The main reason Sophie is able to make desserts like that at all is because the instructions for each recipe are clear, concise, and easy to follow. If a more complex baking technique is required, there’s a section near the front of the book that explains how to make that particular process. Cutouts are provided as well, so you don’t have to worry about your Autumn Leaf Cookies or Champagne Cookies turning out wonky from free-hand attempts to cut the dough. And the best part of Baking All Year Round? Rosanna provides Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Vegan recipes, so there’s truly something for everyone in this cookbook.
In The French Kitchen With Kids by Mardi Michels:
A Christmas gift from a family friend, In The French Kitchen With Kids allows Sophie to branch out into a style of cooking that she is less familiar with. And, as the title suggests, this cookbook is designed to be used together by both kids and adults, so French cooking couldn’t be made any simpler for a beginner.
If we’re able to, making recipes from In The French Kitchen With Kids is usually a family affair. We’re all eager to learn to create a new dish together, especially when everything in here sounds delectable. And with categories for Breakfast, Lunch, and Supper, alongside Snacks and Desserts, there’s a lot to choose from!
I have a special place in my heart for this cookbook, because it was here where I discovered the heavenly French teacakes called madeleines. Sophie made them the first time, but ever since I realized just how tasty they were, that job has now been taken over by me(with occasional assistance from my father). Whether eaten as-is, lemon glazed, or even with a combined chocolate-vanilla flavour, madeleines are always the first thing I ask for as a birthday treat.
Our family has made plenty of recipes from In The French Kitchen With Kids already, so we’ve now set our sights on dishes a little more complex. Right now our list includes Yogurt Cake, a Choux Puff Tower, and Eclairs, but first we’re preparing for the recipe on the very top of our list- crepes! I had crepes at my friend’s cottage a little while ago, and they’ve honestly changed my life. To think I’d only ever eaten regular pancakes with syrup before that day! I’ve already started planning fruity toppings and sauces for our crepes, and hopefully any day now I’ll get to see my dreams become a reality. And when that day comes, I’ll be sure to use this cookbook to help me along!
Category 3: All Hail The Queen
Well, all hail the princess, at least. When I asked Sophie for her book picks, she insisted that I include the From The Notebooks Of A Middle School Princess series in my post. She’s re-read the series more than almost any other she owns, so it’s no wonder she wanted it in here so badly. Written by Meg Cabot, From The Notebooks Of A Middle School Princess returns to the world of Genovian Princess Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries, but this time told from a brand-new voice.
Modern-day tween Olivia believes she is completely average. Well, except for her name(Olivia Grace Clarisse Migonette Harrison), her art skills, and the fact that she’s a half orphan, with a deceased mother and a father she’s never met. So imagine her surprise when Princess Mia of Genovia, major celebrity and actual royalty, shows up at her school one day. Why? Believe it or not, Olivia is actually Mia’s sister, meaning Olivia is a Genovian princess, too. Understandably, this discovery turns Olivia’s life on its head. While she’s excited to meet her new family(including her Dad, whose real identity is King of Genovia?!), and enjoy the perks of royal life, middle school becomes a lot more difficult. Stares, personal bodyguards, seats next to her at lunch being auctioned off by her cousin- Olivia’s “average” life certainly isn’t average anymore!
Royalty are on a whole other level of being. Born into titles like Prince(ss), Duke/Duchess, and Lord/Lady, these people seem to have everything they could ever want. Money, fame, private estates, battalions of guards sworn to protect them to the last breath. Yet most royals never seem to let that go to their heads. Their dignified charm and friendly manner make them beloved my millions of people around the world, despite the vast differences in status. So it’s no surprise that stories about royalty are vastly popular among the general population. Especially the “fish out of water” sub-genre, where a commoner suddenly finds themselves transported to a world of palaces, social functions, titles, and crown jewels. Olivia in From The Notebooks Of A Middle School Princess, and her sister Mia before her in The Princess Diaries, are perfect examples of this. Both “normal” girls before they learned the truth about their identities, they have to abruptly adjust their entire way of life.
Now, it’s one thing to read a royal “fish out of water” story from first-person perspective. But when the story is told in the form of a diary or journal, it really comes to life. You can clearly get an idea of the narrator’s personality based on their writing style, and the events they define important enough to record on paper. But you can also learn more about the narrator by reading between the lines, seeing what they are omitting, or brushing over instead of fully detailing. Best of all, though, is when media is included in the diary pages. Be it text messages, newspaper articles, or drawings from artistically-inclined Olivia, these written-word-only accounts become much easier to visualize.
All these reasons make From The Notebooks Of A Middle School Princess an interesting and engaging series to read. There are lots of highs and lows that come with being a new member of the royal family, and Olivia handles them best she can, if not a little awkwardly. The writing is perhaps better suited for tweens as opposed to teens and adults, but you don’t need to be a tween to appreciate the story. I’m sure the now-adult original fans of The Princess Diaries will enjoy this series, but you’ll still like and understand the story even if you haven’t read The Princess Diaries at all. Sophie and I had only watched the Princess Diaries movies when we read this series, and the only things that confused us were details that had been changed from the books when the movies were made.
From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess works just as well as a stand-alone series as a companion series, and now that I’m older, I think I’ll give The Princess Diaries a go. I’m sure Sophie, and many other readers growing up with Olivia instead of Mia will follow suit when they get older, too.
Whew! There you have it. Each of these books were handpicked by Sophie, but they’re only a fraction of the titles she gave me to write about. Fish In A Tree, The Unicorn Food Cookbook, P.S I Miss You– I had to rewrite this post several times because I had so much to work with! Perhaps I’ll make another tween book list with the ones that ended up on the chopping block the first time round. Who knows? Needless to say, just the act of writing this post has given me at least three new post ideas. So there’s a lesson learned, I guess. Even if you don’t have any ideas that excite you, write anyways. You just might be surprised by what you come up with!
In conclusion, I would like to send a thank you to my lovely sister Sophie for compiling a list of books for me to review. Without her list, I never would have realized how great some of the books she favours were. Because despite what the saying teaches, I usually do judge books by their covers, especially when it comes to tween fiction.
Now that my eyes have been opened to these wonderful books, I have a more daunting challenge to face. Just how am I going to get Sophie to read some of my favourite books?