Tuesday 19 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favourite Middle Grade Series Of All Time

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Today, ten of our fabulous Middle Grade Strikes Back contributors have each chosen their favourite Middle Grade series of all time:

1. Elen Caldecott: The Casson Family series by Hilary McKay

This series, starting with 'Saffy's Angel' is as warm and comforting as lying on your nana's sofa under a crocheted blanket when you're poorly. Each book is a hug from a cherished friend. The Casson family are inventive, supportive, brave while still feeling real and vulnerable. The writing is assured. We see the family's worries and difficulties, but we also see that there's no place like home for any of them. Just wonderful.


2. Huw Powell: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Not only is this a fantastic trilogy full of magic and adventure, but JRR Tolkien created a whole world with Middle Earth, including its own creatures, politics, history, maps and languages. His work has entertained generations of fans and inspired decades of fantasy novels. It's difficult to talk about The Lord of the Rings without using the word 'epic'.


3. Kieran Fanning: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Not sure if this is technically Middle Grade but it was certainly read by this age group. I was totally blown away by Pullman's world and the vast adventure encompassed in the three books.  The originality of his creations, most notably the idea that everyone has a daemons, brought something fresh to the fantasy genre. And you've got to love the spirit of his MC, Lyra Belacqua. Craving for more when the series ended I was further enchanted by The Royal National Theatre's production of the story but so disappointed by the movie. It is of no surprise that this was the only children's book ever to win the Whitbread Prize.


4. Piers Torday: The Adventure Series by Willard Price

This 14 book long adventures of animal lovers Hal and Roger may never win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But if there was a a Nobel Prize for great adventure stories that get boys reading, I would have made these stories my number one choice. Much of my early knowledge of the animals and habitats of the world come from these yarns, which always had a strong eco-message decades before it was a mainstream agenda. They are quick to read, addictive and packed with facts on everything from scuba diving to volcanoes. As a young reader I learned the basics of storytelling from them (now continued by Anthony McGowan), not to mention a lifetime's worth of pub quiz trivia - and they deserve broader recognition.


5. Jim Dean: The Pea's Book Series by Susie Day

The quartet of Pea's Books - soon to be continued in a sequel series, starting with The Secrets of Sam and Sam - feel like classics despite being written so recently. Pea is an utterly delightful lead, I love her sisters and her mother and the strong family bond between them, and there's a wonderfully diverse cast of characters.

6. Aoife Walsh: The Tillerman series by Cynthia Voigt

These books are peopled with incredible characters – from Dicey to Bullet to Mina to Jeff to the rest of them, they are wildly realistic, stressful, uplifting reads. I was an anxious child, always looking for release in books, a neat ending that wrapped up all the worries. These were not those books. These were about struggles that didn't end; these were the books that said that life is hard, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you can’t be happy.

7. C.J. Busby: The Chrestomanci books, by Diana Wynne Jones

These aren't a conventional series - the first one written (not the first chronologically) was Charmed Life, and that didn't really get a conventional sequel until almost thirty years later, with The Pinhoe Egg - but in between there are a whole set of stories that somehow or other (often not till the last minute) feature Chrestomanci. They also feature alternative worlds, magic, unexpected villains, and all manner of witches, warlocks, wizards, enchanters and even a goddess. All of them are funny as well as twisted, and full of  the most marvellous writing and invention. I read the early ones as a child, and loved them - I read the later ones as an adult, and still loved them. Diana Wynne Jones is, as Neil Gaiman has said: 'the best writer of magic for children there is'.


8. Claire Fayers: The Earthsea books, by Ursula Le Guin

I came to these quite later, after reading every gigantic fantasy saga that existed at the time, and they were such a refreshing change.  The books are slim but the world of Earthsea is fully developed with a cast of diverse characters. I particularly like the way the characters fail, make mistakes and grow over the course of the stories - they felt far more human to me than the usual plethora of fantasy warriors. Plus there are dragons.  Graceful, wise, ancient, indifferent, dangerous dragons. The Earthsea dragons became my template of what dragons ought to be.

9. Darren Hartwell: Alfred Hitchcock and the The Three Investigators series

Blyton was huge in our family in the 1970s, and we all grew up on a diet of her stories. The Five Find Outers books got me hooked on mystery stories, where proper deduction was required, rather than in The Famous Five books where the four children plus dog more often than not just stumbled onto the solution. At some point I moved on from Blyton, and I think it was when I discovered The Three Investigators - The Mystery of the Green Ghost was, I believe, the book that hooked me, and from that moment on I picked up books whenever I could - local library, jumble sales, charity shops, wherever (and I still have all my original copies). 

This was proper mystery solving, with Jupiter's brains, Pete's physical prowess and Bob's talents for research. The mysteries were clever, dangerous and thrilling to read. They had a secret base of operations hidden under the multitude of items in Jupe's Uncle's junkyard, and for a good few years I yearned to live in Rocky Beach, California, and be the owner of a 3 Investigators business card and a coloured piece of chalk. Sadly, I had to make do with living in middle England, but I made myself one of those cards and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a piece of chalk as well... and various detetctive manuals, a fingerprint kit, a code making kit (yes, it was my little middle grade obsession, and at that point in my life I was most definitely going to be a detective, or a spy). I could go on and on, but I will instead promise to write a longer article about these for MGSB in the future.

Book Zone (For Boys)

10. Paula Harrison - The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

I discovered the Penderwicks when looking for books that my (then) 10 year old might like. She'd been living on a diet of fantasy and magic and I thought the realism  of Penderwicks might be a nice change. The books kept us entertained for months. The family of four sisters - each very different - is so well drawn. The scrapes and trials they go through are narrated with such sympathy and humour. I'm very glad we found this series.

Paula Harrison is the author of Red Moon Rising   www.paulaharrison.jimdo.com

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love the Penderwicks! I haven't read the newest book yet, but I've enjoyed the rest of the series.

    Happy TTT!