Interview With a Middle-School Reader: Spring 2021

My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.

Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:

Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate — and find a way to save their world in their own way. (taken from Amazon)

“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.

I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. (taken from Amazon)

“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

With a lonely boy named Ben on board, the brave young dragon Firedrake sets out on a magical journey to find the mythical place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage — and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home. (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people. (taken from Amazon)

“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”

Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.

Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan

Wind-voice the half-dove, formerly enslaved, is now free, and Maldeor, the one-winged archaeopteryx, hungers for supreme power.
Can Wind-voice and his valiant companions—Ewingerale, the wood-pecker scribe; Stormac, the myna warrior; and Fleydur, the musician eagle—save the future of their world? (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”

Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles

Twelve-year-old Ash waves goodbye to her miserable life as a traveling circus stablehand when she and her feisty bird, Flynn, are whisked away to the Academy of Beasts and Magic: a school where wealthy children train unicorns, manticores, and scarf-wearing ice dragons. The downside to owning such a highly magical beast? Everyone wants him. When a mysterious sorcerer suggests the Academy may have dark intentions, Ash realizes her tiny bird might be the key to saving Cascadia…or destroying it. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”

There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.

My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours.
He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”

There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?

Interview with a Middle-Schooler: Fantastic Fantasy

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My oldest is a huge reader. He likes most kinds of books, although he tends to gravitate toward sci-fi and fantasy. I like to interview him every few months and get his take on books that he’s read and enjoyed. Today, I’m asking him about his favorite fantasy books. If you’re looking for middle-grade fantasy books to read, here are some he recommends.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (new cover) (Artemis Fowl (1)): Colfer, Eoin ...

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius—and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit.  These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous. 

            Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them…but then they stop playing by the rules. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest says: “I really liked it because it’s written in a smart way. Artemis Fowl was around my age and he used words that I like, like he had good dialogue. There’s one character that I don’t like because all his jokes are about flatulence. The story was fantastic and I also like that it’s a long series because I got hooked on it. The action is pretty good, even though the main character isn’t athletic at all. That’s one thing I liked about it; he’s really smart. Like Tony Stark, instead of Captain America.”

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid: The Graphic Novel: Rick ...

Since his mother’s death six years ago, Carter Kane has been living out of a suitcase, traveling the globe with his father, the brilliant Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. But while Carter’s been homeschooled, his younger sister, Sadie, has been living with their grandparents in London. Sadie has just what Carter wants — school friends and a chance at a “normal” life. But Carter has just what Sadie longs for — time with their father. After six years of living apart, the siblings have almost nothing in common. Until now.

On Christmas Eve, Sadie and Carter are reunited when their father brings them to the British Museum, with a promise that he’s going to “make things right.” But all does not go according to plan: Carter and Sadie watch as Julius summons a mysterious figure, who quickly banishes their father and causes a fiery explosion.

Soon Carter and Sadie discover that the gods of Ancient Egypt are waking, and the worst of them — Set — has a frightening scheme. To save their father, they must embark on a dangerous journey — a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and its links to the House of Life, a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I like that it has ancient Egyptian mythology. There’s a ton of action, and the magic is really cool. They use actual Egyptian words for it, I think, which is really neat. The magic has a lot of interesting results, like it can blow stuff up and put it back together. It’s a three part series. My favorite Egyptian mythological character is Anubis and he’s featured a lot, which is cool. The characters are around my age, which I like. It’s also written like it’s a tape recording and the characters don’t get along very well, so there’ll be arguments between chapters.”

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom: Healy, Christopher ...

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s absolutely hilarious. It’s chock-full of funny, sometimes fourth-wall breaking jokes. It’s got good action and the characters are written in humorous ways. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s actual fantasy, you could say that it’s like a bad D&D campaign. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Once and Future Geek (the Camelot Code #1) by Mari Mancui

Amazon.com: The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code (1 ...

When young Arthur of Camelot accidentally time-travels to the 21st century and Googles himself, he discovers the not-so-happily ever after in store for him once he pulls the sword from the stone. Yes, he’ll go from squire to sovereign basically overnight, but he’ll also lose the love of his life to his best friend and eventually die in battle. What’s a once-and-future king to do? Easy: stay in the future, where he’ll actually have a future-and join the football team instead.
Now, with the help of the great wizard Merlin, modern-day gamer-geeks Sophie and Stu find themselves in a race against time to get that sword pulled from the stone and the stubborn soon-to-be-king Arthur back to the past where he belongs. Complicating the plan? Lady Morgana-Arthur’s sister and greatest enemy-has traveled to the future as well, determined to take Arthur out and seize the throne. Can Sophie and Stu use their gaming abilities to defeat the evil Morgana and set the timeline right? With the very existence of their friendship, their families, and the world as they know it (including pepperoni pizza!) at stake, they’ll use every skill, power-up, and cheat code they know in their quest to save the day. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s a different version of the King Arthur and the Sword and Stone legends. It was like if you took King Arthur and made it really nerdy. I liked the first one better than the second one, even though the second one is still good. Stu was my favorite. He’s not very athletic, although he does come through at the end when he’s given a weapon. Mostly, he prefers video games.”

Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1): Flanagan ...

They have always scared him in the past – the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied….(taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s just an overall really good fantasy. The main character, Will, was my favorite. He’s around my age, and he was really good with a bow and arrows. He was a good fighter.”

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic in a cynical world. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite…

Kendra and her brother Seth have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws give relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, an arcane evil is unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save her family, Fablehaven, and perhaps the world, Kendra must find the courage to do what she fears most. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I reread it and returning to it was really fun. There’s a lot of fantastical creatures in it and one of the characters is a big trouble maker. The other is a big rule-follower so it’s a fun contrast. There are goblins, fairies, and a witch. I’m not sure if it’s a classical witch, but it’s a female magic-user. It’s actually a series. The trouble-maker, Seth, is my favorite character. He is kind of goofy. Plus, yet again, he’s close to my age from what I can tell.”