I am part of a book club that meets once a month to talk with authors of recently published novels for middle-grade kids. On Thursday we chatted with Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson about her latest novel The Undercover Book List published by Pyjama Press.
Colleen’s The Undercover Book List is told from the point of view of two junior high school students. Jane loves to read but she is struggling because she misses her best friend Sienna who has just moved to a new city. She also misses her Dad who is in the military and stationed far from home.
The other protagonist Tyson initially has no interest in reading and is addicted to video games. He is struggling because he is getting abysmal grades, has become a bully and prankster and has two siblings who are successful high achievers.
Tyson and Jane meet serendipitously via a secret book exchange arranged by Jane’s friend Sienna before she moves away and both their lives are impacted in all kinds of ways as a result.
I liked many things about Colleen’s story but here are three that stuck out for me.
1. We learn how the books Tyson’s teachers have read aloud to him over the years have left a lasting impression on him even though at the time he was listening to them he might not have appeared interested.
I am often struck by the fact that when I meet former students of mine one of the first things many will mention will be a book I read aloud to them. Years later they still recall the plot of Island of the Blue Dolphins or Anne of Green Gables or Silverwing or The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen. Colleen who is a teacher herself reminds us in her novel how very important it is for teachers to read aloud to their students every day.
2. Having a parent whose work takes them away from home much of the time is tough. Jane really misses her father who is stationed overseas. During one of my first years of teaching, I was in a school in a neighbourhood with military housing and I certainly became aware of how having a parent who is absent for long periods of time is a struggle for children.
Later in one of my rural teaching placements, I had many students who had parents that were truck drivers and also away from home a great deal. This impacts kids and families in huge ways and I am glad that is an issue Colleen addresses in her novel.
3. Colleen’s novel shows us how books can change people’s lives for the better. Her character Tyson makes new friends, broadens his interests, bolsters his self-esteem, becomes much more empathetic and improves his academic performance thanks to books.
There is much more to The Undercover Book List than I’ve revealed in this short post and I’d encourage you to read it for yourself to learn the whole story. And as I’ve said so often before……. books written for a middle-grade audience can be enjoyable for people of all ages.