Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Dementia is beginning to erode Granddad Alfie but he is still stubborn and gruff enough to raise Frankie’s bile. How they learn to overcome their dislike for each other before they become trapped forever in the Happy Days 50s makes for a fun light-hearted read that kids will rip through.

Helliar’s slightly bent, glib one-liners dwell comfortably within narrative that is conversational and choppy with comedy, thus appealing to older readers like yours truly, as well. You can shelve your screwdrivers; the sonic suitcase has arrived.

A fabulously punchy read complemented by plenty of entertaining drawings that create a sizable drawcard for 10 – 14-year-olds to return to for more of Frankie’s and (best mate) Drew’s adventures.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2017

The Turnkey by Allison Rushby

This is one of those books that takes accepted norms and forges them into new beliefs. I shall never be able to look at a small gate opening ever again without thinking of it as an entrance for the Twilight.

The Turnkey is an admirable look into the afterlife and how its inhabitants coexist with the living. Rushby more than succeeds at weaving together a wartime tale involving Flossie, the 12-year-old gatekeeper of one of London’s largest cemeteries and her attempts to thwart the evil intentions of a German soldier who like Flossie, just happens to be dead, as well.

Flossie is a likeable lass who wears tenacity and courage as visibly as the hefty gate key around her wrist. Her calm, considered way of dealing with wartime espionage, irascible inmates, and reticent ghosts is unreal considering she is doing it all during a period of history of which she has no real understanding, having died decades before.

She tackles these dilemmas and the management of her dead charges with the same self-assured, undebased frankness as any 12-year-old would, therefore depicting a wonderful example of doing what’s right even when others are doing wrong all around you. This represents true bravery and is a powerful underlying message that I think befits a story that features ghosts and war but is not forcibly about ghosts or war.

The Turnkey is not only a gratifying read for middle graders and above but also an interesting inference of how the second world war might have eventuated had there been more ghosts like Flossie to influence its outcome.

Walker Books Australia 2017

How To Capture An Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin

Laugh out loud funny, this first instalment of the Genius Factor is well, a little bit genius. Packed with unexpected one-liners, scientific double-talk and enough screaming adventure to force your heartbeat continuously into forth gear, this midgrade novel bends the sublime and the ridiculous to snapping point.

Nate Bannister is someone you could dubiously label, a nerd. He suits a dozen other labels too thanks to his uncapped IQ and fascination with data collection and interpretation. While he’s darn good at science and inventing, his ability to forge real meaningful relationships is woefully lacking. Cue Delphine.

Delphine is carefree and sometimes careless. She finds herself more often than not on the wrong side of adult law but has a friendship circle wider than the moon. Beneath her aptitude for mischief lies a core of decency, which bubbles to the surface whenever she is around Nate. Together they not only figure how to outwit the dastardly devilish plans of a secret criminal society, but carve out a tentative friendship that fulfils them both on some strange level.

In spite of the exhilarating storyline, How to Capture An Invisible Cat, is also a tale about tenacity, finding friendship and looking beyond skin-deep presumptions.

Gigantic cats and talking dogs. Unlikely heroes and friendships that work because they shouldn’t make this Tobin adventure story a winner for nine-year-olds and above.

Bloomsbury Publishing Australia May 2017

Published by

Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell likes to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews stories exclusively for kids and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, as creative digital content, and picture books - you'll find them all here at Boomerang Books. Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker and semi-professional chook wrangler. She believes picture books are food for the soul and should be consumed at least 10 times a week.