The best middle grade books that capture the magic of Paris and France

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Author Of A Whale in Paris
By Daniel Presley and Claire Polders

The Books I Picked & Why

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

Book cover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Why this book?

Hugo Cabret is not your average kid. He lives a secretive life alone in the wall of a Paris train station and is responsible for keeping the clock on time. One day, he meets an eccentric girl and an even more eccentric old man. With this unlikely trio, we go on a mystery hunt that involves a cryptic drawing, an automaton, a stolen key, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father. We picked this book because it’s so unique: a mesmerizing blend of graphics, fiction, and history. Although Hugo is an invented character, the old eccentric man is based on the real-life of Georges Méliès (1861–1938), a French film pioneer with a knack for magic. In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Paris beguiles and mesmerizes. 


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Rooftoppers

By Katherine Rundell, Terry Fan

Book cover of Rooftoppers

Why this book?

Can a baby survive in a cello case on the sea? Can a boy live above the streets, on the rooftops of Paris? Can a girl looking for her presumed-dead mother join him and his secret group? Yes, yes, and yes! We loved bold and rebellious Sophie, who dislikes wearing skirts. We loved her death-defying new friends. And we admired how the true meaning of family shines through in the unorthodox relationship between Sophie and her quirky adoptive father. Rooftoppers is a novel that celebrates the sky, but the sky is not the limit. A wonderfully written adventure tale: Paris seen from an entirely new angle.


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The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly

Book cover of The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Why this book?

In 1242, three children cross medieval France to escape prejudice and persecution and to protect holy texts from being burned. Sounds too dark? No! The book is miraculously full of light and laughter, which is why we chose it. Terrible things happen—villages are torched, parents are murdered, horses drown in quicksand—yet The Inquisitor’s Tale reads like a celebration of love. We even get to meet a farting dragon!


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The Family Under the Bridge

By Natalie Savage Carlson, Garth Williams

Book cover of The Family Under the Bridge

Why this book?

Imagine it’s 1958 and you live in Paris. Imagine your father dies and you lose your home and your mother has to work. Imagine you spend a day in the company of a grumpy old man walking all through the city. Imagine kindness and friendship doing their magic to keep everyone safe. Yes, The Family Under the Bridge is an old-fashioned book with a few shortcomings, but we recommend it nonetheless. This story celebrates Paris and all the generous and delightful people roaming its streets.


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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino

Book cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Why this book?

Paris is a classic city, so a classic on this list is a must. The Hunchback of Notre Dame in its original version is 500+ pages and written for adults. This abbreviated yet spellbinding version is great for younger readers. Walk in 15th century Paris, meet Quasimodo, the gypsy girl Esmeralda, and get lost in a haunting drama.


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