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

Who are we?

We came to Paris to find music (Daniel) and wisdom (Claire) and found each other instead. We fell in love, got married, and lived in the City of Lights for twenty years. We were charmed, inspired. Paris made us into the storytellers we are today. Together, we wrote A Whale in Paris to express our love for the city and its past. The books we recommend will make you feel how magical Paris and France truly are. Stories about unlikely friendships and fantastic adventures that shine a light in the deepest dark. Stories that celebrate life.


We wrote...

Book cover of A Whale in Paris

What is our book about?

It’s war, 1944, and the Germans occupy Paris. One night, Chantal spies a small whale in the Seine River and opens her heart to the lost creature. She names him Franklin, after the American president who must be sending troops to rescue France. But Franklin is in danger: The starving Parisians would love to eat him, and the Nazis want to capture him as a gift to Hitler. In a desperate bid to liberate themselves and their city, Chantal and Franklin embark on a dangerous voyage. But can one girl return a whale to the ocean and reunite him with his parents? And will she ever see her own family again? 

A Whale in Paris is historical fiction with hints of magic.

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Why did I love 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. 

By Brian Selznick,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Invention of Hugo Cabret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Orphan, clock keeper, thief: Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. Combining elements of picture book, graphic novel, and film, Caldecott Honor artist Selznick breaks open the novel form to create an entirely new reading experience in this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.


Book cover of Rooftoppers

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Why did I love 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.

By Katherine Rundell, Terry Fan (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rooftoppers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Go on an adventure with Katherine Rundell... _______________ Winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal From the winner of the Costa Children's Book Prize _______________ 'I enjoyed it tremendously ... The next time I go to Paris I will be looking up at the rooftops' - Jacqueline Wilson 'A writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination' - Philip Pullman 'Read everything she writes' - Daily Mail _______________ Everyone tells Sophie that she was orphaned in a shipwreck - found floating in a cello case on…


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

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Why did I love 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!

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Inquisitor's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award

An exciting and hilarious medieval adventure from the bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm. Beautifully illustrated throughout by Hatem Aly!

A New York Times Bestseller A New York Times Editor's Choice A New York Times Notable Children's Book A People Magazine Kid Pick A Washington Post Best Children's Book A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book A Booklist Best Book A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book A Kirkus Reviews Best Book A Publishers Weekly Best Book A School Library Journal…


Book cover of The Family Under the Bridge

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Why did I love 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.

By Natalie Savage Carlson, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Family Under the Bridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

The heartwarming and memorable Newbery Honor-winning book about finding family in the unlikeliest places, featuring artwork by beloved illustrator Garth Williams. This classic middle grade novel is a welcome and meaningful read, especially at Christmastime.

Armand, an old man living on the streets of Paris, relishes his solitary life in the beautiful city. He is happy with his carefree existence, begging and doing odd jobs to keep himself warm and fed. With simple pleasures and no cares, what more could he need?

Then one day just before Christmas, Armand returns to his favorite spot beneath the bridge to find three…


Book cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Daniel Presley and Claire Polders Why did I love 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.

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Hunchback of Notre Dame as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Victor Hugo's great story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame and his unrequited love for the dancer, Esmeralda. Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colourful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes theme discussions and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom and at home to further engage the reader in the story.


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Book cover of A Last Serenade for Billy Bonney

Mark Warren Author Of Indigo Heaven

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Who am I?

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By Mark Warren,

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After the Kid's death, Blessing embarks on a journey to find Billy's comrades and acquaintances - those who loved…


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