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

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...

A Whale in Paris

By Daniel Presley, Claire Polders, Erin McGuire (illustrator)

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.

The books we picked & why

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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. 


Rooftoppers

By Katherine Rundell, Terry Fan (illustrator),

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.


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

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (illustrator),

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!


The Family Under the Bridge

By Natalie Savage Carlson, Garth Williams (illustrator),

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.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino (illustrator),

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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, Paris, and robots?

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