The Next Chapter

Aparita Bhandari recommends middle-grade books for fans of The Baby-Sitters Club

The Next Chapter columnist reviews three middle-grade books and one YA novel for people who love the classic Baby-Sitters Club series.
Aparita Bhandari is a columnist with CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. (Rajesh Duggal)

The Next Chapter columnist Aparita Bhandari read The Baby-Sitters Club series when she was young, but her own children are more committed fans than she was. 

The Baby-Sitters Club is a very popular series of dozens of books for middle-grade children, published by Scholastic in the late eighties and nineties, written by Ann M. Martin and others. The novels, which follow a group of young female friends who run a local baby-sitting service, have been adapted for comics and television.

Aparita Bhandari spoke with Shelagh Rogers about books she's found that embody that same Baby-Sitters Club spirit.

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is a middle-grade book by Salma Hussain. (www.transatlanticagency.com, Penguin Random House)

"The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain is coming out very soon. It's about this girl, Mona Hasan, who lives in Dubai. She's got a younger sister and two loving parents. But they're growing up in Dubai and this is the nineties, at the time of the Iraq war. So it's got that backdrop where Mona comes across words like 'secular.'

"She's this young woman who's, on the one hand, learning these words, on the other hand, listening to Madonna's greatest hits, but at the same time is also dealing with growing pains. Eventually, Mona and her family move to Canada — they come to Toronto and then eventually end up in Halifax — and it's about Mona growing up as a diasporic child.

As I was reading it I was chuckling because I can understand it as somebody who's gone through these experiences or knows of these experiences that Salma is writing about.

"My only caveat with this particular book is that it's got an adult perspective. As I was reading it I was chuckling because I can understand it as somebody who's gone through these experiences or knows of these experiences that Salma is writing about.

"These are interesting entry ways for young people to get into certain conversations. In this case, I think it would need to be a guided conversation with an adult."

Just Roll with It by Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal

Just Roll With It is a graphic novel by Veronica Agarwal and Lee Durfey-Lavoie . (www.wisbafolio.com, Random House Graphic)

"Just Roll with It by Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal is a graphic novel for fans of Raina Telgemeier. It's about a girl named Maggie Shankar, who is starting Grade 6 in a new school, so she's nervous. In the first couple of pages, you see her rolling a die. Eventually you figure out that Maggie actually has OCD and this 20-sided die helps her figure out what she can or cannot do. It helps her in many ways deal with her anxiety.

I was very drawn to this book because oftentimes young people might have these anxieties and we don't necessarily pay attention to them or kind of overlook them.

"I was very drawn to this book because oftentimes young people might have these anxieties and we don't necessarily pay attention to them or kind of overlook them. So for this novel to introduce such a theme for a Grade 6 child, I thought was great because, again, it gives a way for somebody to talk about these things to young people.

"And what I also loved about this is that Maggie is South Asian, her friend's parents are two women. Her sister's partner is also a woman. So there's all these things woven in in terms of representation and diversity. It's very matter of fact. It just happens to be the world that they're in. So I really, really quite appreciate it."

Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing

Maya and the Robot is a children's book by Eve L. Ewing (Mercedes Zapata, Kokila)

"Ewing is actually a sociologist of education, and her research is focused on racism, social inequality and urban policy and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people.

"This book was such a joy to read. Maya is going to go into Grade 5. She's got a toddler brother Amir, and she's got these best friends, MJ and Jada. Maya's dad calls them the 'three Jedi knights.' So there is a lot of references to Star Wars and stuff like that.

At the end of it, it is about STEM and science and all of that, but it's also about friendship.

"Maya is a little scared because she's going into this class with a strict and mean teacher. She's going to be all by herself. Her friends aren't going to be there. And eventually Maya discovers this robot, Ralph. It's kind of like this old robot that's not working anymore. She kind of brings this robot to life based on the notes left by the robot's creator. 

"I love this world of Maya and the robot, where we have a young Black girl who's super bright, super smart, has a supportive family system around her. At the end of it, it is about STEM and science and all of that, but it's also about friendship." 

Wrong Side of the Court by H. N. Khan

Wrong Side of the Court is a YA novel by H.N. Khan. (Penguin Teen)

"I've talked just about middle grade kids, but I wanted to talk just quickly about Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan, which is for slightly older kids. This is about a 15-year-old boy, Fawad Chaudhry, who lives in Toronto's Regent Park. He loves basketball and is dealing with a whole bunch of things going on at school. I love the voice because this sounds like 15-year-old and the language is much saltier. I just love it.

I love the voice because this sounds like 15-year-olds and the language is much saltier. I just love it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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