Irmina review and my Recommended novels for Middle School to Prep Students

April 22, 2018 -- by anashaw40

Irmina google

I finished Irmina today and thoroughly recommend it. It was slightly unexpected in that it turns its focus on our, at times, unsympathetic heroine’s disappointments rather than the tragedy and significant events of WWII.

Yelin follows Irmina’s struggles from 1934 London where she studies to 1983 Stuttgart. The cut from 1943 Berlin to 1983 Stuttgart was a little jarring, but to explain the leap would be a spoiler. What was consistent was the stunning artwork throughout. It shifts from six panels a page to whole page sketched water coloured renderings of landscapes or crowded scenes. It was the cover artwork that attracted me in the first place and I was not disappointed.


After finishing the novel, I learned that Yelin was inspired to create the graphic novel upon discovering her grandmother’s box of diaries and letters. The foreword by Dr. Alexander Korb was also enlightening in explaining Irmina’s motives and behaviour.

Middle School and Prep Cover

I also finished a project today, my Middle School and Prep Recommended Books 2018 with 118 suggested novels! I tried to keep the list contemporary with some classic novels scattered within.

To allow the list to be used for class projects I tried to avoid novels that were turned into movies, but it is hard to avoid at times – I mean how can you not suggest To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  Plus, some I hadn’t even realised had become movies, like The Changeover by Margert Mahy (1984), which was made into a movie only last year.

I placed the majority the novels on a list on The Book Depository to be easier to find.

Except for the last section I have read all the novels and loved many, though there are some novels I have not enjoyed as much yet appreciate that lighter fare is what some students prefer, and to be fair, sometimes an easy read is the only thing I can follow after a busy day. I have indicated my strong preferences on the list accordingly.

There are also some series on the list that I loved when I was a teenager too. Go Sweet Valley High!  Lois Duncan was a novelist I couldn’t get enough of – and that was before her novels were turned into blockbuster movies. Yet, it wasn’t till last year that I learned about her daughter’s tragic murder  and her last decades spent trying to learn who was responsible.

Lois Duncan

There are also a couple on the list that may be considered more adult fiction, like Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers, but still enjoyable and appropriate reads for all I believe.

You will see a number of graphic novel recommendations, a passion of mine, but sometimes I struggle to find ones appropriate for middle school students so please feel free to recommend anymore.  I was very excited to learn that some novels I have loved have also become graphic novels. Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll. (I loved it and can’t wait to review it!)  And Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy, John Jennings and Octavia E. Butler.

There was also a genre I re-discovered this year when some middle school students complained because they were frustrated with the YA novel options available to them for their reading levels, so I tried to find a solution and discovered the term High-Low fiction – which is High interest novels for Lower ability readers.  I found a great site which has some interesting novels and purchased Close to the Heel, by Norah McClintock, this is one in a series called The Seven Prequels.  The novel wasn’t as easily accessible as I thought it might be, as there is still some appropriately challenging vocabulary, but the high interest nature of the novel encourages students to persevere. However, Holocaust – The Story of a Survivor, by Dee Phillips, was an easier read. It is another High-Low fiction text and uses images and varied fonts to briefly tell (in only 40 pages with many photographs and graphics) someone’s experience of being sent to a concentration camp. It captures the raw emotions and gives another way into the topic.

seven series

I hope that at least one of the novels touches a chord with a student or a fellow book lover. I do believe, as is commonly quoted, that there are not reluctant readers, but students who have yet to find the right novel. Laurie Halse Anderson, expressed this well, “…can we please replace “reluctant readers” with “readers who have high standards” or “readers who haven’t yet been given the right book”? I remember not being able to read well. I wasn’t reluctant. I was hungry, and didn’t know how to find the feast”

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