This may be a first for my blog. In the 8 years I’ve been writing ivereadthis (yes, it has been that long!), I believe this is my first review of a middle grade work of fiction, which is books written for 8-12 year olds. Although I don’t plan on making this a habit, I just adored this book so much I couldn’t help but shout about it from the rooftops, or in this case, from the screen. Pages & Co.: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James is the first in the Pages & Co series that was recommended to me by my boss, a fellow booklover at Calgary Reads. It’s a book about books, my favourite kind, so it’s no surprise I loved it, but I was impressed with how engaging the story was for me as an adult – my kids will no doubt love it as soon as they are old enough to read it too.
Tilly is a young girl who lives with her grandparents above a bookshop called Pages & Co in London. There’s a delightful little cafe inside the store where Jack experiments with delicious treats, and because her grandparents own the store, there is no shortage of books to read. She has a friend who lives across the road, Oscar, above another cafe called Crumbs where she also gets delicious treats from. Is this the perfect life? I certainly think so! Home for a week for school holidays, Tilly is enjoying diving into some of her favourite books, including Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. Having never met her father, and her mother disappearing when she was a baby, Pages & Co is all Tilly has ever known, but she loves books like her grandparents so it’s a life she is content with. Imagine Tilly’s surprise then, when a character introducing herself as Anne Shirley from Green Gables wanders through the stacks to say hello. Shrugging it off as a coincidence at first, Tilly becomes suspicious when she comes across another young woman named Alice who wants to take Tilly to a tea party. Suddenly she is transported into the Alice in Wonderland book, and experiences what it’s like to be in the story firsthand. Once she returns to the bookstore, Tilly discovers she has special ‘bookwandering’ abilities like her grandparents; the ability to get so lost in a book that you physically enter its world.
I’m sure most book bloggers love the idea of reading a book that’s all about getting lost in books, it’s a common hazard in this industry! But apart from the shared adoration of literature, there is much to be impressed by in this series. It references Harry Potter as a joke, but, fans of Harry Potter will have much to look forward to in Pages & Co because it’s another successful example of engaging magic realism. Tilly’s family history is melancholy and she struggles to make friends, but she also discovers she was born with special abilities and comes from a long line of talented book readers. The book characters that she meets on her travels also come from unique families; Anne of Green Gables is an orphan, and Sara’s father from A Little Princess dies suddenly too. Although the pain of not knowing one’s parents is never dwelt on for too long in this novel, it is most certainly an underlying theme that many children could relate to – again, many similarities to Harry potter.
This book is far from depressing however – the adventure is constant as Tilly dives into new books, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. One of my favourite scenes is when she visits John Silver ‘s ship from Treasure Island and has to jump into the ocean to leave the book. The descriptions of bookwandering, it’s history, and the secret society that protect it is fascinating. The pages of this book truly feel like they can ignite one’s imagination, which is one of the reasons it’s such a pleasure to read. There were so many pages I wanted to turn the corner down to return to for the purposes of this review, but because it wasn’t my own copy, I resisted. However, what I can remember distinctly is the way this book made me feel. One of the reasons I love reading books about books is that it makes me feel like a part of a special club for bookworms. Reading is such a solitary act, but when I connect with other readers, I feel a kinship that drives my reading forward. This book had the same affect on me; it reminded me why I love picking up new stories, and the comfort that I find when meeting new characters I can relate to. For those who are unsure if reading a work of middle-grade fiction is for them, I recommend picking up the first in this series to test it out. And the best part about reading below your age level? It isn’t a huge commitment, you’ll fly through it in no time.