Why you need to pick up the nearest middle-grade chapter book

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

What started out as a random book thrift in Vancouver, Canada turned into one of my favorite reads of the year.

While quarantining for COVID back in July — because that is very much still a thing — I watched an ungodly amount of Studio Ghibli movies, as is only right.

I hopped on my family’s VPN, switched that bad boy to South Korea (#lifehack) and let them feel good, wholesome life lessons cleanse my virus-riddled body. 

I watched “Howl’s Moving Castle,” of course. How could I not? Did I rewatch minute 7:08 in both English and the original Japanese multiple times? Yes, I did.  

Naturally, the omnipotent TikTok algorithm knew I was on a Studio Ghibli bender and flooded my “For You Page” with various tear-jerking compilation videos, confusing theory dives and, most importantly, book recommendations. 

Some don’t realize this, but the movie “Howl’s Moving Castle” is based on the 1986 book by Diana Wynne Jones, which shares the same title. 

Having never read it before, I was stunned by the collective enthusiasm surrounding this book. They were practically begging people to read it, saying it completely changed their viewing experience and exposed luscious layers of meaning the movie only hinted at. 

Once I was out of quarantine, I stopped by Books-A-Million and picked up a copy of my own. I was shocked to find it in the children’s section — was it really a middle-grade novel that had people in such a chokehold? 

Yes, and I am now one of those people.

It is hard to describe the pure bliss that was reading “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but I will try my darndest to in the next 300 words. One could say I’m “paying it forward” in honor of those TikTokers that put me on this journey in the first place. 

When I would post lines that made me laugh or about my general progress on my Instagram, I received messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in years — people I followed but didn’t remember why — folks I didn’t know had an affinity for reading in the first place. 

They gushed and ooh-ed, saying this was — or still is — their favorite book; this got them into reading when they were younger; this is the book that reminds them reading can be fun, the latter of which came from someone I respect very much, and I couldn’t agree more. 

While the book is quite different from the movie — Hayao Miyazaki took quite a few liberties in his reimagining — I loved it just as much, if not more. 

Though it is meant for eight- to 12-year-olds, I found the level of complexity Jones brings readers to is quite high, with mind-boggling concepts and swanky 1980’s British speak. I was giggling and wiggling my toes the entire time, the latter of which is proof of my pure elation.

If you’ve seen the movie and liked it, go pick up the book and give it a read. Once I put it down, I saw the world in rose-colored glasses for at least two days before the impending doom of capitalist American society crept back in. But, what a glorious, though short, reprieve it was. 

I dare say this book has made its way into my top five favorites of all time. And that’s saying something. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected]