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Children's Fiction Friendship

The Undercover Book List

by (author) Colleen Nelson

Pajama Press Inc.
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Friendship, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, School & Education, Books & Libraries
Recommended Age
8 to 12
Recommended Grade
3 to 7
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2022
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Download Teacher’s Guide

Where to buy it



He's known as the class troublemaker. She's known as the bookworm. But when every note they send is anonymous, identity is suddenly what they make it.

Between her father's posting overseas and her best friend Sienna's move to the other side of the country, seventh grade is looking lonely for Jane MacDonald. But Sienna has left her with one last trick: a hidden message in a library book—the perfect plot to start a secret club and find Jane a new book-loving friend.

Tyson Flamand has problems of his own. Since the fourth grade he's had a reputation as a bad kid, and there's no point fighting it when teachers always think the worst. So when he finds an anonymous note in the library looking for a nerdy new friend, he knows he's the last person in the world it could be meant for. But something makes him answer it anyway, and Tyson finds himself pulled into a secret book club where being hidden may be the first step to being truly seen.

With the insight of a veteran middle-school teacher, Colleen Nelson, author of the award-winning Harvey Comes Home and Sadia, weaves together two stories of identity, expectation, and the courage to challenge both. As their paths move ever closer, Jane and Tyson both discover their own self-reliance and their ability to overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable.


About the author

An author and junior high school teacher who also enjoyed many years of teaching kindergarten, Colleen Nelson earned her Bachelor of Education from the University of Manitoba in her hometown of Winnipeg. Her previous works include the critically-acclaimed middle-grade novels Harvey Comes Home and Harvey Holds His Own; Sadia, which won the 2019 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award; and Blood Brothers, which was selected as the 2018 McNally Robinson Book of the Year for Young People. Colleen writes daily in between appearances at hockey rinks and soccer fields in support of her two sports-loving sons. The family’s West Highland Terrier Rosie adds an extra-loveable dose of liveliness, squirrel-chasing, and shoe-chewing to their lives.


Colleen Nelson's profile page


  • Nominated, 2023/24 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee
  • Short-listed, Manitoba Book Awards McNally Robinson Book for Young People (Older Category) Shortlist
  • Short-listed, Rocky Mountain Book Award
  • Nominated, 2023-2024 Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee
  • Winner, OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Fiction Award
  • Nominated, Indiana Young Hoosier Award Consideration List
  • Short-listed, Diamond Willow Finalist
  • Short-listed, High Plains Book Award Finalist
  • Short-listed, IODE Violet Downey Book Award
  • Commended, CCBC Spring Best Books for Kids & Teens
  • Short-listed, CBC Books "35 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for in fall 2021" selection
  • Short-listed, CBC Books “the best Canadian middle-grade and YA books of 2021” selection
  • Short-listed, 49th Shelf "Books for Back to School" selection
  • Short-listed, CTV Morning "10 Kids Books for Back to School" selection
  • Short-listed, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Undercover Book List

2023-2024 Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee

2023 OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Fiction Award Winner

2022 Diamond Willow Finalist

2022 IODE Violet Downey Book Award shortlist

2022 High Plains Book Award Finalist

2021 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist

2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award Finalist

2023 Manitoba Book Awards McNally Robinson Book for Young People (Older Category) Shortlist

2023/24 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee

2023 Children’s Book Council Spring Showcase: Spring Into a New You Selection

2021 CBC Books “the best Canadian middle-grade and YA books of 2021” selection

2021 CBC Books "35 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for in fall 2021" selection

2021 49th Shelf "Books for Back to School" selection

2022 The Children’s Book Council “November: Hot Off the Press” feature

2021 CTV Morning "10 Kids Books for Back to School" selection

2021 Kids Lit Six Book of the Week

2022 CCBC Spring Best Books for Kids & Teens Selection

2022 Winnipeg Free Press "Summer Reading Challenge for Kids" Selection

“Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of seventh graders Jane and Tyson, this story unfolds with clever aplomb… [and] a robustly diverse supporting cast…A well-plotted, well-written story that will engage readers and encourage nonreaders.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Nelson, a Canadian author, offers an appealing dual narrative that switches, chapter by chapter, between the two very different classmates’ points of view. The writing is straightforward but lively… [A] rewarding middle-grade novel.”—Booklist

“In the diverse novel The Undercover Book List, two classmates overcome their initial antagonism to find commonalities, which lead them to unexpected solidarity.”—Foreword Reviews

“Featuring the duo’s interspersed missives, the narrative explores what it means to be accurately perceived, by both others and oneself, while simultaneously serving as a satisfying love letter to Louis Sachar, Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, and other cherished authors, and emphasizing books’ transformative power.”—Publishers Weekly

The Undercover Book List will resonate with children who feel unseen, who dream of a friend who understands them, or who are figuring out what kind of person to be. It’s an absorbing, entertaining, and sensitive story that champions reading and the love of books.”—Quill & Quire

“This is a great story to read with your class, not only because of the numerous curriculum connections that can be made, but also because of the connection that the students can make to the experiences of Jane, Tyson, and the secondary characters. Told in the alternating voices of Jane and Tyson, this novel is suitable for students in grades 4 to 8 as either a read-aloud or small-group, student-led reading.”ETFO Voice


“This is every mother's dream situation! Confiscate your kid's game box and have him turn to reading as a compensation? Wow!...Give The Undercover Book List to a reader and open up a whole new bunch of possible authors to be enjoyed or give it to a non-reader and see what happens. You might be surprised!”—CM Magazine


“With emotional depth and sensitivity, Colleen Nelson captures the struggles and uncertainties that both of her protagonists wrestle with…. The story is accessible and engaging, an insightful exploration of being open to new experiences and to the wonders of self-discovery. It is also a heartfelt celebration of the power of books to heal and to bring people together.”—Canadian Children’s Book News


“Told in alternating chapters from each main character’s perspective, The Undercover Book List is a treat for book lovers as it recommends titles such as Harbor Me, The Book Thief, and several others. Both characters learn and grow a great deal over the course of the book and readers will really enjoy their development.”—Youth Services Book Review

“For the reluctant reader who doesn't know they're a reader yet and for those who will consume this story with gusto… The Undercover Book List brings reading out from under its nerd status into a mainstream social avocation it can be.”—CanLit for Little Canadians

“[A] story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship… A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friends. Also perfect for the teacher to read aloud.”—The International Educator

“The book shows Alba, Levi and the reader the importance of friendship and learning how to say sorry.”—Book Time

“Both Jane and Tyson have challenges at home that ring true to middle-grade experiences and add depth to the character’s stories… I would recommend this story for Gr. 4-7.”—kathiemacisaac

“[F]abulous for the start of a new year to inspire readers and non readers to just pick up a book and enjoy.”—Storytime with Stephanie

“One of my favorite kind of books are books about books...and this one did not disappoint! By the end I wanted to join both an Undercover Book Club and a Kid Lit Quiz team.”—Julie, Goodreads

“The Undercover Book List celebrates being true to yourself and recognizes that everyone has a path to become a reader.”—Laurie Hnatiuk, Goodreads

“A heartwarming page turner that achieves what all exceptional literature does, it inspires the reader to read more. All the stars for this middle-grade gem.”—Michelle Kadarusman, Goodreads

“I liked this book a lot! At the end of the book there is a list of book recommendations, but not just any book recommendations…The Undercover Book List recommendations! If you are looking for something interesting to read, this is the book that you’re looking for!”—Kids’ BookBuzz, Vivian – Age 9

“I loved that the book club and quiz in this story turned Tyson, a reluctant reader, into a book lover.”—Jill’s Book Blog

“A near perfect love letter to books and the kids that read them, The Undercover Book List is a well-written ode to the best middle-grade lit has to offer. Wrapped up a story of loss and self-discovery, tween readers are going to enjoy sharing this story with fellow bookworms…”—Shaunterria, Goodreads

“Colleen’s novel shows us how books can change people’s lives for the better.”—MaryLou Driedger

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