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Books Between Podcast

Updated 2 months ago

Rank #180 in Courses category

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Education
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Books Between is a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8 and 12 to books they'll love.

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Books Between is a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8 and 12 to books they'll love.

iTunes Ratings

73 Ratings
Average Ratings
66
4
0
1
2

AMAZING

By KKC Reads - Jul 27 2019
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This podcast is a great treasure for all people interested in connecting kids to wonderful middle grade stories.

Wonderful Resource

By Poor robin - Mar 18 2019
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This is such a brilliant podcast for any lover of middle grade literature!

iTunes Ratings

73 Ratings
Average Ratings
66
4
0
1
2

AMAZING

By KKC Reads - Jul 27 2019
Read more
This podcast is a great treasure for all people interested in connecting kids to wonderful middle grade stories.

Wonderful Resource

By Poor robin - Mar 18 2019
Read more
This is such a brilliant podcast for any lover of middle grade literature!
Cover image of Books Between Podcast

Books Between Podcast

Latest release on Jul 29, 2019

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Books Between is a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8 and 12 to books they'll love.

Rank #1: #68 - MG Trends & the Most Anticipated Books of 2019

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, and battling a cold this afternoon! So if I sound a little...off - that is why!

This is episode #68 and Today I’m answering some questions about trends in middle grade and sharing with you some fabulous 2019 titles to look forward to this year!

Q&A - Trends in Middle Grade Fiction

Last month, my husband asked me some questions about trends in middle grade fiction. He teaches a class at Seton Hall all about trends in genre fiction and wanted some input on middle grade. So I thought I would share my responses with you. And I would be very curious about what YOU would answer.

  1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are the hottest right now?

Well, it’s a format and not a genre but graphic novel memoirs like Hey Kiddo, Real Friends, and Be Prepared are still really popular. And also graphic novel adaptations of classics (like Anne of Green Gables) and popular novels (like Wings of Fire or Percy Jackson).  And again, not genre, but I see more books that are based on the core experiences of the writer. Those novels that draw on the real-life backgrounds of the authors like Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, Tami Charles’ Like Vanessa, and Supriya Kellar’s Ahimsa.  They’re not memoirs but they are books rooted in a very personal experience. To authors, I’d say - take those things that make you unique, that make you a bit quirky, that set you apart from most other people - and write THAT story. Like Kelly Yang taking the experiences of her family coming from China and running motels to write Front Desk. Jarrett Krosoczka writing the critically acclaimed graphic novel memoir Hey Kiddo about his life living with his grandparents after his mom lost custody of him due to drug addiction. Crack that door open and invite us inside.

  1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are passé or overexposed?

I don’t know…. I do wonder how long the unicorn and narwhal craze will last but that seems to live more in picture books than middle grade. Magical realism - or rather realistic fiction with a magical twist - doesn’t seem to be slowing down. You know - anything can be new and fresh with the right spin.  And also, authors from marginalized backgrounds are still underrepresented in just about every genre so those are stories that will likely have new points of view. I thought I was totally over zombie stories but Dread Nation popped up and whoa!!  I’ve never read a zombie story like THAT before!

  1. If you had to predict, what genre or subgenre do you think is primed to be the next Big Thing in the next year or so?

I would say stories about immigrants, refugees, and the unique experiences of marginalized groups (especially by #ownvoices authors) will continue to be popular. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an explosion of critically acclaimed middle grade stories like Alan Gratz’s Refugee, Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, and Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai among many more. We also have more and more books coming out that tell stories of police violence in developmentally appropriate ways like Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Blended by Sharon Draper.  I’m also really excited about a new crop of middle grade #MeToo stories on the horizon like So Done by Paula Chase and the upcoming Barbara Dee novel Maybe He Just Likes You.

  1. Any comments about where you see genre fiction heading?

In middle grade, like everywhere else,  #ownvoices books are still underrepresented  - everyone has a unique story to tell or a unique POV to offer.  EVERYONE. So my advice to authors, take the spark of your unique life experiences and let that burn throughout your story.  My advice to educators - scour those shelves to find a wider variety of books. Also - if you write for a YA/MG audience, librarians and educators are more and more eager to the ditch the old canon and form partnerships with authors. Look for opportunities like #KidsNeedMentors or reach out to your local schools and libraries.

Book Talk - Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2019

The last couple of episodes were all about looking back on some of the best that middle grade had to offer in 2018. (If you missed those, go check out episodes #66 and #67.)  But today is all about looking forward into the new year.

Last year, when I did our Most Anticipated MG of 2018, I went chronologically by month. But this year I’m going about it a little differently and discussing the new releases by category.  

First, we’ll chat about the new graphic novels coming up in 2019. And then we’ll talk about new releases from authors who debuted in 2018 and 2017 and see what they’re up to now. After that, I’ll give you a peek at some of the 2019 debut middle grade authors.  Then we’ll see what new books are coming out in favorite series and what sequels we have to look forward to. And finally, we’ll finish up with the 2019 releases from more established authors.

So, buckle up and get ready to add to your wish list. And remember - no need to go hunting for a pen and paper. You can find every book mentioned AND a picture of the available covers AND a link to pre-order them right on the Books Between post for this episode, #69, at MGBookVillage.com.  I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you. And as I’ve said before, I’ve come to really love pre-ordering - it helps out favorite authors and it’s like a little surprise to your future self.

Before we jump in, just remember that this is just a sampling of all the incredible books coming out this year. I’ll add some links to some other great resources in the show notes and on the website where you can find more complete listings of titles to browse through and the MGBookVillage website has a great release calendar so that’s one to bookmark for sure.

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111975.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2019

http://novelnineteens.com/books/middle-grade-books

https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/12/19-2019-middle-grade-books-to-have-on-your-radar/

https://www.readbrightly.com/middle-grade-books-2019/

https://www.bookish.com/articles/must-read-childrens-books-winter-2019/

http://www.popgoesthereader.com/target-audience-middle-grade/70-middle-grade-novels-i-cant-wait-to-read-in-2019/

Also - publication dates do occasionally change, so just be aware of that.

Alright, get your Goodreads tab open, or your library website pulled up, or your Amazon/Indiebound shopping cart ready, or ….. print out the show notes and bring it to your favorite local bookstore!

Alright - let’s get to it!

The 2019 Graphic Novels

  • This January, Lincoln Peirce, the author of Big Nate, has a new graphic/illustrated novel series set in the middle ages called Max and the Midknights that looks really, really cute.
  • Also out on January 8th is Click by Kayla Miller - the story of 5th grader Olive who is having some trouble finding where she “clicks” in middle school. The sequel, called Camp, is being released this April so fans won’t have to wait long for the next one.
  • A fantasy graphic novel that Mel Schuit recommended that I check out is The Chancellor and the Citadel by Maria Capelle Frantz so that’s on my radar now - and yours! Thank you, Mel!
  • On January 29th another Hilo is coming our way! Hilo 5: Then Everything Went Wrong. And on that same day the 5th Bird & Squirrel is coming out called All Tangled Up.
  • One graphic novel adaptation that has really piqued my interest is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Tercerio and illustrator Bre Indigo. The classic is reimagined as a blended family living in modern-day New York City. I don’t think I’ve ever hit “pre-order” faster and will be eagerly stalking my delivery person on February 5th for that one!
  • My mailbox is going to be brimming on February 5th because I also HAD to preorder New Kid by Jerry Craft!  It’s about seventh grader Jordan Banks who loves drawing cartoons and dreams of going to art school. But his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school instead, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Looks amazing!!  90-Second Newbery was singing its praises on Twitter last night and said this about it: “The amazing graphic novel New Kid by @JerryCraft should definitely be on everyone's tbr list and it has a full-cast (and all-star cast) audiobook released at the same time….perfect for rich, nuanced convos abt race, class, identity, school systems, how we share books, code switching, starting new school, just so much!”   So, yeah… I’ll just wait here for a bit while you hit pause and go order that!
  • We also get  the second Wings of Fire graphic novel, The Lost Heir, on February 26th AND the second Mr. Wolf’s Class book called Mystery Club. And a heads up that the graphic novel of The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire Book 3) is out in October 2019.
  • For those Minecraft fans in your life, this March we get another Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior graphic novel - Forging Destiny.
  • And for older middle grade kids - maybe 11 or 12 and up -  look for the new graphic novel adaptations of The Iliad and The Odyssey this March as well.
  • And fans of Terri Libenson’s Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzie will want to get their hands on Just Jaime - coming out May7th. There were lots of smiles among my students today when I told them that news!
  • Bad Guys #9 - The Bad Guys in the Big Bad Wolf is out June 25th.  Perfect launch for a fun summer read.
  • This August brings us Best Friends, the sequel to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends -  out on August 27th. And have you seen the cover? It’s Shannon at the top of a rollercoaster with this vibrant purple background. Love it, love it, love it!
  • And Dog Man fans (like my daughter) will be psyched this August because we are getting Dog Man #7: For Whom the Ball Rolls!
  • The seventh graphic novel adaptation of the Baby-sitters Club, Boy Crazy Stacey, illustrated by Gale Carrigan, will be out September 3rd. That’s one of those no-brainer preorders for my classroom library.
  • Also - I was interested to hear that R.J. Palacio is publishing her first graphic novel Wonder story this fall called White Bird. This one is Julian’s grandmother’s story about her life as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. So be on the lookout for that one September 3rd as well.
  • You want another don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it-just-preorder-it graphic novel? Guts - the long-awaited new Raina Telgemeier graphic memoir is out September 17th!!
  • September also brings the latest from Tillie Walden - Are You Listening.  The peeks I’ve seen of that online look incredible, so that one is definitely on my radar this fall.
  • And then….….. Drumroll please…… Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl!! Ahhhh!!  I knew it! That last page in Mighty Jack and the Goblin King was just too good not to be followed up with a joint adventure. Yay!
  • Jen Wang -  author of last year’s hit, The Prince & the Dressmaker, has a new graphic novel coming out in September called  Stargazing. This one draws on her personal experiences and is the story of two friends - Moon and Christine.
  • And this November we’ll get The Midwinter Witch - the third and final book in the trilogy that includes The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch.
  • And - wow, I’m just going to start saving up now for September because the graphic novel adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover is also coming out on September 24th!  It’s going to be a pancakes and ramen noodles for dinner kind of a month if I want to keep up with all these awesome books coming out!  (And I haven’t even gotten past the graphic novels!)
  • And…. I think, maybe, possibly.. that Amulet #9 (the final one of the series) will be released late this year. But I can’t find much info on it. No title, no date, no synopsis - nada! So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will arrive in 2019.
  • Finally - another graphic novel to be on the lookout for later in 2019 is Twins by author Varian Johnson who you may know from The Parker Inheritance and illustrator Shannon Wright. The publication date isn’t yet announced, but apparently it’s about twin sisters struggling to figure out individual identities in middle school and it’s based on Johnson’s own childhood experiences as a twin.

New Releases from 2017 / 2018 Debut Authors

  • Early February brings us the second in Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series called A Sprinkle of Spirits and oh is that cover gorgeous!
  • And definitely snag a copy of the sequel to Jarrett Lerner’s EngiNerds - Revenge of the EngiNerds out on February 19th. It is EVEN FUNNIER than the first one. And that’s saying something!
  • Another book I’m looking forward to is Jen Petro-Roy’s Good Enough - about a young girl with an eating disorder.
  • Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta - the follow up to The Serpent’s Secret is out on February 26th.
  • And the end of February also brings us Bone Hollow  by Skeleton Tree author Kim Ventrella.
  • Also be on the lookout for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras on March 5th. That sequel is getting rave reviews so it’s definitely one to add to your library.
  • Alyson Gerber, author of Braced, will have a new novel out called Focused. It’s about a middle school girl who loves chess and has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Definitely a book a lot of my students will be able to connect with!
  • In the last week of April we get the sequel to Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time called Aru Shah and Song of Death
  • This April brings us the second novel from Rebecca Donnelly called The Friendship Lie.
  • One book I’m excited to dip into this spring is Up for Air by Laurie Morrison. You might know her from last year’s Every Shiny Thing.
  • From the author of 2017’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and 2018’s Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish comes Each Tiny Spark. This is Pablo Cartaya’s third MG novel and this one features a young girl, a father recently returned from deployment, and… welding. So look for that one in August.
  • And The Cryptid Keeper, the sequel to Lija Fisher’s 2018 The Cryptid Catcher is out this August as is Melissa Sarno’s A Swirl of Ocean.
  • In September comes the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. It’s called Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus and follows Aven’s adventures as she heads into high school. At first I thought that might put it in the YA category, but from what I can tell, it’s still middle grade.
  • This fall we’ll also be treated to Abby Cooper’s third novel - Friend or Fiction. Just like Sticks and Stones and Bubbles, this one is also magical realism. It’s about a girl named Jade. In the pages of her notebook, she writes all about Zoe--the most amazing best friend anyone could dream of. But when pretend Zoe appears in real life thanks to a magical experiment gone right, Jade isn't so sure if she likes sharing her imaginary friend with the real world.  
  • Another treat in store for you this fall is the third novel by Elly Swartz - Give and Take. This book is about 12 year-old Maggie whose grandmother’s recent death has triggered her to start hoarding things under her bed.

2019 Debut Authors

So - I’ll just say right now that I could have had an ENTIRE show just dedicated to the amazing middle grade debuts coming our way this year but at some point, I had to cut myself off.  So - I’ll include a link to the Novel19s website where you find many more middle grade debuts and discover some of your new favorite authors.

  • The Whisperers is Greg Howard’s middle grade debut and one that has really caught my eye. Just listen to this description: “Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home.” Oooo…. This one is out January 15th.
  • If you are looking for a new book for younger middle grade readers - something along the lines of Ramona Quimby or Stella Diaz - check out Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternatch.
  • One book that keeps popping up into my radar is the middle grade debut of Padma Venkatraman called The Bridge Home about four children who discover strength and grit and family while dealing with homelessness. That one comes out Feb 5th so be on the lookout for that one.
  • Another debut that I have been dying to read is The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo!  Let me just read you the teaser: “Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.”  My step-mother had parrots when I was growing up, so this one in particular I really am interested in reading! So I’ll be checking my mailbox for that one on February 12th.
  • Another debut I am excited to read this year is Joshua Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy! Since one of my goals this year is to introduce my students to more science fiction, a story about a school on a spaceship orbiting Jupiter would be perfect!
  • On March 12 we get Lisa Moore Ramée’s debut A Good Kind of Trouble about a girl who just wants to follow the rules. And sometime this spring we get rather the opposite in Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz. This one is about a “bully” who ends up living with her aunt who is a nun and tries to turn over a new leaf.
  • This March is the debut of Julia Nobel with The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane about a girl who gets shipped off to a British boarding school and finds a box of medallions that might just be connected to the disappearance of her father.
  • A graphic novel debut coming in March that looks fabulous is Red Panda & Moon Bear by Jarod Roselló. It’s about two Latinx kids who defend their neighborhood from threats both natural and supernatural.
  • And in late April is the first book in a new MG detective series called Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak and a time-traveling action adventure that will transport readers to ancient Egypt called Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh by Malayna Evans.
  • Hurricane Season by debut author Nicole Melleby comes out May 7th and oh how do I want to read this novel!  On a recent #MGLitChat focused on the 2019 debut authors, the moderator asked, “What do you hope young readers take away from your book?”  And Nicole Melleby said the following, “ I want them to take away that they’re not alone, that they’re seen, that mental illness is hard but manageable, and that love may have its limits, but help comes in all shapes and sizes. Also that Van Gogh was a brilliant man.”  After reading Vincent & Theo last summer - uhhh…. gimme that book!!
  • Another great middle grade debut to look for on May 7th is Just South of Home by Karen Stong which is described as Blackish meets Goosebumps. The story follows a rule-abiding girl who must team up with her trouble making cousin, goofy younger brother, and his best friend to unravel a mysterious haunting in their tiny Southern town.
  • Also coming this spring is a book that I immediately knew I wanted to read. It’s called Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. (So, I was pretty much ALREADY sold by the Bowie reference.) The book follows Nova, an autistic, nonverbal, space-obsessed 12-year-old who is awaiting the Challenger shuttle launch and the return of her big sister, Bridget, as she struggles to be understood by her new foster family.  I was a 4th grader when The Challenger Disaster happened and vividly remember watching it happen live on tv, so I am really interested to see how that plays out in this book.
  • Another debut to look for early this summer is All of Me by Chris Baron - a novel in verse about a 13 year old boy who is dealing with a big move, struggles in his parents’ marriage, and his own body image issues.
  • So… if you are a close listener, you have probably figured out that I’m a sucker for books involving baking or cooking.  Maybe that’s why Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca just leapt out at me when I stumbled across it last month. This is a contemporary-fantasy retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream about an 11 year old Indian American girl whose father is a food writer and whose mother is a successful businesswoman. But when she adds some rather…. unusual (and maybe magical?) ingredients to her baking, things get out of hand. So look for that one on June 4th.
  • And if your kids are looking for a fun spooky read this summer, Ollie Oxley and the Ghost comes out on June 18th and looks really cute. It’s about a boy who moves to California and ends up becoming friends with a ghost from the Gold Rush era.
  • Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega is another paranormal middle grade coming this September and it’s described as Coco meets Stranger Things. So, uh… yeah...gimme that for sure!
  • Also coming out this September is The Light in the Lake by Sarah Baughman - a book about a young girl who finds herself caught between her love of science and her late twin brother's belief in magic.

Sequels and Favorite Series

2019 New Releases from Established Authors

  • First up here is the book I am devouring right now - The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart which just came out on January 8th. And oh…. does this book live up to its hype! Brace yourself to hear lots more about this one later!
  • Also out this January is a book my friend Sandy has been raving about - The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, U.S.A by Coretta Scott King honor nominee Brenda Woods. So I definitely need to add that one to my TBR list.
  • This January readers will get a new Gordon Korman novel - Unteachables AND a new Andrew Clements novel - The Friendship War.
  • January also brings us the first book in the really incredible Rick Riordan Presents Imprint - Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. This is a space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. (By the way - if you have kids who love Rick Riordan’s novels or who love adventure books with a dash of humor and myth - then check out his Imprint site. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can check them all out. From those lucky enough to read advanced copies, I haven’t heard anything but praise.)
  • Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas by Andrea Pyros is one to watch out for this February.
  • And another upper middle grade February release that caught my attention is a joint novel told in letters by Counting by 7s author Holly Goldberg Sloan and The Interestings author Meg Wolitzer. It’s called To Night Owl from Dogfish and it’s about two very different 12 year-old girls named Averie and Bett who are sent off to the same sleepaway camp in order to bond after their single dads fall in love with each other.
  • February also bring us another novel by Anne Urso (author of the critically acclaimed The Real Boy) This novel, The Lost Girl, is about identical twins Lark and Iris.  
  • On March 5th we get another Lisa Graff novel called Far Away about a girl, CJ, whose aunt is a psychic medium who claims that she carries messages from the dead.
  • And I’m really psyched for We’re Not From Here by Tapper Twins author Geoff Rodkey. This novel is also out March 5th and is about refugees from planet Earth who need to find a new home on a faraway planet. I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this one and it’s quirky and hilarious… and timely. Definitely add this one to your pre orders.
  • March also brings us another Rick Riordan Present’s book called Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I’ve been hearing lots of great buzz about this one, so I’ll definitely need to pre-order a copy.
  • On March 19th we get a new Kevin Henkes novel called Sweeping Up the Heart and this one is the story of the spring break that changes seventh-grader Amelia Albright’s life forever.
  • In late March Natalie Lloyd fans will be treated to Over the Moon - a story about twelve-year-old Mallie who lives in a mining town where boys leave school at 12 to work in the mines, and girls leave to work as servants for the wealthy. But of course with that quintessentially Lloyd magic interwoven.
  • And another Cynthia Lord book is coming out this March! She is the author of Rules and A Handful of Stars. This one is titled Because of the Rabbit and is about a young girl who starts public school for the first time after being homeschooled.
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is coming out April 2nd and a really interesting looking book called Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway will be released April 16th. It’s about a girl who has to save her aunt’s pie shop. I think this one would be  a winner for kids who enjoy shows like The Great British Baking Show.
  • In early May, we get to read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s next novel, Shouting at the Rain about a girl named Delsie who lives with her grandmother, loves tracking weather, and who starts to wish for a more “regular” family and life. You can’t go wrong with the author of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys so… just pop this one in your cart now!
  • And another novel that is getting all kinds of early buzz is the latest from K.A. Reynolds called Spinner of Dreams. It’s being called “inventive, empathetic, and strange in all the best ways.”  Plus - it has a really otherworldly cover that I just want to stare at...
  • And finally - I know you all have heard me rave about this one before - but Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You is going to be AMAZING!  My students and I got the chance to read the first chapter and we were all already hooked. But let me give you a little taste from the teaser: “For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like? They don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.” I can’t WAIT!!

Phew!!  Alright - I am both energized and - I gotta be honest - a little daunted! But - I am reminding myself and I hope you’ll remember too that it’s not about a mad dash to read all of these books. But to give you a taste of what’s to come so you can match readers with books they might like and get them excited about new releases.

I hope you have a wonderful year reading and I would love to know - what are the books that you and your students are most looking forward to in 2019?

You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jan 15 2019

38mins

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Rank #2: #24 - Summer Reading & Nanci Turner Steveson

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom, and a HUGE Guardians of the Galaxy fan! I just saw the second movie last weekend, and I loved how the writers constructed a story to make me love a character I had previously hated. And I loved how this story shows how an empathic character can be deeply powerful without toting a gun or fighting. Plus - my favorite band is Fleetwood Mac!

This is Episode #24 and Today we are discussing lots of ideas for summer reading and I’ll be chatting with author Nanci Turner Steveson about her new novel Georgia Rules.

Main Topic - Summer Reading

Our main topic today is summer reading! For me,  my school year up here in New York doesn’t end for another five weeks but lots of my friends are already wrapping up their school year so I thought it would be a good time to discuss this topic. And whether you are a parent, or a librarian, or a teacher there will be something in today’s show that you will find useful.

First, we’ll talk about defining the purpose of summer reading and the importance of planning. Then we’ll talk about ways to ensure access to books for kids and end with some fun summer reading ideas.

Purpose

The first thing to really think about is what purpose summer reading should serve for kids. In my view, summer reading should be all about fun and free choice and continuing to build a community of readers. And not earning trinkets. The prize should be the book, the shared experience, not some cheap piece of junk from a chintzy looking treasure box.  Whatever you decide to do to encourage summer reading, please keep the focus on fun and not guilt tripping kids into reading. As we approach the end of the school year and kids dive into busy or unpredictable schedules, maintaining that reading momentum is key. If you are like me and saying good-bye to outgoing students, it feels a little like they are fledging and you’ll be encouraging more reading independence. Or, maybe you are thinking about activities with incoming students. In that case, your goal might be to welcome them into a new community of readers and to start to build or maintain those relationships heading into a new year.

Planning

One of the most effective things that you can do to get kids reading over the summer is to help them make some reading plans before school ends and to fill up their To Be Read list with titles they are excited about. Suggested book lists can be nice - especially if they are created by other students. (You know how it is - kids are going to listen to each other way more than they’re going to listen to us!)

If there are some movies coming out over the summer that are based on books, definitely mention those and maybe show the trailers. For example, I know there’s a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and Captain Underpants and then Wonder is coming out in the fall.

One thing that I like to do is to try to get kids hooked into a new series right at the end of the year so they are motivated to read the rest of the books into the summer. My school has started using the Units of Study from the TCRWP and our final unit in 5th grade is Fantasy Book Clubs. So they are totally getting hooked on Gregor the Overlander and Wings of Fire and Warriors and already starting to research the sequels.

And - speaking of Fantasy, have you seen the new Wizarding World Book Club being launched this summer through Pottermore? That sounds awesome and every year I have three or four kids who are just getting started in the Harry Potter series so I feel like I relive reading that series every year.  I’ll include a link in the show notes for all of my fellow Potterheads to check out.  So making a great TBR list is one major part of planning summer reading.

Another part is to think about some Summer Challenges. Maybe share the Reading Without Walls Challenge which encourages readers to expand their reading horizons by reading a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know about and a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun. Scholastic also has a Summer Reading Bingo Card that might be fun to print out and try with spaces like Read With a Flashlight, Read Outside, or Read Aloud to an Adult - those are fun but what might be even cooler would be to have kids design their own Summer Reading Bingo cards!

One last word about planning. Definitely share your own summer reading plans with your students and your kids. They are really more likely to follow through if you join them and make your commitment public.

Access

Alright so you now know your purpose and you and the kids have a plan. Let’s talk about helping them have access to those amazing books they want to read. One great idea that I know a lot of teachers and librarians are doing is to coordinate a Book Swap at the end of the year where kids bring in books from home, share them in some central spot and then take what they want.

Another idea for teachers is to give each child in your class a book as an end-of-the-year present.  I did this for the first time ever last year. I went to my local Scholastic Warehouse during their year-end sale, and I picked out a book that I knew the child had not yet read but I thought they would really like. And I brought with me my clipboard of Status of the Class sheets from the entire year so I had a record of exactly what they had read and I had a decent idea of what they would like. Then I added a personalized note inside, wrapped each one up, and added a Krazy Straw and a some ribbon. Now, depending on your class size or your budget, that is not always an option. When I taught in a middle school with over 60 students, I just couldn’t do that.  Now, I have just one class and also I don’t buy lots of other things so I can splurge a little at the end of the year.

Another way to get more books into kids hands over the summer is to open up your classroom library or the school library over the summer. Some schools I know have library hours once a week. Some handle the issue of access by letting each child take out ten books over the summer. If you can do this, I think it’s a fabulous idea. Why let the books just sit around?

However, if that is not possible or you’re not there yet another thing you can do is send home a resource sheet to let parents know where they can get books over the summer. List the locations of local libraries, of any Little Free Libraries in the area, and also the links to online places where they access books and articles. Definitely don’t forget about digital reading. Places like Wonderopolis or Newsela or any other online databases or subscription site they use during the school year. Often those passwords will work right over the summer. And don’t forget to plug the audio books! Sometimes a summer trip is the perfect time to try out an audio book.

Bringing books out into the community is another fantastic way to get more books out to more kids. You could set up one or more Little Free Libraries near the school. A lot of my local libraries are placing satellite Little Free Libraries around in various parks. If you’re up for a bit of planning - and maybe it won’t happen this summer but put it in the back of your mind for next year - a bookmobile would be another great method of outreach and making sure that every kid can bump into some books over the summer! Julie, a librarian friend of mine, took a bookmobile out to a local breakfast spot on the weekends. A local ballpark where they have summer rec games going on would be another great spot. I’m thinking of summer festivals and 4th of July spots or the Farmer’s Market!

Basically, you want to make sure kids have books in their hands before they leave school and know exactly where to go to get more.

8 Summer Projects & Activities

Let’s talk about some cool summer projects and activities that you can do with students or your own kids. Here are eight ideas for summer reading projects:

  1. Have students write a letter or postcard to you over the summer telling you about a book they loved. You can supply a template if you want and a pre stamped and self-addressed envelope before the end of school.
  2. Do a Library Crawl! I chatted with you about this back in January on Episode 14, but my daughters and I challenged ourselves to hit 16 libraries during the summer of 2016. And we posted pictures on social media along the way, included some Little Free Libraries, and it was a lot of fun. This idea is more geared toward parents but you might find a way to do something similar as a teacher or librarian.
  3. Host a meetup at your local library or bookstore. Set a few dates ahead of time and join your students for a quick get-together to share what you’ve been reading and pick out some new titles. Usually libraries have summer programs going on, so you could time those meetups to match the library schedule.
  4. Meet at school for a Breakfast & Book Swap! Make some pancakes, chat about books, and get some ideas of what to read next.
  5. Share your reading on Social Media. You could encourage kids to share pics of their books on Snapchat or Twitter or Instagram and maybe use a school hashtag. Also - if you use Google Classroom or Seesaw, often students can still log-in to use those over the summer. So, why not take advantage of that and continue to share what you’re reading through June, July, and August?
  6. Summer Book Clubs! If you have multiple copies of the same book, put together a book club that meets a couple times over the summer.
  7. Is an idea called Books on Blankets that I first saw on Stacey Reidmiller’s site Literacy for Big Kids. And basically, they host a get-together once a week over the summer with a read aloud, popsicles, and kids get a free book! Families bring a blanket and sit out on the grass and enjoy a great story together.
  8. Is a similar idea but instead of having a read aloud at your school, do a read aloud station at, say, your local Farmer’s Market. It doesn’t have to be for the whole day - maybe just half an hour! Or really, any place where lots of kids gather over the summer. Just gather some books in a totebag, lay out a beach blanket, put up a sign, and start reading!

You may not be ready to take on some of these ideas, yet. I am definitely not quite ready for some of them. But, every year I feel like I’m adding another piece. But - please keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything yourself. I certainly would find it hard to commit to going to my school once a week for the entire summer. But, I could get together with some my colleagues and some PTO members and we could each take one week.  

My challenge to you and to myself is to find one area where you could encourage more pleasure reading this summer. And I know you’ll get just as much out of it as your kids will.

And of course, I want to hear about your summer reading plans and ideas. You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to see what you’ve got going on this summer.

Interview - Nanci Turner Steveson

Today I am excited to welcome Nanci Turner Steveson to the podcast. She is the author of Swing Sideways and the newly released Georgia Rules.  We chat about why she set her new middle grade novel in Vermont, the theatre, and her favorite kind of pie. Take a listen.

Welcome to the podcast!

I heard that your first novel, Swing Sideways, was nominated for the Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Award! Congratulations!

Georgia Rules

Your second middle grade novel, Georgia Rules, is released today.  I am so honored to be chatting with you on your launch day!

Tell us about Georgia Rules - what is this story about?

At the beginning of the book, the catalyst that prompts Maggie and her mom to move to Vermont is that her step-father has decided to divorce them and have a boyfriend move in. And I just want to say that situation of a family breaking up and one of the parents moving on to a same-sex relationship is becoming more common - or at least more openly acknowledged. And I am glad that it’s in this book - I think Georgia Rules is the first book I’ve read that’s shown a breakup in that way.

There is this tension between the more formal “Georgia Rules” that Magnolia has been brought up with in Atlanta and the more casual, country vibe of Vermont.

Which one is more in line with your upbringing?

I loved the Vermont setting - it reminded a lot of Central New York actually.

Have you ever lived in Vermont?

The Parker family is known for their pies.

What is your favorite pie?

Your Writing Life

You’ve mentioned that you got a late start in publishing and that your first novel, Swing Sideways, wasn’t published until you were older.

Were you writing all along and just stuck with it until you had a breakthrough or did you also come to writing later as well?

What drew you to writing middle grade?

Theatre

I’ve noticed that you are involved in the theatre! =

What do you do - act? Or more technical aspects?

What sort of chapter books did you like to read when you were a kid?

What about have you been reading lately?

Thank You!

Closing

Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Also, this past week I was honored to be a guest on the What Book Hooked You? podcast where I chatted with Brock Shelly about The Book Whisperer and lots of other things. I’ll link to that in the shownotes if you want to check it out.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

https://www.pottermore.com/news/wizarding-world-book-club-coming-soon-to-pottermore

http://www.cbcbooks.org/reading-without-walls/

http://oomscholasticblog.com/rules/2017ScholasticReadingBingo.pdf

https://littlefreelibrary.org

https://newsela.com

http://www.literacyforbigkids.com/blog/summer-reading-the-authentic-way

May 22 2017

38mins

Play

Rank #3: #26 - Caroline Starr Rose & Favorite Fictional Dads

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of an 8 and 10 year old, a teacher to eighteen 11 year olds, and we are all in the home stretch for summer vacation. It’s almost here. And - if any of you of are headed to the ALA Conference in Chicago this summer, I will be be there on Saturday and Sunday to interview author Mira Bartok about her new middle grade book The Wonderling. So - if you will be there, look for that and I hope we can meet in person.

This is Episode #26 and Today I am welcoming author Caroline Starr Rose to the show and then in honor of Father’s Day coming up, chatting about some of our favorite fictional dads and two fabulous new books featuring awesome fathers.

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is supported by OwlCrate Jr. - a book subscription box just for kids 8-12. My daughters and I have been loving it! Every month has a different theme and it is such a treat to have a package waiting on your doorstep with a box full of - not only an awesome newly released book but fun little items all connected to the theme of that middle grade book.  If you head over to owlcrate.com you can see some samples of past boxes, and if you use the code BOOKSBETWEEN, you can save 15%. I hope you check them out - I really think you’re going to love it!  

This week I am welcoming to the show Caroline Starr Rose - author of the recently released middle grade historical adventure Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine. We chat about the inspirations behind her latest novel, encouraging kids to read more, and we reminisce about Little House on the Prairie.

Caroline Starr Rose - Interview Outline

 Your latest middle grade novel, Jasper and The Riddle of Riley’s Mine, was just released this past February.

Is this your first novel that is not written in verse?

Tell us about this new historical adventure - what is Jasper & the Riddle of Riley’s Mine about?

One of the things I really loved about this book was they way the boys speak - using “ain’t” and “them” instead of “those”, “it’s his own dern fault”...

How did you capture the voices of Jasper and Melvin?

I just noticed that you have a new picture book on the Pony Express coming out this fall, yes? 

I saw that you taught Social Studies and English.  

A lot of our listeners who are teachers and librarians and homeschooling parents are always trying to find ways to connect subjects to really maximize the limited time we all have.

When you were teaching full time, how were you connecting social studies and English?

Is there anything that you used to do as a teacher that now, looking back - you regret?   Anything you would go back and change?

Even though you aren’t in the classroom anymore, your passion for connecting readers and educators with the right book is clear. I especially love the “Classroom Connections” section on your website where you interview authors about their books and include a specific section on how that book would be a good fit in a classroom.

How do you think that we as parents and teachers can raise kids who love reading?

How is having a teenager reader different than having a middle grade reader at home? As someone who has gone through those years and is now out the other side, what can we expect?

You recently posted on your website a quote from Donalyn Miller (one of my inspirations as well!). It said, “I am as much a composite of all the book characters I have loved as of the people I have met.”

Which book characters are you a composite of?

 What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Book Talk - Two Novels Featuring Fantastic Fathers

In this section of the show, I share with you a few books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week, with Father’s Day coming up, I thought I would focus on books with great dads. I know it’s such a trope with kids books that the parents get killed off or are otherwise out of the picture so that the main characters can go off on adventures unimpeded, but we’re breaking away from those books today. First, I’ll go into some detail about two newer releases that I have been loving - Amina’s Voice and Beyond the Bright Sea. And then chat about other favorite dads from both modern and classic books.

Amina’s Voice

This week I am starting with Amina’s Voice by an author who is new to middle grade - Hena Khan. This is a lovely and heartfelt story about a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina, who is trying to navigate the complicated tides of middle school friendship where old friends are changing and old adversaries might be changing, too. Amina also has to deal with her rather traditional and more strict uncle visiting their family and figuring out for herself how to express her beliefs and culture. Here are three things to love about Amina’s Voice:

  1. Amina’s family! Her father - who is rather strict, does NOT care if he embarasses his kids by asking a million questions at Open House, but stands up for his daughter at a moment when she needs it. At first I wasn’t sure about him, but oh he grew on me! Her mom, who spends days preparing tons of traditional Pakistani food for their visiting uncle. That doesn’t quite go as planned. And Amina’s older brother, Mustafa, whose interest in trying out for the basketball team instead of joining something like Chess Club causes some friction at home. There was so much to relate to in those family moments in Amina’s Voice.
  2. That ending! I don’t want to give away too much but something bad happens in Amina’s Muslim community and the way things come together in the end makes me wish that every kid could read this story as a template of what to do in that kind of situation. It  didn’t shy away from difficult realities or make problems seem easy to solve yet it was uplifting and perfect.
  3. That this novel offers Muslim students and students from the Middle East with a main character whose background and customs might be a reflection of their own, or have pieces they can relate to. I so wish that I had this book six years ago to offer to my own Amina. She was a student of mine when I taught 6th grade and Muslim. And may have connected to this Amina’s story but she was from Bosnia so although the religious details about the Imam and Sunday school and learning passages from the Quran may have been a connection, the food and other cultural details might not have been. So while this book is absolutely a great addition to any library, I just hope that people don’t stop there and think they’ve covered a niche. It’s one girl’s story and I just can’t wait to see what else this new imprint of Simon & Schuster, Salaam Reads, will bring to the kidlit community so we have more and more stories to offer kids.  

Beyond the Bright Sea

Our second book this week is Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk whose novel Wolf Hollow won a Newbery Honor last year. And this book is, I think, another contender. It reminded me a little bit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with a touch of Orphan Island in there. This book about a 12 year old girl called Crow who as an infant washed ashore in an old boat on one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She is now 12 and being raised by a reclusive fisherman and painter who she calls Osh. And the other people on this tiny close-knit island essentially shun her and will not touch her or touch anything she has touched because they think she came from Penikese Island - the nearby leper colony. And this chain of events suddenly takes off when Crow sees a fire on that nearby island and starts to get curious about where she came from. It’s so good! Here are three things to love about Beyond the Bright Sea.

  1. The timeless quality of the setting. It reminded me of Pax in that way because there are very few clues at first in the way the islanders dress or how technology is described. Eventually, you do discover precisely when everything is happening but the journey of figuring that out is part of what I liked about the book.
  2. It brought to light some real history.  It took me until half-way through to realize that the leper hospital described in the novel actually existed. And they did really dynamite it and burn it down and transform it into a bird sanctuary for awhile. But the small cemetery does remain. I love a book that brings to light a forgotten story from history.
  3. Crow’s adoptive father who she calls Osh. He has his own secrets, his own complicated backstory, but his quiet, earnest protection of her makes you love him immediately. He’s from another land, speaks in a native language that no one on this New England island knows and we really feel for him as he is so deeply afraid of losing Crow - the one thing that has keep him anchored and steady. And as she ventures out to attempt to find her parents, it’s hard for him at first. And - I don’t want to spoil anything for you but oh when you find out what his name means…. Love him!

Both Amina’s Voice and Beyond the Bright Sea are outstanding reads. If you have a kid who enjoyed Finding Perfect or Like Magic or Sticks & Stones - Amina’s Voice would be great next book to introduce them to. And if you have a child who enjoyed Midnight Without a Moon or Wolf Hollow - Beyond the Bright Sea might be the perfect next book.

Q & A

Our third and final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

 Question:

This question stems from a conversation I had with some students who have started to notice that in lots of books they are reading the parents are missing, dead, or otherwise out of the picture. So that had me thinking about counter examples and I came up with some but wanted other opinions, too. So I put the question out there on social media and asked: “Which middle grade books have you read that had great dads?”

Answer:

And actually - there were a ton! Let’s start with some classics:

  • Obviously one of the first mentioned was Ramona and Her Father. Loved him! I still remember that scene when he’s trying to draw his foot…
  • Pa Ingalls from the Little House series
  • Mr. Weasley from Harry Potter - such an honorable man who took on so much risk to protect Harry

And some more modern novels with dads we love:

  • Papa (Hans Hubermann) from The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorite fathers
  • And one new book that came up over and over again and one that has been a classroom favorite with my 5ths is The Crossover - what a great relationship he had with his twin boys.
  • Another book that was mentioned a lot was The Family Fletcher series and the two awesome dads heading up that family. I haven’t read it yet but that title is moving up my TBR list.
  • Melanie Conklin’s Counting Thyme and the newly released Moon Shadow by Erin Downing are both books that I’ve been dying to read that so many mentioned as having a great fathers.
  • The dad from Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the dad in The Penderwicks and Mr. Pullman from Wonder and the dad from Ida B and Wolf Hollow!

I know there are tons and tons more - so I hope you jump on social media share your favorite middle grade dads.

Closing

Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.

And thanks again to OwlCrateJr for supporting the podcast this month - don’t forget to head over to owlcrate.com and use code BOOKSBETWEEN to get 15% percent off your subscription!

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

Caroline's Official Website: https://carolinestarrrose.com

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine Teaching Guide

Where in the World Are We Reading? Activity

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmond Lewis (Jeannine Atkins)

Wonder: A novel (Emma Donoghue)

Insight (Tasha Eurich)

Three Pennies (Melanie Crowder)

Jun 12 2017

51mins

Play

Rank #4: #28 - Diversity Audit & A Conversation with Madelyn Rosenberg & Wendy Shang

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and lately I am ALL about the 80s. Have you seen the new Netflix series GLOW? It  stands for “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” - it’s full on 1980s amazing. Now, I never really got into wrestling myself but I love this show. It’s fun and self-deprecating and takes you back.  

Before we jump into the show I just want to mention that the day this episode is released - Monday, July 10th - I am in Michigan at Nerdcamp for the next two days! So, if you are there too - please come say hi! And if not, I’ll be posting lots of updates on my Twitter feed (@corrinaaallen) so you can see what NerdCamp is all about.

This is Episode #28 and Today I share with you my experience doing a diversity audit of my classroom library and then I welcome authors Wendy Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg to the show to chat about their new middle grade novel THIS IS JUST A TEST, which is set - in the 80s!

Main Topic - Diversity Audit

First up is how things went when I did a diversity check of my classroom library. If you listened to the last episode (#27 with librarian Sarah Threlkeld) you heard us chatting about this activity she did with her students to reflect on the diversity found in their school library. And I think even way back to Episode 18, I mentioned reading this fantastic blog post over at Lee & Low Books that shared how one teacher helped her class analyze the books in their room to find out how different genders and races are represented. I’ll include a link to that article and the main framework of what I did is pulled directly from there. So I want to be clear - this is not my idea, but I’m sharing how it went for me with the idea that you might want to try it, too.  First I’ll run through the process and then discuss my major takeaways, and how I’ll do it differently next year.

The Process:

First, I showed my 5th graders two infographics. Both have been shared widely on social media and you’ve probably seen them, but I’ll post them on the website so you can find them easily. The first one was a black and white image called “The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books” and it shows a bar graph of the percent of kid’s books in the past 21 years that contain multicultural content. And shows that sadly steady around 10% from 1994 to 2014. 2014 was a slight tick up to 14% but well below where it should be. This picture, which is put together by Lee & Low Books also includes pie charts that show the percent of the US population that are people of color and a projection that the U.S. population will be 57% minority in 2060, which really brings into focus the disparity.

The second infographic I showed them is from ReadingSpark and called “Diversity in Children’s Books 2015” and is in color with illustrations showing the percents of various groups featured as characters in kid’s books - 73.3% White and 12.5%  Animals/Trucks, 7.6% African/African American, 3.3% Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, 2.4% Latina/o, and then 0.9% American Indian.

So, we gathered on the rug and huddled around the Promethean board where I had the images displayed. And I simply asked my students to look carefully at them both and to chat with a partner about what they noticed. I explained terms where necessary, but otherwise I just let them have a look and asked them to make some observations.

And from there, I pivoted the conversation to enlist their help in analyzing our own classroom library so that their information could help me when I ordered new books.  And - I was truly moved by their eagerness. These ten and eleven year olds were ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in to see how our books stacked up.  And we started by thinking about this, “What questions do you have about the diversity in our classroom library?”   And they said things like:

How many books do we have by and about Native Americans?

How many books have an African American main character?

What genre has the most diversity?

Are there more books about people of color than BY people of color?

Do we have more books featuring boys or girls?

I’ll be honest with you - their questions went beyond the scope of what I had planned. They went pretty deep and the data we pulled really only started to answer the questions they had.  

So once they had some questions in mind, I had them pair up and grab one bin of books from our classroom library to start sorting through. Our bins are sorted by genre. I used a Google Sheet to record the genre of that bin and some other information.  First, they separated out all the books with people on the cover and analyzed just those. Then they counted how many covers included a person of color and jotted that number down. And then they counted how many covers featured at least one girl. And from there, generated percentages using a calculator - which they enjoyed, but then I quickly learned that we needed a refresher on how to figure out percents.

As each pair worked, they added their data to a shared Google Doc so we could see the information come to life in real time.  It was exciting and the kids were so engaged! I think that when they feel like they are doing real work, important work, and are helping you out in a genuine way, they are all in. And some recognized the injustice in the situation and were eager to start to set things (not right) but on a better path.  

Our takeaways:

So - what did we discover? First up, I’ll give you some examples of the data (flawed as it is). Starting with gender.  One thing that stood out was that 81% of the biographies were about men. Not good. That’s changing immediately.  Also, realistic fiction seemed to have a better balance of girls and boys with most of those bins featuring kids of different genders. And Fantasy, which I thought was going to be worse, actually only between 9% and 50% only with boys on the cover. That was better than I was anticipating because sometimes that genre is known for a lack of gals. (And a quick side note about that. Now that I’m moving away from thinking about gender as a simple binary of boy or girl, I’m also wondering about better methods for categorizing and doing this type of analysis. So - if you have thoughts on that, please do let me know. There is a whole group of folks out there that want to be doing better and if you have an idea about how to make that happen, I’m absolutely listening.)

Okay - on to the data pulled about race and ethnicity.  The percentage of books with no people of color at all on the cover was pretty high. The best category seemed to be realistic fiction which had percentages like 21%, 43%, 63% and one bin at 93%. Some of the least diverse categories were Fantasy with 79% , 80% and 100% of the books in those bins featuring only white people, and graphic novels with 85%. So, now it’s pretty clear where are some particularly troublesome areas and when I go to purchase books, those genres will be my focus.

So, what did the kids say? Well, I think I’ll give you a sampling of some of their comments:

In the words of one of my girls, “We have a lot of books about white boys in this room!” Yes, we do! And most of them are fantastic, but adding other voices is only going to help so that every kid can see themselves and see the wide range of experiences in our country and in our world.

“A lot of books have shadow people on the cover.” They were referring to silhouettes, and this observation lead to some great discussion about what the publishers might intend with that. They were questioning how to categorize those types of covers and if we needed another category.

Another big topic that came up was that some forms of diversity weren’t being accounted for in this exercise. And that all stemmed from the debate about what gender pile to put the book George in. Do we go by the clues on the cover which might suggest a boy? Or do we account for what we know of the story (which is about a transgender girl) and my students said, “We need another category, Mrs. Allen.”  Many students mentioned that religion or disability wasn’t included in what we were looking for. Also, because we only used the visual of the cover, that is really limiting.  A cover that includes a girl or a person of color does not mean that character plays a big part or that they are portrayed in a great way. Were they just the sidekick?

Ideas for Next Time

  1. Do this earlier in the year. (We jumped in during the second to last week of school. I want this to be on kids’ minds much earlier.)
  2. Connect with another class doing the same thing and share results. I think that could be powerful.
  3. Include more categories (maybe religion, disability, LGBTQ)
  4. Do some analysis in other places  (This could be a great teacher/librarian collaboration in the school library. Also examine the public library, a local bookstore, Scholastic flyers, or online stores.)
  5. Take this to that next step and have kids research and recommend titles to fill out the gaps in our library. So that they are playing a part in creating a more diverse selection of books that they will love.

Mainly, I was just acutely aware of how limited this exercise was. And yet - I am so glad we did it. The data we gleaned is not going into some peer-reviewed journal, but it gave these kids (and me!) a taste of that data analysis. And, the best part,  it lead to even more questions - and now they know that it’s a question they should ask about the books surrounding them!  And our shared spreadsheet is messy - some percents aren’t accurate and some kids categorized a little differently. But, my hope, is that when they find themselves in a library or bookstore and pick up a book, they’ll remember this and maybe carry those questions and discoveries forward with them and start to (seek out - no! That’s too weak) start to demand more books that reflect our cultures and our communities.

And for us, let’s not shy away from this work, as uncomfortable and complicated as it sometimes can be.

And as always, I really want to hear your ideas about this topic. You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to hear and share your ideas.

Interview - Madelyn Rosenberg & Wendy Shang

Today I am so excited to welcome Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Shang to the podcast. They are the authors of the recently released middle grade novel This Is Just a Test.  We chat about their collaboration process, epic Thanksgiving dinners, Trivial Pursuit, and all our favorite fashions from the 80s.  Take a listen.

This is Just a Test

Your middle grade novel, This is Just a Test, was just released this past June 27th - congratulations!

What is this book about?

I loved David and his story but I think for me, my favorite part of this book was that it was set in the early 80s with big hair and boom boxes and Boy George!

What was your research process like in order to make sure that the setting was authentically 1983?

Some quick questions about the 80s….

Favorite 80s band?

Favorite Atari Game?

Favorite 80s TV Show?

Favorite 80s Fashion?

Trivial Pursuit plays a big part in this book because David and his two friends Hector and Scott are competing in this big Trivia Tournament and they play the game to practice.

What is your favorite Trivial Pursuit category?

Not everything about the 80s was light and fun - one of the major pieces of this book is the looming threat of the Cold War and David’s anxiety after watching The Day After - a pretty scary movie that shows the effects of nuclear war.

Did you see that movie and did it have the same impact on you?

Your Writing Life

How did you two come to know each other?

What was your collaboration process like for writing This Is Just a Test? Did you meet in person or do most of your work online?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Closing

Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/07/07/part-1-having-students-analyze-our-classroom-library-to-see-how-diverse-it-is/

Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781596439542

Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316403436

Short - Holly Sloan

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399186219

Unidentified Suburban Object  - Mike Jung

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780545782265

Jul 10 2017

38mins

Play

Rank #5: #60 - Kate DiCamillo (Louisiana's Way Home)

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!

I believe in the power of stories to lift us up and help us discover who we really are.  My goal is to help you connect kids with those incredible books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two preteen girls, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and really, really glad that September is over.  I always feel like, for educators, September is a little bit like childbirth and having a newborn. Somehow you forget the utter exhaustion and work and lack of sleep every time. And instead you focus on the fresh start! Getting the room set up! Getting to know new personalities and a chance to get right THIS time what you you struggled with last time. And you forget that it took you MONTHS to get them into a decent schedule. And that the first weeks are just…. triage.   So… in solidarity with all the exhausted and overworked teachers and parents out there - I see you. I feel you. I AM you.

And after 15+ years of teaching, I did two things this September that helped my stress level a bit.

  1. I went to bed. And if you know me at ALL - you know how hard this is for me. I am a night owl. I am most inspired between 9pm and 1am. But when I have to get up for work at 5:15 - it was killing me.  Probably literally.
  2. I cut myself some slack. I DID NOT have my classroom “picture ready” on the first day of school. For the last few years, I have decorated my door with all the books I’ve read over the summer with favorite quotes. Nope - not this year. I just couldn’t pull it off. And that was…. honestly disappointing, but I think we need to give ourselves some grace with that stuff. I think we internalize all those Pinterest/Instagram ideas of what an “ideal” teacher and classroom should be and we give ourselves crap when we fall short of that imagined perfection. When in reality - NO one has it all together. Not the “education thought leader” with hundreds of thousands of followers, not the educator with the inspiring YouTube videos, not the teacher with that amazing new book out - NONE of them are living up to what we’re all “supposed to” be doing. Something is falling through the cracks. And I find the ones who admit that are really the ones worth listening to.

So, it is now October. I’m more rested and sooo ready to dive back into things - including bringing you some fantastic interviews this fall!

This is episode #60 and Today I’m sharing a conversation I had this past summer with Kate DiCamillo about her latest novel, coming out tomorrow - Louisiana’s Way Home!

Before we dive into that, I want to give you a few updates.

The Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick for October is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is the November pick.

Also - #MGBooktober is BACK!!  The MGBookVillage is hosting a month of awesome middle grade related book prompts. We hope that you and your students will join in the fun. Just use #MGBooktober to post your responses and to find everyone else’s pics.

And finally - remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Teachers as Readers, Middle Grade Spooktacular (Why Scary Stories Matter), Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  Those all sound amazing - so see you Monday nights!

Kate DiCamillo - Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Kate DiCamillo - author of Because of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux, among so many other incredible books. I got the opportunity to chat with her this summer about Louisiana’s Way Home - the follow-up to her 2016 novel, Raymie Nightingale. We talk about why she decided to write a sequel, Pinocchio, bologna sandwiches, and of course her latest novel - Louisiana’s Way Home.

Take a listen…

Louisiana’s Way Home

Your latest novel, Louisiana’s Way Home, is coming out this October. I had the opportunity to read an ARC and simply fell in love this story. It has so much depth and so much clarity all at the same time.

For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

This is the first time you’ve revisited the world of a previous novel.

What was your journey to decide that you wanted to go further into Louisiana’s story?

Early on in the book, Louisiana observes that “There are the rescuers in this world and there are the rescued.”

Which one are you?

My daughter would like to know - do you like bologna sandwiches?

You are known for your vibrant character names but in this book - you have three characters with the same name!

Throughout the novel there is this small thread about the book Pinocchio and how most people don’t remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of the story! It made me think that perhaps adults don’t remember how dark the stories they grew up with actually were...

You’ve mentioned before that when you are writing, the trajectory of the story or the characters will often surprise you.

Were there any unexpected parts of Louisiana’s Way Home?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Kate and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 36:18 mark.

Your Writing Life

Was it challenging to write a novel that would be satisfying for readers of Raymie Nightingale but that would also stand on its own?

If you can talk about it….. what are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?  And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Links:

Kate’s website - https://www.katedicamillo.com/

Kate on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateDiCamillo

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Pinnochio (Carlo Collodi)

The Juniper Tree, and Other Tales from Grimm (Illustrated by Maurice Sendak)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

The 21 Balloons (William Pene du Bois)

A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)

Stuart Little (E.B. White)

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

Polly & Buster (Sally Rippin)

The Borrowers (Mary Norton)

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

The Search for Delicious (Natalie Babbitt)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (Rita Williams Garcia)

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

Oct 01 2018

45mins

Play

Rank #6: #23 - Victoria Coe

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Intro

Hi everyone - welcome to Books Between - a podcast focused solely on middle grade readers and to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect them to books they will love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher and still basking in the glow of getting to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson LIVE when he came to Syracuse! He talked about science in the movies and was utterly hilarious. If you ever have a chance to go see him, please do it!

This is Episode #23 and Today I am welcoming author Victoria Coe to the show and then chatting about two excellent new May releases that you won’t want to miss, and then answering a question about middle grade classics in the classroom.

Main Topic - Interview with Victoria Coe

Today I am honored to welcome Victoria Coe. She is the author of the amazing and fun Fenway & Hattie series which was just picked as one of the 2017 Global Read Aloud choices.  We chat about pets, Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, what makes an author visit go smoothly, and lots of other things! Take a listen.

Global Read Aloud

We’ve been working on having you come on to the show for a few months now but I am actually glad that the timing worked out for now so that I could talk to you about the Global Read Aloud! I admit, I actually screeched when I saw the announcement that Fenway & Hattie was selected for 2017!

How did you find out that Fenway & Hattie was picked?

From the very first pages, I knew the Fenway & Hattie was a book that begged to be read out loud! Even when I was reading it by myself alone, I found myself mouthing the words and already figuring out where I would pause to let my students figure out what’s happening.

Could you tell us what the book is about for those listening who haven’t read it yet?

It wasn’t until I finished reading the book that I noticed the “1” written on the spine, so I was really excited to know that it will be a series and we’ll get to spend more time in Fenway’s world! I know the second one has come out already - Evil Bunny Gang.

Did I see that Book 3 was announced recently?

In Fenway & Hattie, one of the funny aspects of the story is the names that Fenway gives to the family. So, the dad is “Fetch Man” and the mom is “Food Lady”.

So - in your home, what would your pets call you?

There is just something about dog books that have the potential to connect so deeply with an audience. In fact, you wrote a post on the Nerdy Book Club site called “How Ribsy Changed My Life”.

What was it about that dog and that book that fascinated you?

I follow you on Instagram and Twitter and I have to say that I love and appreciate that you and so many authors share aspects of their life - your writing process, your inspiration, your frustrations sometimes!  Recently I’ve seen a lot of pics of school visits.

What is a Victoria Coe school visit like?

So we have a lot of teachers and librarians listening who plan author visits.

What are some things that you appreciate and like as a visiting author?

One thing that I am always trying to encourage in my students is developing a rich reading life.

How do you make time for reading in your life and what have you read lately that you’ve really liked?

Book Talk - Two Excellent New Novels

In this section of the show, I share with you a couple books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I want to share with you two fantastic novels just released last week. Both are books about the seismic changes that can happen when someone new comes into your life.  They are Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder and Posted by John David Anderson.

Three Pennies

I will start with Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder. This novel is about an eleven year old girl named Marin who was abandoned many years ago by her mother and has been bounced around the foster system in San Francisco since she was four. And she’s come up with these rules for survival which essentially boil down to this; BE INVISIBLE. Don’t bother the adults, don’t fight with other kids, but that makes for an incredibly lonely existence and a situation where a kid can all too easily get swept aside and forgotten. And at age 11, there’s little chance she’s going to get adopted. All Marin has from her mother are three things: fading memories, a ceramic piggy bank with one coin rattling inside, and a copy of the I Ching. Marin is constantly casting her three pennies and using the book to try to find her way back to her mother. But, the I Ching is also called The Book of Changes and Marin’s eleventh year is full of unexpected turns. Here are three things to love about Three Pennies:

  1. Dr. Lucy Chang! She is Marin’s latest foster parent - a kind but clinal woman. And single. The reason why she’s single comes out in a dinner conversation where Marin tries to be rude to Lucy (because she fears being adopted and losing hope of that reunion with her mother.) Lucy is a science-minded surgeon and precise, but I love how she uses that in the service of being kind toward Marin.  For example, she shares these great analogies of the human body. Let me read you a couple.
  2. The owl in the story. Every few chapters we get a brief scene from the point of view of a young rehabilitated owl living among the tall buildings in San Francisco and observing what happens below. It’s a quieter and softer part of the book but I love how those chapters weave through the main parts of the story and especially how the owl connects and comes together with the other characters at the end.  
  3. And I can’t talk about that owl without mentioning the stunning cover art by artist Victo Ngai. It is vibrant with the golds and warm browns of this owl with piercing teal eyes. It’s a stunner of a cover and the artist has done work for The New Yorker and The New York Times - and her work is amazing. I’ll post a link to her site in the show notes so you can check it out.

Three Pennies is a beautifully written and gentle book about finding family. If you have kids who might love One For the Murphys or Counting by 7s, but you want something a little shorter and maybe easier to read on that same theme, this book is a great option.

Posted

Next up this week is a book I have been waiting to get my hands on - Posted by John David Anderson, who you might know from his most recent middle grade novel - Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. This story is about a tight-knit group of four middle school boys. Their nicknames are Frost, Bench, DeeDee, and Wolf. The story is told from Frost’s point of view. He earned his nickname (from Robert Frost) because he won a poetry contest in 5th grade. His parents are recently divorced. His close friend is Bench and he got his nickname because he’s always warming the bench for every team he’s on. He’s big and kind of their protector. No one messes with them when Bench is around. Then there is DeeDee who’s small, kinda geeky, dramatic and the Dungeon Master when they play D&D. Hence his nickname, DeeDee. And finally, Wolf. He is a lanky, quieter kid who’s a piano prodigy and got his name from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Each of them are kind of outcasts and outsiders in their own way.  But - they have found each other - their tribe as Frost calls it - and support each other. Until a new girl, Rose, shows up and things get thrown into turmoil in unexpected ways. Interconnecting with that dynamic is the fact that all cellphones have been recently banned at Branton Middle School and post-its have become the new contraband form of communication. And what starts off as DeeDee posting fun sticky notes on his friend’s lockers snowballs into this mess of a situation where their friendship is really tested. This is one of those books that the more you read, the more you want to slow down and savor the story, the language - and just spend time with these characters. Well - some of them.  There are so so many things I want to say to rave about this book! I have to limit myself to three - but honestly I could list at least 30. So, just as a small sample, here are three amazing things about John David Anderson’s Posted:

  1. How much Anderson GETS middle school and the inner life of middle school kids. Before coming to teach 5th grade in an elementary school, I was a 6th grade teacher in a middle school for 8 years. And I used to joke that middle school is the Social Serengeti. There are predators and prey and you better do whatever you can to get cover within a group. And Posted absolutely captures this. Frost calls it the Middle School Minefield. And, oh the antics these four boys get involved in! From making homemade dynamite in their driveway to accidentally microwaving a can of Spaghettio’s and almost burning down the house. These are the stories every kid can relate to - and I’m sure they have some similar ones of their own.
  2. How well Anderson builds suspense by withholding information and slowly revealing it in pieces later on.  For examples, there are these various messages written on post-its throughout the story, phrases thrown at one of the characters, and an awful text that gets a girl suspended (which is the catalyst of the cell phone ban).  Anderson doesn’t reveal what those messages are at first, but describes everyone’s reactions to it.  Or he tells the consequences of a conversation, but the details come out more slowly - I LOVED it!Just like he did with Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Anderson is masterful at sliding the pieces of the puzzle into your view until you start to see the picture yourself.
  3. How this book reminded me of the Netflix series Stranger Things. I know that sounds odd because they’re two completely different genres! But - both are about four close friends used to their own routines when a vulnerable yet powerful girl is suddenly in their midst. And how they handle that disruption and the decisions they make about who to protect could either fracture their friendship or bring them closer together. And - there’s lots of Dungeons & Dragons references!

When you get a new book by an author whose previous work blew you away, you’re almost expecting to be let down. Posted was everything I was hoping for, and I think this one might actually be even more of a winner with kids because the conflicts are centered so clearly on their lives. Ya gotta get this one!

Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

Question:

This question comes from Annamaria on Twitter “Hi, @Books_Between  I'm looking for "classics" to fill a bookcase in my classroom. Have Dahl, L I-Wilder, CS Lewis, few others. Rec's? Thx!”

Answer:

Alright - yes! Here are a few titles and authors you might want to add.

  • The Indian in the Cupboard (and the sequels)
  • Harriet the Spy
  • All the Beverly Cleary books! (Ramona books, Ribsy books, Mouse & the Motorcycle)
  • The Wizard of Oz series
  • Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • A Wrinkle in Time - that one is also a series
  • E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little)
  • The Hobbit
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Louisa May Alcott (Little Women and Little Men)
  • The Boxcar Children Series
  • Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 and Bud, not Buddy)
  • Black Beauty
  • Lots of the E.L. Konigsburg (books like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
  • Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess
  • Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Series
  • Some really like the Betsy-Tacy series - I haven’t read them but would feel remiss if I did not mention them
  • Mary Poppins Series
  • Anne of Green Gables books
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
  • All the Judy Blume books! (well, wait - careful, she does have some adult books out, but definitely Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber)  

You know, in looking at this list, there are so many that I grew up loving but I recognize that in many “classics” lists, the titles and authors do lack diversity and also, where you do find some diverse characters, they’re often not portrayed that well. So in considering including classics in your library, that is an aspect to think about.

So, listeners - I know I have forgotten some. What other “classics” would you add to this list and especially, what are some more multicultural “classics” that should be included?  We will absolutely revisit this again with some updates.

Closing

Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, please let me know. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. Also, we have just launched a newsletter. So if you are interesting in more middle grade goodness, I’ll post a link to sign up for that in the shownotes.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Nutcracker-Mice-Kristin-Kladstrup/dp/0763685194

https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/how-ribsy-changed-my-life-or-it-all-depends-on-your-point-of-view-by-victoria-j-coe/

FENWAY AND HATTIE resource padlet: https://padlet.com/victoriajcoe/mr9wmo96cm65

https://theglobalreadaloud.com/2017/04/07/and-the-winners-are-global-read-aloud-choices-2017-gra17/

Info about my author visits: http://www.victoriajcoe.com/school-visits

author page at PenguinRandomHouse.com where you can click on all three books for a description and order/preorder links: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/2109553/victoria-j-coe

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780380709557

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781481492065

May 08 2017

37mins

Play

Rank #7: #13 - The Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2016

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom of two daughters, and totally into binge-watching the Netflix series The Crown. I’ve seen them all twice now.

This is Episode #13 and today we are all about celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2016.

Main Topic - The Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2016

2016 has been a phenomenal year. For middle grade books. (Not so much for anything else, really!)  And for me, 2016 has been a standout year not only for the amount of books I’ve read, but for the quality of those books.  I’ve already exceeded my sixty book goal and I’m up to 75 at the time of this recording but not only that, I don’t think I’ve rated a book less than three stars all year. Maybe I’m doing a better job of picking things I’d like, but I just think there’s been some exceptional books published this year.

So - just to give you some context of where this top 20 list comes from, here’s a bit of information. In the past year, I’ve read 60 middle grade books as of 12/19.

Of those 60 - 31 were published in 2016 - so just about half of what I’ve read was new.  I will say that this year was light for me with nonfiction. I gotta work on that next year. So this list is all fiction and unlike other “Best of” lists out there, I did not separate out novels in verse or graphic novels. Everything’s all together.

Alright here we go - these are my Top 20 middle grade novels of 2016.

#20 - Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

I’m not typically a huge fan of the magical realism genre but this novel took me on such a sweet journey last spring. I loved the sparse dangerous beauty of the New Mexico desert and the poignant story of Carol and her family caring for the grandfather who’s losing himself in dementia. This was a debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store!

#19 - Rookie of the Year by Phil Bildner

This novel is the second in the Rip & Red series - the first was A Whole New Ballgame. If you are into the Kidlit community, if you consider yourself a member of the Nerdy Book Club, then you are going to love this book because the teacher, Mr. Acevedo- he’s one of us. If he existed, we’d be following him on Instagram and bumping into him on #TitleTalk chat the last Sunday of the month on Twitter. This book is fun, warm and diverse without being about diversity. It’s simply great, and I can’t wait for book #3.

#18 - Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper

Such a memorable book with a main character that you just want to wrap up in your arms and hug. Elyse suffers from a rare disorder where the words others use to describe her are imprinted on her skin - including her own thoughts about herself. This is a book about friendship, and courage, and learning to be kind to yourself.

#17 - Like Magic by Elaine Vickers

This is one of several fantastic books that came out this year that featured friendship trios, but these three girls took awhile to come together. Jade, Grace, and Malia each end up at the same library, at different times, and find something they need in this mysterious secret treasure box that the librarian has tucked away in the Lost & Found drawer. I think what I loved so much about this book was how it spoke to the power of libraries and librarians to bring people together. And how libraries can be sanctuaries for children and a place to find yourself.

#16 - Eleven and Holding by Mary Penney

First - this book made me laugh. The main character, Macy, is a riot. It was heartfelt but not saccharine and it had lots of mysteries to solve. And is it weird to say that I had a mini crush on Switch - the skateboarding bad boy? Yeah, that’s probably weird. Let me rephrase that. My 12 year-old self would totally have fallen for that kid.

#15 - Wish by Barbara O’Connor

12 year-old Charlie is sent to go live with her aunt and uncle in what she considers a “hillbilly” town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And she’s unruly and angry and yet…. The folks around her show such patience while she tries to sort everything out. It’s lovely and I liked that more rural setting. There’s also a dog that, actually - now that I think about it, follows a similar journey to our main character.

#14 - The Tapper Twins Run for President by Geoff Rodkey

The third novel in this series is all about the hilarity that ensues when Claudia and Reese Tapper both run for class president. It’s funny and oddly truthful about politics and running for office. Plus - I loved the twist ending.

#13 - Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This first novel in a new series had me on the edge of my seat for days. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger that build to this jaw-dropping moment that had me furiously calling and texting my friends who had already read it. So - go read it so you can tell me what you think!

#12 - Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Unlike Smile and Sisters and Drama, Ghosts is not based on Raina’s real-life but instead features a young girl named Catrina and her little sister, Maya who is living with Cystic Fibrosis. It touches on some hard-hitting themes (childhood illness and death) but somehow stays light at the same time. Again I was reminded of how much I love Telgemeier’s style - those crisp lines, curves, and great color palette. Already this book has disappeared from my classroom so I guess I’ll buying another one!

#11 - Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Featuring alternating narratives from Joe and Ravi, this book really gets what it’s like to flounder in school and to be the target of a mean kid.  I love that it takes place over one week, I love the humor, and I love the recipes in the back. This is a great choice for kid’s book clubs - it’s not too, too long and there’s a lot to discuss.

#10 - Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

I got this novel last April when Kate DiCamillo came to Syracuse as part of a “lecture” series where, of course, she did NOT lecture. Instead, she focused on the kids in the audience. And not only answered the children’s questions in a way that made them feel heard and understood and but deftly framed those questions so that that both kids and adults left inspired and knowing a lot more about her and her writing process. At this event, she talked about how her family moving without her father coming along was inspiration for this story about a girl whose dad has left town with a dental hygienist. And Raymie is trying to figure out a way to get him to come back. As part of her grand plan, she ends up taking baton twirling lessons with these other two girls who each bring their own joys and pains to the story. It is wonderful and quirky in that beautiful diCamillo way.

#9 - The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

This is a book that I recommend over and and over again - for so many reasons.  I love the poems, I love the storyline about kids coming together to try to save their school from being ripped down, I love how the different narrative pieces all fit together, I love how you see the characters grow and change through their poetry. It’s so, so good!

#8 - Finding Perfect by Elly Schwartz

Another incredible novel by a debut author. And a book that so many middle grade readers will be able to relate to - whether that’s navigating friendship with two very different people, eating take out for days when your family is overworked and too busy, or living with anxiety or OCD like the main character does.

#7 - Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Every once in awhile you read a book where the characters are so vivid and so real that months after you’re done reading the novel, you wonder about them. Will and Naheed and Aimee and Sergio would be in their twenties now. With all that’s going on in the world, I wonder what they would be thinking at this new turning point in our country’s history.

#6 - The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

There’s so so much to love about this book and later on in the podcast I’m going to go into more detail about. But - I have to share with you the best summary of this book from the Author’s Note in the back. She calls it a “ magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids.” Yes, it is! And it is glorious!

#5 - When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

This is a book that you finish and you set down and immediately want to go read everything else that author has ever written. I’ll share more in the book talk segment later on in the podcast.

#4 - The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Three unlikely saints, an awful character who turns out to be good, a good character who turns out to be bad, disgustingly delicious French cheese, and…. a farting dragon. Now - don’t you want to know how all those connect? From what I hear, the audio of this novel is incredible - and you get to hear “The Song of Hildebrand” and other new music by medieval scholar and musician Benjamin Bagby. BUT - then you’d miss out on the dozens of medieval style illuminations by Hatem Aly in the paper copy. I think you just have to do both to get the full experience.

#3 - Booked by Kwame Alexander

Yes, this story is about 12-year-old Nick and his first real love, and his relationship with his parents, and soccer, and middle school bullies. BUT. It’s also about a bold librarian who slowly kindles in Nick a passion for books - often without Nick even quite realizing it.  

#2 - Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Oh how I loved this book. How I wished it wouldn’t end. This novel is another 2016 release featuring a trio of friends. Topher, Brand, and Steve band together to bring the last day celebration their teacher, Ms. Bixby missed when she had to leave school early.  Along the way they battle bakery owners, a creepy guy who tries to steal their money, and sometimes….each other. For me, the mark of an exceptional book, is one that can make me sob and laugh out loud and this book had me doing both.

And, my #1 middle grade book of 2016 is:

#1 - The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the first middle grade novel by picture book author and illustrator Peter Brown - and boy did he hit it out of the park! I have so much I want to say, but I’m going to hold off a little bit and save it for our book talk segment.

So - those are my top 20 middle grade reads of 2016!  Now, I can already sense the emails coming my way saying, “Corrina - seriously - a best of 2016 list and you didn’t mention Wolf Hollow or Counting Thyme or The Rat Prince?”  And you know what? You’re probably right. Had I had a chance to read all those, they likely would have made this list. In fact, I’m halfway through Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon and oh - if the ending holds out - a powerhouse of a book. I want to read everything Kelly Barnhill has ever written,will ever write, including her grocery lists.  I know I missed some awesome ones. So a quick shoutout to some 2016 releases that are on my To Be Read list:

Top Want to Read Books from 2016

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

Maxi’s Secret by Lynn Plourde

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson

Ghost by Jason Reynold

Annnd…. Likely lots more that I am missing! So - I want to hear from YOU - what were your favorite 2016 reads and which ones should be bumped up on my to be read list? You can pop me an email at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect on Twitter with the handle @Books_Between.

Book Talk - Three Amazing Books from 2016

In this part of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week is all about the cream of the crop of 2016. Many of the titles in my Top 20 list, I’ve already featured on the podcast in previous episodes, and some I’ve talked about more than once. But there are a few of my favorites from 2016 that either didn’t fit into a theme I was focusing on for that show or they were very recent reads. The three of my top 2016 picks that I want to talk about with you are  The Seventh Wish, When the Sea Turned to Silver, and my #1 pick of the year - The Wild Robot.  

The Seventh Wish

First up is Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish.  I read this book over the summer but it feels right to be talking about it in the winter. The book starts with this gorgeous image of ice flowers blooming on a frozen lake and takes place over one winter in the life of Charlie Brennan. And it’s a difficult winter for her. Her bright athletic older sister, Abby, develops a heroin addiction at college, her mother has a challenging new job, and suddenly everyone else’s problems have pushed her concerns way over to the side. And one day - while out ice fishing with her neighbors - she catches a fish that grants wishes. And Charlie has to figure out just how far that magic will go.  So here are three things I loved about Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish:

  1. The “I’m thinking of a word” game - So, Charlie and her family play this game where one person will announce “I’m thinking of a word.” and the rest of the family tries to guess what that word is. And whoever comes closest is the winner. And it sounds simple - and it is - but the true brilliance of this game comes in trying to justifying why “flashlight” is closer to “sunflower” than “rebellious” is!  It’s a lot of laughs, it gets you thinking and is now one of our favorite games to play in the car.
  2. The Irish Dancing - A major part of Charlie’s life is competing in Irish Dance competitions called feiseanna (“feesh-ee-AH-nuh) - the singular of that is feis (“fesh”). This is a completely foreign world to me, but suddenly I’m into hard shoes vs. soft shoes, the hornpipe and treble jig, strange uses for glue, and the ranking systems in competition. I love books where you can immerse yourself in something new.
  3. The Familiar Wintery Feel - So while all the Irish dancing details were totally new to me, the cold, blustery atmosphere of the setting was not. I live in Central New York - just outside of Syracuse, often touted as the Snow Capital of the United States. We get on average, 128” of snow every year.  Charlie’s family goes snowshoeing and ice fishing, and they wonder if when the sun comes out it will warm up from minus 22 degrees to a balmy zero. I think the setting is Northern New York or maybe Vermont, but it felt like it was written about my home. Charlie bundling up in layers of sweaters, snow pants, her puffy jacket, and two scarves is oh-so-familiar to me.

The Seventh Wish is not only a phenomenal and fun book, but also an important book. I’m not sure how things are in your community, but mine is struggling with a daunting heroin problem. And a book that addresses that in a realistic but hopeful way that is completely perfect for a middle grade reader is a necessity right now. It’s simply a fantastic book.

When the Sea Turned to Silver

The second book I want to tell you more about, and one that I just finished a few days ago, is Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver.  And I need to admit to you - this is the very first Grace Lin book I have read. And argh - why have I waited so long?! It was beautiful and lightly intricate and inspiring.  And I am sure if you have read the companion novels 2011’s Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and 2014’s Starry River of the Sky - you will get even more out of it than I did. But don’t feel like you have to read those other two first - I obviously didn’t and still understood and loved this book. This novel is about a young girl’s quest to rescue her grandmother from a cruel and vindictive Emperor, who is keeping the grandmother (and others) captive. The girl’s name is Pinmei and her grandmother is a famous Storyteller so as we are following Pinmei and her friend Yishan on their voyage to get back the grandmother, interspersed throughout that narrative are these traditional folktales.  Here are three things I loved about Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver:

  1. The interconnectedness of the stories. It is this slow crescendo of the main narrative and the folktales that come crashing together at the end. And all along the way, you know they are starting to connect to each other and characters and settings from one story are popping up in others - and STILL I was utterly surprised by how everything came together at the end.
  2. The focus on Honor.  Sometimes it seems like there’s a shortage of self-sacrificing, honorable people today. (Or maybe our culture doesn’t revere them as much as it should.) But this novel is full of characters like the scarred servant or the King of the Bright City of Moonlight who learn, eventually, to do the right and honorable thing even when it means danger and maybe death for themselves.
  3. It’s rereadability (is that a word?) - I don’t know but this was a book that as soon as I turned that last page, I had to go back and reread some of the stories now that I knew more about the characters and how the tales all connected. It reminded me a bit of when I finished the YA novel Challenger Deep - now that I know the secret, I want to go back and catch everything I missed and experience the story again with new eyes.

If you have a child that loves folk tales with lots of adventure and twists along the way, then When the Sea Turned to Silver would be a great recommendation for them.

The Wild Robot

And I saved my best, my favorite of 2016 for last. Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot. “Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and waves.” Oh - that first line gets me. You know how some books just happen to come into your life at the right moment to connect with you? That’s how this book was for me and my daughters. The first I heard of it was on the All the Wonders podcast when Matthew Winner interviewed Peter Brown and there was something so intriguing about the scenario of a robot stranded on a hostile, remote island, becoming a mother, and trying to survive and thrive. I immediately drove over to my bookstore, got a copy, and started reading it out loud with my girls that very night. We finished, a few weeks later, on Mother’s Day - and maybe that’s why the story of Roz sacrificing so much for the island - and the island sacrificing for her - touched us so much on that particular day. It was our first family book cry. We had to get more tissues and my husband rushed into the room wondering why we were all sobbing! It’s an incredible book and difficult to narrow it down to just three things to love, but here are a few things that I thought were exceptional about The Wild Robot.

  1. The illustrations - First, there are tons of them - every couple pages in every sort of perspective and shape: tall trees along the sides with a bear dangling over the text, an action scene charging across the bottom, two page spreads of a single crucial moment with just a small paragraph to the side, small inserts of just one animal, or one leaf. Peter Brown’s skill in picture book composition is clear in the layout and balance of the drawings and the words. The robot, Roz, is made of simple shapes and lines that really make it feel like it could take place at any time. And of course, I love his style of splatters and shading.
  2. The existential questioning that happens with this book. There’s just something about robot stories that lends itself to deep thinking about ethics and morality, the nature of the soul, and what it means to exist. So, I grew up in a Star Trek household. My mom is a trekkie and once got me a signed picture of my crush, Wil Wheaton, from a convention. I loved Next Generation, and particularly the episodes featuring Data, the android - there’s something about pushing the boundaries of programing that is intriguing. Putting a machine in a challenging, new environment and seeing what happens. At one point in the story, Roz and her adopted gosling son wonder what will happen if they push the button to turn her off.  Will she remember him if she turns back on? Will she be the same? Roz is devoid of emotion and yet she brings out so much tenderness and emotion in the reader.
  3. How fun and easy it is to read out loud. The chapters are really short so it’s nice to have those natural stopping points when you might just have a few minutes at home or in school.  And the character’s are vibrant and fun with great personalities to give voices to. I did Roz with the voice of Siri, which was loads of fun to do. I channeled Julia Sweeney for the goose, Loudwing and the fast-talking chipmunk, ChitChat was hilarious. The writing just has this great rhythm and it’s a joy to read out loud.

Absolutely go get The Wild Robot - I promise you won’t regret it.

Closing

Okay, that’s our show for the week - and the last one of 2016. Look for our next episode on Monday, January 2nd, where I’ll be discussing the most anticipated middle grade books coming out in 2017 and some fun reading challenge ideas to kick off your new year!  

And, If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And when you are there, look for the other Best of 2016 lists to get more reading ideas. And, if you are liking the show, I’d love it if you took a second to leave  a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Dec 19 2016

29mins

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Rank #8: #15 - How the Newbery Awards Work

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two and a 5th grade teacher.  My students worked so hard this week that we took a break Friday afternoon and watched the first episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events together on Netflix and then when I got home my daughters wanted to watch it. The performances were great and of course, Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious as Count Olaf. If you liked the Lemony Snicket books, I think you’ll be pleased and a whole new group of kids are now going to be hooked into the series, which is always fantastic.

This is Episode #15 and Today we are discussing how the Newbery Awards work, two fantastic adventures, and I’ll answer a question about this year’s top contenders for the Newbery Award.

Main Topic - How the Newbery Awards Work

There are lots and lots and lots of Children’s Book awards but without question, the most prestigious award that recognizes quality children’s literature is the Newbery. Right now, we are almost exactly one week away from finding out which books from 2016 will earn medals this year.  So today we are diving into the who, what, where, when, and how of the Newbery Awards. And I’ll also chat about some of the controversies and include some great resources where you can find out more.

What is the Newbery?

The Newbery is an annual award given by the Association for Library Service to Children - abbreviated ALSC - so if you see those four letters, that’s what they mean. The ALSC is a part of the American Library Association - the ALA. A little interesting side note - the Association for Library Service to Children has changed it’s name a couple times and so the Newbery medal itself still says “Children's Librarians' Section.” which doesn’t actually exist anymore.  The award is almost a hundred years old - it was established in 1922 and named after John Newbery, an 18th century British publisher and bookseller who was well known as one of the first publishers of children’s books.  And - the Newbery was the first children’s book award in the world.

Alright - the criteria. Let me read exactly what the ALA website says: “ The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.”

So the award goes to a children’s book that is distinguished, noted for significant achievement, marked by excellence, and contributing something special to American literature. It has to be an original work, in English, and the author has to be a citizen or resident of the U.S. The focus is really on the text of the work and not any illustrations and it could be any genre. And notice that it doesn’t say that it has to be a novel or even fiction. Last Stop on Market Street, last year’s Newbery winner was a picture book. And boy - were there some shocked folks last year!  The ALA criteria only states that it has to be a book for children, which is defined as up to and including age 14. So that’s a wide range to consider.

Every year there is one Newbery Winner and usually between about two and four Newbery honor books. Although - they don’t have to award any honor books and some years they have not. So that will be something interesting to look for this year.

Where & When is the Newbery awarded?

The Newbery is awarded once a year in January during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. Don’t you just love how that sounds? “Tis a “widwinter meeting” - I’m imagining everyone wearing long luscious cloaks and carrying chalices filled with hot cocoa - and marshmallows. Sigh - it’s not really like that, is it? Alas - that’s how I’m picturing it in my head anyway. And if I ever have a chance to attend, I will wear a fancy cloak and bring some hot chocolate - with marshmallows.

So - the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits (we can’t forget the exhibits) is in Atlanta this year. Last year was Boston, previously Chicago and Philadelphia so they change location every year. The conference lasts about five days and within that time, the members of the Newbery committee meet in seclusion for two very, very full days to discuss, and vote, and eventually decide … and call the winners in the early hours of the morning the day that they are announced.  This year, the announcements are made on the morning of Monday, January 23rd from about 7:30-9 EST - along with several other fantastic awards, including the Caldecott.  And you can see it live right through the ALA website - ala.org ! Definitely have it streaming in your classroom or library or at home!

Who decides the Newbery Award?

It’s a committee of 15 people and the members are public - posted right on the ALA website. But that’s about all that you’re gonna get to know! Well - you know the process and the people, but the details of the deliberation are all secret. So, let’s talk about those 15 people and then we’ll discuss their process. So how do you get to be on the Newbery Committee and be in the room where it happens? You have to be a member of the ALA and the Association for Library Service to Children.  Then there is a ballot in the spring where the members of the association elect 8 members to be on the Newbery committee. Then the ALSC president appoints the chair and six more members to make a total of 15.  If that interests you, join the ALA and the ALSC and start getting involved and see where that takes you. But - I have to say, from all that I’ve read and seen - it is an incredible amount of work. You are committing to reading as much as possible of what’s published in one year. And doing some incredibly deep analysis of those titles.

How are the books determined?

Well, we’ve talked about the Who - let’s move on to the How. How in the world do these 15 committee members decide on the “most distinguished” book for children? How is the winner picked? And how do they decide on the honor books? Essentially there are three stages: 1. Nominating, 2. Discussing, and 3. Balloting.

First up, Nominating:  There are three rounds of nominations, one in October, one in November, and one in December. After many months of reading and rereading and taking notes with the Newbery manual at their side, it’s now October and members nominate three titles and include a write-up of why they think it’s worthy of the award. In November, they nominate two more with the same process, and then two more in December - making it 7 total nominations per person. So that allows for the committee members to spend October - December reading and reexamine books nominated by others so they are ready for the January debate and voting process.

The next step is Discussion. This happens right at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in January where the 15 members are secluded over two days and discuss the merits of every book nominated. Then likely, they’ll move on to the potential negatives of each book under consideration and then the comparisons start. There are guidelines to the discussion (and I’ll link to those in the show notes), but essentially they debate and analyze and constantly refer back to the criteria of the award until they’re ready to start narrowing things down.

The final step: Balloting

Each member of the committee writes down their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices on a ballot. 1st place vote is worth 4 points, 2nd place vote is 3 points, and a 3rd place is 2 points.  The winning title must have a majority of members (at least 8) place it as #1 and have an 8 point lead over all the other books.  If that doesn’t happen, the committee has to have another discussion, and they may decide to take some titles that got low points off the table.   And then they’ll  vote again (and maybe again) until they arrive at a winner.  After that, the Newbery committee decides if they want to choose any honor books from the nominations either selecting from the final ballots or redoing the whole process again.

Ah - what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall!

Controversy about secrecy and Child-Friendliness

BUT - the Newbery award is not without its critics and controversies. Some claim that a lot of the picks are unreadable and unappealing to most kids. And there’s been a recent debate over the secrecy of the deliberations. Right now, members are not allowed to reveal anything about that process ever - which books were initially nominated, why they were rejected, or how contentious the voting might have been. Former Newbery and Caldecott committee members, Kathleen Horning  and Ed Spicer, both wrote articles about the benefits of time-limits on the confidentiality of the selection process.  They make excellent points about  the benefits to readers, authors, and to history. On the other hand, Caldecott winner Dan Santat argues that releasing that information is not really a good idea. No one knows how the Academy Awards or Grammys get picked so really, what’s the big deal? I’ll link to those articles in the show notes - they’re worth reading and might offer a good debate topic to your students, and I think the ALA is considering a change to that policy.  So that’s something to keep an eye out for. And - if you want to know more about the how the Newbery Award works, there are a lot of great resources I’ll share on the website. A special shout out to Heavy Metal - the Mock Newbery Blog run by two former committee members. Excellent resource - definitely check it out!

So - I want to know what you all think!  Do you think the Newbery award books are unappealing to kids? Do they read them? Do you think the Newbery selection process is TOO secretive? Let me know what you think! You can send me an email at booksbetween@gmail.com or tag me on Twitter or Instagram with the handle @Books_Between.

Book Talk - Two Heart-Racing Adventures

In this part of the show, I share with you a couple books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week we have two adventure stories that will get your pulse going! They are each very different - one is a more of a traditional action/adventure survival story and the other is a fairy tale fantasy adventure. But - despite their differences, they do have a surprising amount in common, which is why I thought they would make a good pairing today. Both include characters hidden away in towers, folded paper birds, and secret libraries.  Have you guessed yet? They are: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill!

Scar Island

Let’s start with Scar Island. I was already a big fan of Dan Gemeinhart - in fact The Honest Truth was one of the very first books I ever featured on the podcast back in episode 2, so I was really, really looking forward to Scar Island. This is a new release and just out this month. It’s about a kid named Jonathan who we meet as he is on a tiny boat being delivered to this impenetrable fortress on an island called Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. It’s basically Alcatraz for kids and run by a nasty crew of guys lead by a cruel man called The Admiral. He makes each kid write these daily wonderful letters home to their parents hiding the fact that he is actually denying them food and worse. We also have this tough group of 15 misfit kids - all imprisoned on this island for their crimes. Then suddenly, something happens where all the adults are gone from the island and the kids are left on their own and have to figure out what to do. It’s about survival and freedom and redemption - and just so good. If that hasn’t already got you hooked on reading this book, here are three more things I loved about Dan Gemeinhart’s Scar Island:

  1. Colin. He is this little pip of a kid who has a lisp and is an admitted kleptomaniac. That’s why he’s at Slabhenge Reformatory. But, when he steals some food, he gives it to Jonathan even though Colin is hungry himself. He’s also into origami and makes these little paper cranes that appear at important parts later on in the story. I just loved him. But - one little note about his lisp. I was conferencing with a student a couple days ago who was reading this book and he had a tiny bit of trouble reading aloud and interpreting Colin’s dialogue, so I had to talk about how the “th” is replacing his “s” and model a bit what that sounded like. So just a heads up about that.
  2. The Library. This is verging on giving away too much, but I’ll say that during one of the character’s journeys through the labyrinth of corridors in this stone fortress, we discover a library and there’s a character who surprises us and knows the exact right book to recommend.  
  3. The buildup of suspense. There are these five threads that run through this story creating this tension as you read it. One - the weather. What starts off as a bad storm becomes this hurricane that threatens everything on the island. Two - the rats. Eventually you discover that there’s more going on with the rats than meets the eye. Three - the key. At a critical point, one of the characters ends up with the key to the Admiral’s office which contains lots of chocolate, alcohol, and… all the boys records. So throughout the story we are wondering - who has the key now? And - what are they going to do with it? Four - the forbidden door hiding this monstrous, noisy… thing. Five - the suspense of figuring out why on earth Jonathon is on this island. What did he do?? We know he feels like he deserves to be there. And we get glimpses of his previous life in his letters home and we have scenes where the author almost reveals what happened, but then pulls back. So - the weather, the rats, the key, the door, what did he do? - argh! - this book has you turning those pages!

Scar Island is kind of like Lord of the Flies meets Holes with a twist of pirate in there. Already I have a waiting list for it in my class and I’m sure it’s going to be a favorite with your kids, too.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Our second featured book today is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is also an adventure survival story but a fairy tale fantasy with powerful witches, a poetic swamp monster, and a seemingly small dragon. The start of this story takes place in a gloomy village along a bog called The Protectorate run by a group of unscrupulous men called The Council of Elders. Each year, on the Day of Sacrifice, these elders take the youngest baby in the village and leave it in the woods. They do this, they claim, to appease an evil witch. Well, it turns out that there is actually a witch, a kind witch named Xan, who rescues these poor babies and feeds them on starlight while she journeys across the dangerous volcanic mountain to find a new home for them. Except one year, she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight and enmagicks the child who grows to be uncontrollably powerful. The rest of the story is about Xan’s attempts to help her adoptive granddaughter harness that power, and what happens to the villagers left behind in The Protectorate - including a young Elder-in-Training named Antain who starts to have doubts, and the girl’s mother who ends up going mad and being locked in a tower with secrets of its own. It is beautiful and powerful. And here are three more things I loved about Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon:

  1. The magic. This is not your typical sparkly, wand summoned magic. It’s earthy and primal and often exists as something almost separate from the characters. Flowers spring from footsteps. And there is a flock of paper birds that swarm and cut and lead and protect in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I loved how unique the magic in this book was.
  2. The love you feel for the characters. Somehow Barnhill has written them in a way where you feel this deep sense of warmth and protectiveness and empathy for them. Xan, the witch, is getting older and she desperately wants to impart all of her knowledge that she can to her granddaughter, who she’s named Luna. But that same spell that protects her makes it so that she can’t get through to her. And you keep hoping that Luna will discover who she is and maybe be reunited with the mother she was so brutally ripped away from. And all the people in the village - especially Antain and his wife - who are under the thumb of the Council of Elders. I just felt so much love for this characters.
  3. What this story has to say about truth and power. In this book, there are some who feed off of other people’s misery. Those who raise themselves by putting others below them, by controlling what stories get told, and by spinning lies. But - there comes a time when the people start to realize how much power they actually have when they band together to use it. Loved it.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon  is lush and quirky and whimsical and funny and full of adventure. And I can’t wait to read everything else Kelly Barnhill has ever written because this was one powerhouse of a book.

Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

Question:

Well - the big question being asked right now - “Who do you think is going to get a Newbery this year?”

Answer:

I’m a little reluctant to answer because inevitably, I am going to be wrong. But … I can tell you who others think are some top 2016 contenders, and I’ll venture to make a prediction or two.

So, one place I go to get a feel for some of the books getting Newbery buzz is the Mock Newbery Group on Goodreads. They read a book a month and then vote in January. What’s cool there is that you can see the discussions going all the way back to 2012 and take a peek at the reactions to the real winners. That’s enlightening. This year their second round list includes, in order,: Wolf Hollow, Ghost, The Inquisitor’s Tale, The Wild Robot, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Some Kind of Courage, and Pax.  

Over at the Heavy Medal Blog, they have analyzed “Best of” lists on other sites to put together a “Best Books” post naming and ranking the contenders with the most mentions. So, some of the top books there that I haven’t mentioned already are: Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White, The Best Man, March, Book 3, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Raymie Nightingale, Samurai Rising, The Lie Tree, and School’s First Day of School.

And now, a few predictions from me:

  • I think there will be a lot of honor books this year. I’m saying at least 4.
  • I don’t think they are going to give the award to a picture book this year. Not that I disagreed with the decision last year, but I have a feeling it will go to a book with an older audience.
  • I think you’ll see a shiny seal on at least a couple of these books: Wolf Hollow, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, The Wild Robot, Pax, and… I almost don’t want to admit this to you because it sounds silly, but I dreamt I was watching the live streaming of the awards and the winner was - The Inquisitor’s Tale! So maybe something’s going on in my subconscious! Or not! We’ll see in a few days!

Closing

Alright, that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you have a moment, it would mean so much to me if you left a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher so others can find us.

Thank you and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

http://www.ala.org/alsc/aboutalsc/alscfaqs

http://2017.alamidwinter.org/awards

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyterms/newberyterms

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

http://www.slj.com/2016/06/opinion/debate/awards-ufd/why-you-dont-want-to-know-more-about-the-newbery-and-caldecott-up-for-debate/#_

http://www.lindasuepark.com/fun/new_answ.html

https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/top-ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-newbery-award-by-monica-edinger/

http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2016/12/30/how-does-a-book-win-part-1-nominations/

http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2017/01/08/how-does-a-book-win-part-2-discussion/

http://www.hbook.com/2012/06/choosing-books/the-search-for-distinguished/#_

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/dec/19/newbery-medal-children-elitism

Jan 16 2017

24mins

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Rank #9: #33 - Launching a Reading Community & A Conversation with Celia Pérez

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and yeah...starting to have those back to school bad dreams where I’ve arrived at school and I have no lesson prepared or all the furniture has been removed from my room or I’m suddenly teaching Kindergarten!

This is Episode #33 and today I’m talking about launching a reading community in those first few weeks of school and then I welcome author Celia C. Pérez to the show to chat about her debut middle grade novel The First Rule of Punk.

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is sponsored by WriteAbout.com - a writing community and publishing platform that is perfect for classrooms. If you are like me and are looking for an engaging and authentic way to make sure your students are writing every day, you are absolutely going to want to visit WriteAbout.com to check it out.   My favorite thing right now is the thousands of ideas across various genres and formats to inspire your students to write more and write more thoughtfully. So - at the end of the show, I’ll share with you a few of my favorite writing ideas I found on WriteAbout that will get my students excited about writing about their reading this year.

Main Topic - Launching a Reading Community

As the summer winds down and I head back to school, I have been thinking a lot about how I want to make this year different. Make it count. Make it matter. And be more focused and intentional about cultivating that reading community from the start. So today I’ll share some thoughts about how to really develop a strong community of readers before school starts, on that first day, and in those first few weeks.

Before School Starts

Cultivating that new community of readers started this week before I even met my students. I finally got into my classroom this week after our custodians have been busy waxing and cleaning. (Everything revolves around that waxing schedule, right? There was one year I came this close to shimmying through the window to get into my room!)

This morning, I was able to walk through the door - so things are good! And before my new 5th graders even step foot into the classroom, there were three things I knew I needed to take care of:

  1. Make sure I have scheduled time every day for them to read and for me to read to them. From the very first day. And treat those times as sacrosanct.
  2. Make sure they can see themselves in our classroom library. On recent episode (#28 if you want to scroll back in your feed and listen) I talk about the diversity audit that my students did to analyze the books in our library. And over the summer, I have been working on adding a better variety of titles. When I dust off those shelves and put those books in those genre bins and select some enticing titles to feature face out, making sure those books are as diverse as my class and as diverse as their world is crucial.
  3. Create those displays that will get them excited about the reading they’ll do this year. In the hallway right before they enter our room, they’ll pass this giant #ClassroomBookADay display that I have been diligently working on. A big shout out to Lori Lewis in the #ClassroomBookADay Facegroup group who shared (for free!) this cool display of polaroid picture templates for each of the 180 books we’ll be reading this year. So I have been cutting and trimming and measuring and tapping and it’s an impressive display and a promise of what’s to come. And as in year’s past, I also create a “My Reading Life” display for the door where I showcase covers of some recent reads and some all-time favorites. And eventually that will be turned over to my students for their own displays. And of course I always have my own “Mrs. Allen is Currently Reading….” chalkboard display.

On the First Day

That first day is so crucial in setting the right tone and really conveying your priorities by your actions and what you pay attention to.  On the first day of school, I have two goals:

  1. Get to know my students as much as possible. Pronounce their names correctly, start to learn their interests and passions and strengths. And start to build that trusting relationship. Because if I am going to ask them to open themselves up and take risks as readers (and writers!) this year, they have to know that I care about them and want to know their authentic self.
  2. I want them excited to come back.  Gone are the days when I used to start with an extensive review of the syllabus and grading procedures and setting up the rules. Nope. We are having fun. There will be music and movement and an engineering challenge.

And at least one read aloud - probably two! And a chance for them to do some book tastings and exploring what’s available in our classroom library. And - some down time when they can dive into those books and start to build back up that stamina for focused independent reading.

During the First Weeks

During those first few weeks is when that classroom culture of reading really starts to emerge as routines and relationships are established. Within that first week, I like to give a reading survey to get a sense of their likes and attitudes about reading. This is also really important because a carefully crafted survey can give you great data when you compare the answers to those questions at the end of the year. I used to give a paper one but now I use a Google Form. If you want to take a look at a really good sample, Pernille Ripp has a great one on her site that I will link to for you.

But don’t dismiss the power of casual conversation about books during those snippets of time throughout the day like arrival and dismissal and in the hallway. Absolutely share what you are reading but that authentic reading community happens when kids can share with each other their thoughts and feelings and reactions (both good and bad) to that book they brought home last night. A huge part of fostering that reading culture is providing engaging and authentic ways for kids to talk about the books they are choosing to read.

The days of me assigning a diorama of Hatchet or a cereal box craftivity about Wonder are done.  So instead, we’ll have book clubs, we’ll write blog posts and share them with a real audience, we’ll use WeVideo to do booktalks and post them on a YouTube channel, we’ll Skype with authors and other classes for the Global Read Aloud, we’ll create #BookSnaps of our favorite parts, and we’ll tweet our favorite lines and tag the author and cross our fingers for a response! And - most importantly - we’ll do even cooler things that are ideas my students bring with them!

So - I am so so excited for fantastic year of reflecting and growth and learning with my students and with you. I would love to know how you launch your school year to cultivate a community of readers.

You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com . I would love to hear from you.

Interview Outline - Celia C. Pérez

Today I am really really excited to welcome Celia C. Pérez to the podcast. She is the author of the recently released middle grade novel The First Rule of Punk. We chat about her inspirations for the novel, zines, and The Wizard of Oz!

The First Rule of Punk

Your debut middle grade novel, The First Rule of Punk, has been getting all kinds of buzz - everyone is talking about this book!  I just cannot wait for the world to meet Malú.

Can you tell us a bit about this girl - and a bit about her story?

One of the aspects that makes this novel so unique are the zines that are included between some of the chapters. And - I will be honest and tell you that the word “zine” was something I had heard of but the mental image I had was nothing close to the truth. So - for those, like me, who might not be aware...

What are zines?

And what was your process like for creating the zines that are in The First Rule of Punk?

When Malú and her mom move to Chicago, one of the first things they do is scope out and find the neighborhood coffee shop and the neighborhood library.

What was your childhood library like?

There is this tension between Malú and her mother about how to dress and behave. She thinks her mom wants her to be this ideal Mexican-American “senorita” and Malú want to dress in a more edgy style.

Did you feel that cultural tug-of-war in your own family?

I noticed this recurring thread of The Wizard of Oz in the book!

Are you a fan?

I was so intrigued by Malu’s worry dolls - can you tell us a little more about them?  

So, I have to ask…. cilantro or no cilantro?  

Your Writing Life

What were some of the challenges with writing this book?

What’s next for you - do you think you’ll stick with middle grade?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Thank You!

Closing

Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, let me know. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to WriteAbout.com for supporting the podcast this month - if you head over to their website you’ll find awesome ideas to get your students writing about their reading this year. One of my favorites is: “You have to choose a character from a book you’ve read to lead a group or team you are part of. Who do you choose and why?” (I know who I’d pick!) But I think the prompt I’m going to start with this year is the one called “My Life As A Reader – Memories of Reading” Definitely check that one out when you head over to the WriteAbout site.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

Celia’s website: http://celiacperez.com

Witch's Sister by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Encyclopedia Brown Series by Donald J. Sobol

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Tex by S. E. Hinton

Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton

That Was Then, This is Now by S. E. Hinton

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Red Velvet Underground: A Rock Memoir, with Recipes by Freda Love Smith

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Aug 28 2017

43mins

Play

Rank #10: #67 - (Some of the) Best MG Graphic Novels of 2018

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher in Central New York, a mom of two tween girls, and currently - all about the new Miles Morales Spiderman movie. It’s the lockscreen on my phone, my girls and I have the soundtrack set to shuffle in the car….and I already have plans to go see it a second time.  Into the Spiderverse is the most innovative and fresh and exciting movie I’ve seen in years. It’s some next-level stuff. Just - go see it!! And see it on the BIG screen!

This is episode #67 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade graphic novels published in 2018.

On our last episode, I listed my top 25 middle grade novels of the year and I’ll include a link to that if you missed that episode.

I think it’s important at the outset when making a list of this kind to explain what “best” means to you. What are your criteria? Is that popularity? The Goodreads best of lists tend to veer in that direction. Is it literary appeal? That is more along the lines of say, the Newbery Awards.

For me, an outstanding book has to fit three criteria:

  1. I couldn’t put it down. Meaning - it was immersive, it has flow, it kept me turning the pages.
  2. I can’t forget it. Meaning - it had some extra special sparkle. An unforgettable character, an intriguing setting, a ground-breaking format, or a powerfully poignant message.
  3. I think kids would like it. There are books out there marketed to middle grade readers (sometimes those big award winners) that adults love but kids don’t seem to latch onto as much. So I also try to be mindful that kids books are for kids. Not for me. I am just the conduit to getting books into their hands and helping them discover what they like.

Okay - let’s jump in!

Main Topic - The Top 9 MG Graphic Novels of 2018

9. Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

This full-color graphic novel is about a 7th grade girl named Dany. She has just started middle school and is pretty lonely. Her friends are in different classes now and have new in-jokes and stories that she doesn’t get anymore. So she’s feeling socially vulnerable when her eccentric (and loaded) great-aunt passes away and she ends up with the woman’s sketchbook. A magical sketchbook that will turn your drawing into real-life. So when Dany draws the head of her favorite anime character (uh yeah… JUST the head) and a super popular girl to be her friend, there are (as you can imagine!) some unintended consequences. This book is FUNNY but you won’t catch half the stuff unless you read the background texts - like the store names:  “Hot Topic” is “Cool Subject” and the indredients list on the food have some interesting things listed on them. This book is like a mix of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends with a touch of Suee and the Shadow with a little sprinkle of Amulet. If you have readers about ages 10 and up who like graphic novels about friendships and would be up for something with a supernatural twist, then this would be a great recommendation. And… I see Gudsnuk has a sequel in store as well!

  1. Mr. Wolf’s Class  by Aron Nels Steinke

This graphic novel started as a webcomic and is a great option if you are looking for something for younger middle grade readers who’d enjoy a sweet, gentle story. And it looks like lots of sequels are on their way! Mr. Wolf’s Class is about the first day of 4th grade - for brand new teacher Mr. Wolf and his students. By the way, Mr. Wolf is a wolf and the students are… rabbits and frogs and pigs and… well, just suspend your disbelief over the whole predator/prey thing! The book includes a cool preview of each student the night before school starts  and then the day unfolds with short slice-of-life stories as we get to know each of the students and their teacher. A strength of this book is that the author clearly KNOWS what an actual classroom community is all about - the interactions of personalities. It feels really authentic in that way.  And uh… I can definitely relate to being late to pick my kids because I was distracted by a donut in the break room!

  1. Sheets by Brenna Thummler

You might be familiar with Thummler’s brilliant artwork from last year’s graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. And if you haven’t yet gotten to that gem, bump it up on your TBR pile! This is her first solo graphic novel and I have a feeling we have a lot more in store from her! It’s the story of 13 year-old Marjorie who has been thrust into the responsibilities of running her family’s laundromat and taking care of her younger brother after her mother dies and her father has fallen into a deep depression. She is just barely hanging on and resisting the awful Mr. Saubertuck who wants to run them out of business and turn their building into a spa. But then… enter Wendell. He’s a young ghost  - young meaning new and young meaning died when he was young who winds up being pulled out of the afterlife world and into Marjorie’s life. He’s looking for.. meaning. And after a rocky start with Marjorie, does end up finding it. For me, the strength and charm of this book is really about the outstanding illustrations - the gorgeous pastel palette and the nuances of the wordless panels. And based on how this book is flying through my classroom, it clearly also has that all-important kid-appeal.

  1. The Night Door (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker) by Frank Cammuso

The author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and the Misadventures of Salem Hyde has really taken things to the next level with this incredible and hilarious new world he’s created.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who is afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids (and their hamster!) on a late-night “emergency” job where the two kids (and the hamster!) wind up going through a portal into a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of weird and cool creatures! This is one of those few books that has kids laughing out loud while they read it.  It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who love those two series, and want something similar, introduce them to Edison Beaker Creature Seeker.

  1. All Summer Long by Hope Larson

I loved this graphic novel for a lot of reasons but one of them was that it features a friendship between a girl and boy that doesn’t ever fall into that trope of “well, maybe things are changing because you two really just have crush on each other!” Nope! It’s real, platonic - and has rocky parts - but it’s not a stepping stone to a love interest. And - thank you Hope Larson!  What it IS about is that one defining summer is a young teen’s life when you start to realize that your childhood is something behind you that you’re looking back on and you are entering a new era with new interests. Where music - and finding people that like the same music as you do - takes on heightened importance in your life. At least, for me it was like that. Maybe for other kids it’s sports or art or theatre.  But you start to find your people. And not just be freinds with the people who are in your class or happen to live next door. This graphic novel is about 13 year-old Bina whose best-friend and neighbor, Austin, is off to soccer camp this summer. So she ends up.. Binge-watching Netflix until her mom cuts her off. (Relateable!)

Also - it’s a little thing but I like the pale orangey-peach tones of the book, which one reviewer described as orange creamsicle.

  1. Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

I really, really loved her  two earlier Berrybrook Middle School stories - Awkward and Brave, but this one just might be my favorite. This one takes a step away from the intrigues of the art club and the school newspaper and focused on Jorge Ruiz, a big kid, a pretty-popular jock who nobody really messes with, who seems to have it all together. Until he realizes that he’s got a massive crush on Jazmine and his world is suddenly tilted.  This graphic novel really captures those quick relationship changes in middle school and that dynamic between texts and social media and how that influences and complicates face-to-face interactions. Sometimes novels totally leave out modern technology. I mean, half the time the problem in the book could be solved with a quick Google search or you know - maybe talking with the person that you’re having an issue with!  But Chmakova knows that technology might solve some problems but ushers in a whole host of other ones. Crush is another one of those graphic novels that is getting passed from kid to kid to kid in my classroom with a big enough waiting list I ordered a second copy. And - a bonus - kids don’t have to read the three books in the series in order. They each definitely can stand alone.

  1. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

This graphic novel is loosely based on the author’s real-life experiences and her Russian-American background and that makes for a unique twist on a familiar setting for some kids - summer camp! 9-year old Vera is a Russian immigrant and we learn at the beginning of the novel, she doesn’t doesn’t exactly fit in with the popular crowd. Or really any crowd at all.  Her family is poor and their traditions and food are just enough “culturally off” to make her feel awkward among the girls she invites to a birthday sleepover that goes bad…. And oh man… how I felt for poor Vera that night! That’s some real-life cringe-worthy stuff though.  Vera desperately wants to fit in and finally convinces her mother to send her and her brother to a Russian summer camp sponsored by their Orthodox church where they will learn the Russian language and religion along with the typical summer camp things - like learning why you shouldn’t feed the wildlife and finding a comfortable place to poop! Brosgol’s illustrations are outstanding with a foresty green color palette.  And this book about the poor choices one can make in the quest for friendship along with that added layer of feeling like you don’t really belong enough in any culture makes this graphic novel feel like a blend of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk. This would be a great recommendation for kids in about grades 4 or 5 and up.

  1. The Prince & the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Oh how this book made me smile!!  It’s set in a 19th century-ish Paris where 16 year-old Prince Sebastian has a huge secret he is keeping from his parents - from everyone except for his trusted butler. He loves getting dressed up in fancy gowns and makeup and wigs.  Eventually he discovers a lowly dressmaker, Frances, who has shown she is willing to break societal norms - and secretly hires her to help him transform into a different, more glamorous person. But things go awry when Sebastian’s parents try to arrange his marriage and his alter-ego (and her designer) become the talk of the town. It’s like Project Runway meets Versailles with a twist of Cinderella. And I really, really want Disney to make this into a movie!  We need more books that go beyond the traditional gender norms so kids can both see themselves and also so that kids can see others not like them at the center of important and positive and fun stories.

  1. The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (and others)

I was reading the last third of The Cardboard Kingdom after dinner one night. I may have mentioned before that we have a post-dinner reading routine of 20-30 minutes. All of us. And since the girls had taken over my prefered reading spot on the couch, I was off in the easy chair in the corner. Chuckling and smiling and just… reacting as I read it. And suddenly, Helena, my 9 year old, is reading over my shoulder, looming over me.  Then she’s sitting on the arm on the chair, her head pressed against mine to see every angle of the illustrations. Then she’s in my lap with her hands on the book slowing down my turns of the pages so she could absorb each panel. Until finally, I relinquished it to her and just said, “Start from the beginning babe. It’s all yours.”

I just happened to pick up this graphic novel right after I finished The Prince & the Dressmaker, and I loved the parallels between it’s main character, Sebastian, and the first character we meet here - The Sorceress!  The first section is told completely through wordless panels as we witness two siblings playing with a kiddie pool, a chair, and a bunch of cardboard boxes and how their imagination has transformed that into magic and adventure.  A girl peeking over the fence at them starts laughing and at first it breaks the spell and ends the game. But then she gets drawn into their world in her own unique way. And the story takes off from there - with each neighborhood kid bringing in their own personalities and quirks and their own imaginative spin on adventure.  There are knights and robots and banshees and beasts. And entreupreneurs. There are conflicts and battles. And quieter moments of understanding. The stories stack and intertwine and build and build to create an amazing collection of backyard adventures! And just as the kid’s adventures are collaborative - so is this book! Chad Sell is the illustrator but each section was crafted along with a different writer - Jay Fuller, David Demeo, Katie Schenkel, Manuel Betancourt, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Cloud Jacobs, Michael Cole, and Barbara Perez Marquez.  And somehow, those diverse authors and illustrators have captured that magical feeling of childhood where there’s boundless inspiration and freedom and when it’s good - acceptance and transformation of flaws into strengths and positive energy. It’s hard to describe the special magic of this book. But it gave me the same feeling as watching the new Spiderman movie I mentioned at the top of the show. A feeling of witnessing some of the best that collaboration has to offer - it’s some next-level stuff.

Well - you’ve heard from me and now I want to hear from you!  What graphic novels from the past year did you and the kids in your life love?  Which ones are really making an impact among your students?

And which ones are you all looking forward to in 2019?   

You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

We’ll be back to our every-other Monday schedule starting January 14th and make sure you check out the next episode which will be all about the most anticipated middle grade books of the upcoming year.

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jan 10 2019

20mins

Play

Rank #11: #18 - Interview with Paul Goat Allen

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade readers between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying a gloriously (and weirdly) warm Winter Break. It hit 70 degrees today. In Syracuse. In February. Hey - I’ll take it!

This is Episode #18 and today we have a interview with genre fiction book critic Paul Goat Allen, I’ll discuss three novels featuring spunky female leads, and then I’ll answer a question about the books featured on our last episode on March Book Madness.

Main Topic - Interview with Paul Goat Allen

Today on the show I am welcoming book critic extraordinaire, genre fiction writing professor, writer, and my husband - Paul Goat Allen!  

Here are some of the books we talking about in the interview segment of today’s episode:

  • Fenway & Hattie by Victoria Coe
  • Wings of Fire Series by Tui Sutherland
  • Harry Potter Series by JK Rowlings
  • Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • Percy Jackson Series  by Laurel Snyder
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
  • Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • A Canticle for Leibowtiz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
  • The Earthsea Trilogy  by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein

The elements on the  “The Genre Fiction Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs”

  • Readability (narrative clarity, fluidity,a coherent storyline, brisk pacing)  
  • Immersion (focus on world building, overall description)
  • Characters Depth ( three dimensional , interesting, and emotionally connective characters)
  • Plot Intricacy (Impressively constructed storyline replete with plot twists)
  • Originality & Innovation (innovative narrative element - unconventional protagonist, new twist on an old mythos, etc.)  
  • The Message (profound, spiritual, existential enlightenment)

Book Talk - Three Novels Featuring Spunky Girls

In this part of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I’ll be talking about three fantastic contemporary debut middle grade novels featuring female protagonists who are full of spirit and determination. Even if, for a couple of them, it takes some time to embrace and harness that inner courage. The books this week are Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat, and A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

This week, I’ll be going in order of release date so I’ll start with the September 2016 debut Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat. Doesn’t that subtitle perfectly capture that middle school feeling where everything seems awful but the adults in your life just blow it off as no big deal?  That is precisely the problem the main character, Abbie Wu, faces as she grapples with starting middle school. To Abbie, middle school is just another awful “middle” thing - like the middle seat in the car, the Middle Ages, and… being the middle child. She is stuck between her soccer star perfect older brother and her cute can’t do anything wrong younger sister. I knew this book was a winner when my daughter started reading it over my shoulder. Here are three things to love about Frazzled:

  1. How perfectly this book captures the frustrations of that first middle school year. Like the awful lunches, that awkward feeling of not knowing the kids in your class, and not knowing which electives to pick. Abbie’s two best friends are Logan, genius gamer kid who joins the Coding Club. And Maxine, confident Teen Vogue reader who, of course, chooses drama as her elective. But Abbie doesn’t have a clear “thing” that’s she good at like her friends and so she gets stuck in the doldrums of Study Hall where eventually she becomes the center of a Lunch Revolution.   
  2. Frazzled is fun to read! Now, I love a heavy, deep books, but with the world as complicated as it is right now, it is a joy to jump into such a book that makes me laugh out loud. There are playful and clever illustrations on every page, and I love Booki Vivat’s hand lettered style to the drawings with different textures and patterns to the words. And the self-deprecating honesty of Abbie’s character and how she describes the personalities of her family and teachers is just perfect. This is the type of humor that adults and teachers will like, too. Well - at least I did, anyway! I guess I can’t speak for anyone else! For example, here’s Abbie describing her new Vice-Principal:  “A woman in a frumpy suit walked up to the podium and introduced herself. Mrs. Kline looked nice, but she also looked really tired, kind of like the “before” version of ladies on those makeover shows or like one those grown-ups who always complains about needing coffee.”   
  3. How Frazzled handles anxiety with a light touch. I read a statistic recently that anxiety is the number one mental health issue facing kids today. From what I observe in my own classroom - it is A BIG problem. And I appreciate that a kids’ book tackles it from a place of humor. For example, the giant “Welcome Packet” that arrives from Poindexter Middle School that has Abbie’s mom excited about school shopping has Abbie in near panic mode from information overload. Abbie has nightmares before school starts and attempts to stay home from school. Her Aunt tries to get her to meditate.  At one point, Abbie says, “Like whenever we talk about school, Mom always tells me the same things over and over again - “It’ll be great!”, “Nothing to worry about!”, “Just be yourself!” - as if saying it will somehow make it more true.”   For a worrier like Abbie, when you are surrounded by ever cheerful people telling you that “Everything will work out for the best!” it can feel like you are not even being heard.

Frazzled is a fantastic book for kids dealing with everyday middle school frustrations and anxieties. AND - I hear there is a second book coming out September 26th, 2017 so keep that on your radar!

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Our next debut middle grade book featuring a determined female protagonist was released in October of 2016 - Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley. This book, and this girl, just worked their way into my heart last fall.  Gertie is one of those kids that you just want to yank from the pages and take home with you. She lives in an Alabama town with her father and her Great Aunt Rae. Her mother, basically abandoned her when she was a baby, but she still lives in the same town. However, Gertie is rocked to find out that her mother is getting married and moving away. So - she has this mission to become the greatest 5th grader ever. To show up at her mother’s door and just say, “Ha! I don’t need you anyway!” Well, obviously, things don’t go as planned. Especially when an overachieving new girl shows up - literally in Gertie’s seat - to thwart her plans.

Here are three reasons why I adored Gertie’s Leap to Greatness:

  1. Her Great Aunt Rae. This lady is gold. She is Gertie’s main caretaker since her dad is on an oil rig for weeks at a time. She lets her have Twinkies for breakfast and every day as Gertie leaves for school, she calls out “Give ‘em hell, baby!” And there’s a moment toward the end when she has Gertie’s back in such a fierce way. Every kid should have Aunt Rae!
  2. How well this book understands how kids can turn on each other - or as Gertie says, they’re “fickle”! I teach 5th grade and can attest - those social dynamics can be complicated. One day things are good and then the social landscape shifts and you are on the outs with your former friends. Even Gertie has this moment when she says an unforgivably awful thing to Audrey - the 5 year old her Aunt Rae baby-sits. And she has to come to terms with that.
  3. The Swiss Chocolate Meltdown. Oh. My. God!!  I know it was wrong, but I just wanted to cheer! I don’t want to say too much but it reminded me of the chocolate cake scene in Matilda. Oh, it’s good! Read the book just for that scene!

Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a fun and touching story that’s like a beautiful blend of Ramona and Raymie Nightingale.  These three girls would absolutely be friends - or drive each other crazy. Either way, there would be an adventure. I don’t think this one is scheduled to have a sequel, but I for one would love to jump back into Gertie’s world again.

A Rambler Steals Home

The final book this week is A Rambler Steals Home - Carter Higgins’ middle grade debut. Even though I read it during one of the worst snowstorms we’ve had up here in New York, it immediately swept me away to hot Virginia summers filled with baseball and frog-catching.  The story centers around the traveling Clark family - the dad, Garland, the young brother named Triple, and our main character - 11 year old Derby. Their family drives around in a Rambler car, selling Christmas trees in the winter and selling hot chocolate and gingersnaps and apple cider and cinnamon sugar donuts out of an old concession stand trailer. But - in the summers, they make their home in Ridge Creek, Virginia where they set up a concession stand in the parking lot of a minor league baseball team. But this summer, Derby is confronted with some difficult changes and some secrets to uncover. Here are three things to love about A Rambler Steals Home:

  1. The sweet, homey pace of the story. Now - don’t get me wrong - I do not mean that the storytelling is slow but rather we savor the details of eating an oatmeal cookie on a front porch. We linger over sweet potato fries and a swipe of Christmas Nutmeg lipstick. This is the perfect book to read stretched out in a backyard hammock.
  2. The names are awesome! Carter Higgins has that same magical knack for naming characters as Kate DiCamillo. So, I already mentioned Garland, Triple, and Derby. Derby’s middle name, by the way, is Christmas. But we also have Goose and Scooter and Ferdie and the Skipper and Betsy and Lollie. And of course, a banjo named Twang. How perfect is that?  And not only do these characters have fabulous names, but you enjoy spending time with them. They are the kind of people you just want to surround yourself with in your own life.
  3. The gorgeous, poetic, twangy flavor of the language. Like this line describing the baseball team: “The Rockskippers scattered the field in their blue-and-whites while they stretched and spat and scratched.”

This book is heart-warming and charming and one you and your kids won’t want to miss. It is due to be released Tuesday, February 28th - the day after this episode is out so tomorrow - head over to your favorite bookstore and grab yourself a copy.

So if your middle grade girls - and guys! - are looking for a novel with a spunky female lead, they will really like Gertie’s Leap to Greatness , Frazzled, and A Rambler Steals Home.

Q & A

Our last segment of the show is Question & Answer time.

Question:

After our last episode about March Book Madness was released, I posted a picture on Twitter featuring last year’s tournament bracket from my class to give an example of what a starting bracket could look like. And one of our followers, Eric Carpenter, replied “hope you talk about why only one of these 16 books in this bracket is by a POC. #OwnVoices “

Answer:

So - absolutely.  And just so you all can picture what Eric was referring to, I’ll add a photo of that bracket to the shownotes and the website, but here are the list of the 16 books included on that bracket: The One and Only Ivan, The Honest Truth, I Funny, Big Nate, Hatchet, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, Home of the Brave, Auggie & Me, The Crossover, The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Flying Solo, El Deafo, Wonder, and Sunny Side Up.

So - he’s right. The Crossover is the only book on that list from a person of color. So - why is that? I’ll start by describing how those books were chosen and then analyzing why there might be a lack of diversity, and then discuss some ways to change that.  

First - how were the 16 books selected?

Those 16 titles were nominated and voted on entirely by my students last year. I give them total control over that process, simply asking them to nominate books they’ve read and liked. Their favorites. I think kids having ownership of that is important. If I picked the books, I don’t think they’d be as excited about participating. However, I think there is a way to honor students’ choices while still including a more diverse range of authors and characters that not only reflects the community but our society. More on that a little bit.

Second - why was there a lack of diversity in those choices?

Well, I have a few thoughts on that. One might be that the books my students included may reflect the general lack of diversity among the most “popular” middle grade titles. A second thought is that some of the books, like Hatchet and Wonder and Flying Solo and Home of the Brave may have been nominated because my students read them in class as part of the curriculum and book list that my school follows. And only one of them features a non-white main character (Home of the Brave) but that book, while excellent, is still not written by a person of color. Essentially, those books are not featuring enough diversity and not enough stories told by diverse authors. Another piece to that, and probably the largest one - my students are simply not surrounded with enough diverse books written by Native Americans, written by black authors, written by men and women from ethnic, cultural, and religious minority groups. Among many, many other diverse groups. And within my classroom, that is entirely on me. But taking that responsibility means that I have the power to change it.

Alright - if our students and kids aren’t listing diverse books as their favorites, how can that be changed?

A couple very quick ideas knowing that this is just the beginning of a much longer conversation:

  • As you stock your classroom library, as you make purchases for the kids in your life, pick more diverse books written by authors writing from their own experience. Over the last few years, as I have committed to having a vibrant classroom library, my focus needs to shift from just getting any books to being more aware of who is represented in that library. And making better choices. One good place to start is weneeddiversebooks.org and by following the Twitter hashtag #OwnVoices  Scholastic also has a We Need Diverse Books catalog that’s a good resource, too.
  • Don’t just stick those books in your library - read them aloud, book talk them, and build that excitement. If you are excited about a book, the kids will often latch onto it, too.
  • Reexamine those books that are in your curriculum. Like a lot of other districts, my school is thankfully moving away from the one-book-fits-all approach which leaves more space for student choice and for teachers to select more diverse books. Be an advocate for that in your schools. And parents - please speak up, too!
  • Finally - bring this conversation to your students and your children. I plan on sharing Eric’s tweet with my class and asking them to think about it. And in considering March Book Madness, perhaps instead of simply asking students to nominate favorite books, I could have framed the tournament a little differently and asked them to nominate favorite books that represent the diversity of our community and society. So you are still having the books be their choice, but guiding them to be more aware. Also, I read this fabulous blog post last year on Lee & Low Books where a teacher had her students pull every book from her classroom library off the shelves and work in groups to analyze the diversity in the books they had available. It was a powerful exercise - both for that teacher and her students. So I’ll link to that in the show notes so you can check it out yourself.

Now, I acknowledge that we are really just scratching the surface of this topic and we will be chatting a lot more about it on future episodes. And I’d like to get your input and ideas about that. What do you see as the challenges to getting your students to read more diversely? And what concrete things can we do as teachers and librarians and parents to help kids develop deeper connections to more diverse books?

Closing

Okay - that wraps our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we need to cover, I want to hear from you. Please email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you are liking the show, if you are finding some value in them, I’d love it if you left a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Links:

http://weneeddiversebooks.org

http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/07/07/part-1-having-students-analyze-our-classroom-library-to-see-how-diverse-it-is/

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/special-edition-weneeddiversebooks-scholastic-reading-club

Feb 27 2017

45mins

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Rank #12: #41 - Jarrett Lerner & the Most Anticipated Books of 2018

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, and spending a lovely weekend with my family inside away from the bitter cold playing epic games of Sorry and watching all the Star Wars movies. Again.

This is Episode #41 and today I’m sharing with you some fabulous 2018 titles to look forward to this year and an awesome interview with EngiNerds author Jarrett Lerner!

Book Talk - Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2018

Typically in this segment, I share with you a few books centered around a theme. And during the last few episodes I was all about looking back at some of the best middle grade fiction and graphic novels of 2017. (If you missed those, go check out episodes #39 and #40.)

But this week I want to talk about some of the most anticipated books of the upcoming year.  Some are long-awaited sequels or new installments in well-loved series. Some are new ventures for favorite authors. And some are by debut authors. So, buckle up and and get ready to add to your wish list. And just a reminder - before you scramble for a pen and paper. You can find every book mentioned here AND a picture of the available covers AND a link to pre-order them right through the Books Between Podcast link at AlltheWonders.com.  I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you.  And I’ve come to really love pre-ordering - it helps out favorite authors and it’s like a little gift to your future self.

Two quick things to mention before I start. One - this is just a sampling of all the incredible books coming out this year. I’ll add some links to some great resources in the shownotes where you can find more complete listings of titles to browse through and discover some gems:

http://www.readbrightly.com/middle-grade-books-2018/

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/98185.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2018

https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

https://electriceighteens.com/

And second - publication dates do change, so while I’ve mentioned the book release month - things sometimes change.

All right - let’s get to it!

Coming in January…

Let’s start with the some sequels because there are some AWESOME sequels coming our way to give us something to look forward to during this dreary month….

  • Linda William’s Jackson’s follow-up to Midnight Without a Moon - A Sky Full of Stars is out this January as Rose struggles with the way to face the rising racial tensions in her community.
  • Ooooo - and the new Fenway & Hattie is out this January!!!  I just can’t get enough of that little dog!  This third one is called Up to New Tricks so definitely snag that one for your Fenway fans - and for you, too!
  • And Gordon Korman’s Supergifted is also set for a January release - this is the sequel to Ungifted - a great book about a boy named Donovan who is mistakenly transfering into a gifted program and has to figure out how to pass as brilliant.  This follow up is about his new friend, Noah.
  • We are also getting another Terrible Two book in January - Terrible Two Go Wild!
  • And a new Spy on History book - Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army!
  • Ah!  And we a get a new HiLo book this January! It’s called Waking the Monsters! (As my husband said - yeah, that sounds like what I do every weekday.) Our 8 year old is SUPER psyched about this new book! - so keep ‘em coming Judd Winick!
  • Okay - and it’s not really a sequel BUT - there is just released a GRAPHIC NOVEL version of the first The Wings of Fire book - ahhhh!!!  It’s illustrated by Mike Holmes and my students are going to FREAK when I tell them  tomorrow.

Some other January releases that are looking fabulous are….

  • Betty Before X  - an historical fiction novel set in the 40s about 11-year-old Betty Shabazz - future civil rights leader.  This one is written by her daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson
  • Winterhouse by debut author Ben Guterson - this is an urban fantasy mystery set in a magical hotel containing a huge library with secrets to discover.
  • We are also getting the first middle grade book by picture book author Angela Dominguez called Stella Diaz Has Something to Say!
  • Another novel that looks REALLY interesting is called TBH, This is SO Awkward by Lisa Greenwald and it’s told entirely in texts.  So I definitely need to check that one out.
  • And my friend Emily Montjoy has been raving about Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard so I’m looking forward to my turn with that one.
  • Also - Leslie Connor, the author of the critically-acclaimed All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, has a new novel out in January called The Truth as Told By Mason Butte - so definitely check that one out.
  • Natalie Lloyd also has a new novel coming out this January! So if you liked A Snicker of Magic or The Key to Extraordinary, look for The Problim Children - which is described as a mix between Lemony Snicket and the Addams Family...
  • Annnd - the new Elly Swartz novel - Smart Cookie!!  I had a chance to read an ARC of this one with my daughters and oh I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!

On to February …

  • One that I’ve had a chance to read ahead of time is Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil.  I’ll talk more about this book later when I have time to really go into depth, but for now I’ll just say - preorder it. A great historical fiction about an Iraqi boy during the first Gulf War.
  • Then we have The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta - a fantasy about a New Jersey girl discovering that she may, in fact, be an Indian princess.
  • The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic looks really fun. It’s about a dorky math nerd who vows to reinvent herself at her new school. And when she makes a wish as the clock strikes 11:11, she gets granted a magical object that might help her.
  • Shannon Hitchcock, author of Ruby Lee & Me has a new novel coming out in February - this one is call One True Way.

In March, there are so books I am really looking forward to! My principal won’t mind if a take a month-long reading sabbatical, right?

  • Like Vanessa is the debut novel by author Tami Charles - it’s set in 1983 and is about a young girl inspired by seeing Vanessa Williams get crowned Miss America and is encouraged by her teacher to enter a beauty pageant.
  • Lauren Magaziner has a new book out in March called Wizardmatch that looks like a fun fantasy.
  • And The Science of Breakable Things by debut author Tae Keller looks really good - a book about a scientifically minded girl competing in an egg-drop contest AND using those skills to try to help her mom deal with her struggles.
  • In March we also get Colby Sharp’s Creativity Project! An “awesometastic” collection of short stories developed from the author’s prompts to each other. It is a fantastic read and such a clever idea!  Definitely one that teachers will want on hand to spark your writers’ imaginations.
  • The Train of Lost Things  by Ammi Joan-Paquette is another favorite of my #BookVoyage friend Emily Montjoy - who has amazing taste by the way. (Definitely go follow her on Twitter @mrsmontjoyreads ! ) So I’m looking forward to a chance to read this one as well.
  • Oh! And the next Dan Gemeinhart novel comes out in March!! It is called Good Dog and I can’t read the synopsis to you or I’ll start crying but it sounds simply wonderful. Of course it is - it’s Dan Gemeinhart!

March lets us reconnect with some favorite characters with a great bunch of sequels coming out.

  • And - probably the book that I have been waiting and waiting for. DYING to read with my daughters - is The Wild Robot Escapes - the sequel to Peter Brown’s incredible The Wild Robot!  So - mark your calendars for March 13th, pre-order this one, AND - if you haven’t yet read the first one…. well, what’s the matter with you? Get on that!

In April we have lots to look forward to including sequels, like:

  • The next Moon Base Alpha book called Waste of Space, Janet Tashjian’s My Life As a YouTuber , and Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl will be out. And Adrienne’s Kress’ second Explorers book - The Reckless Rescue!  
  • And the third book in Jason Reynold’s incredible Track series will be out! It’s called Sunny and follows “the chillest dude on the Defenders team”, but one with a troubled life at home that hides behind that sunny smile.
  • And, the debut by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jenson, called Every Shiny Thing looks really really good….
  • I’m also looking forward to the new Jewell Parker Rhodes novel called Ghost Boys. It’s about a young boy who is killed by the police when they mistake his toy gun for the real thing. And as a ghost, he witnesses how that event unfolds in his neighborhood and meets other ghosts like Emmett Till. Oh that gives me chills just thinking about it!
  • And - we get a new Kwame Alexander novel this year!  It is called Rebound - the much-awaiting prequel to his Newbery-winning The Crossover. This one about Josh and Jordan’s father, Chuck Bell.

On to the awesome May releases to watch for:

  • Terri Libenson’s new graphic novel - Positively Izzy looks great- it’s the companion to Invisible Emmie.
  • And the The Cobalt Prince, the second 5 Worlds graphic novel will be out.
  • Another May release that I am so so excited about is Most Valuable Players - the next Phil Bildner Rip & Red book.
  • There are three books coming in May that have been getting a lot buzz lately - one is called Bob - written by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead. I can’t wait to see the awesomeness THAT collaboration brings!
  • The second one is Aisha Saeed’s middle-grade debut, Amal Unbound, which is about a Pakistani girl forced into working as an indentured servant to pay off her family’s debts. Friends who have read this one are saying it is  incredible.
  • And then I keep hearing about Front Desk by Kelly Yang. Let me just read you a bit from the description and tell me this doesn’t sound AMAZING! Okay, “Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1-She lives in a motel, not a big house. Number 2- Her parents hide immigrants. Number 3-She wants to be a writer.”

In June we have some really cool books coming our way:

  • Kate Messner’s new novel Breakout - based on some details from the real-life (and close to home for me) breakout of two prisoners in New York and how the community reacts to that situation. I can’t WAIT for this one!!

  • Also - Kate Beasley (of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness) and Dan Santat (of a million books you love, most recently the picture book After the Fall) are teaming up for a book called Lions & Liars - about a boy named Frederick who is sent to a disciplinary camp for troublesome boys. That one looks phenomenal!

  • And Laura Shovan’s new book Takedown is coming this June!  Can’t wait to read this novel about a girl who wants to join the wrestling team. I keep hearing people raving about it on Twitter.
  • And Barbara Dee has a new novel coming out in June called Everything I Know About You.

  • We also get to read Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s new middle grade novel The Frame-up! I had a chance to read this one this past fall and it is phenomenal. It’s about a young artist who goes to live with his father for the summer and attends an art-camp at the museum where his father is the director. And he soon discovers that the paintings are alive! Truly - after reading this book, I’ll never look at another painting the same way again.  It’s so so good!

And thankfully I have July and August off from school, so I can catch up AND snag some summer release books such as….

So after August, specific publication dates get a little harder to come by. BUT - a few things have popped up. Like..

  • Also - I saw, I think... a Sarah Weeks has a sequel to So B. It coming out called Soof? That is definitely on my radar!

  • And the big news in my class this week - the 8th Amulet book!!!!!! Woohoo!!!  Oh my gosh - my students cheered when I told them that Kazu Kibuishi announced this on Twitter last week!  It is called Supernova and has a beautiful cover so go check that out and make all your middle grade readers happy by pre-ordering it now.

So so much to look forward to this year! And of course - I’ll keep you posted about all the amazing books headed our way so we can stay up to date. And definitely make sure you check out the show notes and check out those links so you can dive deeper and discover awesome new books that you are looking forward to reading this year. Main Topic - A Conversation with Jarrett Lerner

This week I am so excited to welcome to the show Jarrett Lerner - author of the fantastic middle grade novel EngiNerds. We chat about his plans for the sequel, the power of the perfect metaphor, and Project Runway!

Take a listen…..

Interview Outline:

Enginerds

Enginerds has been getting all kinds of love lately - congratulations!! I saw Colby Sharp used Enginerds as his example in his 5 ways to support authors you love video.

For those who aren’t (yet!) familiar with Enginerds, can you tell what this story is about?

What was your thought process like when deciding what your robots would look like and act like?

Enginerds is in a long and glorious line of children’s books and movies and TV shows featuring robots.

What are some of your favorites?

We are getting a book two, right?!

Other Middle Grade Projects

So I saw on Twitter last month that you have teamed up with Analiese Avery (@_AJAvery) to launch @MG_BookBot.

How did that get started and what are your plans?  

And I am so excited about your new middle grade focused website -  MG Book Village!  Aside from the twitter hashtags, what are you hoping to include on the site?

Tell me about your KidLit Mentorship Project….

Project Runway

Your Writing Life

What is your writing process like?

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the things I talk about a lot with other educators is the power of that one person to really influence a child’s reading life - either in a really positive way or sometimes in a negative way.

Was there someone in your life who impacted you as a reader?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Thank You!

Links:

Jarrett’s Website - https://jarrettlerner.com

Jarrett on Twitter and Instagram

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Jasmine Toguchi Series

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

The First Rule of Punk

Kurt Vonnegut

Baby-Sitters Club

Sweet Valley High

Judy Blume

Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker

Clementine

Ramona

Jerry Spinelli

The Game Masters of Garden Place

Oddity

Other Topics We Chatted About:

MG Book Village Website

#MGBookathon

Electric 18 Debut Group

Project Runway

The Kentaro Dead Cat Scene

Tim Gunn’s Golden Rules

Melissa Roske’s Interview with Jarrett Lerner

Closing

Alright, that’s it for today!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher. Or even better - tell a friend about us!

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

Jan 15 2018

59mins

Play

Rank #13: #32 - Betsy Bird

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians and anyone who wants to help connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom, a teacher, and really excited that I got to see the solar eclipse this afternoon! Here in Syracuse we had about 70% (ish) coverage and my daughters and husband and I hung out in the backyard with glasses our neighbors so kindly gave us and we saw the light dim and the shadows get eerie. I couldn’t quite get the colander trick to work but that’s okay - I loved all of your photos of your experiences that you shared online.

This is Episode #32 and today, as promised last week, I’m sharing with you a conversation with Betsy Bird - librarian, host of the new Fuse 8 n’Kate podcast, and the editor of the fabulous new short story anthology called FUNNY GIRL!  We chat about the book, what makes her laugh, our least favorite picture books, and, and......I challenge her to a fart noise contest!

Take a listen….

Interview Outline - Betsy Bird

For those listening who may or may not be familiar with you, can you give us a little introduction of who you are and what you do in the world of children’s literature?

Where does the name Fuse 8 come from?

Funny Girl

You’ve mentioned that Funny Girl was the result of noticing that kids wanted funny books and there weren’t too many options written by women. So you proposed the idea to your editor..

Once this project was a go, how did you go about finding authors to contribute and what was your criteria when you pitched the idea to them?

Have you read any of the stories with your own kids ?

So, you’ve mentioned that girls are often discouraged from using humor as a coping mechanism. In your own life - either now or as a kid - what were some times when using humor has helped you?

It was interesting - when I got the book and looked at the Table of Contents and I was browsing all the authors, i was thinking “Ooooo...this is going to be awesome!”

But - the authors whose stories made me laugh the most, were NOT the ones I was expecting! I actually loved that - it helped me find new people to get to know.

Aside from stories like those in Funny Girl, what are some things that make you laugh?  What’s your sense of humor like?

Fuse 8 n’ Kate Podcast

So you have a new podcast!  What made you decide to jump back into podcasting?  

What is a popular picture book that you don’t like?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

As a parent, how do you make time for reading with your family? And what does that that look like?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Where do you see a gap in the world of children’s books?

Thank You!

Closing

Alright - that wraps up our show this week. We have some great topics and interviews and book talks coming up including some thoughts on building a community of readers, conversations with Celia Perez about The First Rule of Punk, and Alan Gratz about Refugee AND Ban This Book.  So be on the lookout for those.

And if you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

Betsy Bird ’s Fuse 8 Production Blog on School Library Journal

Listen to Fuse 8 n’ Kate Podcast here on iTunes or Soundcloud

Betsy’s Books:

Giant Dance Party

Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

Funny Girl

Books and Other Things We Discussed:

Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly DiPucchio & Gris Grimly

Akilah Hughes’ YouTube Channel - Akilah, Obviously!

Accident by Andrea Tsurumi

If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Paeony Lewis’ blog post comparing Picture Books in bookshop chains in the US and UK

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

Curious George

Furious George Goes Bananas: A Primate Parody by Michael Rex

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Ghost Cat by Mark Abley

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

Cam Jansen

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Betsy’s blog post about Patina

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Betsy’s blog post about Orphan Island

Betsy’s Blog Post “Where Are All the Black Boys?”

Aug 22 2017

49mins

Play

Rank #14: #34 - Studying Genre & A Conversation with Danielle Davis

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom an 8 and 10 year old, and just finishing my first week back to school with my new 5th graders. And….YAWN!  Is there any tured that’s like that first few days of school tired?  I am gonna get some coffee and I’ll be right back….

This is Episode #34 and today I’m talking about studying genre and then I welcome author Danielle Davis to the show to chat about her debut middle grade novel Zinnia and the Bees, and finish up with a question about book recommendations for an advanced 6th grade reader.

But before we jump into the show, I want tell you that this month’s episodes are sponsored by WriteAbout.com - a writing community and publishing platform that is just perfect for classrooms. It is incredibly easy to use and set up - and boy am I appreciating that at the beginning of the year!  I am also loving how engaged students are when they see their word count grow. And how that pushes them to write even more. And from my end, I love how I can analyze those word count statistics either as a whole class or filter for individual students.  So, if you’ve been searching for an engaging and authentic way to help your students write every day, definitely go visit WriteAbout.com to check it out. And at the end of the show, I’ll share with you my current favorite feature.

Main Topic - Studying Genre

As I start our new school year rolling and we are setting up our reading journals and discussing goals, one of the first things we do is have a quick crash course in identifying genres. So today I want to chat with you about why it’s a good idea for students to study genre, which genres to study, the difference between genre and format, and finally I’ll share some ideas and resources to get your students learning more about different genres.

Why study genre?

So, why study genre? We’ve already got a lot on our plate and a curriculum that is jam packed. Why is it important for students to know the difference between science fiction and fantasy? Or to know a mystery when they see one?

  1. Studying genre helps students expand their reading habits and get introduced to genres they might not have tried yet.
  2. Studying genre also expands students’ views of each genre and helps them realize that NOT all books in a genre are the same. Not all fantasy is about dragons or set in a medieval world. Some have cats like The Warriors series and some are even set in modern times!  And often, books are a blend of more than one genre - Historical Fiction AND Action-Adventure like the I Survived Series. Or Science Fiction with a twist of Mystery like Space Case.
  3. Studying genre helps with comprehension. Knowing how a certain type of book tends to go helps you figure out the plot, make predictions, and pick out themes and delve into character more deeply. For example, if you are reading a Fantasy you’re going to be on the lookout for a quest narrative, special magical objects, maybe a good character who turns out to be bad, and a theme that might be really about Good vs. Evil. If they are picking up a mystery, they’ll want to be searching for clues and twist endings. If reading historical fiction they might be looking for lessons that would resonate today. Studying past turning points helps us figure out who we are. Knowing those common tropes and knowing why those genres are important helps students dig so much deeper and can even change them as a person.
  4. And finally, learning about genre helps kids develop their own reading identity and figure out what they really like. Learning the language and vocabulary of genre is important so they have a name for the kinds of stories they want to read and can then go ask for it at a bookstore or the library or when they search online. So if they know that they like Magical Realism, they can ask the clerk to help them find more of those kinds of books.   Last week I was thinking about how the power of knowing the vocabulary can help you find what you like. My ten year old and I have recently been binge-watching A LOT of Project Runway. And I do not have any kind of background in sewing or fashion terms. For me, when I go shopping, I just kind of wing it and know what I like when I put it on. But after watching several seasons of Project Runway in a row you start to pick up the names of various fabrics and cuts and styles. And I realize - a-ha!  I do NOT like high-low hems or mermaid dresses. BUT - that kind of skirt that always seems to look okay on me? That’s an A-line skirt! SO now, when I go shopping and a clerk asks if they can help me, I will say, “Yes! Show me your A-line skirts and dresses, please!”  Basically what I’m saying is knowing the words for what you like is hugely helpful in efficiently getting you more of that.

Which genres to study?

I tend to focus on how the characters, setting, and plot are all clues to help you figure out the genre. And the fiction genres I focus on are realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, action/adventure, traditional literature (like folk tales, tall tales and fairy tales), science fiction, and fantasy. With a strong emphasis on how sometimes they can blend. And I don’t go into depth at 5th grade, but I do mention westerns, horror, and romance. And I’ll tell you - that Science Fiction/Fantasy genre always seems so imperfect.  I mean - a book with talking animals in it. IS that… fantasy? I wouldn’t put Charlotte’s Web with Eragon. So…. we do talk about how there is nuance and fuzziness in those categories and I introduce terms like speculative fiction, paranormal, magical realism and urban fantasy. I don’t expect mastery here. But - if they can read a book like, say, The Seventh Wish. And say things like “Well, it could be realistic fiction because it’s about a typical family in modern times going through real-life challenges but it might be fantasy because the fish gives out magic wishes.” That is what I’m looking for. Not certainty but the ability to have a discussion around genre and recognize the major elements of each one.

What’s the difference between genre and format?

One of the points of growth for me is really recognizing the difference between genre and format. Poetry and graphic novels are NOT really genres. You can have a novel in verse that is a memoir like Brown Girl Dreaming or realistic fiction, like Moo. And graphic novels span every imaginable genre from traditional literature in Fairy Tale Comics to fantasy in Amulet and science fiction in Hilo to realistic fiction in Roller Girl. And as much as I know that…. I still separate them out because their format does make them so unique. And so many of my students just gravitate toward those graphic novels. So I want to make it easy for them to find. And just last week, after much consideration, I finally caved and shelved Nine, Ten, Towers Falling, Eleven, and the other 9/11 books in historical fiction. (And now I feel really old!)

Some ideas & resources

We’ll wrap up this segment by sharing a few ideas about how to reinforce the study of genre in your classroom or library or with your kids at home! Here are 6 ideas to get you started:

  1. Keep track of those genres on a chart or graph. I have a circle tracker that I love to use that I’ll link to in the shownotes. It’s colorful and flexible and fun!
  2. Give students a stack of books and have them sort them by genre or identify the genre if they are all the same. And encourage them to use the vocabulary they’ve learned to back up what they’re saying. And look at the cover and back description of the setting, characters, and plot for those clues.
  3. Another way to go is to give them a stack and tell them the genre. And then THEY have to create a definition based on the books in that category. And then they can present to their peers. If you don’t have physical books to use, I’ve cut out pictures and blurbs from Scholastic flyers and you could also have them search a genre category on Amazon or Goodreads.
  4. Have students work together to create a genre display. Last year, right around Halloween I had a group of kids work on a mystery/paranormal display for our classroom door.  Kids could also work on a video project or a Google Slideshow to teach others about genre.
  5. I used Kahoot last year to reinforce genre and my students loved it! Kahoot is an online quiz site where teachers can create any type of quiz and students log-in with a Chromebook or ipad and take the quiz and get live results together. It’s fun, it’s interactive, and they have really awesome music on that site!
  6. Have kids make #BookSnaps highlighting the genre of the books they are reading!  I talked more about #BookSnaps in episode #19 which was all about alternatives to reading logs. But basically, kids take a picture of their book, maybe annotate it with a photo editing tool and post it to social media. So, you could direct them to simply post the cover and name the genre. Or you could ask them to find some evidence inside the book to back up why they think that book fits the criteria for that genre. And take a picture of page that offers a clue and then annotate it to explain. I use SeeSaw for #BookSnaps but older kids might like SnapChat or Twitter.

Those are a few things that I have tried and plan to explore this year as I help students grow into self-aware and self-directed readers. But - I know how incredible my listeners are and I am sure you all have some fabulous ideas about how to teach and reinforce genre. Please share them with the rest of us! You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com . And I’ll share out some of your ideas.

Interview - Danielle Davis

Today I am thrilled to welcome Danielle Davis to the podcast. She is the author of the recently released middle grade novel Zinnia and the Bees. We chat about knitting, composting, and the surprising origins of her novel!

Zinnias and the Bees

Your debut novel Zinnia and the Bees was just released this month and I am so excited for my students and kids all around the world to meet these characters.

For those listening who haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, can you tell us a bit about it?

This is an alternating point of view novel like none other that I have read...

How did figure out that you wanted to include the bees’ perspective?

What sort of research did you do to make sure you got those details right?

So, I have to ask about…. KNITTING!

Your Writing Life

Your blog is called “This Picture Book Life”.

So how did you end up writing middle grade?

How does the final version of Zinnia and the Bees differ from earlier drafts?

What is your ideal writing space like?

What’s next for you - another middle grade or will you venture into Picture Books?

Your Reading Life

You read a TON of picture books AND middle grade books!

What drew you to focus mainly on picture books?

Is there a type of story or a genre that others like a lot but you’re just not that into?

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Thank You!

Q & A

Our third and final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

Question:

Today’s question was texted to me from a friend at school. She asked, “I have a friend who’s looking for some book recommendations for her going into 6th grade boy. He is an advanced reader and loves sports and music.”

Answer:

I had five suggestions - Ghost by Jason Reynolds which would appeal to the sports side - plus, it’s just amazing and if they like it, there is the newly released second book called Patina which is just as fabulous! Posted by John David Anderson is also incredible. And Solo by Kwame Alexander which would be great for a kid who likes music. But - that one veers a little more toward YA. So - while I love that book, maybe take a peek at the content and consider waiting maybe a year or two. I also recommended the March graphic novel series by John Lewis. I think that trilogy is so timely and should be read by everyone so I just have to give a push whenever I have the chance. And finally, I Am Drums by Mike Grosso is phenomenal for music lovers. I just loved that book and can’t wait to see what else he writes.

Closing

Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, let me know. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to WriteAbout.com for supporting the podcast this month - when you visit their website you’ll find fantastic ideas to get your students writing this year. Some of my favorite features are the feedback tools - including voice recordings for students to get immediate and personal suggestions from you right as they are writing.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

Danielle Davis’ website: http://www.danielledavisreadsandwrites.com

Danielle’s This Picture Book Life: http://thispicturebooklife.com

Zinnia and the Bees Pom Pom Craft: http://thispicturebooklife.com/pom-pom-craft-zinnia-bees-courtesy-sealed-kait/

Zinnia and the Bees: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781623708672

Books & Things Mentioned in the Interview:

Bees: Nature’s Little Wonders by Candace Savage: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781553655312

The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780763679224

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780142001745

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=the+girl+flammable

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780385720960

Alethea’s blog - Read Now Sleep Later: http://www.readnowsleeplater.org

Roald Dahl books: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=Roald+Dahl

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780547076805

Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=Du+Iz+Tak

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780312367541

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780679734772

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780968876831

Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel by Jolly Roger Bradfield: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781930900608

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780425290408

Sep 11 2017

50mins

Play

Rank #15: #14 - 6 Reading Challenge Ideas & the Most Anticipated Books of 2017

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two daughters, and happy to be DONE with 2016 and onward to 2017! Typically we have a New Year’s Eve party at our house - last year was a disco theme - but this time my kids were not feeling so great and instead we had a quiet night. I set up my new bullet journal with my reading goals, played canasta with my kids, crocheted, and just cuddling on the couch under the heating blanket. I know - NOT a very cool New Year’s Eve celebration. But - it was wonderful and I hope yours was as well. So - hello to 2017!

This is Episode #14 and today we are discussing some fun reading challenge ideas to kick off your new year, the most anticipated middle grade books coming out in 2017, and I’ll answer a question about what books to recommend for a 5th grader who has a high school reading level.

Main Topic - Reading Challenges for the New Year

One of the best things about the New Year is the reset that happens when December flips over into January and you have a full twelve months laid out in front of you with all the possibilities in the world! You’re past the indulgences of the holidays and ready to refocus, make some resolutions, build better habits, and set some goals.  So today I’m going to talk about a few fun ideas for reading challenges this year that can help you connect with your community, keep you motivated, and maybe spur you to stretch yourself as a reader in 2017.

Now our conversation today is geared toward personal reading goals for you, but these same ideas can be shared with the students and the children in your life. And as the lead reader in your library or classroom or home, sharing your own reading goals shows that you take your reading life seriously and that we’re all in this reading community together. I know that my first day back with my class, I’ll be sharing my Reading Challenge list with my students and helping them set up their own. So - if you are thinking about doing a reading challenge this year, here are a few ideas for you:

Challenge Idea #1 - Set a number goal.  Maybe that’s forty books or sixty books or a hundred books! Something that’s a bit of a stretch but still doable for you.  Last year, I participated in the #SixtyBooks Challenge  - I happened to see the hashtag last January and I thought, “I can do that!” And it’s been fantastic. One thing that kept me motivated was connecting to others doing the same challenge on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. So - if you decide to do any kind of challenge, connecting with other readers through social media helps keep you stay excited about it through the year. And if you want to join me this year, just check out #SixtyBooks and we can support each other!

Challenge Idea #2 - Set a goal based on type of book.  These can be found all over the internet this time of year. They are usually focused on adult books but you can easily read middle grade books within those categories and maybe make just a couple adjustments.  A really great one is Book Riot’s yearly Read Harder Challenge which this year features tasks like read a debut novel, read a travel memoir, read a superhero comic with a female lead, or  read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.  Those last two are definitely going on my list.  I’ll leave a link to that in the show notes and what’s nice about the Book Riot challenge is that they have suggestions for each category, a Goodreads group, and in-person meetups throughout the year.  

Another Reading Challenge that my friend Emily told me about is the one from PopSugar. They feature 40 book categories with this year’s theme of diversifying and expanding your reading - love it! Some of their reading prompts are a book involving a mythical creature, a book recommended by a librarian (I love that one), a book by or about a person who has a disability, a book with a main character who is a different ethnicity than you, and some fun ones like a book with a red spine or a book set in a hotel. PopSugar also has an extra twenty prompts for those hardcore readers who finish early. They also have a Goodreads group and printable lists, and I’ll link to their site too so you can check that out.

Another 2017 Reading Challenge that I discovered last week is one hosted by a site called Modern Mrs. Darcy. (Now - already with that name - I’m in!) What I really like about this challenge is that there are two paths you can follow: Reading for Fun or Reading for Growth.  Each have just 12 tasks so they are doable and you might even have time to do both! On the Reading for Fun list are topics like a juicy memoir, a book you chose for the cover, and a book by a new favorite author. Those all sound comfy and great. On the other hand, if you want to stretch yourself and go for the Reading for Growth path there are options like a book that addresses current events, a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author, or a Newbery Award winner or Honor book.  That all sounds exactly what I need this year.

Challenge Idea #3 - Create a Reading Time Capsule for the year.  I wish I could remember where I saw this so I could give them proper credit, but this idea is similar to the practice of families jotting down happy memories throughout the year and tucking them into a jar to read on New Year’s Eve. This idea is to jot down favorite quotes and inspiring ideas from the books you’ve read throughout the year. I’m thinking that a nice adaptation would be instead of putting it in a jar, write it down in a journal or if you want to go more 21st century - challenge yourself to post on social media one inspiring quote or idea about every book you’ve read this year.  And that could also make a very cool classroom project.

Challenge Idea #4 - Do a Library Crawl!  Unlike a pub crawl, which is typically done in one night and you can’t bring your kids. Or well, you really shouldn’t bring your kids. A Library Crawl can span the whole year, the summer, or maybe just Spring Break. And it’s way better when you bring your kids!  Basically you challenge yourself to visit a set number of libraries in a set amount of time. Last summer, I was looking for some inexpensive things to do with my girls that would be fun, educational, and get us all out of the house and away from the electronics. So we challenged ourselves to visit 16 libraries during the summer of 2016. And we almost made it! I have a lot more to share with you about Library Crawls, how to do them, some fun ideas, and the unexpected benefits that I think I need to do a whole episode on it.  

Challenge Idea #5 - Little Free Library Challenge.  Oh how I love Little Free Libraries!  They are popping up all over my community, my friends are all getting them, my school is putting one up this spring, and that is our family summer project. There are a couple ways you could go about doing a Little Free Library Challenge. One idea is to simply visit as many as you can this year and maybe document your travels on social media. If you go to the Little Free Library website, you can find listings of all your local registered libraries shown right on a map.  If you wanted to extend that into a Pay it Forward challenge, you could donate one book to each Little Free Library you visit.

Challenge Idea #6 - Design Your Own Reading Challenge!  Think of it as a 2017 Choose-Your-Own-Reading-Adventure.  Take the best ideas of the options out there and create something for yourself. And these ideas are easy to layer.  So you can set a number goal, participate in say, the Book Riot challenge or pick your own categories to read from the options you like, and maybe pick up those books while you do your library crawl.  

Whatever you decide, get your kids and students involved, too and I’d love to see what you’ve got planned for the year!  You can send me an email at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect on Twitter or Instagram with the handle @Books_Between.

Book Talk - Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2017

In this segment, I share with you a few books centered around a theme. This week I’m highlighting some of the most anticipated books of the upcoming year.  Some are new books in favorites series. Some are by favorite authors. Some are by debut authors. And some just sound fantastic! So, get ready to add to your wish list. And just a reminder - that you can find every book mentioned here AND a picture of the covers AND a link to pre-order them right through the Books Between Podcast link at AlltheWonders.com.  So, no need to scurry and write things down. I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you.

One quick note before I start - publication dates do change, so while I’ve mentioned the month each book is expected to release - things sometimes change.

All right - let’s get to it!

http://www.readbrightly.com/middle-grade-books-2017/

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/74235.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2017

Coming in January…

  • Scar Island - a new action adventure by Dan Gemeinhart. So if you liked his other novels The Honest Truth or Some Kind of Courage (which I know you did!) , definitely get this one.
  • A new Jerry Spinelli novel - The Warden’s Daughter. It’s set in 1959 Pennsylvania and oh it looks fantastic!
  • Also in January, we’ll get the third Terrible Twos book - The Terrible Two Go Wild by Mac Barnett & Jory John. And the second Audacity Jones Book - Audacity Jones Steals the Show.  AND another Victoria Coe Fenway & Hattie book - the Evil Bunny Gang!
  • If you were a fan of Counting by 7s, like I am - then look for Holly Sloan’s new novel called Short - it’s about a small-for-her-age girl who gets cast as a Munchkin in a production of The Wizard of Oz. So fans of Oz will have something to love in this book, too!
  • One book I’ve been really looking forward to this year is the short story collection put together in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. It’s called Flying Lessons & Other Stories and features authors like Grace Lin, Matt de la Pena, Jacqueline Woodson and so many others.
  • If you’re like me, and part of your Reading Challenge this year is to read more nonfiction and to read more diversely, then there’s two books to look for this January
  1. Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden
  2. Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Powell.  It’s the story of the civil rights case set up as a novel in verse. That should be amazing.

Coming in February …

This time I’ll start with nonfiction:

  • We have Bats: Learning to Fly - the newest volume in the nonfiction graphic novel series called Science Comics.
  • Then we have Kwame Alexander’s latest called The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. A great nonfiction pairing for fans of Booked and The Crossover.
  • Also in February, the highly anticipated Judd Winnick graphic novel Hilo 3 - huzzah!  
  • And the debut middle grade novel by picture book author and All the Wonders friend Carter Higgins. It’s called A Rambler Steals Home and it’s about baseball, and family, and friendship, and sweet potato fries - it’s incredible - you absolutely need to get this one!  In fact, if you preorder A Rambler Steals Home from the Once Upon a Time Bookstore, Carter has offered to sign it for you before they ship it out to you. It’s a win-win-win! You get a signed copy of an awesome book, you support an independent bookstore, and you support an author you know and love. So, I’ll include that link in the show notes for you.

In March, there are four books I am really looking forward to:

  • Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Wissinger, which is the companion book to the 2015 book Gone Fishing.
  • Forget Me Not by debut middle grade author  Ellie Terry featuring a science-loving main character, Calliope, who has Tourette syndrome.
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold This one is about a kid who ends up caring for a baby skunk and tried to convince his mom to let him keep it.  What could go wrong?
  • And - we get a new Nathan Hale book this year!  It’s not a Hazardous Tale’s book. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of that. It’s set in the future and Earth is being attacked by aliens who suck up the energy from electrical devices leaving our civilization under threat. And there’s a robot pony. It’s so different from Hale’s work that I’m familiar with, but it looks original and fresh and amazing and I can’t wait to read it.

In April we have:

  • The first book in a new mystery series by Adrienne Kress called The Explorers: The Door in the Alley. My students are really loving mysteries this year so this will make a great addition to my classroom library.
  • Tito the Bonecrusher by Melissa Thomson. This is the story of a boy who seeks out the help of his favorite lucha-libre wrestler / action star to save his father from being deported to Mexico. That sounds fantastic and funny and... timely!

May is going to be a stellar month for reading:

  • Georgia Rules by Swing Sideways author Nanci Steveson
  • And a new Lisa Graff novel called The Great Treehouse War.  So if you liked Absolutely Almost or Lost in the Sun, look for this one this spring.
  • A new Gordon Korman stand-alone novel called Restart about boy who was a bully who loses his memory and gets a fresh start. What an interesting premise!
  • Another May release that I am so so excited about is Posted by Ms. Bixby’s Last Day author, John David Anderson. I loved Ms. Bixby so much - I can’t wait to see what Anderson has in store for us next!
  • Then there’s a nonfiction book about Hamilton! It’s called Alexander Hamilton: How the Vision of One Man Shaped Modern America by Teri Kanefield
  • And finally - mark your calendars and pre-order Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder because this book has been getting all the buzz. This novel keeps popping up everywhere I look!

In June we have:

  • A 6th Ranger in Time book called Escape from the Great Earthquake

  • The third book in Phil Bildner’s Rip & Red series!  This one is called Tournament of Champions. My students are going to psyched about this one!

  • And a second book from A Distance to Home author Jenn Bishop called 14 Hollow Road. It’s about a 6th grade girl whose town is torn apart by a tornado and her family ends up living with the family of her crush, Avery, after both their houses are destroyed.

  • A fun book in a new non-fiction series called Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive! So, basically the reader is presented with three stories about the natural world and you have to guess which one is the lie. Sounds fun - and good practice for life.

It’s a good thing I have July off from school, because there are some seriously awesome books being released that month:

  • Including a new Comics Squad!  Comics Squad #3: Detention I love these! They’re fun, they’re quick, and they introduce kids to new writers.
  • Another book to look forward to in July is Our Story Begins : Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids Oh - now that should be good!
  • And also in July, we’ll get Spirit Hunters - the first middle grade novel by Ellen Oh - this one is the first of a new ghost story series. Can’t wait for that!
  • And - I am also excited for July because that’s when Abby Cooper’s second novel, Bubbles, comes out!   In this one, the main character can see other people’s thoughts. Oh god - can you imagine?

August

  • August is going to be fabulous because we get a new Cassie Beasley book. If you liked Circus Mirandus, her new novel is called Tumble & Blue and it’s about a curse, a swamp, and a golden alligator.

So after August, publication dates get a little hazy. BUT - I hear there’s a new Katherine Applegate book coming called Wishtree.  Also - there’s a fourth Al Capone at Alcatraz book coming out in the fall called Al Capone Does My Dishes.  

And the Rick Riordon’s third Magnus Chase book: The Ship of the Dead .

And the third Mr. Lemoncello's Library - the Great Library Race

And of course - I’ll keep you posted about all the amazing books headed our way so we can stay up to date.

Those were some upcoming titles to look forward to in 2017. But. If I had to guess - the one book that you fall in love with this year, that one new book that your kids can’t put down. Is one that isn’t on this list and isn’t even on your radar right now. Most of my favorites of last year, I wasn’t even aware of them this early. And that’s exciting! There is so much to look forward to!

Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

Question:

After sharing our Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2016 list last week, I got this question from Jane: “Do you have an idea what book to get a 10-yr-old boy who reads on a 12th grade level?” And she added, “He is currently into the Warriors series.”

Answer:

That can be a tough situation. He CAN read Young Adult or Adult books, but you’ve got to be careful of the content, which might not be okay for a 5th grader.  

A quick example / horror story about that: when I used to teach 6th grade in a middle school, one of the reading assessments we gave was a computer program that would determine a reading level and would then print out a recommended list of titles for each kid. Sounds great, right? Well. I noticed that the kids who scored the highest were being recommended A CLOCKWORK ORANGE! I never ripped a piece of paper out of kid’s hand so fast! (Can you imagine if that went home?)

So - anyway - just because the reading level is a good match, does not mean the book is a good fit.

But - there are lots of middle grade books that have a higher reading level. And if he likes Fantasy, then there are some great books that I think he’ll like.  I might try the Wings of Fire series. It has some similarities to Warriors - there are clans and battles and shifting alliances - but it’s dragons instead of cats.  He might really like The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz or maybe The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin or even The Lord of The Rings which is more “high” fantasy.  Another option that a friend recommended is The Riverman Trilogy by Aaron Starmer.

So, Jane - let us know how things go and if you’ve found something that hits the mark.

Closing

Alright, that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And when you are there, check out Matthew’s interview with Cozy Classics creators Jack and Holman Wang. I cannot stop reading and rereading these adorable little board books. And, if you are liking our show, I’d love it if you took a second to leave a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks, Happy New Year, and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Jan 02 2017

23mins

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Rank #16: #16 - Celebrating the 2017 Newbery Winners

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two young daughters, a 5th grade teacher, and… whew - coming off a tiring couple of weeks. How are you all holding up? I feel like I’ve been through the wringer, honestly. But - even though my entire family (and half my students) are battling colds and respiratory things and the news has been…. um..concerning, there have been some much needed bright spots. I took my first trip ever to DC last Saturday, and I watched the Youth Media Awards live webcast with my students last Monday morning.

This is Episode #16 and Today we are discussing the Youth Media Awards and the featuring the 4 books that won Newbery Awards.

Main Topic - 2017 Youth Media Awards

Last Monday morning at 8am, I sat with my 18 pajama clad 5th graders and we had donuts and watched the Youth Media Awards live through the American Library Association website.  They had their favorites that they were rooting for - The Wild Robot and Pax among them.  But honestly, the day wasn’t really about the ultimate winners of those awards.  To me, it was about honoring ALL children’s literature and showing my students that books for THEM, for an audience of children and teens are worthy of stopping everything and making a big deal of it.  And, they learned about a lot of great books while they watched. They knew about the Caldecott and the Newbery, but now they know about the Alex Award, the Schneider Award, the Coretta Scott King Award and so many others that recognize the diversity in children’s literature.  There were gasps when March got its fourth award and suddenly, every kid in that room wanted to know  - wow, what is THAT book about? And when they learned about the Stonewall Award and that one of their all-time favorite authors, Rick Riordan, had won it for Magnus Chase - there were some opened minds that morning.

Some of our favorites didn’t win - but that wasn’t really the point.  The point is having a favorite that you are passionate about and discovering new books and authors that are going to stay with you forever.

Book Talk - 2017 Newbery Award Books

For our book talk segment this week, I’m going rebroadcast the two segments about the Newbery books that I have already featured on the show and then talk about the two others that earned recognition this past week.

The novel that won the Newbery Award this year was Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. And -  yeah - I think I may screamed a tad when it was announced. Here’s what I had to say about this book back on episode 15.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Our second featured book today is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is also an adventure survival story but a fairy tale fantasy with powerful witches, a poetic swamp monster, and a seemingly small dragon. The start of this story takes place in a gloomy village along a bog called The Protectorate run by a group of unscrupulous men called The Council of Elders. Each year, on the Day of Sacrifice, these elders take the youngest baby in the village and leave it in the woods. They do this, they claim, to appease an evil witch. Well, it turns out that there is actually a witch, a kind witch named Xan, who rescues these poor babies and feeds them on starlight while she journeys across the dangerous volcanic mountain to find a new home for them. Except one year, she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight and enmagicks the child who grows to be uncontrollably powerful. The rest of the story is about Xan’s attempts to help her adoptive granddaughter harness that power, and what happens to the villagers left behind in The Protectorate - including a young Elder-in-Training named Antain who starts to have doubts, and the girl’s mother who ends up going mad and being locked in a tower with secrets of its own. It is beautiful and powerful. And here are three more things I loved about Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon:

  1. The magic. This is not your typical sparkly, wand summoned magic. It’s earthy and primal and often exists as something almost separate from the characters. Flowers spring from footsteps. And there is a flock of paper birds that swarm and cut and lead and protect in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I loved how unique the magic in this book was.
  2. The love you feel for the characters. Somehow Barnhill has written them in a way where you feel this deep sense of warmth and protectiveness and empathy for them. Xan, the witch, is getting older and she desperately wants to impart all of her knowledge that she can to her granddaughter, who she’s named Luna. But that same spell that protects her makes it so that she can’t get through to her. And you keep hoping that Luna will discover who she is and maybe be reunited with the mother she was so brutally ripped away from. And all the people in the village - especially Antain and his wife - who are under the thumb of the Council of Elders. I just felt so much love for this characters.
  3. What this story has to say about truth and power. In this book, there are some who feed off of other people’s misery. Those who raise themselves by putting others below them, by controlling what stories get told, and by spinning lies. But - there comes a time when the people start to realize how much power they actually have when they band together to use it. Loved it.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon  is lush and quirky and whimsical and funny and full of adventure. And I can’t wait to read everything else Kelly Barnhill has ever written because this was one powerhouse of a book.

Freedom Over Me

      The first Newbery honor book announced was  Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan. Well, I was totally wrong when I predicted that a picture book would not be included this time. And I’ll admit that this gorgeous and powerful picture book slipped by me this year. When I got this book, one of the first things I noticed was the cover featuring the images of eleven enslaved black men, women and children whose faces appear in the links of circled chain. Wow. And then flipping open the book and skimming, my heart stopped when I noticed the prices under each face. $300, Stephen age 32. Or $400, Charlotte, age 30 and her child, Dora, age 8. Whew - I hadn’t even read the text yet and this book had struck me. Before I talk about the text, the illustrations are gorgeous bright yellows and purples and greens in a Van Gogh style where you can see the swirls and textures on the each page. And in the background of several of the pages are images of legal documents showing the sale of these people as property.   

       Okay - the text. Freedom Over Me is a book of poems - each one from the point of view of an enslaved man, woman, or child who live on the same plantation and are about to be sold. They share remembrances of their homes and childhood in Africa, their work on the plantation, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

      What’s fascinating is that the seeds of this book came from real slave-related documents that the author had acquired and his wish to honor the humanity of these people lost to history. It’s beautiful, and moving, and just stays with you a long time.

Also receiving a Newbery Honor this year was the incredible The Inquisitor’s Tale. Here’s what I had to say about this book back in Episode #10.

The Inquisitor’s Tale

Our final book featuring an abundance of surprising twists is The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. I have been texting, tweeting, and talking about this book so much in the past month that when I type the letter I into my phone, it automatically suggests “Inquisitor” as the first option. This novel is a medieval adventure story about three magical children (and a dog) who are pursued by various agents of the Inquisition. The first is a young girl named Jeanne (sort of like a young Joan of Arc) who has fits and sees visions. Then we meet the talkative and tall monk-in-training, William - an eleven year old whose unusual dark skin is likely the result of a relationship between his crusading father and a North African woman. Since this is 1242 France, his appearance and supernatural strength immediately have people seeing him as dangerously different. And finally, there’s little Jacob - a wise Jewish boy reeling from the recent death of his parents and just starting to realize his powers to heal others.  Eventually all three are both hailed and condemned as saints and have to outwit and outrun their pursuers. The story is so gorgeously detailed and interconnected that any description I give you of this novel is NOT going to do it justice. You just have to get it and read it yourself.  The fact is there are so so many big and little things I loved about this book, but I have committed to limiting myself to three.

  1. I have to start with the illustrations. Just like many real medieval texts had illuminations in the margins, The Inquisitor’s Tale includes dozens and dozens of intricate sketches by Hatem Aly. There is so much to explore there but I think what is most fascinating is the note at the beginning of the novel explaining that the drawings might actually contradict or question the text.
  2. That profound mix of humor, philosophy, and yes - savagery. There are gross jokes galore in this book. And I love how that is mixed in with deep philosophical and religious discussions between the children. At one point, Jacob asks that eternal question: Why would a good God let bad things happen?  This is a book about saints and at some point it dawns on the children that most saints are martyred. In high school, I worked evenings in the rectory (the office) at St. Cecelia’s church and during down times, I would read this dusty old copy of Lives of the Saints. And the stories in there were appallingly gruesome - and this novel doesn’t really shy away from the awfulness of that. But, it does give some hope that people with intensely different beliefs might still find a way to work together and be friends.
  3. The character twists! I don’t want to say too much and ruin it, so I’m really holding a lot back here, but all throughout this book, you meet the most vile, nastiest characters and then suddenly… it flips and one of the narrators helps you see their point of view. And even if they’ve still DONE terrible things, you have more empathy for them. Then you realize that one of the key characters that have been telling you this story - You. Can’t. Trust.  Ahhhh!  I LOVED it - this book had me gleefully yelling at the pages.

The Inquisitor’s Tale would make a fantastic read aloud, and I’ve heard the audio version is phenomenal. I think this novel is probably best suited for upper middle grade readers about ages 10-14 but I am sure any teen or adult who likes an historical adventure with some awesome fart jokes thrown in is going to really love it!

Wolf Hollow

     And finally,  the third Newbery honor book is one that you will not soon forget -  Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  I think just about every librarian I knew had this book in their hands at some point over the past year, and I finally started it last week and immediately knew I should have read it months ago. For some background, it’s an historical fiction set in 1943 rural Pennsylvania. And it’s about a 12 year old girl named Annabelle whose steady life gets derailed when this vicious, manipulative girl, Betty, arrives in town. She’s horrendous. You hate to speak ill of a child - even a fictional one, but - errr - she is clearly a sociopath or emotionally disturbed. The chain of lying that starts when this girl comes to town is tragic and yet - you could see it coming. I’ve got to say that I adored this book, but there were some times in the beginning that I had to put it down for bit when it got too intense. I can handle almost anything, but when kids are in danger - especially children the same age as my own - I have a bit of a tough time. There are these heart-rending moments when Annabelle is faced with moral dilemmas that would have adults cowering. And - it’s small but there’s this scene where Annabelle is in a clearing in the woods near her home and looking at this large stone with clear quartz veins running through it. And it suddenly hits her that this rock has been there long before her and everyone she knows and will be in the same place long after everyone is gone. And her life is nothing more than a flicker in time.  It’s that moment of cosmic realization that we all eventually go through. I’ll just read a small passage from that page:

“And I decided that there might be things I would never understand, no matter how hard I tried. Though try I would.

And that there would be people who would never hear my one small voice, no matter what I had to say.

But then a better thought occured, and this was the one I carried away with me that day: If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could.”

That’s the line that I’m carrying forward with me today, this week, and for a long, long time.

Closing

Thank you so very much for taking the time to join me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And lots of other fantastic resources to lighten your heart and connect the children in your life to books they’ll love.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Jan 30 2017

17mins

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Rank #17: #39 - (Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2017

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Hey everyone! This is Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom of two daughters, and ridiculously excited about the new twinkle lights on my Christmas tree this year.  Sometimes - you have to take joy in the small things.

This is Episode #39 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2017.

And today’s episode is brought to you by WriteAbout.com - a writing community and publishing platform perfect for classrooms. If you are like me and are looking for an engaging and authentic way for your students to share their ideas with a wider audience, you are absolutely going to want to visit WriteAbout.com to check it out.   

Main Topic - The Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2017 This year has been another strong reading year for me so far. I read a lot more picture books thanks to participating in #ClassroomBookaDay but I still kept up with my middle grade reads. And as I look at my book list and genre tracker, I notice I read fewer fantasy books compared to last year and way more graphic novels thanks to the CYBILS. And also my plans to boost my nonfiction reading... failed. So this is an all fiction list.  And I decided to separate out the graphic novels this year since I read so many more of them so be on the lookout for another best of podcast very soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

So, last year at this time,  I read 75 total books including 60 middle grade books with  31 of those published in in 2016. And my top three books last year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot as my favorite read last year. (You can find that list here.)

This year (2017), as of December 20th - I have read 91 books, not including picture books. 79 of those were middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017.

A quick word before I begin. Picking JUST 20 was excruciating. And they are not necessarily the most “literary”. I read some beautifully written books this year, ones that are bound to get some top awards, but these are the ones I felt were both well-written and had that special spark that would appeal to young readers.  Even with that - I could easily share with you another 20 (or more!) fabulous books, but then we’d be here all night.

Alright here we go - these are my Top 20 middle grade novels of 2017:

  1. This Is Just A Test by Madelyn Rosenberg & Wendy Shang

This novel is about a boy named David who is preparing for his bar mitzvah while trying to please both his Chinese and Jewish grandmothers. (Not a small feat!)  Oh - and building a nuclear fallout shelter just in case things get out of hand with the Soviets. I loved this book because of its warmth and humor AND because it’s set in 1984. And I am all about that 80s nostalgia lately. (If you want to hear more about this book, check out episode 28 to hear an interview with Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Shang.)

  1. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

This book is about zany (and flexible!) 3rd grader Beatrice whose first day of school plans get derailed when her best friend, Lenny, shows up to school NOT wearing the matching ninja outfit they both agreed on. AND Lenny shows up with a new friend. I loved this book for it’s playful language, fun orange-tinted illustrations, and Beatrice’s great attitude. And since I have my own ninja-clad wall-climbing 8 year old gal at home, I have a special place in my heart for Beatrice.

  1. Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner

Speaking of playful books - what is not to love about a robot that blasts cubes out of its butt? But don’t be fooled by the humor - this is one smart book that celebrates the engineering spirit. It’s about a kid named Kennedy who discovers a mysterious box on his front step that assembles itself into a rather demanding robot. And Kennedy and the rest of his enginerd friends have to figure out how to contain this band of rogue robots who have escaped into their town.  Last week I had the honor of chatting with Jarrett Lerner  about Enginerds - and lots of other things - so watch for that episode in January!

  1. A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins

This debut middle grade book by Carter Higgins is about Derby Clark who, along with her dad and younger brother, travel around in their Rambler car, selling Christmas trees in the winter. And hot chocolate and gingersnaps and cinnamon sugar donuts out of an old concession stand trailer. In the summers, they make their home in Ridge Creek, Virginia where they set up their concession stand in the parking lot of a minor league baseball team. But this year when they arrive - Derby discovers that her minor league family is different - with mysteries to solve, people to help, and wrongs to make right. This is ones of those books with characters that stay in your heart - and for me, reading so so many books - it’s a rare find when they’re this memorable.

  1. A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

One of my great reading pleasures this year was getting to know the sweet and quirky Bixby Alexander Tam - or BAT for short. And I was excited to hear that there is at least one more book coming!  In this first one, Bat’s mother, who is a Vet, brings home an orphaned baby skunk to take care of and all Bat can think about is how to find a way to prove his responsibility and get to keep him. This book is adorable and poignant and a great fit for younger middle grade readers.

  1. Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

This incredible adventure is like Lord of the Flies meets Holes with a hint of The Ethan I Was Before.  It’s about a kid named Jonathan who has been sent to an island prison for kids for a crime he admits to committing but does not reveal until the end. On the island he encounters this tough group of 14 misfit boys - all imprisoned on this Alcatraz-type reformatory school for their crimes. Then suddenly, an incident occurs and the adults are all gone and the boys have to figure out what to do. If this one passed you by this year - definitely check it out! It’s got adventure and cool literary references and secret tunnels and oh it keeps you turning those pages!!

  1. Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

This is Lauren Wolk’s second novel after her 2017 Newbery Honor book Wolf Hollow. And oh is this a masterful follow up! And one of those books that had me constantly pausing to research the historical details referenced.  Beyond the Bright Sea is about a young girl called Crow who as an infant washed ashore in an old boat on one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. Other than the reclusive fisherman who is raising her, the other people on the island shun her because they think she came from Penikese Island - the nearby leper colony. When one night Crow spots a campfire on that supposedly abandoned island, she decides to find out for herself what answers that place may hold. This book enveloped me in that world and was full of surprises.

  1. Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

This incredible, important, and beautifully written historical fiction novel takes place in rural Mississippi in the summer of 1955 right after the brutal murder of Emmett Till. That event and its aftermath has shifted the world of the main character -  Rose Lee Carter, her family, and her community.  But this isn’t just a Civil Rights story but the story of young girl dealing with self-doubt and family complications, and trying to decide how to balance making a better life for herself and making a better world for everyone to live in.

And in a society that is asking us all to make those same calculations and bringing to light prejudices that some thought were on their way out, this is must read to understand our country and ourselves. I’d probably recommend this one for maybe ages 12 and up or perhaps a little younger with the understanding that the n-word is used. So some readers might need some context for that  - which would be a fantastic opportunity for much-needed conversation. And the sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, is coming out on January 2nd - a perfect time to read or reread the first book and have the second one ready to go!

  1. Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

This is a novel told in alternating chapters of prose and poetry. The poetry sections are told from the point of view of Calli who is smart, sensitive, and into astronomy. She also has Tourette syndrome (TS) and was advised by her doctor and mom to hide that fact from people. But since she’s just moved to Utah with her mom, Calli is in this stressful position of starting a new school and trying to mask her tics and noises. The other chapters are from the point of view of her classmate and neighbor Jinsong. He is the student body president and the two of them form a fragile friendship that seems like it might be doomed when his friends start to target her. I adored this book and I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover (but we all do) - and Forget Me Not has such a gorgeous and meaningful cover. Kudos to Anna Booth for the cover design.

  1. Funny Girl edited by Betsy Bird

This collection of short stories is truly laugh-out-loud hilarious. Every one is written by women and about experiences young girls in particular can relate to. But - the boys in my class are loving this book, too!  It’s a great mix of personal narratives, poetry, comics, quizzes, and all kinds of cool formats. Some of my favorites are “One Hot Mess by Carmon Agra Deedy, “Bad Hair Day” by Kelly DiPucchio and “Brown Girl Pop Quiz” by Mitali Perkins. You really can’t go wrong with this book. And if you want to hear more about it, check out my interview with Betsy Bird on episode 32.

  1. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

This is a lovely and heartfelt story about a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina, who is trying to navigate the complicated tides of middle school friendship where old friends are changing and old adversaries might be changing, too. Amina also has to deal with her rather traditional and more religiously strict uncle visiting their family and figuring out for herself how to express her beliefs and culture and voice in a way that feels right to her. This was Hena Khan’s debut middle grade, and I’m excited to see what else she has in store for us.

  1. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

This book has taken my class by storm!  I read it in one weekend and loved how much it creeped me the heck out. Every sentence - every detail in that first chapter ratchets up the tension as Tessa arrives at her new (possible haunted?) home in Chicago where things start to disappear, and mysterious figures are drawn in her sketchpad, and her brother’s ventriloquist dummy is… acting strangely.  And I haven’t even told you about the cemetery part yet!! If you have young kids who love a scary mystery - get this book in their hands!

  1. Patina by Jason Reynolds

This is Book 2 in the Track series and the follow up to Ghost. Here we the story of Patina “Patty” Jones - one of the new and fastest kids on the Defenders Track team. A girl who is running away from a lot - the taunts of the girls at her fancy new school. But also a girl who is running for a lot - for her mom who lost her legs to diabetes and won’t ever run again. And those stresses can sometimes manifest themselves in what looks like a bad attitude toward others and her teammates. So of course, her coach challenges her to run the event that requires the most cooperation - the relay.  It’s a rare sequel captures my heart as much as the first book but this one absolutely did it. And that first chapter about false starts and false finishes is one that has stayed on my mind a lot this year.

  1. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Did we have any doubt that this book would be wonderful? I have loved seeing how much my students are enjoyed this story about a brave and wise tree named Red and its loyal band of oddly-named tenants. The more subtle themes of immigration and racism take some coaxing and explaining and rereading to bring forth for them, but the the ideas about friendship are at the forefront of their minds. In a time when we all could use a dose of empathy and hope, Wishtree is the book we need.

  1. The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

I really fell hard for this story about a Mexican-American girl reluctantly moving to Chicago with her mom and trying to both fit in and stand out and figure out who she is and what’s worth standing up for. Her fashion choices put her at odds with both her new school and her mother who wishes she could be more “senorita” and less punk rock. But the oh how I loved Malú and her parents and her friends, and I just wanted to go hang out with them in Chicago coffee shops and record stores. And the many zine sections in this book add a uniqueness that makes this book really stand out. (If you want to hear more about The First Rule of Punk, check out episode 33 to hear an interview with Celia.)

  1. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling This is a book that I came a little late to but when just about every single one of my middle grade Twitter friends are raving about a book, you know it’s something special. And they were right! And I’ll be honest with you - the moment I was sold on this book was the moment I took off the cover and saw the glorious undies - the cover underneath. But - I should tell you about the plot, too - right? This is a mystery centered around Aven - a girl with a fabulous (and sorta sick) sense of humor who likes to tell people that she lost her arms in a wildfire or an alligator attack. In reality, she was born without them and due to her adoptive parents’ vigilance - she can do just about anything that any other kid can do. But - when they all move so her parents can take over running the Stagecoach Pass theme park, Aven has to start a new school and deal with all that entails. Along the way, she meets a couple other “outcasts” who help her start to solve a major mystery at Stagecoach Pass. I loved this book because of how funny it was and how much research the author did to tell Aven’s story.
  2. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

I wish I had the guts that this main character has. But - she doesn’t start off so confident. Amy Anne is a shy, sweet fourth grader who loves the library, who loves to read, and who loves From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s her favorite book - and one of my childhood favorites, too. But - when her favorite is banned from the school library - along with more and more books, she forms a secret banned book library that she runs out of her locker. Until…. well, I won’t tell you but it’s fantastic! With twists along the way, references to so many other books, and a special (cameo?) by Dav Pilkey who visits her school. Please get this book and has a great message that might be different than what you think.

  1. Posted by John David Anderson

As I’ve mentioned before, when you get a new book by an author whose previous work blew you away (Ms. Bixby’s Last Day), you’re almost expecting to be let down.But Posted is incredible. It’s the story of four middle school friends whose equilibrium is shifted when two things happen. One - a new girl comes to school (Rose) and some of them want her in their group and some don’t. Two - cell phones have been banned due to a recent ‘incident” and one of the four main friends, DeeDee, inadvertently starts a trend of posting sticky notes on lockers to communicate instead. Those two catalysts jump start this series of events that lead to a bike. And a hill. And a post-it. And so much more that threatens to fracture their friendship forever. I loved this book and how the author structured it - how it brought forward past information in a flashback but then withheld the next step and then brought everything together at the end. It just was so well crafted.  

  1. Refugee by Alan Gratz

This book was the most powerful, most emotional I read all year. And I’ll admit that it left me a bit of a mess, and there were times I needed to pause. But how Alan Gratz braided the three stories of Josef and Isobel and Mahmoud together was brilliant and beautiful and raw.  Bringing forward one strand and then another and another, binding them together.  The three stories are - Josef a young Jewish boy, who is traveling with his family from 1930s Germany to Cuba on the infamous ship called the St. Louis. Then there is Isobel and her family who are traveling on a tiny makeshift raft from 1980s Cuba to Florida. And finally Mahmoud and his family who are making their way from war-torn Syria in 2015 to Austria. Since I read this book last summer, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where I haven’t thought of the courage and resilience of these characters and their brave parents in the face of the harshest realities. And… you know, it’s easy to be judgemental when reading about tragedies from the past, thinking to yourself, “Well, I would have done things differently - I would have stood up for those refugees.”  We often talk about books that encourage empathy - well, to me, this book helped me move beyond just empathy to some action. And if you’re looking to do more as well, please read Gratz’s suggestions at the end of the book about how you can help refugees around the world today. And I’ll link to those resources in the show notes if you want to check those out as well. (Alan recommends donating to UNICEF and Save the Children.)    

  1. Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

If you have spent any time with me over the past year, you have heard about this book. And if you’ve read it, I’ve probably cornered you for a long conversation to compare theories. And because I can’t stop thinking about it and talking about, and dwelling in the glorious uncertainty of it - my favorite book of 2017 is Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder!  On this mysterious eden-like island there live nine children - no more and no less. And every year when the green boat arrives bearing a new young arrival, the eldest child goes. This year, Jinny is now the Eldest and charged with teaching her young Care, Ess, all the rules she needs to follow to survive on the island and maintain that balance. But…  but.  This is a beautiful and compelling novel about goodbyes and childhood and innocence, and so so much more. I was really honored have the chance to chat with Laurel Snyder on the podcast last May when this book was released and if you want in on that conversation, take a listen to episode 25.

Alright there it is. And this list, just like any other, is flawed. It reflects my own preferences and biases and I know there is just no possible way that I could read all the fabulousness in middle grade that was published in 2017. So there will be some of your favorites that I missed. In fact, one of my loves of last year - The Girl Who Drank the Moon - you know, the winner of the Newbery - wasn’t even on my 2016 list.  Because I didn’t finish it until after the episode aired.

Right now, I am almost finished with The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish and the audio version of Jack Cheng’s See You in the Cosmos and both are turning out to be incredible! So a quick shout out to some 2017 middle grade releases that are on my To Be Read list:

Top Want to Read Books from 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Bradley (but first I need to read The War Saved My Life)

Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams Garcia

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Annnd…. lots more that I know I’m missing! So - I want to hear from YOU - what were your favorite 2017 reads and which ones should I prioritize in the new year? You can drop me an email at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram with the handle @Books_Between.

Closing

Alright, that’s a wrap! Look for our next episode featuring the top middle grade graphic novels of 2017.

And, If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to WriteAbout.com for supporting the podcast this month - if you head over to their website you’ll find awesome ideas to get your students writing this year.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

Dec 29 2017

27mins

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Rank #18: #17 - March Book Madness

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Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, a college basketball fan, and a lover of all things science. Coming from my dad’s side, I grew up on a steady diet of Syracuse games and highlighted brackets scattered all over the house every spring. And on my mom’s side, I grew up with a steady diet of David Attenborough documentaries and trips to just about every planetarium and nature center in the state.

This is Episode #17 and today I’m chatting with you about March Book Madness and featuring twelve fabulous books about science and scientists.

Main Topic - March Book Madness

It is almost that magical time of year when a little March basketball mayhem can be harnessed into a fun competition that celebrates children’s literature. Of all the book related activities that I tried with my students last year, participating in March Book Madness was by far the most engaging thing we did. My 5th graders loved it, the students across the hall were talking about it, the teachers walking by our class were making predictions - it was fantastic. It got kids reading and promoting books to each other. And mostly - it was just fun.

So today, I’ll discuss three things: what is it, how can I participate, and where can I get resources and more info? A quick heads up before I begin - as always, I have your back and every resource and website I mention will be linked in the show notes and on AlltheWonders.com.

What is March Book Madness?

March Book Madness is a bracket-type tournament modeled after the NCAA tournament where you have books going head-to-head to see which one will advance to the next round. Typically, you start with 16 books and then week by week narrow them down to the final match-up. Usually the brackets are created with a big display in a classroom, hallway, or library. I think a public place is best so you really create that community buzz about the books.

For each round, you have students vote on each match up to determine which book makes it to the next round. Last year, I had a meeting with my class to determine which books to start with. They each had their reading journals in their lap and we hashed out the top 16 books that most of the class had read. Our picks last year were: The One and Only Ivan, The Honest Truth, I Funny, Big Nate, Hatchet, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, Home of the Brave, Auggie & Me, The Crossover, The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Flying Solo, El Deafo, Wonder, and Sunny Side Up. Generally if a lot of books in a series were recommended, we just put in the first book to represent all of them.

Before we got going, I had every student fill out a bracket to predict who would win and the kid with the most points for each round would get a free book from our next Scholastic order. Once we got going, we voted via a Google form and my rules were that in order to vote on a match-up, you had to have read BOTH books. So - that really got students reading books that they might not have picked up themselves so they could participate and vote for their favorites, too.  But - you can handle that however you think is best. Last year in our class, The Crossover narrowly beat out The Honest Truth. And I can’t wait to see what they pick this year.

How Can I Participate?

It’s easy, hardly any supplies are necessary so it’s an activity with lots of bang for your buck. So - option 1 - poll your class and decide on your 16 starting books that way. Or, option 2 - participate in the 2017 March Book Madness already set up online by the amazing Tony Keefer and Scott Jones. If you head over to marchbookmadness.weebly.com these two 5th grade teachers from Central Ohio have set up this awesome website with three different tournaments you can join - Picture Book, Middle Grade Novel, or YA.  I think my class will be doing their Picture Book  tournament this year as well doing our own middle grade one. They conduct voting through Google forms also and you can have students vote individually or submit your choices as a class. There’s really no wrong way to do it, as long as you and your kids are having fun and talking up books. Also on their site, they have printable forms for each bracket showing the covers of the books AND for the Middle Grade books - there are book trailers for each one. That’s a great resource any time of year!  If you decide to join in with them, the voting there starts on March 1st, 2017. So if you are interested, head over to that site and check it out. Their sweet sixteen books this year are: Roller Girl vs. Counting by 7s, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library vs. Sisters, Brown Girl Dreaming vs. The Honest Truth, Echo vs. A Night Divided, The War That Saved My Life vs. Booked, Fish in a Tree vs. Pax, The Fourteenth Goldfish vs. El Deafo, and Absolutely Almost vs. Crenshaw. Whoa - some tough match-ups this year.

Resources

Okay - once you decide which books you are starting with, the next step is to gather a few resources and make a display. I’m going to offer you some advice - keep it simple and use the free resources already out there to save yourself some time. Last year I found a free download from Catherine Reed of The Brown Bag Teacher that looked great. (I’ll link to that resource in the shownotes.) And then I made some quick orange paper basketballs with white letters on them saying Tournament of Books and printed off the covers of our 16 starting titles, So then I was ready to set up our brackets in the hallway. I ended up using black electrical tape for the lines connecting our brackets and that worked out great.  I really do recommend you put your bracket in a public spot and not just in your classroom. I promise you - kids, teachers, parents - everyone will be talking about it. And if you are active on Twitter, join in by taking photos of your brackets and tweeting using the hashtag #2017MBM.

If you have done a book bracket before or are thinking of participating this year, I would love to see what you’ve got going on. You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between and if you have an engaging activity that gets kids reading and talking about books, I would really love to chat with you about it so please email me booksbetween@gmail.com.

Book Talk - Fabulous Science Books

It’s time for our book talk segment! In this section of the show, I share with you several books centered on a theme. This week, I am recording on Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12th, celebrated across the world as Darwin Day. It is a day to to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin. So today I am sharing with you 12 science themed books.

You know, science sometimes has this bad reputation somehow of being cold and distant and just about hard facts. But to me, science has always been a story. It’s personal and ever so important.

Science is about changing your ideas in the face of facts. It’s my grandmother helping my 16 year old self admit that, yeah… it wasn’t actually a raven I saw in our backyard and just a big crow.

Science is exploring and observing every bit of the world around us. It’s my grandfather taking my 7 year-old self on a nature walk and showing me four decades worth of wildflowers he’d picked and tucked between the pages of his Peterson field guide.

Science is tackling the most challenging problems our society faces. It’s my Uncle Tim, taking my 12 year-old self on a tour of of his lab at the Harvard Brain Bank, gently placing a brain in my hands, and explaining how his team is trying to understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease.

Science is about instilling awe and wonder and always encouraging that “Why?” question. It’s my mom driving my 9 year-old self out to some cold, dark field to see Haley’s comet or dragging my cranky 13 year-old self out to Howe’s Caverns and Niagara Falls to see for my own eyes what the power of time and erosion could do.

And yeah - I didn’t appreciate all that nearly enough at the time, but… like that slow drip that eventually ends up as a stalagmite, all those experiences add up to a life filled with wonder and questioning and then seeking out books that would feed that curiosity.

So, science is deeply, deeply important to me. And every year, I’m disappointed in myself that I don’t spend as much time as I really want in our class studying and doing science. Those of you that teach all subjects in an elementary class like I do, can maybe understand how that sometimes frantic focus on Reading, and Writing, and Math can often edge out science and social studies, even why you try to blend them together. So, if there is ever a way we can bring more science into our classrooms, our libraries, our homes, let’s do it. Because our kids, our society, need those stories right now.

Okay - I’m getting too emotional. On to the books! This week I was helped by our incredible Twitter community who weighed in on my request for favorite science books. We got a lot of great suggestions today so I am featuring 12 terrific books with a science theme.

So, let’s start with some fiction, and I’ll save the nonfiction until the end.

Fiction

A quick note - I have numbered them to make it easier to keep track of, but that doesn’t mean they are ranked. Every single one is a winner.

  1. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

This is a murder mystery that takes place on the moon. It’s funny and fresh and a clever speculation about the future of NASA and life in space. If you know a kid who loves astronauts and maybe loved the movie The Martian, this would be a great book for them. And the second one in the series, Spaced Out, was just released last year.

  1. Hoot by Carl Hiassen

I’ve always felt that between about 9 and 12 is when kids start to get more socially conscious. I remember for me that’s when I started harassing my parents about recycling although my dad would tell you that I still left every single light in the house on. And Carl Hiasson’s books are the perfect kindling for that fire. If you know a child who is into environmental science and climate change and standing up to the forces trying to put money ahead of our future, then Hoot is the perfect book. And then they can check out Hiasson’s other eco-thrillers Chomp and Flush and Scat.

  1. The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

The girl in this story, Madeline, is one of those kids that you can just see winning a Nobel and being the next Marie Curie. She is immersed in science, from her parents, her beloved grandfather who recently passed away, and even is the subject of her own self-study of a rare genetic disease that she and her sister are both grappling with. But, this is a middle school story so friendships are a focus. And when Madeline takes that analytical mindset and starts writing down her observations and developing Standard Operating Procedures for her life and friends, you can only imagine where things start to go. It’s a great read.

  1.  When I put out a call for favorite science themed books, dozens of people recommended The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This is a first person story told by Suzy - a girl whose world is shaken by the drowning of her friend. And the idea that “sometimes things just happen” is simply not acceptable to her so she sets off to attempt to figure out what really happened. She has this theory that her friend was stung by a rare jellyfish and so interwoven through the story are these fascinating facts about the ocean and jellyfish. Fabulous, fabulous book.

  1. Keeping with our aquatic theme, another favorite science themed novel is The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. This book is full of wit and wonder and a celebration of science. It’s about Ellie and her young grandfather, Melvin, who draws her into his research. Inspired, she and the reader learn about Oppenheimer, Curie, Salk, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur and how science is like a love story involving people and possibility.

  1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Oh how I loved this book! It’s set in rural Texas in 1899 and is the story of an 11 year old girl growing up in a well-to-do family with six brothers. As the only girl, she has a lot of expectations set on her by her mother. And her time and even her body are beginning to be constrained by things like corsets, and cooking, and needlepoint. But Calpurnia is drawn to scientific expeditions with her cranky grandfather who secretly slips her a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species. A friend of mine who helps coordinate our local Darwin Day events listened to the audio of this book with her two sons and they absolutely loved it and the sequel. Plus - if you have younger kids, Jacqueline Kelly now has the Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series which are illustrated chapter books. So there’s lots to love here.

Okay - on to our six science themed nonfiction titles!

Nonfiction

  1. Science Comics Series published by First Second.

I have fallen head over heels for this series. There’s one on volcanoes, bats, dinosaurs, coral reefs, plague - awesome stuff! Each volume is 128 pages chock full of science, fabulous illustrations, and an exciting adventure story to keep your kids turning those pages.

  1. Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating

This book was probably mentioned the most by folks on Twitter. It is playful and gross and is one of those books that appeals to kids from kindergarten to middle school. It reminds me a tad of the book When Lunch Fights Back - with how it really pulls kids into the science with that “eww” factor. Look for Jess Keating’s new book, Shark Lady, when that comes out this June 2017. Also - if you haven’t done it yet - check out her Animals Are Awesome videos on YouTube. They’re two minute snippets of science. They are perfect to binge watch with your kids or get your students excited about some cool animals. My favorite is the Sparkly Bat Poop episode.

  1. A picture book called Star Stuff: Carl Sagan & Mystery of the Cosmos

Oh do I have a soft spot for all things Carl Sagan and Cosmos. This is a sweet and inspiring narrative biography formatted a bit like a graphic novel with panels and thought bubbles. It’s a great science book to kindle the spark of curiosity in your child and introduce them to an amazing scientist.

  1. A pair of books by Theodore Gray called Elements and Molecules

I love these books because kids get out of them whatever they’re ready for. At first, maybe it’s just the pictures. Then they start to read the descriptions and then notice the molecule diagrams on a reread. Plus - they are simply gorgeous to look at! Every page has this velvety black background with bright pictures of the elements and molecules. In the blurb on the back, Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters says that you feel like you’re holding a jewelry catalog. A great science book for a coffee table or tucked in the back seat of your car.

#5 What is Evolution? By Louise Spilsbury and Illustrated by Mike Gordon.

I first bumped into this book at our Scholastic Book fair last spring and immediately had to snag it for my students. Having a basic understanding of the concepts of evolution is so crucial to even start to understand the world around us. A book like this - presenting evolution in a fun, colorful, and quick way at 64 pages is a must for every classroom and library. This book is full of details about Darwin, and natural selection, and genetic mutations, but it’s also got funny pictures and lots of text features that keep it readable.

#6 Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

I have been hearing everyone rave about this book, but I didn’t appreciate its scope and beauty until my sister-in-law, Jackie, brought it to our family book club and I actually held it in my hands. The design and layout are outstanding. And I know I’m not going to do it justice, but I just want to describe it a little bit for you. So each of the 50 women are featured on a two page spread. Throughout the book, the background is consistently a deep coal color with a different featured color for each scientist - yellows and teals and oranges and pinks - it’s stunning. On the left is a large gorgeous drawing of each person at work with the various tools of their profession and one of her memorable quotes written across the bottom. On the right side is a one page description of her life and accomplishments with smaller sketches in the margins illustrating those moments. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is and not just the sketches but the stories of those groundbreaking women who fought against those forces trying to hold them back and nevertheless persisted. Absolutely pick it up!

Closing

Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And while you are there, check out Matthew’s interview with Raina Telgemeier - it’s one you won’t want to miss.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Book-Madness-A-Tournament-of-Books-1714992

http://brownbagteacher.com/book-madness-march-book-display/

http://www.allensteachingfiles.com/2016/03/march-book-madness.html

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC31PBmBfs_2ndHPLd9fkjZw/videos

Feb 13 2017

21mins

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Rank #19: #69 - Novels About Loss and Hope & Special Guest Laura Shovan (Takedown)

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher of 21, a mom of two, and enjoying the last few hours of our Winter Break here in Central New York. We’ve had ice storms then sun and lots of time to read.

This is episode #69 and Today I’m discussing four excellent middle grade novels that deal with grief and loss. And I’m also sharing with you a conversation I had with Laura Shovan about her latest book Takedown.

Book Talk - Four Novels About Loss and Hope

In this segment, I share with you a selection of books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. I happened to read these four books back-to-back without realizing how profoundly connected they were. They have completely different plots and one is even sci/fi / speculative fiction - but each novel features a main character who is dealing with loss in one form or another. In two of the novels, that loss is the death of a parent. And in two of the novels, that loss includes a parent dealing with mental illness and trauma themselves. A loss of another - a loss of what was once considered normal life.  The books this week are: The Science of Breakable Things, The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole, The Simple Art of Flying, and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

The Science of Breakable Things

The first book I want to share with you and one that I hope makes its way into your collection is Tae Keller’s debut novel The Science of Breakable Things. The lead in this story is 7th grader Natalie who’s life has been turned upside down as she and her father are learning how to navigate her mother’s depression - the “situation” as her dad calls it that has her mom holed up in her bedroom and not able to cook, work, or keep up any of the routines and traditions that had kept their family together. At the beginning of the school year, Natalie’s science teacher has challenged them all to use the power of the scientific method to explore a question that intrigues you and study it with all your heart. Well - the question that tugs at Natalie’s heart?  How can I inspire my mother to break out of her depression? And along the way Natalie teams up with Twig (her exuberant best friend) and Dari (their new serious lab partner) to enter an egg-drop contest hoping to use the prize money for a scheme to jumpstart her mother out of her depression. Here are three things to love about Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakable Things:

  1. How the story is laid out with the steps of the Scientific Method! Step One: Observe, Step Two: Question, Step Three: Investigative Research and so on.  It’s a clever way to structure the story and have you predicting what those Results will be!
  2. The illustrations and footnotes! Oh am I such a sucker for a good footnote - especially funny ones and this novel has over fifty of these little gems!
  3. Natalie’s visits with her therapist, Dr. Doris - and Natalie’s resistance to falling for her “Therapist Tricks” and Natalie’s eventual shift to being more open with her. I think a lot of kids will be able relate to those begrudging trips to a counselor, and I hope some other children might see a glimpse into the help a therapist can offer.

There is so much more to this book than just those things - like Natalie’s relationship with her Korean grandmother and her growning interest in their shared culture and the break-down of her relationship with her friend Mikayala. Here is one of my favorite quotes - one that captures the blend of science and hope in this book. This is from a section right after Natalie, Twig, and Dari have been experimenting with magnets. “It’s funny how the cold magnets actually worked best. It’s like how perennial plants seem to die in the winter but really, they’re just waiting till everything is all right again. Maybe it’s not such a surprise that there’s strength in the cold. Maybe sometimes the strongest thing of all is knowing that one day you’ll be alright again, and waiting and waiting until you can come out into the sun.”

For kids who are waiting for those in their lives to come out into the sun, The Science of Breakable Things is a fabulous book to offer.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

Our next book today is The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas - author of several picture books and the middle grade Confessions of an Imaginary Friend which I now must pick up immediately! The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is one of those books that I kept bumping into. I’d see it on display at the library, friends kept raving about it, it popped up on my “Related to Items You Viewed” on Amazon. It’s like it was stalking me. Like, in a nice, bookish way. The way where all the the forces of the universe seem to nudge you to read something. And well - the forces of the universe were right about this quirky, moving, wonderfully weird little book. It’s about eleven-year-old Stella Diaz whose father has recently died. Together they shared a love of science - and silly jokes. But remembering him after his death has become painful. In the first pages of the book, she decides to give NASA the only recording of her father’s laugh - to put on the Golden Record headed out on the Voyager spacecraft. Instead, a black hole follows her home and it becomes Stella’s pet - consuming everything it touches. And at first, Stella is happy to toss in those things that cause her annoyance (Brussel Sprouts) or cause her painful memories (like the recording of her father).  And then the black hole devours her 5-year-old brother, Cosmo, and Stella has to venture inside that darkness to save him and confront all the other things she’d tossed inside. I loved this book - and here are three (of many!) reasons why:

  1. It’s hilarious! Like - Stella names the black hole “Larry” - short for “Singularity” and the scenes with the smelly classroom hamster Stinky Stu. And the Dog With No Name. And all the things that Larry gets up to when he gets loose in the neighborhood! Yes - this novel is about loss and grief and there are times when you’re probably going to cry. But to me, that edge between laughing and tears is a powerful place. And this book does it so well.
  2. The clever use of black and white pages - and Stella’s Captain Log documenting her journey in the black hole.
  3. Lines like this one: “It's like the stars in our constellations that we made," you said. "Even if one star dies far, far away, its light is still visible, and the constellation it helped to make remains. A thing can be gone and still be your guide."

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is charming, gorgeously written - and funnier than you’d ever think. If you have kids who like science, who like funny books, who are up for something unique - then this is a novel they’ll love. And if you have a child learning how to grapple with their black hole - this might be the book they need.

The Simple Art of Flying

Another fantastic book that was just released this past week is The Simple Art of Flying by debut author Cory Leonardo. It’s about a young cherry-loving African Grey parrot, Alastair, who was born in the back room of a pet shop - along with his sister, Aggie. Alastair is...grumpy, suspicious, stubborn, and intensly loyal to his sister - and set on finding a way for them both to escape together to a land of blue skies and palm trees.  But that dream gets a lot harder to pull off when each of them are adopted by two different people. Alastair ends up with an elderly but very active widow named Albertina Plopky who organizes “Polka with Pets” events and writes letters to her deceased husband. And Aggie is bought by 12-year-old-Fritz, an attentive, sweet, and serious boy who is dealing with his own loses. So here are three things to love about Cory Leonardo’s The Simple Art of Flying:

  1. How this story is told from three different points of view and in three different formats which helps us triangulate what’s happening. Alastair’s sections are in prose and in poetry. He likes to chew on books with poetry being his favorite so has taken to creating his own versions of famous poems he’s read. Bertie’s sections are letters to her husband, Everett. And Fritz’s parts are a medical log.
  2. Alastair’s poetry!!! And… the chapter with the goldfish was unexpected and...brilliant!
  3. Bertie’s letter to Fritz at the end of the book - all about cherries and life and what to do on those days when it feels like everything is the pits.

The Simple Art of Flying is a gorgeously sweet book that’s a little bit like The One and Only Ivan with a touch of Because of Winn-Dixie.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Our final book this week is the latest from Dan Gemeinhart - who you may know from The Honest Truth, Good Dog, or Scar Island. His novels are perennial favorites in our class and guaranteed heart-tuggers - and The Remarkble Journey of Coyote Sunrise is, I think, my favorite of all. And that’s saying something - every one of his books are incredible!  This story starts at a hot gas station where our main girl, called Coyote, walks in alone - and leaves with a watermelon slushie and a white and gray striped fluff of a kitten. A kitten she has to hide from her father - the man she only refers to as Rodeo. Five years ago Coyote’s mother and sisters were killed in an accident and since then she and her father have left behind their home, their memories (or any talk of them) and have been living in an old converted school bus traveling the country. And never ever looking back. But during Coyote’s weekly phone call to her grandmother back in Washington State, Coyote learns something that launches her on a secret mission to get the bus headed back home (without Rodeo realizing it!) so she can keep a promise. On her journey there are mishaps and new travelers joining them and more secrets revealed. There are so many reasons to love this book there’s no way to list them all, but here are three:

  1. Coyote. This girl has so much charm and love and generosity wrapped around a core of pain and hurt. She’s gentle with her father - even when he doesn’t deserve it. She names her cat Ivan from The One and Only Ivan.  She reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables books. You just want to ber her friend.
  2. Coyote’s friendship with Salvador - a boy who ends up on the bus with them with his mother. I love how they gently push each other in a better direction. And Coyote does something for Salvador that is one of the kindest, sweetest, gestures.
  3. Rodeo. Here’s how Coyote describes him. “That man is hopeless. He is wild and broken and beautiful and hanging on by a thread, but it’s a heckuva thread and he’s holding it tight with both hands and his heart.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise was a book that shredded my heart and then somehow stitched it back together stonger than before. I think it’s Gemeinhart’s best yet.

Laura Shovan - Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Laura Shovan - author of the novel in verse The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary and her most recent middle grade book - Takedown. This conversation actually took place last summer but due to some techinical difficulties on my end, it took me until now to bring it to you.  But, it was worth the wait. Laura and I chat about the inspiration behind her novel, the world of girls’ wrestling, donuts, bullet journaling, among lots of other things. And don’t forget that when you are done reading the book and you want to hear Laura and I discuss the ending of Takedown, just wait until the end of the show after the credits and that bonus section will be waiting for you.

Take a listen…

Takedown

Your new middle grade novel, Takedown, was just released this past June - can you tell us a bit about it?

I love books that immerse me in a subculture!  Like Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish - I was so fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process. I’ve heard you mention that your son wrestled and that close knowledge of the sport clearly comes through.  When did you know you wanted to bring wrestling into a story and did you do any extra research to bring this story to life?

There were so many small moments in the book that highlight what a “boys’ club” the wrestling world is - all the trophies have boys at the top of them, all the refs at all the tournaments (including the girls wrestling tournament) are men - and even Mickey’s supportive coach uses gendered languages and calls the team “guys” and “boys.”  At some point it occured to me… yes, this book is about wrestling, but maybe it might help kids see how male-focused other aspects of the world are?

One of the aspects that I really connect to was the Delgado family dynamics of Mickey and her older brothers Cody and Evan. And how their relationship with each other changed when the oldest, Evan, wasn’t around.

I’m coming to realize that dual perspective novels are some of my favorites. And you were masterful at those subtle time shifts to build that suspense!  What was your process like to make Mickey’s voice distinct from Lev’s?

You deserve a donut for this amazing book!  What’s your favorite?

So, as a fellow bullet journaler, did I see that you offer bullet journaling CLASSES?

Your Writing Life

How was writing Takedown different than writing The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Before you go - you posted a video of you calling your reps last year. I just want to say thank you for inspiring me to make those phone calls and to keep calling….

Thank You!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Laura and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 52:38 mark.

Links:

Laura’s website - https://laurashovan.com

Laura on Twitter

Wrestle Like A Girl

Dough Donuts

Laura Shovan on Bullet Journaling

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

A Child’s Garden of Verses (Robert Louis Stevensen)

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

The Warriors Series (Erin Hunter)

Howard Wallace: Sabotage Stage Left (Casey Lyall)

Drawn Together (Minh Lê and Dan Santat)

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Sy Montgomery)

Giants Beware!, Dragons Beware! and Monsters Beware! (Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado)

The Colors of the Rain (R.L.Toalson)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Feb 25 2019

1hr 5mins

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Rank #20: #12 - Great Gifts for Middle Grade Readers

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Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom of two, battling a sore throat, but excited that I finally got to see the Fantastic Beasts movie last weekend! I gotta say - Jacob & Queenie were the best part for me.

This is Episode #12 and today we’re talking about gift ideas for middle grade readers, three novels with incredibly brave protagonists, and I’ll answer a listener’s question about keeping kids engaged when you read out loud.

Main Topic - Gifts Ideas for Middle Grade Readers

December is here and for many, December brings holidays that involve gift-giving. So if you have a child between the ages of about 8 and 12 on your list this year, I have some bookish ideas for you.

My first suggestion is, whenever possible, ask the child what they’d like that would be book related. And gift cards to local bookstores are always perfect as well so they can pick something they will love themselves. A friend of mine follows the philosophy of limiting holiday gifts to four categories: Want, Need, Wear, and Read. He gives each of his children a piece of paper divided into four sections and they list some items they want, some things they really need, some ideas of what they’d like to wear, and a list of things they want to read. Want, Need, Wear, Read. I really like that idea of giving children a focus, and of course the emphasis it places on reading.

But - if you’re not sure what books they’d like or you want to surprise them, here are four suggestions for you.

#1 - Try a biography that is connected to their hobbies or interests. For example, if they like art, you could get them the Who Was Frida Kahlo? Biography. (I haven’t read that one myself, but if my daughter sneak reading it under her blankets with a flashlight is any recommendation for you - it seems pretty good!)  If they are into sports, a really great collection of real-life stories is Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars. If you have a young dancer if your life, definitely get them the new Misty Copeland biography called Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. That one is brand new and out December 6th.  For the science-loving tweens and teens on your list, Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science is awesome! Who can resist a book with “gruesome” in the title?

#2 - Build on a book they already like. For example, you could get a Diary of a Wimpy Kid calendar or one of the many fantastic Harry Potter coloring books. My girls loved those when we were listening to the audio books.  You can also get their favorite book as a charm to put on a bracelet or necklace. I’ll link to that Etsy shop in the show notes. Another idea is to get them the audio version of a favorite book so they can experience the performance of that story. And hey - maybe even get them their own Audible account.

#3 - Pair a book with another gift so you build on the excitement. What I mean by that is if you give your nephew a LEGO kit, also get him the bold and colorful book 365 Things to Do with LEGO Bricks. If you get your daughter a science kit, include a biography of Marie Curie as some inspiration. You might pair an apron and set of cookie cutters with Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!). If you are getting your child a telescope, maybe add a copy of The Everything Kids’ Astronomy Book. A hot gift for my 9 year old lately are those fashion kits where she can make her own headbands and bracelets - you know, the stuff that leaves beads scattered all over your house! But - a great book to pair with a present like that is The Fashion Book by DK Publishing. It connects historical trends with modern fashion - it’s pretty cool. That’s one of those books that I want to buy for my kids so I can read it, too.

#4 - Get them a Mail Order Mystery. Now - I want to say upfront that I have no connection to this company. They are not paying me. I simply saw their ad online, got it for my girls as something fun to do over the summer, and it was great. Every week for about six weeks, my daughters got personalized wax-sealed letters describing the mystery they had to solve, artifacts connected to the story, riddles, and a code to crack that my whole family was working on together. It was so much fun - for all of us! The final package included a book that tied everything together.  And if you have more than one child - no worries - they can share it and work together and the company will include all their names on the personalized items. So here’s how it works. You go to MailOrderMystery.com and pick one of three mystery options. The first two are Treasure Hunt (which is a pirate adventure) and The Enchanted Slumber (which is the mystery we did and it was fairy tale themed). The new mystery, which was revealed in their newsletter last week is called Spies, Lies, and Serious Badguys and will feature a secret safe disguised as a book, a personalized secret agent ID card, invisible ink pen, and so much other cool stuff. So after you’ve decided which of those three mysteries you want, you pick who it’s for, and then you get to decide when it will start.  Also - if you are sometimes a last-minute shopper, this is a perfect quick gift. You just sign up online, print out a cool looking certificate to tuck in a card or roll up into a cool scroll, and BAM - awesome gift.   It’s really tailor made for kids between 8 and 12.

I hope you’ve gotten some fresh ideas for any middle grade reader on your list this year. And I would love to get your ideas and share them with everyone else!  You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’ll share your ideas, too!

Book Talk - Three Books Featuring Brave Girls

In this part of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I’m featuring three books with courageous female leads: Finding Perfect, Sticks & Stones, and Rain Reign.  

Finding Perfect

The first book this week is one that I have been wanting to share with you since  - jeesh, I think June! Finding Perfect is by debut author Elly Schwartz. And actually, I should clarify that - this is Schwartz’s first published novel but not the first she’s written. This novel doesn’t read like a first effort - it’s crafted like a novelist at the top of their game. Okay - I could keep gushing, but you probably want to know what the book is about. So a quick summary. Finding Perfect is about 12-year-old Molly Nathans who is always striving toward perfect. Perfectly sharpened pencils, perfectly crisp white paper, perfectly aligned glass figurines, and a perfectly safe and together family. And that last wish for family perfection is the one that seems to set her on a downward path when her Mom moves out and Molly spirals into her OCD.  So here are three things to love about Finding Perfect:

  1. Poetry  - Molly is a poet and one element of her story is how she participates in her middle school’s Poetry Slam Contest. She gets past the first round with an incredible poem that starts with the word “Sorry.” And as Molly’s compulsions toward organization and neatness start to take over her life and she feels herself unraveling - her writing starts to reflect that. It’s so powerful. Here’s a line from one of her poems:

“As time slips, it’s hard to hide

 To keep my crazy tucked inside.”

  1. Molly’s friends Hannah and Bridgett. Hannah is her best friend, cheering Molly on and waiting for her when Molly spends hours rearranging her room instead of meeting up like she promised. And Bridgette, who often says the wrong thing and is obsessed with obituaries. But - oh, when Molly finds out WHY Bridgette collects obituaries, she realizes that every person has something hidden. The thing is though that Hannah and Bridgette do NOT like each other.  And this book really captures that difficult dynamic when you have friends anchored to the same person and they have to find a way to get along.
  2. Finding Perfect fills an incredibly important niche in middle grade fiction. A book that tackles anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from the point of view of a kid. I love that this book is written in first person and we get to experience Molly’s challenges and dilemmas. She wants to be a good friend and go help Hannah with her bracelet business plan. But… she is compelled to straighten up her bedroom first - which starts to take longer and longer and longer until finally Molly does the brave thing and admits to herself that it’s a problem. I am not sure if the statistics really bear this out, but it does seem to me that I have more and more students every year who are trying to overcome some level of either anxiety or compulsion. This book would be perfect in their hands - and for anyone else who could use a look into another child’s experience to help them understand each other better.

Finding Perfect reminded me a bit of Raymie Nightingale and I have to give a shout out to the cover design. It is simply perfect - and has the BEST spine design I have ever seen.

Sticks & Stones

Book number two this week is Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper - another debut author who seems like she’s been around forever. This is the story of middle schooler, Elyse, who has this very unusual condition where the words that people say about her appear on her skin. It’s called, well, I can’t pronounce it - and honestly I don’t think Elyse can either. But it’s shortened, mercifully, to CAV. Now, I will say at first that the rational, scientific side of my brain had a hard time suspending disbelief about verbalized words getting etched into skin. BUT. Once I could shush that side, I just fell in love with this story and with Elyse. So, the main character has this condition, she’s starting middle school, her friendships are shifting (like they do in middle school), and with the encouragement from an anonymous person writing her mysterious notes, Elyse decides to be brave and go for this elite position in her school called Explorer Leader.

And in the midst of all this, her disorder takes a turn and it’s not just others’ words that are etched into her skin, but her own thoughts about herself start to appear on her arms and legs. How powerfully symbolic is that?

So, if you’re not sold already, here are three more reasons to love Sticks & Stones:

  1. Elyse’s notes to herself. Every month as part of an English assignment, she writes a letter to her future self in her journal. In her first September note, she jots down four goals. Which are:
  1. Stop thinking about the folded paper until I can finally open it after class.
  2. Stop obsessing over Liam, because he is done liking me.
  3. Instead, obsess over boys like Nice Andy who do seem to like me.
  4. Stop thinking about the folded blue paper until it’s time to open it!

In each letter, Elyse reflects on how things are going and lists some new goals. I really loved how those letters anchored the story.

  1. The boy she calls “Nice Andy”. Because - there is a point in the book where he could have been not-so-nice. Now - I’m going to give a small spoiler here, which I try not to do - but this one isn’t so major. But, if you’d rather not hear it, just pause and fast forward about a minute. Okay? Alright, so - Elyse ends up dating Nice Andy for awhile. And he IS wonderful, but she realizes she just doesn’t feel THAT way about him. And I simply LOVED how he handles things when she tells him that she would rather be good friends. He says, “Oh! Okay, don’t worry about it.”  That could have gone very differently. I think kids could use a model of a graceful and respectful breakup, so thumbs up for that scene!
  2. I really love how Sticks & Stones embodies this idea that having a bigger purpose in your life and striving for something important can break you out of self-doubt and worrying so much about yourself. For Elyse, it’s her goal of becoming Explorer Leader that starts to get her out of her own head a bit. And ironically, by getting busy and NOT thinking so much of what others are saying about her, she becomes more confident. In one of the later mystery notes that Elyse receives is this advice:

“Remember, someone is always going to have something bad to say. But can you remember the good you’ve done? The good you ARE?”

I think that message is so important for middle grade readers who are sometimes focused so much on other people liking them. I remember those years myself - they were rough.

Sticks & Stones is about friendship, and boys, and learning what actions to take to be more comfortable with yourself. This book would be particularly powerful for middle grade girls.

Rain Reign

Our final featured book this week is Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign. For the last two years, I don’t think there’s been a month that’s gone by where I haven’t been conferencing with a student who has been reading this book or reading it out loud to my daughters. One of the joys of being a teacher is getting to dip back into those favorite books. So, Rain Reign is a story told by 5th grader Rose Howard, who loves routines, collecting homonyms, and prime numbers. She lives with her dad, who is not the best care-taker for her. And she lives with her dog, who she calls Rain. And, in her own words says “My official diagnosis is high-functioning autism, which some people call Asperger’s syndrome”. One night, after a hurricane has caused flooding and destruction, Rose’s father lets Rain outside and now she’s missing. Because of that, Rose has to be brave, break out of her routine, and try to find her dog. And that’s just the beginning of her bravery. Alright, so - here are three fantastic things about Rain Reign.

  1. Rose’s straightforward storytelling. It’s astonishing how well we get into Rose’s head. For example, in the first chapter she says: “This is how you tell a story: First you introduce the main character. I’m writing this story about me, so I am the main character.”  And later on she says,

“ Some of the things I get teased about are following the rules and always talking about homonyms. Mrs. Leibler is my aide and she sits with me in Mrs. Kushel’s room. She sits in an adult-size chair next to my fifth-grade-size chair and rests her hand on my arm when I blurt something out in the middle of math. Or, if I whap myself in the head and start to cry, she’ll say, ‘Rose, do you need to step into the hall for a moment?’”

I think most people who have spent any kind of time in a school will find that scene very familiar. Having it told from the point of view of the child with autism is so important.

  1. Rose’s Uncle.  While Rose is very unlikely in who she ended up with as a father, she lucked out with her Uncle Weldon. It’s hard to believe that the two of them are brothers. Rose’s dad is impatient, an alcoholic, neglectful, and… worse. Thank goodness Rose has her Uncle who picks her up from school, patiently answers her many repetitive questions, and helps her deal with her dad.
  2. How much kids simply love this book.  In fact, I decided that since I just happen to have two of those kids on hand right here in our house, I’d invite them to tell you what they liked about Rain Reign.

Q & A

Our third and final segment this week is Question & Answer time.

Question:

Today’s question is from Sarah in Arlington, Texas.( And Hey Sarah - thanks for listening!) She asks, “My kids don't seem like they’re paying attention when I read aloud. How can keep them more interested?”

Answer:

First of all, I hear ya! Between my own kids and “kids” at school - I feel like I am always assessing their attention and interest.  So I have a few thoughts, and hopefully you, listening, might chime in as well.

  • First, I’m wondering - did your kids get to pick out the book? If they have some say, that can help. At home, I usually book talk a few that I think would be winners and then let them decide. I do understand that with more than one child, that choosing process can be tricky. We’ve certainly had some drama and high stakes negotiations about that at my house.
  • A second thought - give them something to do with their hands while they’re listening. I have adult friends who just can’t sit still for that long. So try giving them some paper and crayons or play-doh. Maybe tinkering with LEGO’s or doing a  jigsaw puzzle.
  • And finally - there is the possibility that they might be paying more attention than you think. I had this epiphany last year when I was reading aloud Matilda to my girls. And one of my daughters was driving me nuts because she was bouncing all over the bed, the book is shaking, she’s twisting around in the blankets - I could not get her to settle down.  And I am getting annoyed - this is supposed to be our calm, mother-daughter time bonding over classic children’s literature. NO. So after a few nights of me getting mad, I thought, “Okay - I’m just going to ignore it and she’ll stop. Right?’” So I continue to read, but I’ve got one eye on her the entire time. And then suddenly it hit me - she was acting out what was happening in the book. She was SO involved in the book that she was physically experiencing it.

SO I know sometimes that we have this idealized image in our mind of our loving children nestled in our lap, taking in every word of what we’re reading, but - truthfully that doesn’t always happen that way. The main thing is to not give up on that daily read aloud time.

Closing

Alright, that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com. And when you are there, take some time to read a great post about Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts by Mel Schuit. And, if you are liking the show, I’d love it if you helped others find us by sharing on social media or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Dec 05 2016

25mins

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#75-Benefits of Rereading & A Conversation w/ Deimosa Webber-Bey

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads because I believe that a book can change the trajectory of a child’s life.  And I want to help you introduce kids to those amazing, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two tweens, a 5th grade teacher, and just back from an awe-inspiring visit with my family to Niagara Falls. If you have ever have the opportunity to go, there is nothing quite like standing on a rocking boat within the mist of the roaring horseshoe falls and gazing up 170 feet at over 3,000 tons of water thundering over those cliffs every second. Do go you if  you can - it’s impressive, we learned a TON, and it’s one of those things that should be experienced at least once in your life.

A quick reminder to help out your future self and set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you can catch the #MGBookChat Twitter chat - we have scheduled some great topics and hosts later on this summer and fall. So I will see you there. 

This is episode #75 and today’s show starts with a discussion about the benefits of rereading and then I bring you a conversation with Scholastic librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey. 

Main Topic - The Benefits of Rereading

Our main topic today is a discussion around rereading books. Over the years, my own thinking in this area has evolved a lot. As a young teacher who wanted to make the most out of absolutely every precious second of classroom time, I had a rather negative view of students reading a book for pleasure that they had already read before. If a kid was picking a novel for a book club or a book report, I wouldn’t let them select a book they had previously read. Thinking back, that really did seem to be the norm among my colleagues. Like them, I viewed it as cheating a little bit!  As if they wouldn’t be as engaged in the text a second time around or they weren’t challenging themselves enough. Basically - I considered rereading a book in school as a waste of a learning opportunity.

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that a friend had a conversation with me that changed my mind. We weren’t even debating the merits of allowing kids to reread books, we were just chatting. She asked me, “Corrina, what’s your favorite movie?”  And I said, “Oh! The Princess Bride! I’ve watched it like 50 times…..”  Oh. Ohhhhh…….

And that’s when it hit me. It was that one friendly person inadvertently holding up a mirror to myself that made me reconsider the misconceptions I held and start to realize there are huge benefits to experiencing a text, a film, multiple times. 

I mean - if you think about it - watching a movie or tv series over and over again - is a commonly shared and even celebrated social phenomenon.  I hear lots of people talking about how many times they’ve watched The Office or Black Panther or Star Wars. In my house, it’s a running joke how many times my husband’s Facebook status is “watching Casino Royale

So today, I’d like to explore with you some reasons why rereading is so satisfying, some academic benefits, and a few ways to enhance the rereading experience for the kids you work with.

Why Rereading is so Satisfying

Let’s start with why rereading is so satisfying. 

  • First - it’s fun! If you love a book, you get to spend more time with favorite characters and relive those climactic moments in the story. It’s like going on your favorite roller-coaster again. Yeah, you already know when the twists are turns are, but also - here come those twists and turns and I can’t wait for them!
  • Another way that rereading can be satisfying is that there’s less pressure to finish the book. Maybe you just want to skim it or reread your favorite scenes. It’s a lower commitment situation than starting a new book.
  • Having books around that you enjoy rereading or reading parts of, can enhance your overall reading life. Because dipping in to a favorite book when you are in between other reads or you don’t have have a big chunk of time to start something new is a good way to keep reading momentum going through those tricky times in your life. Or when kids are struggling to find that next book they really want to read.  Often, my students will pull out those tried and true favorites like Sunny Side Up or Guiness Book of World Records or the Minecraft Handbooks when nothing else had really hooked them yet.
  • Another excellent reason to reread a book is to prepare for the next book coming out in the series. A parallel to that is the binge-watching that happens when a new season of a favorite TV show starts. When season three of Stranger Things dropped on July 4th, my family spent a few weeks prior rewatching the previous seasons to catch us up to speed on the plot. And also because being familiar with the back stories of the characters made watching season three so much better. 
  • And finally, when I consider why a child may be rereading a book again - or maybe over and over again - I have to think that there may be something comforting in that text. It might be providing a sense of stability and order and a sense of knowing what’s coming next during a time in their life when they need that.

Academic Benefits

Aside from simply making you happy, rereading texts multiple times does have academic benefits that can boost reading skills. For example - 

  • Reading a text a second or third or fourth time can really increase one’s fluency. Even if that rereading is just in your head and not out loud, you’ll start to have a smoother experience without halting on tricky vocabulary or getting lost in complex sentence structures. You might start to mentally add more expression and read with tone in mind now that you aren’t spending mental energy figuring out who the characters are and what’s happening. Last year, I read Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always out loud to my class, which was about the fourth read for me - and it had taken me that long to start to pick apart the different speech patterns and personalities and emotions of the characters in order to even start to read that out loud well.
  • Another huge benefit to children when they reread is that they will notice far more on the second or third time through the text.  I’ve already mentioned picking up more vocabulary, but catching on to the author’s foreshadowing or their use of symbolism or how they are developing a theme across chapters is one of the joys of rereading.  And it’s also fun to pick up those little clues along the way of character development. To use a common example, when you reread Harry Potter a second time, you realize - Oh! Harry could talk to and understand the snake in the zoo - that comes up later when they realize he’s a parseltongue. And knowing the motivations and backstory of Snape makes for such a rich reread of those earlier books. Aspects of the story that you are never going to appreciate or even understand unless you reread it. To throw in an adult example, I recently rewatched The Good Place with my husband and whoa - knowing what you know now and going back and watching the interactions between the characters and picking up on all the references and appreciating that Yogurt word play is just… perfection. 
  • The other noticing that can happen on a reread - is that you start to pick out problematic aspects of a book that might not have been in your realm of awareness the first time you read it. For example, when I reread Harry Potter with my class last year, I noticed those early chapters were full of offensive references to character’s weight. In a way where fatness was used to elicit disgust with certain characters.  Lately, in order to get a better grasp on the society we live in and the challenges we’re facing, I’ve been reading some adult nonfiction books that have impacted the lens with which I view all stories and well, life!  Just to name two - first, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne, and I just finished Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (which is amazing and please, please go read that book next if you have not.)  What I’m getting at is that your perspective and what you notice in rereading a text is influenced by the learning you’re doing in other areas of your life.  
  • Another way that rereading can have the power to improve a child’s reading is that those skills and observations they are honing during their 3rd read of New Kid or Front Desk transfer to other new books. Once they’ve started to notice what foreshadowing looks like or how the author uses language to set up a certain mood, or the way infographics in that shark book give you more information, they’ll catch on to those maneuvers as they work toward comprehending more unfamiliar or complicated books.
  • And  - of course - reread can boost their own writing. When they start to notice and identify more of those author’s techniques through multiple rereading of a text, students can try out those writerly maneuvers in their own writing. This reminds me of when Kate DiCamillo was on the show last year and she mentioned (as she has elsewhere) that she rereads Charlotte’s Web every year. Both as a fan and also to orient herself to how that story is constructed.  

How to Enhance Rereading for Children

Clearly, there are some huge benefits when children reread, and I think with the right approach we can enhance that experience for them.  

  • One way to do that is to simply ask them about that book they are reading over and over again! Acknowledge it, let them know you get it, and let them talk about why they love it so much.  Honestly, most of the time, people love to be asked about the TV shows and films and books and fandoms they are into. Right now, I am slightly obsessed with Good Omens and I would love for someone to say, “Corrina, why are you so into that show?” and have an excuse to talk about Aziraphale and Crowley and how their relationship evolved over 6,000 years.  So - just start by asking them about it.
  • And then… go a little further and angle some questions toward those deeper elements. Some of the questions I like to ask when a child is reading a book for the second time are: What are you noticing that someone reading this book for the first time might not catch? What characters have you changed your mind about?  When you reread that first chapter again, what do you notice the author doing that sets up something later on in the book? 
  • Another thing that I like to do when I notice a student reading a book over again is to introduce them to other similar media.  For example, if they like Wings of Fire, I’ll share with them the graphic novels based on that series or we might explore an author’s website, or I’ll share some fan art with them or some fan fiction pieces. (Although a quick caveat there - I would not let a child loose on a fan fiction site because things can take some unexpected turns.)
  • However, if possible - connect them to other fans either in person or online and encourage them to create some fan art or fan fiction. And if you are looking for a safe place to publish that, MGBookVillage does have a Kids’ Corner where we share book reviews and fan art and fan fiction created by children. 

As I wrap up my summer and think ahead to how I want to support readers this school year, embracing rereading and helping students harness the power of experiencing a text more than one time is going to be a larger part of that.

I’ll end this section with some wise words from Dav Pilkey, author of Captain Underpants and Dog Man who has said, “Nobody complains when musicians play the same songs over and over or when basketball players run the same plays over and over. So why do we complain when children read the same books multiple times?”

Well said.

Deimosa Webber-Bey  - Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Scholastic Librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey! We chat about encouraging kids to read more over the summer, what books she’s been loving lately, and what Scholastic is doing through their Summer Read-a-Palooza challenge to get more books in more kids’ hands. And there is absolutely still time for you and the kids in your life to help out with that. I will drop a link to the 2019 Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza in our show notes and right on the MGBookVillage website so you can check that out. Also - a big part of the conversation that I have with Deimosa is around the results of the latest Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report and the link to that is right there as well and definitely worth your time to explore. 

Take a listen.

Q: How did you come to work for Scholastic?

Q: Something that has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrapped up the school year with my students is the knowledge that if they don’t read over the summer, they are going to lose so much of the progress they’ve gained this past year.  And what has helped me articulate that “Summer Slide” research to our parents is the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report. Could you tell us a little bit about that report and share some of the findings that really stood out to you?

Q: Scholastic has done so much research in this area!  From your point of view, what do you see as the main things that educators and families can do to keep kids reading over the summer?

Q: I love that Scholastic always has a fresh reading campaign for kids every summer - and I love that this year the campaign is supporting a great cause. Can you tell us about the Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza?

Q: What are you reading right now? And what are some titles that are on your TBR list for the summer?

Thank you!

Links:

Deimosa’s website - http://runawayquiltproject.org

Deimosa on Twitter - @dataquilter

Deimosa on Scholastic - http://oomscholasticblog.com/post/summer-reading-imperative-commentary-deimosa-webber-bey

Books we chatted about:

Five Nights At Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes (Scott Cawthorn)

Transformed (Megan Morrison)

Internment (Samira Ahmed)

Puerto Rico Strong: A Comics Anthology Supporting Puerto Rico Disaster

Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 (Sharon Robinson)

Miles Morales (Jason Reynolds)

Closing

Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.  And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jul 29 2019

39mins

Play

#74-Top 20 Student Favorites & A Conversation with Rajani LaRocca

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads because I believe that a book can change the trajectory of a child’s life.  And I want to help you introduce kids to those amazing, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two tween girls, a 5th grade teacher, and finally beginning my summer vacation!!

Before we begin, I have a few quick announcements!

First - a reminder that Monday nights are the #MGBookChat Twitter chats with some really amazing topics coming up this summer like STEM in Middle Grade, Inspiring Kids to Write, Grief in Middle Grade, and several Open Chats where you can bring your own topic to discuss. So if you are like me and have a tendency to forget those sort of things, set a reminder on your phone for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter.

Second - I will be at NerdCampMI this July 8th & 9th - so if you are headed that way this summer, please please do say hi.

And finally - I am really excited to tell you that I will be rejoining the All the Wonders team as their Podcast Network Developer to produce a new array of shows cultivating a wider variety of perspectives and stories in the world of children’s literature. First up is All the Wonders This Week -  a brief, topical show released every Tuesday where a guest and I will chat about all things wondrous and new in the world of children’s literature. So stay tuned for that this summer!

But - no worries - Books Between isn’t going anywhere!

This is episode #74 and today’s show features the Top 20 books that my students loved this year, a reflection on what went right and what went wrong for me this last school year, and a conversation with Rajani LaRocca - author of Midsummer’s Mayhem.

Top 20 Student Favorites

Let’s start with the top 20 books that my 5th grade students loved and recommended this school year. Because it’s one thing for an adult to enjoy a book, but for it to really make an impact, it has to connect with its intended audience. There have been plenty of books that I loved, but for some reason didn’t seem to resonate with middle grade readers.  Honestly, I think THIS list is way more valuable than ANY list that any adult puts out.

I couple notes before we begin. My students have pretty much free choice to read what they want in class and for homework at night, but we did have two book clubs this year - one in the fall featuring immigrant and refugee experiences and then we just wrapped up our fantasy book clubs. So that context likely influenced what books they had most exposure to. Also - our four main read alouds this year were Home of the Brave, a non-fiction title called When Lunch Fights Back, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and The Thief of Always.  Only two of those made it into this Top 20.

And there are only six graphic novels on this list, which might surprise some adults who like to complain to me that “all kids read these days are those graphic novels”. (Can you hear my eyes rolling?)

I also want to be transparent about how I calculated this “Top 20”. So, at the end of the year, we did various wrap-up and reflection activities. In mid-June, I send out a quick survey one morning asking them for their top reads of the year. They also worked on an end-of-the-year reflection celebration slideshow and one slide was devoted to sharing their favorite books. Also, each student worked on a “Top 10 List” (or” Top 5 List” or whatever - an idea I got from Colby Sharp) listing their most highly recommended books of the year - recommended for their current class and to be shared with the incoming 5th graders. So… I tallied up each time a title was mentioned in any of those places. And here are the top 20 titles my 5th graders loved and recommended.

  1. Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

This graphic novel is still a strong favorite with my fifth graders. Maybe slightly less so this year, but I think that’s because a LOT of them already read it in 4th grade. 

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Still going strong! Admittedly, not every mention was book one, but the series is a perennial favorite among my students and one that they love to reread in between other books. 

  1. Ghost by Jason Reynolds

The Track Series has gained a lot of momentum this year - and mainly through word of mouth. It was one of our school’s ProjectLIT selections so there was some buzz around that, but only one of my students was able to make it to those meetings so the popularity of this title is due strictly to kids recommending it to other kids. 

  1. Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

This title was one of the immigrant /refugee themed book club selections from the fall and even though just four kids read it in that club, it was quickly passed around after that. If you know children who enjoyed books like Refugee or Amal Unbound, Escape from Aleppo is a great next book to introduce them to next.

  1. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Every child that picked this book up and read it, ended up calling it a favorite. 

  1. The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

This title was one of our Fantasy Book Club options and it really lends itself to fabulous discussions if you’re looking to round out that genre.

  1. Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

I will admit - I was totally surprised this made the top 20. Not because I don’t like it - I LOVE this book, but I didn’t really witness it being read or talked about a lot past September or October. But clearly it made a lasting impact on those that did read it.

  1. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

In the same vein as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this series of books are the go-to rereads when a student isn’t sure what they want to read next. It’s one of those comfort reads that always winds up back in their book boxes.

  1. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

This graphic novel was passed from kid to kid this year with so many of them reading it multiple times.

  1. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Which was a second shocker to me because this novel is a class read-aloud in 3rd grade. So all the love for this one came from students who remembered it fondly and reread it. Maybe because I happened to have a few copies in our room? Which reminds me to make sure to have those previous year’s titles available in our classroom library.

  1. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Another one of our hot fantasy book club picks - this series is a winner. Year and after kids fall in love with the characters! And it will make you fall in love with a cockroach. That’s some powerful writing!

  1. Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Still…. after all these years. This book has that special spark.

  1. Crush by Svetlana Chmakova 

When this graphic novel came out in this past October, I bought one copy and immediately the kids grabbed a pen and paper and started their own waiting list. 

  1. The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix 

The credit for this book’s popularity falls squarely to a book trailer that our school librarian showed our class. It got us all sooo hooked that I splurged a bit and bought three copies for our classroom. And it just took off from there. In fact, I haven’t even read the darn thing yet because I could never get my hands on a copy. And actually, I think it’s the only title on this list that I haven’t read. 

  1. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Because…. of course!  And actually, our classroom copy of this book didn’t even make it past March. The spine cracked and then the pages started falling apart, so I’ve got to get another copy for the fall. It was clearly well-loved. 

  1. Blended by Sharon Draper

Whoa did this novel take my class by storm!  And it wasn’t part of a book club, it wasn’t a read aloud, it didn’t have a snazzy book trailer - it just really resonated with kids. And they just kept recommending it to each other.

  1. Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This was THE hot title this fall!  It was one of the choices for our immigrant/refugee book clubs but unlike some of the other titles, this one had a huge resurgence after the clubs ended with kids rereading and passing it along to their friends all through the year. It was constantly in someone’s book box. 

  1. The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz & Hatem Aly

This was another fantasy book club option. And I think, the popularity of this book is really due to the fact that it had a phenomenal book trailer that hooked kids with it’s humor. It was also a shorter book with lots of great illustrations so kids quickly finished it, passed it along and were on to the next in the series. 

Okay - we are down to the top two. And not surprisingly, they are both class read alouds. It makes sense that the books every child read or listened to would be high on a list of class favorites. But as I said before, two of our read alouds didn’t make the cut so these two truly did connect with the class.

  1. The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Oh my word is this book amazing!  And for many students - it’s their first foray into horror. The chapter illustrations are gruesome and disturbing and wonderful…. If you know kids that like scary books with that paranormal twist… who like something a little weird - this book is perfect!  And it makes a really great read aloud.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I added this one as a read aloud this year since it was the 20th anniversary, and I honestly wasn’t sure if the kids were going to like it.  That first book does have a slow start, but it was by far their top rated read aloud and the title most frequently found on their favorites lists and their recommended lists.  Harry’s still got the magic.

Reflection

One of the most important aspects of our last few weeks together at school is time for student reflection and feedback for me and my own reflection on what went well this past year and… what did not.

First, let me share with you 5 things that stood out in my students’ final feedback survey. And yes, this is information from a particular class, but I think you’ll find something useful to take away from their responses as well.

  1. When asked what they liked most about class, the top responses were Flash-light Fridays (where we turned off all the lights and they got to read with flashlights anywhere in the room), the read alouds, all the Harry Potter activities (house sorting, trying Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, I sent them acceptance letters to Hogawarts, etc.), and doing the one-pagers.
  2. When asked what changes I should make for next year, they suggested more book clubs, students getting to vote on our read alouds, and… many of them said they don’t like sitting in groups. That they wanted to be spread out more and have their own space. (Which is interesting - because a couple years ago I came REALLY close to doing away with individual desks and switching to tables and mainly flexible seating options that have been very popular and whenever I have brought that up, my students have consistently told me - they like their own desk and their own space.)
  3. When asked “Did you read more or less than last year?”, 33% said a little more and 50% said a lot more. And only one child said that they read less this year. 
  4. When asked how I could be a better teacher, the most common responses were to give more reading time, read more books aloud, and a suggestion to ask kids to read even more each night.
  5. When asked what books we should have more of in our classroom library, they wanted more scary books, more books with magic, more books in a series, more poetry, and of course, more graphic novels.

So those were some big takeaways from the feedback from my students. And of course, as I reflect and revise and look for professional development opportunities over the summer, I pair their feedback with the things I saw going well and also things that did not. Here are some “wins” and some “fails” from this past year.

  • A win - the book clubs centered around immigrant and refugee stories. Students learned a lot, had a new perspective on events they may see in the news, and bottom line - just really enjoyed those books.  Since many students requested more book clubs, I am considering adding another round or two - perhaps centered around neurodiversity and understanding ourselves and others. 
  • A fail - not reading nearly enough poetry and nonfiction. So if I think about expanding book clubs, perhaps shifting a little to a poetry reading club or clubs that want to explore a particular nonfiction topic might be a way to go. 
  • A win - read alouds kicked butt this year.  After three times reading aloud Thief of Always, I had the voices down, and I finally felt like I knew that story inside and out and could take them places this year that I never would have even realized the first time we read it together. That just reinforces to me how much can be gained be rereading a text multiple times.   
  • A fail - not reading enough shorter texts - picture books and short stories. And also, every single one of our read alouds this year featured a male protagonist. And I am NOT letting that happen again next year. Or ANY year! Nooo way!
  • A win - when a student told me she wanted to read books with gay, trans, and queer characters, within 3 minutes I was able to gather a huge stack from our classroom library to plop on her desk so she could find something that might appeal to her. 
  • A fail - she didn’t know we had that many titles! I had book-talked many of them, but next year - maybe I’ll have a “Read with Pride” bin to rotate some of those titles in and out.  I want to be careful to not “other” those stories and separate all of them, but I do want students to be able to find them easily. 
  • A win - students read far more diversely this year than any prior year. And I had many, many boys who without much reservation read Baby Sitter’s Club books, and books about girls getting their periods, and other novels with female protagonists that in year’s past might be met with push-back and laughter.  I am maybe seeing a possible cultural shift there. Maybe. I’m hoping. 
  • A fail - not taking enough time to explicitly explore bias and structural racism, the impact of social norms and honestly - all the things that are tricky to talk about but that NEED to be talked about.  And that was better this year, but still not enough.

And I know this is not the work of a summer but the work of a whole career, a whole lifetime. 

And as always, we are learning together so I’d really love to hear from you about any feedback you received from the children you work with, what your successes and misses were this past year, and what books your kids loved. You can connect with me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to share your ideas.

Rajani LaRocca - Interview Outline

Joining me this week is debut author Rajani LaRocca! We chat about baking, Shakespeare, the novels that influenced her as a child, writing ideas for kids, her unparalleled skill at finding the perfect GIF, and  of course - her debut novel Midsummer’s Mayhem!

Take a listen.

Midsummer’s Mayhem

For our listeners who have not yet read Midsummer’s Mayhem - what is this story about?

You novel has so many elements that I love - a bit of mystery, a dash of earthy magic,  - it’s like The Great British Baking Show meets Shakespeare! And the recipes are so mouth-watering, so unique! Did you actually make all of the recipes in the book?

Can we talk about Vik?!  I had no idea until the very end which way he was going to go. I love how you created this mystery surrounding him that was multi-sensory - not just visual, but musical, and the earthy scents of the forest….

Mimi is very inspired by Puffy Fay - her celebrity chef idol. Who is your celebrity writing idol?

A very important question - do you say “JIF” or “GIF”?   However you say it, you are the QUEEN of the Gif!!

Your Writing Life

You said recently, “Often when I sit down to write a chapter, something surprising happens, and things go in a completely different direction than I’d planned.”  What was one of those moments in Midsummer’s Mayhem?

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked up along the way that has helped your writing? 

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

You’ve mentioned before that the books you read as a child helped shape who you are today. What were some of those books?

What are some books that you’ve read lately that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Thank you!

Links:

Rajani’s website - https://www.rajanilarocca.com

Rajani on Twitter - @rajanilarocca

Rajani on Instagram - @rajanilarocca

Books and topics we chatted about:

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

Meet the Austins (Madeleine L’Engle)

The Arm of the Starfish (Madeleine L’Engle)

The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin)

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)

Amar Chitra Katha graphic novels

The Simple Art of Flying (Cory Leonardo)

Seventh Grade vs the Galaxy (Joshua Levy)

Caterpillar Summer (Gillian McDunn)

Planet Earth Is Blue (Nicole Panteleakos

Super Jake and the King of Chaos (Naomi Milliner)

All of Me (Chris Baron)

Closing

Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.  And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jul 01 2019

51mins

Play

#73 - Finishing Strong & A Conversation with Tina Athaide

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Intro

Hello and welcome to Books Between -  a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen - 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls (10 and 12), and muddling through some allergies. So if you are wondering why I sound “off” - we can blame all those plants trying to have babies!  A quick reminder before we get started that you can find transcripts and interview outlines of every episode - along with lots of other great middle great content over at MGBookVillage.org.

This is episode #73 and today’s show starts off with a discussion about strong endings to the school year and then I share with you a conversation with Tina Athaide- author of Orange for the Sunsets.

Main Topic - Finishing the Year Strong

Our main topic today is ending the school year with your students with strength and purpose. And wrapping up those final weeks together in a way that allows for both reflection on their reading lives and a way to step forward into a summer that builds on the successes of the previous year.

It’s like the school year is the runway and the summer is the solo flight after take-off! If you haven’t been building those reading habits all year long, then… well that lift off is going to fall flat.  But - there are some things that we can do to plan for a strong transition from that supportive classroom reading community to a strong independent reading life. For me, my school year up here in New York doesn’t end for another five weeks but lots of my friends are already wrapping up their school year so I thought it would be a good time to discuss this topic. And whether you are a parent, or a librarian, or a teacher there will be something in today’s show that you will find useful.

First, we’ll talk building in time for reflection and what that can look like. Then, I’ll discuss some ways for students to celebrate and share the reading they’ve enjoyed during the past school year. And finally, I’ll chat about how to usher them into summer with a solid reading plan and hopefully some books in their hands.

Reflection

One of the most effective ways to cap off your school year is with some time for reflection and feedback. And there are a few options for you to consider.

  1. A student survey for YOU to grow as a teacher. So this would involve asking your students questions to help get feedback to help you improve. These  questions might be - What was your favorite read aloud this year?  What strategies helped you grow the most as a reader? Did you prefer partner reading or book clubs and why? What types of reading responses helped you get the most of your reading?  Should we read more nonfiction? What books should we get for our classroom library? Pernille Ripp uses these types of surveys exceptionally well, and I’ll link to her website to get some ideas for you to try and to tweak.
  2. It’s also really important that students get the opportunity to write about and discuss their own reading habits and growth - for their own self-reflection. In that case, since the purposes are very different, the questions you ask your students will be different. And if you’ve helped them build that habit of keeping good track of their reading, this will be a thousand times easier. These questions might be along the lines of - How many books did you read this year? How does that compare to last year?  Of the books you’ve read, how many were non-fiction? How many were graphic novels? Written by a person of color? Written by a man? Were historical fiction? What was your favorite book you’ve read? How many books did you abandon and why? Those questions that dig a bit deeper are so powerful - especially when given the opportunity to share those thoughts with others.
  3. Another way that you can have your students doing some powerful thinking and reflection about the books they are offered is by guiding them through a diversity audit of your classroom collection or library. If you want details about this, I’ve discussed it in more depth in episode 28 (which I will link to in the show notes), but I highly recommend you try this at least one time with your class. And it doesn’t have to be an analysis of all the books in your library. Maybe it’s just a 15 minute check of the biographies together with two or three guiding questions.  At the end of the year -it’s all about using the time you have flexibly and well.
  4. A great self-reflection method I just bumped into again recently was Pernille Ripp’s post (called “On Reading Rewards”) about having students create an award for themselves to celebrate their own achievement - whether that’s reading 35 books, or discovering a new genre, or just finding one book they really liked. I’ll link to her post with the full description and to the site where you can get those free Reading Certificate templates for students.  

Celebration & Sharing

Along with opportunities for self-reflection and thinking about their own reading accomplishments during the previous year, I think it’s also so important to give students a chance to show off those accomplishments!

  1. One educator that I follow on Twitter (Cassie Thomas - @mrs_cmt1489), had her students gather a stack of every book they’ve read during the year and took a picture of them with that book stack! What  powerful way to see how what a year’s worth of reading looks like!
  2. Another popular (and powerful) way to have students both reflect on their reading and share it, is to have them create a top ten (or so) list. I’ve absolutely modified that to a Top 5 or Top 3 list for those kiddos who were rather daunted by coming up with ten titles.  It could be something as simple as the Top 10 Books I’ve Read This Year. Or maybe Top 5 Sports Books, 7 Books To Make You Laugh, Top 8 Books That Made Me Cry, Top 10 Books If You Like History - really the options are endless! And lend themselves well to having those quick finishers make a couple of them. In a recent video by Colby Sharp, he mentioned that he has his class share the lists with him in a Google doc where he complies them, prints out all the lists, and then sends the lists home with the kids for the summer!  So if they are ever looking for a book suggestion, they have a ton of options from their classmates right on hand. I’m definitely doing that this year! (I’ll link to Colby’s video so you can check out his other ideas.)
  3. A third way to celebrate and share their reading? One-pagers! If you have not tried these yet - the end of the year is the perfect time!  Essentially, students go into greater depth with one of their favorite books by creating a one-page presentation. Typically they are very colorful and include strong visual elements to illuminate aspects of the book like drawings of symbols, characters, or representations of the book cover.  And the sections depend on your goals - often things like a character analysis, favorite quote, rating, or summary. My students really loved doing these and even had the idea of hanging some in our local public library. And I recently came across a great episode of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast with guest Betsy Potash that offers some great tips and templates to use. I’ll also include a link directly to Betsy’s site if you want to see those great examples and snag those templates.
  4. One other idea to help students celebrate and share their reading is to harness the technology skills they’ve already practiced during the year for that purpose. For example, if your students are already using Flipgrid, have them use that tool to do a book talk for a favorite book, share their top ten list, or discuss patterns they noticed about their reading during the past year. If the kids are more comfortable with SeeSaw, they could do similar things with the video tool or do some annotating of their favorite books and make booksnaps about favorite books or characters.  Powerpoint or Google Slides has some cool features - especially to make charts and graphs. One piece of advice here - use technology that they are already familiar with and can work independently on. That way, while they are working, you can take care of those important, time-consuming end-of-the-year tasks like conducting final running records on each student or wrapping up some final scoring on assignments.  

A Plan & Books in Their Hands

The final - and maybe most important thing that you can do to better your odds at a successful launch from the supported reading life you’ve provided to your students to  taking their reading life into their own hands is to actually have them leave you with something in their hands. Namely - a plan and at least one book.

A summer reading plan:

Let’s talk about the plan first. This could be a formal, written plan - but honestly, at the end of the year that might be just a little too structured for summer. Instead, I like to share various ideas and options for kids to boost their reading life over the summer. And then have us all share with each other how to overcome some common obstacles. So here’s what that will look like for our class over the next couple of weeks before school ends:

  • Creating their summer TBR list. Maybe this is based on the Top 10 Lists your class presented or maybe they build a TBR list during a trip to the library, but having that piece of paper is really helpful.
  • Invite our wonderful children’s librarian from our local public library to come in and share with our class the awesome summer programs they have planned.  If the timing doesn’t work out for them to travel, a virtual Google Hangout visit or Skype could work, too. Our local library also used to allow for off-site library card sign-ups so check into that as well.
  • Give the kids a list of any summer reading programs or activities you can find in your community.  Does your local bookstore have any cool book signings or summer events planned? Is there a Children’s Book Festival happening?  Does your community have a traveling library? Is there a summer book club offered at your school? Where are the locations of the Little Free Libraries in your  area? Will the local library have a booth at the Pride Festival this June? (Mine will!!!!)
  • Introduce them to some virtual spaces where they can get reading ideas and share their reading life.  If they are old enough for social media (13 years old) - perhaps share some accounts to follow. Or encourage them to sign up for a Goodreads account. But honestly - they are most likely going to be on YouTube. So a list of great YouTubers to follow would probably be the most appreciated and actually used by your students.
  • And if you think your students would use it, you could set up a summer reading Fligrid or SeeSaw or other digical space to them to share. I tried this last year and it was a bit of a bust, but maybe I’ll give it another go.

Alright, so…. Ideally, I’ll have those resources and ideas compiled into one document for students to take home at the end of the year. And then we’ll have a quick discussion together about which ones they want to participate in, and what are going to be obstacles.   Perhaps they can share a brief and flexible plan in their reading journal or on SeeSaw or Flipgrid.

Getting books in their hands:

And finally - the all important getting books in their hands before they leave for the summer! There are a few ways to do this.

  • Have your end-of-the-year gift be a book. Right now I am in a self-contained class and have 21 students. So I can swing this by saving up Scholastic points and entering a lot of giveaways on Twitter and Goodreads.  Next year I’ll be teaching all the 5th graders, so this option might be less doable.
  • One idea I’ve considered instead of selecting a new book for each child based on what I know of their reading life, is to let them pick out one book from our classroom library to take home to keep.
  • Another option is to suggest your PTO/PTA give the graduating class a book as they leave the school. My PTO has done this for the last few years. And it sends a powerful message about what is important and what is valued in our school. Last year is was 365 Days of Wonder and this year will either be New Kid or a picture book like Rock What Ya Got.
  • Another idea that I have seen be very successful is to have a book swap by encouraging families to bring in gently used books for kids to exchange. Our middle school kept them all in a brightly colored kiddie pool with a beach chair next to it.
  • More and more libraries are doing summer check out - which I LOVE!!  So if your school is not yet one of those, maybe arm yourself with some great research and start putting a bug in the ear of the powers-that-be to make that change.
  • Allow kids to check out books from your classroom library is another way to get books in their hands for the summer. My 5th graders are leaving to a new school. So instead, at the end of the year we had an opportunity to meet our incoming 4th grade class. And after some quick introductions, I let each child pick 2-3 books they wanted to take home and read over the summer.  Before they left, I just took a quick picture of them with their stack so I knew which books were out. But other than that, there was no check-out procedure. I like this for a few reasons. One, it shows them right away that our classroom library is the heart of our class and that I want to get to know them as people and as readers. And that whatever book they picked was fine by me. It’s all reading. Also - we’re starting from a place of trust. I trust them to take those books home and return them.  And sure, some didn’t come back. But as Donalyn Miller has so often said, “I’d rather lose a book than lose a reader.”

I hope that no matter if you are a teacher, a librarian, or parent that you have found something useful in today’s discussion that will help you foster more independent readers. And no matter what time of year you may stumble across this episode, building in time for reflection, celebrating and sharing our reading lives, and making plans to read more on our own is always a great idea.  

And as always, we are learning together so please share with us your ideas and successes for ending the year strong. You can connect with me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to share your ideas.

Tina Athaide - Interview Outline

This week I am thrilled to bring you an interview with debut author Tina Athaide! We chat about her research process, the novels that influenced her as a child, writing tips to pass along to the young authors in your life, and of course - her debut historical novel set in 1970s Uganda -  Orange for the Sunsets.

Take a listen.

Orange for the Sunsets

Welcome! I’d like to start by giving you an opportunity to introduce yourself to our listeners…

I’m an educator by day and writer by night. When I started teaching in Southern CA, I was amazed how little information my students had about other cultures and ethnic groups and always thought they could learn so much from books. Thankfully these days we are seeing an increase in books written about marginalized groups by marginalized writers.

What is Orange for the Sunsets about?

It set in 1972 and tells the story of Asha-an Asian Indian girl and her best friend Yesofu a Ugandan boy and how their lives are turned upside down when President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country.  Asha comes from a life of privilege, but even then it isn’t as privileged as the Europeans. Yesofu’s family works for Asha’s parents. They are servants in their own country. Idi’ Amin’s expulsion means different things for these two characters, which creates a conflict that threatens to tear apart their friendship.  This was a period in history that very few people knew about, especially here in North America and I felt it was important to share this story.

What was your research process like to make sure you were getting not only the history correct, but the 1970’s details accurate?

Without dating myself, I have to confess that I have personal connections to this story. I was born in Entebbe, but my family left just before the expulsion.. Growing up I heard many stories about life in Uganda and subsequently the horrors of the expulsion. Early drafts were solely from Asha’s point of view. Yesofu had a role in the book, but I never delved into what the expulsion meant for him. An editor that was interested in the story actually recommended that I write the book from both Asha and Yesofu’s POV.

BACK TO THE DRAWING board and revisions. Actually...rewriting the entire book!

I was Asian, writing about the Asian Indian experience. I had some knowledge about the Uganda experiences, but not enough to really give Yesofu an authentic and honesty voice. That involved research.

I spoke to Indians and Ugandans about their experiences during that period of history, beyond just family and friends. I wanted to know their opinions about Idi Amin’s expulsion, how their lives were affected.  I travelled to Kenya and spoke to Kenyan and Ugandan Africans about this time period.

What was also very helpful wasI read articles written during those ninety days from newspapers around the world. When Idi Amin originally expelled Asians, he kicked out those Indians holding British passports and citizenship.  But when he ordered all Asian Indians out of the country, the UN asked countries to open their borders and accept refugees....That included the United States.

Although your story is set over 40 years ago and in a country across the globe, it has so many parallels to what’s happening in America now with the rise of populist anti-immigrant sentiment that veers in violence. Did you intentionally want to capture some of those similar sentiments?  

It saddens me that in this day and age there are such close parallels between the story in Orange For the Sunset and the strong rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the globe.  It wasn’t intentional on my part to capture those similarities, but that period of history with Idi Amin and the brutality toward Indians unfortunately mirrors current sentiments.

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 38:12 mark.

How has this book changed from your earlier drafts to this final version?

Were there parts that you loved but you had to edit out?

Your Writing Life

What are you working on now?

I have a picture book coming out in 2020 about a young child, Sita and her grandfather, Gandhi. She is spirited and full of vigor and he teaches her to give how slowing down opens you up to see and appreciate so much more in life.

I am working on a MG fantasy book about a young boy who is destined to be keeper of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota–the five great elements of nature. It weaves in elements of Hindu mythology with flying garuda and naga cobras. What is most exciting is the character travels through time to real places in India so readers will get to visit these spectacular sites.

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked along the way that has helped your writing?

When I finish writing the rough draft, I go through the manuscript and use different colors to highlight emotional points, plot points, dialogue.  Then I will read through the story focusing on each color and it give me a narrow and wide lens as I revise.

Your Reading Life

What are some books or authors that influenced you as a child?

Growing up, there were no books in the local library or school library with people of color, so l went on adventures with Trixie Belden, Anne of Green Gables, and Anastacia Krupnik. Each in their own way those writers influenced me, even if it was to show me how books took you places different from your own world.  I loved the Narnia series by CS Lewis and Harriet the Spy and the Outsiders.

What are some books that you’ve read lately that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krisnaswami

The Bridge Home by PadmaVenkatraman

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Thank you!

Links:

Tina on Twitter - @tathaide

Mae on Instagram - @tinaathaide

Closing

Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.  And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

May 27 2019

52mins

Play

#72 - A Conversation with Mae Respicio

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between -  a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen - 5th grade teacher currently enjoying Spring Break, a mom of two tween daughters, and part of the MGBookVillage team.  And MGBookVillage.org where you can find transcripts and interview outlines of all of our episodes and links to every book and topic we mention today.

This is episode #72 and oday’s show features three novels that will get your students talking, and a conversation with Mae Respicio - author of The House That Lou Built.

Book Talk

In this segment, I share with you three books and discuss three things to love about each. All three books today have a couple things in common - questions of identity and an element of mystery.  Two involve recovered memories, two of them have a bit of magic, and two of them include rather helpful birds. The three books featured this week are Restart by Gordan Korman, The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu, and The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark.

Restart

Let’s start with Restart.  This novel, by Gordon Korman, was one that people kept pushing me to read. Teachers, students, librarians - everyone kept saying, “But have you read Restart yet??”  So how can you say no to that kind of pressure? And - they were right! First of all the premise is incredible - the school bully (Chase Ambrose) falls off his roof, gets amnesia, and forgets everything about his previous life. And doesn’t get why certain kids are terrified of him, why others treat him like some big hero, and others, well… do things like dump a cup of frozen yogurt over his head. Plus, it’s not just told from Chase’s point of view - we get to hear from lots of the other kids as Chase’s past (and present) are slowly revealed. Restart is incredibly crafted. Aside from how well this novel is paced and pieced together, here are three other things I really loved about Restart:

  1. Brendan Espinoza’s videos! Like lots of kids we know, he loves YouTube! Brendan is one of the first kids in the school to - if not accept the “new Chase” - at least offer him a little empathy. And that’s a powerful thing to do considering that Brendan was one of Chase’s biggest targets. He’s one of the video club kids and desperately wants one of his YouTube videos to go viral. So of course, he stages these increasingly over-the-top stunts to film.  It’s hard to describe a funny video in a way that also makes you, the reader, laugh and cringe - but Gordon Korman pulls it off! And I’ll never go through a car-wash again without thinking of Brendan….
  2. Mr. Solway! He’s this crotchety, hilarious, Medal-of-Honor-winning veteran living at the nursing home where Chase and his crew are serving out their community service.  And somehow he is the spark, the center, the fulcrum of the story.
  3. That it works really powerfully as a read-aloud with tons of big ideas to discuss. Restart was our most recent bedtime book for my family, and whoa did we have a ton of deep conversations. Like…. When should you forgive someone?  Is it possible to make amends for your past bad actions? And the whole situation with Joel and the video club and Shoshanna and Chase’s dad and football!

If you are looking for a great book club novel, one that will offer a lot of fodder for discussion, then Restart is a fantastic option. It’s both hilarious and deep. Which to me, is that hard-to-achieve but perfect when it happens combination.  

The Lost Girl

Next up is The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. A story about inseparable twins Iris and Lark. Well, inseparable until 5th grade when they are each placed into different classes with teachers who might not be the best fit for their distinctive personalities. Iris is analytical, outspoken, conscientious - a girl who always knows when her library books are due.  Lark is sensitive, brilliantly creative, dreamy - a girl who always knows what library books she wants to check out next. If Iris is Hermione then Lark is more Luna. But the winds of change are in the air - new school arrangements, new after-school clubs, and a new shop opening up that might not be what it seems.

Here are three reasons to love The Lost Girl:

  1. The Treasure Hunters antique shop that suddenly opens up in their Minneapolis neighborhood with the slogan We Can Find Anything. Run by mysterious mashed-potato faced man, the shop is soon frequented by one of the twins. For what purpose and why I will leave you to discover.  But the shop reminded me a bit of the Stephen King novel Needful Needs.
  2. I just couldn’t get enough of the fairy tale motif of this story - from the first pages when Lark is described as knowing all the consequences for stealing in various fairy tales, to the recurring comparisons of threats as monsters and ogres, to one of my favorite scenes. It’s when Iris is attending Camp Awesome - one those Girl Power-type camps and the counselor, Abigail, has asked them all which fairy-tale character they identify with.  And it goes on, and other positive points are made about women in fairy tales, but I loved that conversation so so much.
  3. I love how for most of the book I thought I knew which girl the title was referring to. But now I am not so sure…. and I think that would make a really fabulous conversation.

Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl is an incredible novel that is utterly deserving of all the hype that it’s received.  If you have a kid who enjoys realistic fiction with a bit of magical adventure than slide this book their way.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast

And the third book on my mind this week is  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by debut author Samantha Clark.  This novel starts with a mysterious boy washed up on a beach. Where he is, why he’s on this beach, and even who he is are all questions the boy can’t answer. And so he sets off to find to find answers and discover who he is.  My husband, who is a book critic, like to say that every book is really a “journey of self-discovery” but this novel is exactly that. And brilliantly done. As the boy ventures beyond the beach, snippets of his memories return and slowly weave together a picture of what happened. It’s fantastic - and here are three reasons why:

  1. Breath-taking to read. Samantha Clark is the Picasso of personification. I got chills reading this novel!  Let me read you a few lines:
    1. The leaves in the trees purred in the slight breeze.
    2. Greedy waves tugged at his ankles.
    3. The sun squatted in the sky.
  1. The second thing that this book does so well is to capture that inner, critical, self-bullying voice that well have to overcome.  Throughout the the story, the boy is confronted by this voice that is less-than-encouraging. He can run away from some threats, but he can’t run away from this, so how he confronts it is a powerful moment in the book.
  2. The third aspect of this reading experience that made it so good was that your understanding of the three words in the title (boy, beast, boat) change over the course of the novel. And I won’t say more but…..ahhh!!

This novel reminded me of Orphan Island, and one other book that I love. But - if I tell you what book that is - it’s going to give away a big plot twist. But if you’d read this book, message me!

Mae Respicio - Interview Outline

This week’s interview is featuring debut author Mae Respicio! Julie Artz and I hopped on Skype to chat with her about tiny houses, her writing life and of course - her debut novel The House That Lou Built.

Take a listen.

The House That Lou Built

For our listeners who haven’t yet read The House That Lou Built, what is this story about?

What inspired you to write about a tool-toting middle schooler?

What sort of research did you do to write this book?  Did you visit Tiny Houses?

Your Writing Life

What was Hedgebrook like?

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

What are you reading now?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 35:04 mark.

Thank You!

Links:

Mae’s website - https://www.maerespicio.com

Mae on Twitter - @maerespicio

Mae on Instagram - @maerespiciobooks

Hedgebrook

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Harry Potter series

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)

Self-Help (Lorrie Moore)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

May 06 2019

43mins

Play

#71 - A Conversation with Alyson Gerber (Focused)

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen - an elementary school teacher in Central New York and mom of two daughters - a 9 year old and a just turned 12 year old. Yesteday we celebrated her birthday with the most amazing cake - white with whipped cream frosting and layers of cannoli filling and raspberry filling inside. And just in case you are wondering - no, I did not make it.  But if you live near a Wegmans, you can order one!

This is episode #71 and oday and I’m sharing with you a conversation with Alyson Gerber - author of Braced and the recently released Focused. Her latest novel is about a gutsy, chess-loving, 7th grader named Clea who is learning to cope with her ADHD.

So....do you know that slightly disorienting feeling you have when you are looking out a window & suddenly the lights shifts, your perspective shifts, and you realize you are seeing your OWN reflection? That is the experience I had when reading Focused.  Like so many other people, Dr. Rudine Bishop’s analogy of books as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors has always resonated with me.  And I picked up Focused anticipating that I would get a window into the experiences of a young girl with ADHD - that it would help me become a better, more empathetic teacher. And while Focused absolutely did that - it also helped dispel a lot of the misconceptions I had about ADHD, particularly how it tends to manifest in girls and women.  And launched me on a path to discovering that I have ADHD. I opened Focused thinking I was reading a window book - and it turned into a mirror book for me.

I know that books can change minds and can change lives. But rarely has a novel changed my life for the better so completely and so soon. And by extension - the lives of my family and students. And when that happens - you just have to let the author know! And so, I emailed Alyson and thanked her and asked her to come on the show to talk about Focused, chess, her experiences with ADHD, her writing process, and so so much more.

Take a listen.

Alyson Gerber - Interview Outline

Focused

For our listeners who have not yet read the Focused, can you tell us a bit about it?

In what ways is Clea’s situation and experiences similar to your own and in what ways did you angle her story so that it was different from your own?

Another thing that I think you do masterfully in Focused is how you show Clea’s relationship with her therapist evolving over time from her denial and distrust to an eventual positive relationship. I think so many kids can benefit from that peek inside a therapist’s office...

Is the testing you describe Clea doing things you’ve experienced or did you do some research to get those aspects of the story right?

One of the other parts of the story that really rang true were the conversations around medication...

One of the things that made me fall so hard for this book was the CHESS! My husband and daughters are all big chess players though not competitively.  Do you play?

So.... there is some romance in this story!!

Your Writing Life

What are you working on now?

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked along the way that has helped your writing?

Is there a piece of feedback that you got that changed Focused?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special person who helped launch your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

What do you hope that readers take away from reading Focused?

Thank You!

Links:

Alyson’s website - http://alysongerber.com

Alyson on Twitter - @AlysonGerber

Alyson on Instagram - @alysongerber

Alyson on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AlysonGerberBooks

Resources about ADHD:

https://chadd.org

https://www.understood.org/en

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Science of Breakable of Things (Tae Keller)

Barbara Cooney

Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Meg Medina)

New Kid (Jerry Craft)

The Serpent’s Secret (Sayantani DasGupta)

Eventown (Corey Ann Haydu)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Apr 01 2019

48mins

Play

#70 - Three New Graphic Novels & A Conversation with Jerry Craft

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect the tweens in your life to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - 5th grade teacher, a mom of an 11 and 9 year old, and desperate to be DONE with winter, please!! Yesterday we saw robins all over the yard and today… it’s covered with snow again.

I believe that the right book can change the trajectory of a child’s life and can help them recognize the world for what it is and what it can be.  And I want to help you connect kids with those wonderful, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

This is episode #70 and today I’m discussing three new graphic novels that would be great additions to your collection, and I’m also sharing with you a conversation I had with one of their creators.

Book Talk - Three New Graphic Novels

In this segment, I share with you a selection of books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I am featuring three new graphic novels released in the last few months that should absolutely be on your radar - Click, New Kid, and Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy.  

Click

Let’s start with Click by Kayla Miller.  This full-color graphic novel is about 5th grader Olive who is feeling left out and left behind when all of her friends have matched up with each other for the school variety show. They’ve all formed acts together and Olive is feeling like she just doesn’t “click” with anyone or anything.

Here are three things I really enjoyed about Click:

  1. Olive’s Aunt Molly! She’s the kind of aunt we all wish we could have - the one whose house you can stay at when things are tricky at home. The cool aunt with ripped jeans, green streaks in her hair, and a “Kiss the Librarian” coffee mug. (I mean - well, *I* think that’s cool!)  It’s Aunt Molly that gets Olive these DVDs of old-timey variety shows that leads to her “a-ha” moment.
  2. The friendship dynamics in the book! I know a lot of kids can feel like they don’t belong. Don’t feel popular, don’t have a best friend. And as someone who always seemed to be friends with girls who were best friends with each other - I could really relate to Olive.
  3. The third thing that I ended up liking about this book is that it’s slower paced, has essentially one main conflict, and it can be read in one sitting.

Click is a great option for kids in grades 3-6 who liked Sunny Side Up or Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel.  And - Kayla Miller has a sequel coming out on April 23rd called Camp - so if they enjoy Click, they’ll have another one on the way.

Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy

Next up is Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo which is, as you might have guessed from the title - a modern retelling of Little Women. A full-color, 256 page graphic novel reboot of the March sisters’ story. In this retelling, the March family lives in a brownstone in New York City and their father is deployed overseas in the Middle East. So the setting is different, but the girls’ personalities are pretty much the same, but with a modern twist. Meg is the responsible one and works as a nanny. Jo is an ambitious writer, Beth is shy and loves writing music but plays a guitar and not the piano, and Amy is still her obnoxious self - just in a slightly different way.  My eleven-year-old and I devoured this book - oh it’s so good! And here are three reasons why:

  1. That the March family is reimagined as a modern blended biracial family. Mr. March is black and was a widower with one daughter, Meg. And he marries Mrs. March, who is white and also had one daughter, Jo. And they go on to have Beth and Amy together.  And that mix of closeness and conflict that can happen between sisters had my daughter nodding her head and laughing in recognition. We also loved that this modern retelling including gay characters and just an overall more diverse slice of society.
  2. Noticing what’s changed from the original. I’d read the Little Women many years ago but my daughter hadn’t and I doubt many middle grade readers will have. But we had both seen the movie recently and it’s cool to see how those classic characters are updated. Amy is into gaming - and boy is she competetive about it! And she wants to sell Aunt Catherine’s ring to either go to art school or launch a career as a video game reviewer on YouTube. The book includes most of the iconic Little Women scenes - Jo cutting her hair, Amy wrecking some of Jo’s writing, Jo not saving Amy from an accident that could have been tragic, Meg hanging out with a crowd of a different class, the whole Laurie situation. But each are shifted and told in a totally new way that makes sense for the now.
  3. The ending is the same yet totally different. I want to be careful with what I say so I don’t ruin anything if you haven’t read Little Women. First, the story ends when the girls are younger. Jo is still in high school and Meg is in college so there might be an opportunity for a sequel? Also - just like the original, you will need tissues but maybe not an entire box.

Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth is a must-purchase graphic novel for I would say about grades 5 and up. And just like other graphic novels versions of classics like Anne of Green Gables and the Iliad, it’s a way for young readers to access those stories in a format they love. And adult fans of Little Women will love it, too.

New Kid

The third graphic novel that I want to recommend to you this week is New Kid by Jerry Craft. I’m fairly confident that you have already heard about this book since it seems like everyone is raving about it. But let me add my voice to those to say - yes, it’s THAT good. And I am really excited to have Jerry Craft on the show today to talk about how the book connects to his own experiences attending a private school, micro-aggressions, his favorite Chinese food, his inspirations, what’s he’s been reading - and so so much more.

Take a listen:

Jerry Craft - Interview Outline

New Kid has been getting so much love and support from readers online -   you have knocked it out of the park! For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

I’ve heard you say that Jordan’s story is somewhat based on your experiences. What are those those similiarites and also - where does the novel diverge from your experiences?

In a previous interview you were asked what message you hoped people would take away from reading New Kid. And one of the things you mentioned was addressed to teachers and librarians “when you see kids of color, make sure you see them as kids first. Because they are! They like to laugh, and play, and use their imaginations, but to me they are constantly bombarded with so many things that force them to grow up at a much faster rate than other kids. Their books. Their movies. Their music. Everything is such a heavy reminder of how terrible their lives are going to be.

And that scene at the book fair is such an illustration of that….

So I have to talk to you about the audiobook of New Kid!  What was the process like and what did you think of the final audiobook?

So - what’s YOUR favorite Chinese food?

A question from Jarrett Lerner..

“I'd love to hear about your favorite comics, comic book artists, graphic novelists. You do such inventive, clever things with your paneling and your visual language. Who are your influences and favorites?

So, everyone wants to know - will there be a sequel?!

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Thank You!

Links:

Jerry’s website - http://www.jerrycraft.net

Jerry on Twitter - @JerryCraft

Jerry on Instagram - @jerrycraft

Jerry on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/jerry.craft.162

New Kid audiobook

Jerry’s influences:

John Buscema

Jim Steranko

Gil Kane

Jack Kirby

Will Eisner

Barbara Slate

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Nimona audiobook

Angel Love (Barbara Slate)

Sweet Sixteen (Barbara Slate)

You Can Do a Graphic Novel (Barbara Slate)

Class Act (Jerry Craft)

Piecing Me Together (Renée Watson)

Queen Raina Telgemeier

Nic Stone

Ibi Zoboi

Jason Reynolds

Kwame Alexander

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang)

Anika Denise

Pura Belpré

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Mar 18 2019

44mins

Play

#69 - Novels About Loss and Hope & Special Guest Laura Shovan (Takedown)

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher of 21, a mom of two, and enjoying the last few hours of our Winter Break here in Central New York. We’ve had ice storms then sun and lots of time to read.

This is episode #69 and Today I’m discussing four excellent middle grade novels that deal with grief and loss. And I’m also sharing with you a conversation I had with Laura Shovan about her latest book Takedown.

Book Talk - Four Novels About Loss and Hope

In this segment, I share with you a selection of books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. I happened to read these four books back-to-back without realizing how profoundly connected they were. They have completely different plots and one is even sci/fi / speculative fiction - but each novel features a main character who is dealing with loss in one form or another. In two of the novels, that loss is the death of a parent. And in two of the novels, that loss includes a parent dealing with mental illness and trauma themselves. A loss of another - a loss of what was once considered normal life.  The books this week are: The Science of Breakable Things, The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole, The Simple Art of Flying, and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

The Science of Breakable Things

The first book I want to share with you and one that I hope makes its way into your collection is Tae Keller’s debut novel The Science of Breakable Things. The lead in this story is 7th grader Natalie who’s life has been turned upside down as she and her father are learning how to navigate her mother’s depression - the “situation” as her dad calls it that has her mom holed up in her bedroom and not able to cook, work, or keep up any of the routines and traditions that had kept their family together. At the beginning of the school year, Natalie’s science teacher has challenged them all to use the power of the scientific method to explore a question that intrigues you and study it with all your heart. Well - the question that tugs at Natalie’s heart?  How can I inspire my mother to break out of her depression? And along the way Natalie teams up with Twig (her exuberant best friend) and Dari (their new serious lab partner) to enter an egg-drop contest hoping to use the prize money for a scheme to jumpstart her mother out of her depression. Here are three things to love about Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakable Things:

  1. How the story is laid out with the steps of the Scientific Method! Step One: Observe, Step Two: Question, Step Three: Investigative Research and so on.  It’s a clever way to structure the story and have you predicting what those Results will be!
  2. The illustrations and footnotes! Oh am I such a sucker for a good footnote - especially funny ones and this novel has over fifty of these little gems!
  3. Natalie’s visits with her therapist, Dr. Doris - and Natalie’s resistance to falling for her “Therapist Tricks” and Natalie’s eventual shift to being more open with her. I think a lot of kids will be able relate to those begrudging trips to a counselor, and I hope some other children might see a glimpse into the help a therapist can offer.

There is so much more to this book than just those things - like Natalie’s relationship with her Korean grandmother and her growning interest in their shared culture and the break-down of her relationship with her friend Mikayala. Here is one of my favorite quotes - one that captures the blend of science and hope in this book. This is from a section right after Natalie, Twig, and Dari have been experimenting with magnets. “It’s funny how the cold magnets actually worked best. It’s like how perennial plants seem to die in the winter but really, they’re just waiting till everything is all right again. Maybe it’s not such a surprise that there’s strength in the cold. Maybe sometimes the strongest thing of all is knowing that one day you’ll be alright again, and waiting and waiting until you can come out into the sun.”

For kids who are waiting for those in their lives to come out into the sun, The Science of Breakable Things is a fabulous book to offer.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

Our next book today is The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas - author of several picture books and the middle grade Confessions of an Imaginary Friend which I now must pick up immediately! The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is one of those books that I kept bumping into. I’d see it on display at the library, friends kept raving about it, it popped up on my “Related to Items You Viewed” on Amazon. It’s like it was stalking me. Like, in a nice, bookish way. The way where all the the forces of the universe seem to nudge you to read something. And well - the forces of the universe were right about this quirky, moving, wonderfully weird little book. It’s about eleven-year-old Stella Diaz whose father has recently died. Together they shared a love of science - and silly jokes. But remembering him after his death has become painful. In the first pages of the book, she decides to give NASA the only recording of her father’s laugh - to put on the Golden Record headed out on the Voyager spacecraft. Instead, a black hole follows her home and it becomes Stella’s pet - consuming everything it touches. And at first, Stella is happy to toss in those things that cause her annoyance (Brussel Sprouts) or cause her painful memories (like the recording of her father).  And then the black hole devours her 5-year-old brother, Cosmo, and Stella has to venture inside that darkness to save him and confront all the other things she’d tossed inside. I loved this book - and here are three (of many!) reasons why:

  1. It’s hilarious! Like - Stella names the black hole “Larry” - short for “Singularity” and the scenes with the smelly classroom hamster Stinky Stu. And the Dog With No Name. And all the things that Larry gets up to when he gets loose in the neighborhood! Yes - this novel is about loss and grief and there are times when you’re probably going to cry. But to me, that edge between laughing and tears is a powerful place. And this book does it so well.
  2. The clever use of black and white pages - and Stella’s Captain Log documenting her journey in the black hole.
  3. Lines like this one: “It's like the stars in our constellations that we made," you said. "Even if one star dies far, far away, its light is still visible, and the constellation it helped to make remains. A thing can be gone and still be your guide."

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is charming, gorgeously written - and funnier than you’d ever think. If you have kids who like science, who like funny books, who are up for something unique - then this is a novel they’ll love. And if you have a child learning how to grapple with their black hole - this might be the book they need.

The Simple Art of Flying

Another fantastic book that was just released this past week is The Simple Art of Flying by debut author Cory Leonardo. It’s about a young cherry-loving African Grey parrot, Alastair, who was born in the back room of a pet shop - along with his sister, Aggie. Alastair is...grumpy, suspicious, stubborn, and intensly loyal to his sister - and set on finding a way for them both to escape together to a land of blue skies and palm trees.  But that dream gets a lot harder to pull off when each of them are adopted by two different people. Alastair ends up with an elderly but very active widow named Albertina Plopky who organizes “Polka with Pets” events and writes letters to her deceased husband. And Aggie is bought by 12-year-old-Fritz, an attentive, sweet, and serious boy who is dealing with his own loses. So here are three things to love about Cory Leonardo’s The Simple Art of Flying:

  1. How this story is told from three different points of view and in three different formats which helps us triangulate what’s happening. Alastair’s sections are in prose and in poetry. He likes to chew on books with poetry being his favorite so has taken to creating his own versions of famous poems he’s read. Bertie’s sections are letters to her husband, Everett. And Fritz’s parts are a medical log.
  2. Alastair’s poetry!!! And… the chapter with the goldfish was unexpected and...brilliant!
  3. Bertie’s letter to Fritz at the end of the book - all about cherries and life and what to do on those days when it feels like everything is the pits.

The Simple Art of Flying is a gorgeously sweet book that’s a little bit like The One and Only Ivan with a touch of Because of Winn-Dixie.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Our final book this week is the latest from Dan Gemeinhart - who you may know from The Honest Truth, Good Dog, or Scar Island. His novels are perennial favorites in our class and guaranteed heart-tuggers - and The Remarkble Journey of Coyote Sunrise is, I think, my favorite of all. And that’s saying something - every one of his books are incredible!  This story starts at a hot gas station where our main girl, called Coyote, walks in alone - and leaves with a watermelon slushie and a white and gray striped fluff of a kitten. A kitten she has to hide from her father - the man she only refers to as Rodeo. Five years ago Coyote’s mother and sisters were killed in an accident and since then she and her father have left behind their home, their memories (or any talk of them) and have been living in an old converted school bus traveling the country. And never ever looking back. But during Coyote’s weekly phone call to her grandmother back in Washington State, Coyote learns something that launches her on a secret mission to get the bus headed back home (without Rodeo realizing it!) so she can keep a promise. On her journey there are mishaps and new travelers joining them and more secrets revealed. There are so many reasons to love this book there’s no way to list them all, but here are three:

  1. Coyote. This girl has so much charm and love and generosity wrapped around a core of pain and hurt. She’s gentle with her father - even when he doesn’t deserve it. She names her cat Ivan from The One and Only Ivan.  She reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables books. You just want to ber her friend.
  2. Coyote’s friendship with Salvador - a boy who ends up on the bus with them with his mother. I love how they gently push each other in a better direction. And Coyote does something for Salvador that is one of the kindest, sweetest, gestures.
  3. Rodeo. Here’s how Coyote describes him. “That man is hopeless. He is wild and broken and beautiful and hanging on by a thread, but it’s a heckuva thread and he’s holding it tight with both hands and his heart.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise was a book that shredded my heart and then somehow stitched it back together stonger than before. I think it’s Gemeinhart’s best yet.

Laura Shovan - Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Laura Shovan - author of the novel in verse The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary and her most recent middle grade book - Takedown. This conversation actually took place last summer but due to some techinical difficulties on my end, it took me until now to bring it to you.  But, it was worth the wait. Laura and I chat about the inspiration behind her novel, the world of girls’ wrestling, donuts, bullet journaling, among lots of other things. And don’t forget that when you are done reading the book and you want to hear Laura and I discuss the ending of Takedown, just wait until the end of the show after the credits and that bonus section will be waiting for you.

Take a listen…

Takedown

Your new middle grade novel, Takedown, was just released this past June - can you tell us a bit about it?

I love books that immerse me in a subculture!  Like Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish - I was so fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process. I’ve heard you mention that your son wrestled and that close knowledge of the sport clearly comes through.  When did you know you wanted to bring wrestling into a story and did you do any extra research to bring this story to life?

There were so many small moments in the book that highlight what a “boys’ club” the wrestling world is - all the trophies have boys at the top of them, all the refs at all the tournaments (including the girls wrestling tournament) are men - and even Mickey’s supportive coach uses gendered languages and calls the team “guys” and “boys.”  At some point it occured to me… yes, this book is about wrestling, but maybe it might help kids see how male-focused other aspects of the world are?

One of the aspects that I really connect to was the Delgado family dynamics of Mickey and her older brothers Cody and Evan. And how their relationship with each other changed when the oldest, Evan, wasn’t around.

I’m coming to realize that dual perspective novels are some of my favorites. And you were masterful at those subtle time shifts to build that suspense!  What was your process like to make Mickey’s voice distinct from Lev’s?

You deserve a donut for this amazing book!  What’s your favorite?

So, as a fellow bullet journaler, did I see that you offer bullet journaling CLASSES?

Your Writing Life

How was writing Takedown different than writing The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Before you go - you posted a video of you calling your reps last year. I just want to say thank you for inspiring me to make those phone calls and to keep calling….

Thank You!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Laura and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 52:38 mark.

Links:

Laura’s website - https://laurashovan.com

Laura on Twitter

Wrestle Like A Girl

Dough Donuts

Laura Shovan on Bullet Journaling

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

A Child’s Garden of Verses (Robert Louis Stevensen)

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

The Warriors Series (Erin Hunter)

Howard Wallace: Sabotage Stage Left (Casey Lyall)

Drawn Together (Minh Lê and Dan Santat)

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Sy Montgomery)

Giants Beware!, Dragons Beware! and Monsters Beware! (Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado)

The Colors of the Rain (R.L.Toalson)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Feb 25 2019

1hr 5mins

Play

#68 - MG Trends & the Most Anticipated Books of 2019

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Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, and battling a cold this afternoon! So if I sound a little...off - that is why!

This is episode #68 and Today I’m answering some questions about trends in middle grade and sharing with you some fabulous 2019 titles to look forward to this year!

Q&A - Trends in Middle Grade Fiction

Last month, my husband asked me some questions about trends in middle grade fiction. He teaches a class at Seton Hall all about trends in genre fiction and wanted some input on middle grade. So I thought I would share my responses with you. And I would be very curious about what YOU would answer.

  1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are the hottest right now?

Well, it’s a format and not a genre but graphic novel memoirs like Hey Kiddo, Real Friends, and Be Prepared are still really popular. And also graphic novel adaptations of classics (like Anne of Green Gables) and popular novels (like Wings of Fire or Percy Jackson).  And again, not genre, but I see more books that are based on the core experiences of the writer. Those novels that draw on the real-life backgrounds of the authors like Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, Tami Charles’ Like Vanessa, and Supriya Kellar’s Ahimsa.  They’re not memoirs but they are books rooted in a very personal experience. To authors, I’d say - take those things that make you unique, that make you a bit quirky, that set you apart from most other people - and write THAT story. Like Kelly Yang taking the experiences of her family coming from China and running motels to write Front Desk. Jarrett Krosoczka writing the critically acclaimed graphic novel memoir Hey Kiddo about his life living with his grandparents after his mom lost custody of him due to drug addiction. Crack that door open and invite us inside.

  1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are passé or overexposed?

I don’t know…. I do wonder how long the unicorn and narwhal craze will last but that seems to live more in picture books than middle grade. Magical realism - or rather realistic fiction with a magical twist - doesn’t seem to be slowing down. You know - anything can be new and fresh with the right spin.  And also, authors from marginalized backgrounds are still underrepresented in just about every genre so those are stories that will likely have new points of view. I thought I was totally over zombie stories but Dread Nation popped up and whoa!!  I’ve never read a zombie story like THAT before!

  1. If you had to predict, what genre or subgenre do you think is primed to be the next Big Thing in the next year or so?

I would say stories about immigrants, refugees, and the unique experiences of marginalized groups (especially by #ownvoices authors) will continue to be popular. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an explosion of critically acclaimed middle grade stories like Alan Gratz’s Refugee, Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, and Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai among many more. We also have more and more books coming out that tell stories of police violence in developmentally appropriate ways like Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Blended by Sharon Draper.  I’m also really excited about a new crop of middle grade #MeToo stories on the horizon like So Done by Paula Chase and the upcoming Barbara Dee novel Maybe He Just Likes You.

  1. Any comments about where you see genre fiction heading?

In middle grade, like everywhere else,  #ownvoices books are still underrepresented  - everyone has a unique story to tell or a unique POV to offer.  EVERYONE. So my advice to authors, take the spark of your unique life experiences and let that burn throughout your story.  My advice to educators - scour those shelves to find a wider variety of books. Also - if you write for a YA/MG audience, librarians and educators are more and more eager to the ditch the old canon and form partnerships with authors. Look for opportunities like #KidsNeedMentors or reach out to your local schools and libraries.

Book Talk - Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2019

The last couple of episodes were all about looking back on some of the best that middle grade had to offer in 2018. (If you missed those, go check out episodes #66 and #67.)  But today is all about looking forward into the new year.

Last year, when I did our Most Anticipated MG of 2018, I went chronologically by month. But this year I’m going about it a little differently and discussing the new releases by category.  

First, we’ll chat about the new graphic novels coming up in 2019. And then we’ll talk about new releases from authors who debuted in 2018 and 2017 and see what they’re up to now. After that, I’ll give you a peek at some of the 2019 debut middle grade authors.  Then we’ll see what new books are coming out in favorite series and what sequels we have to look forward to. And finally, we’ll finish up with the 2019 releases from more established authors.

So, buckle up and get ready to add to your wish list. And remember - no need to go hunting for a pen and paper. You can find every book mentioned AND a picture of the available covers AND a link to pre-order them right on the Books Between post for this episode, #69, at MGBookVillage.com.  I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you. And as I’ve said before, I’ve come to really love pre-ordering - it helps out favorite authors and it’s like a little surprise to your future self.

Before we jump in, just remember that this is just a sampling of all the incredible books coming out this year. I’ll add some links to some other great resources in the show notes and on the website where you can find more complete listings of titles to browse through and the MGBookVillage website has a great release calendar so that’s one to bookmark for sure.

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111975.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2019

http://novelnineteens.com/books/middle-grade-books

https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/12/19-2019-middle-grade-books-to-have-on-your-radar/

https://www.readbrightly.com/middle-grade-books-2019/

https://www.bookish.com/articles/must-read-childrens-books-winter-2019/

http://www.popgoesthereader.com/target-audience-middle-grade/70-middle-grade-novels-i-cant-wait-to-read-in-2019/

Also - publication dates do occasionally change, so just be aware of that.

Alright, get your Goodreads tab open, or your library website pulled up, or your Amazon/Indiebound shopping cart ready, or ….. print out the show notes and bring it to your favorite local bookstore!

Alright - let’s get to it!

The 2019 Graphic Novels

  • This January, Lincoln Peirce, the author of Big Nate, has a new graphic/illustrated novel series set in the middle ages called Max and the Midknights that looks really, really cute.
  • Also out on January 8th is Click by Kayla Miller - the story of 5th grader Olive who is having some trouble finding where she “clicks” in middle school. The sequel, called Camp, is being released this April so fans won’t have to wait long for the next one.
  • A fantasy graphic novel that Mel Schuit recommended that I check out is The Chancellor and the Citadel by Maria Capelle Frantz so that’s on my radar now - and yours! Thank you, Mel!
  • On January 29th another Hilo is coming our way! Hilo 5: Then Everything Went Wrong. And on that same day the 5th Bird & Squirrel is coming out called All Tangled Up.
  • One graphic novel adaptation that has really piqued my interest is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Tercerio and illustrator Bre Indigo. The classic is reimagined as a blended family living in modern-day New York City. I don’t think I’ve ever hit “pre-order” faster and will be eagerly stalking my delivery person on February 5th for that one!
  • My mailbox is going to be brimming on February 5th because I also HAD to preorder New Kid by Jerry Craft!  It’s about seventh grader Jordan Banks who loves drawing cartoons and dreams of going to art school. But his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school instead, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Looks amazing!!  90-Second Newbery was singing its praises on Twitter last night and said this about it: “The amazing graphic novel New Kid by @JerryCraft should definitely be on everyone's tbr list and it has a full-cast (and all-star cast) audiobook released at the same time….perfect for rich, nuanced convos abt race, class, identity, school systems, how we share books, code switching, starting new school, just so much!”   So, yeah… I’ll just wait here for a bit while you hit pause and go order that!
  • We also get  the second Wings of Fire graphic novel, The Lost Heir, on February 26th AND the second Mr. Wolf’s Class book called Mystery Club. And a heads up that the graphic novel of The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire Book 3) is out in October 2019.
  • For those Minecraft fans in your life, this March we get another Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior graphic novel - Forging Destiny.
  • And for older middle grade kids - maybe 11 or 12 and up -  look for the new graphic novel adaptations of The Iliad and The Odyssey this March as well.
  • And fans of Terri Libenson’s Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzie will want to get their hands on Just Jaime - coming out May7th. There were lots of smiles among my students today when I told them that news!
  • Bad Guys #9 - The Bad Guys in the Big Bad Wolf is out June 25th.  Perfect launch for a fun summer read.
  • This August brings us Best Friends, the sequel to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends -  out on August 27th. And have you seen the cover? It’s Shannon at the top of a rollercoaster with this vibrant purple background. Love it, love it, love it!
  • And Dog Man fans (like my daughter) will be psyched this August because we are getting Dog Man #7: For Whom the Ball Rolls!
  • The seventh graphic novel adaptation of the Baby-sitters Club, Boy Crazy Stacey, illustrated by Gale Carrigan, will be out September 3rd. That’s one of those no-brainer preorders for my classroom library.
  • Also - I was interested to hear that R.J. Palacio is publishing her first graphic novel Wonder story this fall called White Bird. This one is Julian’s grandmother’s story about her life as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. So be on the lookout for that one September 3rd as well.
  • You want another don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it-just-preorder-it graphic novel? Guts - the long-awaited new Raina Telgemeier graphic memoir is out September 17th!!
  • September also brings the latest from Tillie Walden - Are You Listening.  The peeks I’ve seen of that online look incredible, so that one is definitely on my radar this fall.
  • And then….….. Drumroll please…… Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl!! Ahhhh!!  I knew it! That last page in Mighty Jack and the Goblin King was just too good not to be followed up with a joint adventure. Yay!
  • Jen Wang -  author of last year’s hit, The Prince & the Dressmaker, has a new graphic novel coming out in September called  Stargazing. This one draws on her personal experiences and is the story of two friends - Moon and Christine.
  • And this November we’ll get The Midwinter Witch - the third and final book in the trilogy that includes The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch.
  • And - wow, I’m just going to start saving up now for September because the graphic novel adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover is also coming out on September 24th!  It’s going to be a pancakes and ramen noodles for dinner kind of a month if I want to keep up with all these awesome books coming out!  (And I haven’t even gotten past the graphic novels!)
  • And…. I think, maybe, possibly.. that Amulet #9 (the final one of the series) will be released late this year. But I can’t find much info on it. No title, no date, no synopsis - nada! So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will arrive in 2019.
  • Finally - another graphic novel to be on the lookout for later in 2019 is Twins by author Varian Johnson who you may know from The Parker Inheritance and illustrator Shannon Wright. The publication date isn’t yet announced, but apparently it’s about twin sisters struggling to figure out individual identities in middle school and it’s based on Johnson’s own childhood experiences as a twin.

New Releases from 2017 / 2018 Debut Authors

  • Early February brings us the second in Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series called A Sprinkle of Spirits and oh is that cover gorgeous!
  • And definitely snag a copy of the sequel to Jarrett Lerner’s EngiNerds - Revenge of the EngiNerds out on February 19th. It is EVEN FUNNIER than the first one. And that’s saying something!
  • Another book I’m looking forward to is Jen Petro-Roy’s Good Enough - about a young girl with an eating disorder.
  • Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta - the follow up to The Serpent’s Secret is out on February 26th.
  • And the end of February also brings us Bone Hollow  by Skeleton Tree author Kim Ventrella.
  • Also be on the lookout for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras on March 5th. That sequel is getting rave reviews so it’s definitely one to add to your library.
  • Alyson Gerber, author of Braced, will have a new novel out called Focused. It’s about a middle school girl who loves chess and has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Definitely a book a lot of my students will be able to connect with!
  • In the last week of April we get the sequel to Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time called Aru Shah and Song of Death
  • This April brings us the second novel from Rebecca Donnelly called The Friendship Lie.
  • One book I’m excited to dip into this spring is Up for Air by Laurie Morrison. You might know her from last year’s Every Shiny Thing.
  • From the author of 2017’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and 2018’s Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish comes Each Tiny Spark. This is Pablo Cartaya’s third MG novel and this one features a young girl, a father recently returned from deployment, and… welding. So look for that one in August.
  • And The Cryptid Keeper, the sequel to Lija Fisher’s 2018 The Cryptid Catcher is out this August as is Melissa Sarno’s A Swirl of Ocean.
  • In September comes the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. It’s called Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus and follows Aven’s adventures as she heads into high school. At first I thought that might put it in the YA category, but from what I can tell, it’s still middle grade.
  • This fall we’ll also be treated to Abby Cooper’s third novel - Friend or Fiction. Just like Sticks and Stones and Bubbles, this one is also magical realism. It’s about a girl named Jade. In the pages of her notebook, she writes all about Zoe--the most amazing best friend anyone could dream of. But when pretend Zoe appears in real life thanks to a magical experiment gone right, Jade isn't so sure if she likes sharing her imaginary friend with the real world.  
  • Another treat in store for you this fall is the third novel by Elly Swartz - Give and Take. This book is about 12 year-old Maggie whose grandmother’s recent death has triggered her to start hoarding things under her bed.

2019 Debut Authors

So - I’ll just say right now that I could have had an ENTIRE show just dedicated to the amazing middle grade debuts coming our way this year but at some point, I had to cut myself off.  So - I’ll include a link to the Novel19s website where you find many more middle grade debuts and discover some of your new favorite authors.

  • The Whisperers is Greg Howard’s middle grade debut and one that has really caught my eye. Just listen to this description: “Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home.” Oooo…. This one is out January 15th.
  • If you are looking for a new book for younger middle grade readers - something along the lines of Ramona Quimby or Stella Diaz - check out Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternatch.
  • One book that keeps popping up into my radar is the middle grade debut of Padma Venkatraman called The Bridge Home about four children who discover strength and grit and family while dealing with homelessness. That one comes out Feb 5th so be on the lookout for that one.
  • Another debut that I have been dying to read is The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo!  Let me just read you the teaser: “Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.”  My step-mother had parrots when I was growing up, so this one in particular I really am interested in reading! So I’ll be checking my mailbox for that one on February 12th.
  • Another debut I am excited to read this year is Joshua Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy! Since one of my goals this year is to introduce my students to more science fiction, a story about a school on a spaceship orbiting Jupiter would be perfect!
  • On March 12 we get Lisa Moore Ramée’s debut A Good Kind of Trouble about a girl who just wants to follow the rules. And sometime this spring we get rather the opposite in Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz. This one is about a “bully” who ends up living with her aunt who is a nun and tries to turn over a new leaf.
  • This March is the debut of Julia Nobel with The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane about a girl who gets shipped off to a British boarding school and finds a box of medallions that might just be connected to the disappearance of her father.
  • A graphic novel debut coming in March that looks fabulous is Red Panda & Moon Bear by Jarod Roselló. It’s about two Latinx kids who defend their neighborhood from threats both natural and supernatural.
  • And in late April is the first book in a new MG detective series called Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak and a time-traveling action adventure that will transport readers to ancient Egypt called Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh by Malayna Evans.
  • Hurricane Season by debut author Nicole Melleby comes out May 7th and oh how do I want to read this novel!  On a recent #MGLitChat focused on the 2019 debut authors, the moderator asked, “What do you hope young readers take away from your book?”  And Nicole Melleby said the following, “ I want them to take away that they’re not alone, that they’re seen, that mental illness is hard but manageable, and that love may have its limits, but help comes in all shapes and sizes. Also that Van Gogh was a brilliant man.”  After reading Vincent & Theo last summer - uhhh…. gimme that book!!
  • Another great middle grade debut to look for on May 7th is Just South of Home by Karen Stong which is described as Blackish meets Goosebumps. The story follows a rule-abiding girl who must team up with her trouble making cousin, goofy younger brother, and his best friend to unravel a mysterious haunting in their tiny Southern town.
  • Also coming this spring is a book that I immediately knew I wanted to read. It’s called Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. (So, I was pretty much ALREADY sold by the Bowie reference.) The book follows Nova, an autistic, nonverbal, space-obsessed 12-year-old who is awaiting the Challenger shuttle launch and the return of her big sister, Bridget, as she struggles to be understood by her new foster family.  I was a 4th grader when The Challenger Disaster happened and vividly remember watching it happen live on tv, so I am really interested to see how that plays out in this book.
  • Another debut to look for early this summer is All of Me by Chris Baron - a novel in verse about a 13 year old boy who is dealing with a big move, struggles in his parents’ marriage, and his own body image issues.
  • So… if you are a close listener, you have probably figured out that I’m a sucker for books involving baking or cooking.  Maybe that’s why Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca just leapt out at me when I stumbled across it last month. This is a contemporary-fantasy retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream about an 11 year old Indian American girl whose father is a food writer and whose mother is a successful businesswoman. But when she adds some rather…. unusual (and maybe magical?) ingredients to her baking, things get out of hand. So look for that one on June 4th.
  • And if your kids are looking for a fun spooky read this summer, Ollie Oxley and the Ghost comes out on June 18th and looks really cute. It’s about a boy who moves to California and ends up becoming friends with a ghost from the Gold Rush era.
  • Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega is another paranormal middle grade coming this September and it’s described as Coco meets Stranger Things. So, uh… yeah...gimme that for sure!
  • Also coming out this September is The Light in the Lake by Sarah Baughman - a book about a young girl who finds herself caught between her love of science and her late twin brother's belief in magic.

Sequels and Favorite Series

2019 New Releases from Established Authors

  • First up here is the book I am devouring right now - The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart which just came out on January 8th. And oh…. does this book live up to its hype! Brace yourself to hear lots more about this one later!
  • Also out this January is a book my friend Sandy has been raving about - The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, U.S.A by Coretta Scott King honor nominee Brenda Woods. So I definitely need to add that one to my TBR list.
  • This January readers will get a new Gordon Korman novel - Unteachables AND a new Andrew Clements novel - The Friendship War.
  • January also brings us the first book in the really incredible Rick Riordan Presents Imprint - Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. This is a space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. (By the way - if you have kids who love Rick Riordan’s novels or who love adventure books with a dash of humor and myth - then check out his Imprint site. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can check them all out. From those lucky enough to read advanced copies, I haven’t heard anything but praise.)
  • Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas by Andrea Pyros is one to watch out for this February.
  • And another upper middle grade February release that caught my attention is a joint novel told in letters by Counting by 7s author Holly Goldberg Sloan and The Interestings author Meg Wolitzer. It’s called To Night Owl from Dogfish and it’s about two very different 12 year-old girls named Averie and Bett who are sent off to the same sleepaway camp in order to bond after their single dads fall in love with each other.
  • February also bring us another novel by Anne Urso (author of the critically acclaimed The Real Boy) This novel, The Lost Girl, is about identical twins Lark and Iris.  
  • On March 5th we get another Lisa Graff novel called Far Away about a girl, CJ, whose aunt is a psychic medium who claims that she carries messages from the dead.
  • And I’m really psyched for We’re Not From Here by Tapper Twins author Geoff Rodkey. This novel is also out March 5th and is about refugees from planet Earth who need to find a new home on a faraway planet. I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this one and it’s quirky and hilarious… and timely. Definitely add this one to your pre orders.
  • March also brings us another Rick Riordan Present’s book called Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I’ve been hearing lots of great buzz about this one, so I’ll definitely need to pre-order a copy.
  • On March 19th we get a new Kevin Henkes novel called Sweeping Up the Heart and this one is the story of the spring break that changes seventh-grader Amelia Albright’s life forever.
  • In late March Natalie Lloyd fans will be treated to Over the Moon - a story about twelve-year-old Mallie who lives in a mining town where boys leave school at 12 to work in the mines, and girls leave to work as servants for the wealthy. But of course with that quintessentially Lloyd magic interwoven.
  • And another Cynthia Lord book is coming out this March! She is the author of Rules and A Handful of Stars. This one is titled Because of the Rabbit and is about a young girl who starts public school for the first time after being homeschooled.
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is coming out April 2nd and a really interesting looking book called Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway will be released April 16th. It’s about a girl who has to save her aunt’s pie shop. I think this one would be  a winner for kids who enjoy shows like The Great British Baking Show.
  • In early May, we get to read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s next novel, Shouting at the Rain about a girl named Delsie who lives with her grandmother, loves tracking weather, and who starts to wish for a more “regular” family and life. You can’t go wrong with the author of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys so… just pop this one in your cart now!
  • And another novel that is getting all kinds of early buzz is the latest from K.A. Reynolds called Spinner of Dreams. It’s being called “inventive, empathetic, and strange in all the best ways.”  Plus - it has a really otherworldly cover that I just want to stare at...
  • And finally - I know you all have heard me rave about this one before - but Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You is going to be AMAZING!  My students and I got the chance to read the first chapter and we were all already hooked. But let me give you a little taste from the teaser: “For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like? They don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.” I can’t WAIT!!

Phew!!  Alright - I am both energized and - I gotta be honest - a little daunted! But - I am reminding myself and I hope you’ll remember too that it’s not about a mad dash to read all of these books. But to give you a taste of what’s to come so you can match readers with books they might like and get them excited about new releases.

I hope you have a wonderful year reading and I would love to know - what are the books that you and your students are most looking forward to in 2019?

You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jan 15 2019

38mins

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#67 - (Some of the) Best MG Graphic Novels of 2018

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Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher in Central New York, a mom of two tween girls, and currently - all about the new Miles Morales Spiderman movie. It’s the lockscreen on my phone, my girls and I have the soundtrack set to shuffle in the car….and I already have plans to go see it a second time.  Into the Spiderverse is the most innovative and fresh and exciting movie I’ve seen in years. It’s some next-level stuff. Just - go see it!! And see it on the BIG screen!

This is episode #67 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade graphic novels published in 2018.

On our last episode, I listed my top 25 middle grade novels of the year and I’ll include a link to that if you missed that episode.

I think it’s important at the outset when making a list of this kind to explain what “best” means to you. What are your criteria? Is that popularity? The Goodreads best of lists tend to veer in that direction. Is it literary appeal? That is more along the lines of say, the Newbery Awards.

For me, an outstanding book has to fit three criteria:

  1. I couldn’t put it down. Meaning - it was immersive, it has flow, it kept me turning the pages.
  2. I can’t forget it. Meaning - it had some extra special sparkle. An unforgettable character, an intriguing setting, a ground-breaking format, or a powerfully poignant message.
  3. I think kids would like it. There are books out there marketed to middle grade readers (sometimes those big award winners) that adults love but kids don’t seem to latch onto as much. So I also try to be mindful that kids books are for kids. Not for me. I am just the conduit to getting books into their hands and helping them discover what they like.

Okay - let’s jump in!

Main Topic - The Top 9 MG Graphic Novels of 2018

9. Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

This full-color graphic novel is about a 7th grade girl named Dany. She has just started middle school and is pretty lonely. Her friends are in different classes now and have new in-jokes and stories that she doesn’t get anymore. So she’s feeling socially vulnerable when her eccentric (and loaded) great-aunt passes away and she ends up with the woman’s sketchbook. A magical sketchbook that will turn your drawing into real-life. So when Dany draws the head of her favorite anime character (uh yeah… JUST the head) and a super popular girl to be her friend, there are (as you can imagine!) some unintended consequences. This book is FUNNY but you won’t catch half the stuff unless you read the background texts - like the store names:  “Hot Topic” is “Cool Subject” and the indredients list on the food have some interesting things listed on them. This book is like a mix of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends with a touch of Suee and the Shadow with a little sprinkle of Amulet. If you have readers about ages 10 and up who like graphic novels about friendships and would be up for something with a supernatural twist, then this would be a great recommendation. And… I see Gudsnuk has a sequel in store as well!

  1. Mr. Wolf’s Class  by Aron Nels Steinke

This graphic novel started as a webcomic and is a great option if you are looking for something for younger middle grade readers who’d enjoy a sweet, gentle story. And it looks like lots of sequels are on their way! Mr. Wolf’s Class is about the first day of 4th grade - for brand new teacher Mr. Wolf and his students. By the way, Mr. Wolf is a wolf and the students are… rabbits and frogs and pigs and… well, just suspend your disbelief over the whole predator/prey thing! The book includes a cool preview of each student the night before school starts  and then the day unfolds with short slice-of-life stories as we get to know each of the students and their teacher. A strength of this book is that the author clearly KNOWS what an actual classroom community is all about - the interactions of personalities. It feels really authentic in that way.  And uh… I can definitely relate to being late to pick my kids because I was distracted by a donut in the break room!

  1. Sheets by Brenna Thummler

You might be familiar with Thummler’s brilliant artwork from last year’s graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. And if you haven’t yet gotten to that gem, bump it up on your TBR pile! This is her first solo graphic novel and I have a feeling we have a lot more in store from her! It’s the story of 13 year-old Marjorie who has been thrust into the responsibilities of running her family’s laundromat and taking care of her younger brother after her mother dies and her father has fallen into a deep depression. She is just barely hanging on and resisting the awful Mr. Saubertuck who wants to run them out of business and turn their building into a spa. But then… enter Wendell. He’s a young ghost  - young meaning new and young meaning died when he was young who winds up being pulled out of the afterlife world and into Marjorie’s life. He’s looking for.. meaning. And after a rocky start with Marjorie, does end up finding it. For me, the strength and charm of this book is really about the outstanding illustrations - the gorgeous pastel palette and the nuances of the wordless panels. And based on how this book is flying through my classroom, it clearly also has that all-important kid-appeal.

  1. The Night Door (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker) by Frank Cammuso

The author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and the Misadventures of Salem Hyde has really taken things to the next level with this incredible and hilarious new world he’s created.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who is afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids (and their hamster!) on a late-night “emergency” job where the two kids (and the hamster!) wind up going through a portal into a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of weird and cool creatures! This is one of those few books that has kids laughing out loud while they read it.  It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who love those two series, and want something similar, introduce them to Edison Beaker Creature Seeker.

  1. All Summer Long by Hope Larson

I loved this graphic novel for a lot of reasons but one of them was that it features a friendship between a girl and boy that doesn’t ever fall into that trope of “well, maybe things are changing because you two really just have crush on each other!” Nope! It’s real, platonic - and has rocky parts - but it’s not a stepping stone to a love interest. And - thank you Hope Larson!  What it IS about is that one defining summer is a young teen’s life when you start to realize that your childhood is something behind you that you’re looking back on and you are entering a new era with new interests. Where music - and finding people that like the same music as you do - takes on heightened importance in your life. At least, for me it was like that. Maybe for other kids it’s sports or art or theatre.  But you start to find your people. And not just be freinds with the people who are in your class or happen to live next door. This graphic novel is about 13 year-old Bina whose best-friend and neighbor, Austin, is off to soccer camp this summer. So she ends up.. Binge-watching Netflix until her mom cuts her off. (Relateable!)

Also - it’s a little thing but I like the pale orangey-peach tones of the book, which one reviewer described as orange creamsicle.

  1. Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

I really, really loved her  two earlier Berrybrook Middle School stories - Awkward and Brave, but this one just might be my favorite. This one takes a step away from the intrigues of the art club and the school newspaper and focused on Jorge Ruiz, a big kid, a pretty-popular jock who nobody really messes with, who seems to have it all together. Until he realizes that he’s got a massive crush on Jazmine and his world is suddenly tilted.  This graphic novel really captures those quick relationship changes in middle school and that dynamic between texts and social media and how that influences and complicates face-to-face interactions. Sometimes novels totally leave out modern technology. I mean, half the time the problem in the book could be solved with a quick Google search or you know - maybe talking with the person that you’re having an issue with!  But Chmakova knows that technology might solve some problems but ushers in a whole host of other ones. Crush is another one of those graphic novels that is getting passed from kid to kid to kid in my classroom with a big enough waiting list I ordered a second copy. And - a bonus - kids don’t have to read the three books in the series in order. They each definitely can stand alone.

  1. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

This graphic novel is loosely based on the author’s real-life experiences and her Russian-American background and that makes for a unique twist on a familiar setting for some kids - summer camp! 9-year old Vera is a Russian immigrant and we learn at the beginning of the novel, she doesn’t doesn’t exactly fit in with the popular crowd. Or really any crowd at all.  Her family is poor and their traditions and food are just enough “culturally off” to make her feel awkward among the girls she invites to a birthday sleepover that goes bad…. And oh man… how I felt for poor Vera that night! That’s some real-life cringe-worthy stuff though.  Vera desperately wants to fit in and finally convinces her mother to send her and her brother to a Russian summer camp sponsored by their Orthodox church where they will learn the Russian language and religion along with the typical summer camp things - like learning why you shouldn’t feed the wildlife and finding a comfortable place to poop! Brosgol’s illustrations are outstanding with a foresty green color palette.  And this book about the poor choices one can make in the quest for friendship along with that added layer of feeling like you don’t really belong enough in any culture makes this graphic novel feel like a blend of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk. This would be a great recommendation for kids in about grades 4 or 5 and up.

  1. The Prince & the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Oh how this book made me smile!!  It’s set in a 19th century-ish Paris where 16 year-old Prince Sebastian has a huge secret he is keeping from his parents - from everyone except for his trusted butler. He loves getting dressed up in fancy gowns and makeup and wigs.  Eventually he discovers a lowly dressmaker, Frances, who has shown she is willing to break societal norms - and secretly hires her to help him transform into a different, more glamorous person. But things go awry when Sebastian’s parents try to arrange his marriage and his alter-ego (and her designer) become the talk of the town. It’s like Project Runway meets Versailles with a twist of Cinderella. And I really, really want Disney to make this into a movie!  We need more books that go beyond the traditional gender norms so kids can both see themselves and also so that kids can see others not like them at the center of important and positive and fun stories.

  1. The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (and others)

I was reading the last third of The Cardboard Kingdom after dinner one night. I may have mentioned before that we have a post-dinner reading routine of 20-30 minutes. All of us. And since the girls had taken over my prefered reading spot on the couch, I was off in the easy chair in the corner. Chuckling and smiling and just… reacting as I read it. And suddenly, Helena, my 9 year old, is reading over my shoulder, looming over me.  Then she’s sitting on the arm on the chair, her head pressed against mine to see every angle of the illustrations. Then she’s in my lap with her hands on the book slowing down my turns of the pages so she could absorb each panel. Until finally, I relinquished it to her and just said, “Start from the beginning babe. It’s all yours.”

I just happened to pick up this graphic novel right after I finished The Prince & the Dressmaker, and I loved the parallels between it’s main character, Sebastian, and the first character we meet here - The Sorceress!  The first section is told completely through wordless panels as we witness two siblings playing with a kiddie pool, a chair, and a bunch of cardboard boxes and how their imagination has transformed that into magic and adventure.  A girl peeking over the fence at them starts laughing and at first it breaks the spell and ends the game. But then she gets drawn into their world in her own unique way. And the story takes off from there - with each neighborhood kid bringing in their own personalities and quirks and their own imaginative spin on adventure.  There are knights and robots and banshees and beasts. And entreupreneurs. There are conflicts and battles. And quieter moments of understanding. The stories stack and intertwine and build and build to create an amazing collection of backyard adventures! And just as the kid’s adventures are collaborative - so is this book! Chad Sell is the illustrator but each section was crafted along with a different writer - Jay Fuller, David Demeo, Katie Schenkel, Manuel Betancourt, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Cloud Jacobs, Michael Cole, and Barbara Perez Marquez.  And somehow, those diverse authors and illustrators have captured that magical feeling of childhood where there’s boundless inspiration and freedom and when it’s good - acceptance and transformation of flaws into strengths and positive energy. It’s hard to describe the special magic of this book. But it gave me the same feeling as watching the new Spiderman movie I mentioned at the top of the show. A feeling of witnessing some of the best that collaboration has to offer - it’s some next-level stuff.

Well - you’ve heard from me and now I want to hear from you!  What graphic novels from the past year did you and the kids in your life love?  Which ones are really making an impact among your students?

And which ones are you all looking forward to in 2019?   

You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

We’ll be back to our every-other Monday schedule starting January 14th and make sure you check out the next episode which will be all about the most anticipated middle grade books of the upcoming year.

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

Jan 10 2019

20mins

Play

#66 - (Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2018

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Intro

Hi everyone! This is Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying my extra reading time over the holiday break and the chance to relax.

This is episode #66 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2018.

Main Topic - The Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2018

I’m a bit of a data nerd, and I have always been into tracking my reading - from my color-coded index card system in high school to my alphabatized Excel Spreadsheet in the early 2000s to now where I do a mix of Goodreads and a bullet journal. So looking back over the last couple of years since I started doing this show, in 2016 I read 60 middle grade books with 31 of those published in 2016. And my top three books of that year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot. (You can find that list here.)

Last year, I read 79 middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017. A jump I will totally attribute to the intensity of being on the CYBILS committee. And my top three books of 2017 were Posted, Refugee, and Orphan Island and my top three graphic novels last year were Real Friends, Pashmina, and All’s Faire in Middle School.  (You can find the full list here.)

This year, I read 59 middle grade books with 41 of those released in 2018.

Before I start - a quick caveat. Selecting ONLY 25 titles was almost impossible.  I enjoyed just about every book I read this year, and I know each one will find it’s reader.  So how to choose the top twenty-five? I have two criteria - the writing is immersive (a book I couldn’t put down) and the story has that something special - unique character, an intriguing plot twist, or a thought-provoking theme (a book I can’t forget).  

And again this year, I decided to separate out the graphic novels so be on the lookout for another best of podcast soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

Okay, let’s get to it!  Here are my Top 25 middle grade novels of 2018:

  1. Granted by John David Anderson

From the author of the soon-to-be movie, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and last year’s amazing Posted is this story about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets - one of the few remaining fairies entrusted with the job of Granter - a fairy who ventures into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. Ophelia’s increasingly difficult quest to grant a little girl her wish of a purple bike will keep you turning the pages. And her reluctant friendship with the slobbery dog Sam - along with some other hilarious touches like Ophelia’s special song - will make this novel one you won’t forget.

  1. Where the Watermelons Grow by debut author Cindy Baldwin

This book - better than any I’ve read - captures the heat and the swelter of a scorching-hot drought-ridden summer. Our protagonist, Della, is feeling the weight of that and also the burdon of her mother’s re-emerging schizophrenia. But this novel is also laced with the sweetness of friendship and watermelon and hope and a touch of maybe magical honey.  

  1. Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison

This dual narrative novel is about Lauren and Sierra.  The two girls end up living next to each other and becoming friends when Lauren’s neighbors become Sierra’s foster parents.  As Lauren starts to become more aware of her priviledge, she comes up with a - shall we say “ill-advised” Robin Hood scheme that quickly starts to spiral out of control.  Watching Lauren and Sierra get deeper and deeper and deeper into that pit and wondering how on earth they were going to dig themselves out is what kept me turning those pages. And what makes this book unique and fresh was the strength of the two perspectives - Lauren’s chapters in prose and Sierra’s in verse.

  1. The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

Believe. Give. Trust. With those three magical rules passed on to her from her grandmother, Kate tries to grapple with the changes in her life. Divorce, faltering friendship, and her grandmother’s worsening dementia. Along with the typical difficulties of a 12 year old! I loved this book for its blend of beautiful prose and realism.

  1. Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

This middle grade coming of age novel tells the story of 8th grader Marcus Vega who ends up traveling to Puerto Rico with his mom and younger brother in search of the father who seemed to abandon them years ago. And yes, his journey is about discovering family, but it’s also about discovering his culture. This book is a beautiful homage to Puerto Rico and a story that captures the experiences of many kids with family connections that represent multiple languages and backgrounds.  It reminds me a bit of the graphic novel Crush with a twist of Torrey Maldonado’s Tight.

  1. The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

This novel was not only unforgettable but it utterly changed the way I experience walking into a musuem forever. And to me - that is the mark of an excellent book. It makes you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Frame-up is set in a real-life place - the Beaverbrook Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. And the art director’s son soon discovers that the paintings are…. alive. And they can travel into other paintings - which is completely fascinating when you consider that this museum includes art from different eras. And multiple paintings of the same person.  What the author does in this world is spell-binding. But things start to get dicey when suddenly the art director’s son and Mona, a young girl in one of the museum’s prized paintings, find themselves desperately trying to stop both an art heist and a plot to destroy their community forever.

  1. Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

This book was a fun mix of humor and history intermixed with realistic depictions of issues that young people are coping with - like body shaming and eating disorders and figuring out that whole friendship thing while staying true to yourself and your values.  What made this book stay with me long after that last page was read was the main character, Tally, whose self-confidence and style and body positivity are inspiring.

  1. So Done by Paula Chase

This upper middle grade coming of age story centers around friends Mila and Tai.  The girls have spent the summer apart and as fall starts, it has become more and more clear that their friendship is sputtering out. And yes, part of that is typical things like finding new interests and more focus on boys, but there is this one massive secret hanging over both girls’ heads that threatens to not only destroy that friendship, but could destroy families, too.The slow, shocking reveal of what that secret really IS kept me turning the pages and what made this book stick with me so long afterward are the voices of the characters that are so fresh and unique and real!  During the first chapter, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other - and don’t think any adult is within earshot. Chase has this incredible knack for voice, and I cannot wait to see what other middle grade books she has coming our way!

  1. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Johnson has expertly woven together multiple storylines across two different eras that are beautifully fused together in the final chapters.  The main character, modern-day Candice, discovers a decades old mystery that takes her and the quiet bookworm boy across the street on a quest for a long-lost treasure. But to figure out the clues, they have to delve into some long buried town history that some folks would rather keep hidden. This book is rich with details and touches on topics that are not common in middle grade - like the end of segregation and its impact on black schools and the concept of passing. It’s beautifully written and if you have older middle grade kids who loved The Westing Game and who love mysteries, this is a great book to put in their hands.

  1. You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Alex Gino’s second novel for middle grade readers is a sweet story about Jilly, White and hearing, who befriends a Deaf Black ASL user on a fandom website where they connect over their mutual love of a fantasy series. When Jilly’s new baby sister is born Deaf,  she and her parents struggle with which expert advice to follow and everyone makes some missteps along the way. Based on reviews from those in the Deaf community, Gino does seem to get that representation right. To me this book is one to have in your classroom or library because it shows one character’s pathway through learning about incredibly important but tricky topics like white priviledge, racism, micro-agressions, and abelism. And done in a way with warmth and heart.

  1. Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

I’ll admit - this one almost got past me!  I was at school and had forgotten my book at home. And so on a whim, I picked up this book from my classroom library and promptly forgot that any other book existed and promptly fell for Stella’s sweetness and charm. Stella is a third grader, born in Mexico, but now living in Chicago with her mom and older brother. She’s struggling with being in a different class than her best friend, Jenny,  and dealing with the accompanying worries that Jenny might be forming a closer relationship with another girl. Stella is also figuring out where she fits in with her outgoing family since she is more quiet and is working through some speech difficulties. Three things stand out to me about this book - its utter realness, the excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, and also the fact that this novel intersperses Spanish in the most organic and well-executed way that I’ve ever encountered before. They pop up frequently and naturally, and yet I feel confident that most non-Spanish speaking readers can fairly easily figure out what those words mean from the context.

  1. Takedown by Laura Shovan

I LOVE books that immerse me in a subculture - like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish. I was fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process in this novel. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the two main characters - Mikayla (known as Mickey) and Lev are written so vividly and honestly. Told in alternating point of view chapters, Mickey and Lev are each dealing with their own middle school difficulties of faltering friendships and dicey family dynamics. When they both wind up wrestling for the same elite traveling team, Lev needs to cope with having a new wreslting partner (a girl), and Mickey has to deal with a wrestling culture that isn’t exactly keen to accept her. How these two characters grow and how their stories intertwine have stayed on my mind - months later.

  1. Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

Another incredible story from a favorite author of so many of my students. Good Dog is told from the point of view of Brodie - a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our sweet, noble Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him.  I love this book for so many reasons - but mostly for how it quietly but powerfully connects with Gemeinhardt’s previous novel, The Honest Truth.  I don’t want to say more, but…. if you have a kid who has read and loved that book - give them Good Dog right after.

  1. Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

This is another novel that snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go of my heart. For the last couple of years, my 5th graders and I have read Home of the Brave together as the first read aloud. This year I decided to have their book clubs centered around refugee and immigrant stories - with a focus on #ownvoices novels. And Escape from Aleppo was the only book club choice I hadn’t yet read - and so I read along with the kids in that club and followed their reading schedule and joined their discussions. And I completely agree with their assessment - this book is fabulous. It’s about 14-year-old Nadia, who we meet as her family is evacuating their home in Syria in an attempt to flee to Turkey. But in the carnage, Nadia ends up separated from her family and has to make her way through the city of Aleppo in a dangerous effort to reunite with them and to figure out who in the war-torn city she should trust to help her. What stands out to me most is the searing depiction of modern-day war and how much my students saw themselves in Nadia’s flashbacks to pre-Arab Spring Aleppo. Scenes were everything seems stable and Nadia is all about the latest episode of her favorite reality TV singing show and what color she should paint her nails. If you are looking for a companion book to Alan Gratz’s Refugee, this is an excellent choice. And one that will stay with you for a long, long time.

  1. Rebound by Kwame Alexander

This is the much-awaited prequel to the much-loved and much-awarded, novel-in-verse The Crossover. This book is all about Josh & Jordan’s father - Chuck “Da Man” Bell. But - this is an origin story. So when we first meet him, he is just Charlie - an 80’s kid reeling from a family tragedy and trying to find his way forward and trying to find his smile again. When home becomes tense, he is involuntarily shipped off to his grandparent’s house for the summer where he starts to find that path forward. I loved this book for it’s awesome illustratations and all those great 80s references.

  1. Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Esteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Haley - these six kids are brought to an abandoned art room each Friday, left on their own, and allowed to simply talk. And eventually - their stories unfold. Stories of deportation, of harassment, of parent death and incarceration. Of hope and of despair.  And by the end of that year, they have formed a bond and a vow to harbor each other. It’s Jacqueline Woodson so you know it’s gorgeously written, but it also speaks to a great need for empathy in our country right now. And I can attest that it’s not just one of those “important” books that kids don’t really like. It was one of the top requested book club selections and currently has a huge waiting list in my room, so I can vouch for it’s kid appeal.

  1. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Okay - this book creeped me the heck out! And it was glorious! This paranormal horror story is about a young girl named Ollie whose mom tragically died last year, and understandably - Ollie is withdrawn and rather raw.  One fall day, Ollie disovers this strange book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man - with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly battle to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. This book is so immersive and atmospheric and has one brilliant twist at the end that has me shuddering just thinking about it! Oh - and if you’re the type of person that isn’t at all freaked out by scarecrows - read this book and that will change.

  1. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

There has been sooo much love for this book this year - and if you haven’t yet read it, I will add my voice to all the others telling you…. it’s incredible.  This novel is about a young Pakistani girl whose dream is to finish her education and to become a teacher. But when her mother is struggling with depression after having her fifth baby - another girl - Amal ends up staying home to take of the household. And then, to make matters far worse, she ends up insulting a poweful man in her village and be forced into indentured servitude to work off her family’s debt to him. It was this section of the book and Amal’s complicated relationship with man’s family and other servants that was the most compelling to me.  Amal Unbound was the  middle grade pick for the 2018 Global Read Aloud and is worthy of a spot in any middle grade collection.

  1. Blended by Sharon Draper

As 2018 came to a close, I started scouring the social media feeds of readers whose taste I rely on to see what books from the previous year I may have missed. And by far the one that I kept bumping into… was Blended. And oh were they right to push me to read it! And...confession time - this is the first Sharon Draper book I have read! You may already know her work from Out of My Mind or Copper Sun.  This novel is about an 11-year-old girl - Izzy to her mom but Isabella to her Dad.  Her parents are divorced and every week Isabella has to switch - switch households, switch bedrooms, switch backpacks, switch expectations…. and sometimes feels like she has to switch identities. Her father is black and and lives a far more swanky lifestyle now and Isabella’s mother is white and their home definitely has a more casual vibe. I loved this book because I know how many students can relate to Izzy’s frustrations with parental tug-of-war and that awkwardness with people coming into their lives. But this book had so many more themes that will definitely strike a chord with kids today - racial profiling, school threats, micro-agressions, police shootings, and the myriad other things that make up children’s day-to-day experiences.

  1. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

Ahhh - this book!  I just…. Okay - plot first. This is the story of Zoey - a seventh-grader whose primary goals in life are to keep her two young siblings quiet and out of the way of her mom’s boyfriend and his father, to scrounge up enough for them to eat, and to stay completely invisible at school. But all of those things become tricky when her teacher pushes her to join the Debate Club after school. This book is about rural poverty, the nuances of the gun debate, domestic vio