• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Miscellaneous > Reading Through Middle-Grade
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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Reading Through Middle-Grade

Miscellaneous, Uncategorized

My third son began fourth grade last week.  As we endured and enjoyed the back-to-school chaos, I remembered how Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls helped me overcome my insecurities when the uncertainty of middle-grade overwhelmed me. They were the perfect friends for an awkward, shy girl.

But my boys don’t use characters from books as friends. To them, books are more like a distant great-aunt who wears too much perfume and threatens to kiss them. They know they are supposed to like her, but it goes against everything within them. In spite of that, they read. Not voraciously like I did, but I don’t complain. Too much.

Two things helped keep our thirteen and fifteen-year-old boys reading through middle grade.

1.  We read to them no matter how well they read on their own.

2.  We helped them to develop a habit of reading.

My older boys and I read books that had absolutely nothing to do with school assignments and we read nearly every night before bed. That time spent at the end of the day was often the opening to discussions about how things were really going at school. Bedtime may not have always been on time, but I’ll never regret a moment spent in a book-prompted discussion.

To refresh my perspective how to motivate my two younger sons to keep reading, I interviewed my freshly minted fourth grader about books and how he chooses them.

Me: How do you choose books when you are at the library or the bookstore?

#3: First I have to choose two chapter books that are one-hundred or more pages. Then after I pick those, I go to the part that has the war books and pick one of those.

The hundred- page rule is from his third grade teacher. Now that it’s become his rule, he will be in high school before he changes it. I have no idea where he gets that stubborness. Must be from his father.

Me: Do you read for fun?

#3: No. I read before bed.

Me: Does it ever become fun?

#3: Well, sometimes once I start reading and I really like the story, it is kind of fun.

Me: What makes you stop reading?

#3: I get tired.

Me: No. I mean why would you put a book down.

#3: Because it’s time to sleep.

Due to time constraints, this portion of the interview has been edited. Just know that I basically repeated the same questions in various forms with #3 repeating similar answers until I gave up.

Me: What is the best book you read recently?

#3: I didn’t read last week because we were out of town.

Me: I mean over the past few months.

#3: What day was that?

Me: (sighing) How about favorite books you read since Spring Break?

#3: Oh. I liked Bud, Not Buddy, the Wishbone book about Red Badge of Courage and *he says the name of my newly written book*.

Me: That last one doesn’t count because it’s not published.

#3: I think it counts.

Stop interview to get #3 a large bowl of his favorite ice cream. Did I mention what a nice boy he is?

Me: What makes you want to keep reading a book?

#3: If it’s funny or really exciting and I want to know what happens.

Me: What about book covers? What’s interesting to you?

#3: It depends on the book.

Me: Would you read a book with a girl on the cover?

# 3: Yes.

My brainwashing is working! That plus reading a few funny younger MG books with girls on the cover together last year. He loved Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and Sunny Holiday by Coleen Paratore. On the non-fiction side, he did a very nice project on another book with a girl on the cover, Anne Frank, The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story, by Ann Kramer. That book inspired a very respectable self-illustrated “diary of a diary” project.

However, on the flip side, his other memorable book project was a graphic, three-dimensional representation of a battle scene from  an older book, Wishbone Classic # 10, The Red Badge of Courage, by Michael Burgan made with army men, Imaginex figures with a few Star Wars guys thrown in for good measure. I drew the line at ketchup for blood.

Me: What do you think about e-books?

#3: You told me about them.

Me: Do you think it would be more interesting, the same or less interesting to read using an e-book reader like a Kindle.

#3: I think I’d like it better.

Me: Why?

#3: It seems cool.

Me: Do you like books with pictures or no pictures?

#3: I don’t care.

Me: Thanks for helping me.

#3: Can I go now?

In spite of his tendency toward monosyllabic answers, #3 gave me some good information that will help me to help him find books that will keep him reading. We’ll try Elijah of Buxton, because of his love of Bud, Not Buddy which lead to another interesting book project—a diarama of the scene when Todd Amos crammed a pencil up Buddy’s nose. This was created with Leggos and paper cut outs with an artistic rendition of the look on Buddy’s face while the pencil was lodged there. Nice. 

The other thing I learned from the interview was the bedtime reading routine still works. #3 associates reading with going to bed to the point he wasn’t able to separate it in our discussion. That’s good. I can be sure at least some pleasure reading will happen each day if I do my part to make sure bedtime isn’t too late.

The final thing I noticed was that #3’s favorite books were also ones that included book projects. They stuck in his mind and inspired creative and unique ideas. Curiosity has me wondering if connecting books to hands-on activities or related non-fiction will continue to motivate him. I’ll file that idea in the back of my mind for future reference.

Creative listening to what the middle-graders around us want to read will get books into their hands that may move them to stay up past bedtime reading or use ketchup and action figures to create an unforgettable book project and a great memory. Those positive reading experiences are one thing we can encourage to help keep them reading through middle-grade.

Joanne Prushing Johnson lives in Omaha, Nebraska and with her husband, four boys and oversized Golden Retriever which is a lot like juggling knives, fire and bowling balls only a little crazier. Help her combat the chaos at joanneprushingjohnson.com. Scary aunt and uncle photo courtesy of morguefile.com. Book jackets courtesy of indiebound.org.



  1. Karen Schwartz  •  Aug 23, 2010 @7:41 am

    These are the kinds of answers my oldest would give, but I love it! You know how to “read” him well. I love how he does creative projects related to stories he likes.

  2. M. G. King  •  Aug 23, 2010 @8:07 am

    As a mom of two middle grade boys, I loved this! Our bedtime reading ritual has always been an important part of our day, and your entry here has encouraged me not to give it up in spite of the fact that our afternoon and evening activities have gotten so busy. Found your blog at the beginning of the summer — I’m looking forward to having time to look through your archives, now that the kids are back in school and I can sit down for a couple minutes without someone yelling “MOM!”

  3. Wendy  •  Aug 23, 2010 @8:45 am

    I miss those days. I used to read to my daughter every night. As she got older, we switched roles and she read to me. Now I am lucky if she comes out of her room long enough to have a conversation of more than two sentences.

    But, she is a reader. Her room is littered with all kinds of books. Her tastes are much darker than mine, and she is reading books by authors I would never consider picking up.

    One of our favorite joint activities is a trip to the book store where we spend long, delicious minutes figuring out which fresh story is the right one to take home.

    Thanks for a fun article.

  4. angela ackerman  •  Aug 23, 2010 @9:34 am

    Great idea for an interview. I’m not at all surprised by the kindle answer–I think this generation is very techno savvy and it’s a natural draw. What would be interesting would be to have someone read 2 books from the same series, 1 on kindle, 1 traditional book and see which they enjoyed more from an ‘experience’ perspective. :)

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Angela @ The Booskhelf Muse

  5. Lois D. Brown  •  Aug 23, 2010 @10:26 am

    Pretty hard-hitting interview. Good job.

  6. Caroline Starr Rose  •  Aug 23, 2010 @11:15 am

    It is so important to keep reading aloud well beyond those early elementary years. I’d love to see my family keep it up until by boys leave for college.

  7. Jemi Fraser  •  Aug 23, 2010 @12:05 pm

    Those are great answers! Kids that age really adopt rules well – they’re constantly making (and changing) rules for games so I’m not surprised he’s got a book rule too :)

    Reading aloud to kids is HUGELY important!

  8. Joanne Johnson  •  Aug 23, 2010 @3:51 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone. It is a challenge “reading between the lines” with some kids. I hoped there’d be others who have the same challenge. @ Lois–I almost gave up on this blog topic but I figured my interview was real so I went with it. Don’t ask me what I”m going to try with #4. I have no clue.

  9. Deborah Blake  •  Aug 23, 2010 @6:25 pm

    Great post! I love seeing the inside of a MG reader’s mind. As long as I don’t have to live with it…

  10. Cathe Olson  •  Aug 23, 2010 @7:45 pm

    That’s so funny. I get the same sort of responses with some of the kids that come into my school library when I’m trying to get an idea of what book to recommend to them.

  11. Sheela Chari  •  Aug 23, 2010 @8:55 pm

    Great post. I think there are many kids who start off as avid readers and then leave it off when they reach their teen years and the homework and time with friends take over. But I think you’re right that if we help them establish and stick to the habit of reading every day, they might have a better chance of staying with it.

  12. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Aug 23, 2010 @10:01 pm

    Reading to my kids is one of my very favorite things to do in the whole world. Even now that they are ages 11 and 14, cuddling on the couch with them and a good book makes the whole world cozy, comfy, and in its right place.

    That was a lovely post, Joanne.

  13. Jana  •  Aug 23, 2010 @10:56 pm

    Awesome interview! I have two boys that I struggle everyday with trying to get reading! We do a lot of audiobooks and that has been especially great because I have been able to have them hear a lot of the classics (like all the Henry Huggins books and Where the Red Fern Grows). You just have to keep on keeping on!

  14. Stephanie Greene  •  Aug 24, 2010 @7:43 am

    Wonderful interview; such a typical and patient son. lol. The thing I think is critical in helping boys become lifelong readers is to find the right book(s). The subject dearest to their gnarly hearts. Like your son, who said he’d pick up a book about war. Many boys like books about war and war machines. And that’s fine, if it gets them to read. Make sure he has access to adult non-fiction on the subject. Any subject. Even if all they do is read the captions, they’re reading. And the photography is usually superior. My son was one of those boys who loved fantasy. He started reading RA Salvatore, an adult fantasy author, when he was in the 6th grade. We’d moved to a new town for a year and he identified with Drizzt, the loner-hero of Salvatore’s books. Later, he wrote an essay for his college application about how Drizzt had “saved my life” when he spent a year feeling like an outsider. I was so touched and thrilled that a book had affected him to such a degree. He’s still a reader, two years out of college.

    Sorry to go on, but boys and reading is my passion. They need what books have to offer and they all too often don’t read.

  15. brian_ohio  •  Aug 24, 2010 @12:00 pm

    Hilarious! I want to go to the bookstore with your son!

  16. Jennifer K. Mann  •  Aug 24, 2010 @9:02 pm

    This is hilarious and wonderful, and SO touches a chord with me. My second child/only son is a very reluctant reader, although quite capable. But he LOVES to be read to, especially if the books are thrilling, funny and a little grown up. Thank you for the reminder that it is a good thing (great thing) to continue to read aloud to our children, long after many of their peers have vanished into the world of reading alone.