Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Great Library Giveaway WINNER (And Final Spotlights)!

Today is the day! We have compiled all nominations into our random generator, and it has chosen a winner for us. We are pleased to announce that we will be sending our 68-book middle-grade collection to:

Old Orchard Elementary School Library in Valencia, California!

Our random generator pulled Tina Daucher’s name from the nearly 375 entries we received for our Great Library Giveaway. Thanks to her, the children at Old Orchard Elementary will soon be inundated with piles of books graciously donated by authors, publishers, and middle-grade book lovers throughout the United States. And as thanks for nominating such a worthy library, we will be sending Tina a $25 gift card to her local independent bookstore so her own home library can grow as well. Tina, be watching for an email from us with additional information.

Here is the final spotlight of titles donated for this giveaway.  Thank you so much to all those who have sent us a book or two!  And we hope you enjoy these and the rest of the titles, Old Orchard Elementary!

8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich

Description from Indiebound:

Ever since a deeply unfortunate incident earlier this year, Reggie’s been known as “Pukey” McKnight at his high-intensity Brooklyn middle school. He wants to turn his image around, but he has other things on his mind as well: his father, who’s out of a job; his best friends, Ruthie and Joe C.; his former best friend Donovan, who’s now become a jerk; and of course, the beautiful Mialonie. The elections for school president are coming up, but with his notorious nickname and “nothing” social status, Reggie wouldn’t stand a chance, if he even had the courage to run.

Then Reggie gets involved with a local homeless shelter, the Olive Branch. Haunted by two of the clients there–George, a once-proud man now living on the streets, and Charlie, a six-year-old kid who becomes his official “Little Buddy”–he begins to think about making a difference, both in the world and at school. Pukey for President? It can happen . . . if he starts believing.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn

Description from Indiebound:

When twelve-year-old Florence boards the crowded horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life with her great uncle and aunt at Crutchfield Hall, an old manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, she thinks, than the grim London orphanage where she has lived since her parents’ death.
But Florence doesn’t expect the ghost of her cousin Sophia, who haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield and concocts a plan to use Florence to help her achieve her murderous goals. Will Florence be able to convince the others in the household of the imminent danger and stop Sophia before it’s too late?

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown

Description from Indiebound:

What do you do when your mom runs away from home?

Rachel retreats into herself–away from the father who has always kept his distance, away from school, and away from her best friend. Rachel’s mom says that her dad is a rock, the good kind you can always count on. But Rachel doesn’t even know if he really loves her. And she doesn’t know the secrets he’s kept since before she was born. Slowly, over time, Rachel grows close to the parent who stayed and comes to understand the truth of why her mom left.

This bittersweet story of loss and revelation reveals the powerful and complex bond between fathers and daughters.

Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta

Description from Indiebound:

Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed—right in the middle of their big baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring.

Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch.

Noonie’s Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback

Description from Indiebound:

Fantastic illustrations with a fresh, contemporary look enrich this debut novel about a 10-year-old aspiring artist stuck living with an aunt, uncle, and cousin who clearly don’t recognize her genius. A humorous and heartfelt reminder that “a brilliant artist is never afraid,” this book reveals that sometimes our greatest masterpieces are the bonds we unexpectedly forge with the people in our lives.

Operation Yes by Sara Holmes

Description by Julie Wilson from Bookworm, as quoted at Indiebound:

Bo’s life is centered on a North Carolina Air Force Base, but what has always seemed like a cozy world gets shaken up when he starts sixth grade. There’s a new teacher who challenges all his ideas, a cousin who has come to join his family while her mom is deployed to Iraq, and even some change stirring in his own family. Lots of humor and can-do attitudes make Bo and his friends worth getting to know.

Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams

Description from Indiebound:

When sisters Sadie and Zuzu Brooks move to Salt Lake City, they discover a secret room in the attic of their new house, with a sign that reads “Palace Beautiful” and containing an old journal. Along with their neighbor, dramatic Belladonna Desolation (real name: Kristin Smith), they take turns reading the story of a girl named Helen living during the flu epidemic of 1918. The journal ends with a tragedy that has a scary parallel to Sadie and Zuzu’s lives, and the girls become obsessed with finding out what happened to Helen after the journal ends. Did she survive the flu? Is she still alive somewhere? Or could her ghost be lurking in the nearby graveyard?

Sarah DeFord Williams has created a gripping read that covers two time periods, many fantastic characters, and a can’t-put-it-down ending, all with delightful, extraordinary prose.

The Rise and Fall of Mt. Majestic by Jennifer Trafton

Description from Indiebound:

Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at allÑitÕs the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the islandÕs other quarreling inhabitantsÑincluding the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young kingÑthat a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken.

Enhanced with Brett HelquistÕs dazzling illustrations, Jennifer TraftonÕs rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girlÕs efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.

Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee

Description from Indiebound:
Zoe Bennett feels lost at her fancy private school.

She’s not the star drama queen like her sister, or a brainiac math genius like her brother. Luckily her best friend, Dara, is just as content as Zoe is to stay in the shadows — or is she? When Dara gets a part in the school musical, Zoe feels abandoned. What’s worse, Zoe’s practically being stalked by the weird new kid, Lucas. Then Lucas accidentally drops his notebook and Zoe finds it’s written in symbols and numbers — it’s complete gibberish. Yet she sees her name in there, plain as day. Now Lucas is telling her she’s a natural code-reading genius — or some kind of mental freak.

As Zoe’s daydreaming lands her in trouble at school, anonymous notes start to appear in students’ lockers, and Zoe is the number one suspect. Solving word puzzles may come easily to her, but now there’s more at stake — will Zoe be able to solve her way out of this?

With plenty of wit and insight, Barbara Dee has created this fresh, funny story of a girl who discovers that fitting in sometimes means standing out.

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth

Description from Indiebound:

At The Meriwether, Florida’s famous antebellum hotel off of Hope Springs, nothing is quite as it seems. Secret staircases give way to servants’ quarters and Prohibition-era speakeasies make for the perfect hide-and-seek spot. Allie Jo Jackson knows every nook and cranny of The Meriwether—she’s lived there her whole life—and nothing surprises her, until the first time she spots the enigmatic and beautiful Tara emerging from the springs. Tara’s shimmery skin, long flowing hair, and strange penchant for late moonlight swims disguise a mysterious secret—and once Allie Jo and her friend Chase discover Tara’s secret, nothing will ever be the same.
From the celebrated author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning comes another magical summer tale full of memorable characters and a one-of-a-kind setting.

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

Description from Indiebound:

THIS IS THE tale of Lucy and her best friend, Wynston. Until recently, they spent their days paddling in the river, picking blackberries, and teasing each other mercilessly. But now, King Desmond has insisted that Wynston devote every spare second to ruby-shining and princess-finding. Lucy feels left out. So she sets off for the Scratchy Mountains to solve the mystery of her missing mother. When Wynston discovers that Lucy is gone, he tears after her, and together they embark on a series of strange and wonderful adventures.

If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words…

Doesn’t it make sense to use nonfiction picture books in the middle grade classroom?

Nonfiction picture books use relatively few words and glorious illustrations to tell a story and they’re perfect for the middle grade classroom. First through fifth grade students can master the amount of information conveyed in a nonfiction picture book. There’s no slogging through dry chapters to turn up one or two facts for a report. And the illustrations open another curtain, revealing as much about the subject as a curious reader can see.

Unfortunately some kids—and adults—believe that picture books are too “baby-ish” for middle grade readers. This fall the New York Times stirred up a biblio-hornets nest with this article about the supposed demise of picture books and parents and teachers who push children to drop picture books in favor of thick “grown-up” chapter books. Educators and book lovers protested immediately. There is an important place for picture books in today’s middle grade classroom. But if you’re in the front lines of this battle how can you conquer the “picture books are for babies” hurdle? Are there innovative ways to use nonfiction picture books with older students?

Sure there are. Here are a few ideas:

1) Surround ’em.

When introducing a new picture book I use the total sensory immersion approach. Huh?  In a wired school the internet can be a classroom teacher’s friend. So each February 1, in honor of the start of Black History Month, my middle grade students walk into the library to see a huge image of Marion Anderson projected across the back wall.  One they’re settled I play a Youtube video of her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

When we get around to reading WHEN MARION SANG by Pam Munoz Ryan my students have context. They care about Marion Anderson and her struggle. We live in Washington, DC so this happened in our town. They are stunned. Some students cry. All are engaged.

Same thing with M.T. Anderson’s THE STRANGE MR. SATIE (more about this book below.) Students enter my library to strains of Gymnopedie. They know “something” is up.

I’ve printed photographs of Satie and other artists who lived in Paris during the early 20th century and tape them at eye level around the room so we’re “in good company”. I greet the students with a hearty “Bonjour!”or “Comment allez vous?” Silly? A bit, but middle grade students aren’t yet too “cool” to get into the spirit of things. When we begin to read the picture book my students feel like they’re in Paris, too.

Sights and sounds aren’t the only senses. Satie ate only white food and (allergy restrictions allowing) how about an all white “banquet” of popcorn, white bread, and marshmallows. Point made on the composer’s “strangeness”.

2) Find themes that resonate with middle grade readers-

One of my favorites lessons revolves around Satie.

This elegantly written biography traces the life of oddball composer Erik Satie from birth to death. While Anderson celebrates Satie’s desire to follow his own path he doesn’t sugarcoat the composer’s life. After reading this picture book bio I springboard into a discussion with middle grade students about finding your passion and following your dreams. Middle grade students are always being told they can be whatever they want to be and  Erik Satie is a great example of someone who did just that—with both positive and negative repercussions.

Audiences hated some of his work and even rioted. It’s a great lead in to a discussion about reacting to criticism and being true to yourself. And whether conforming makes life easier. These are big, tough topics. And they are already on your middle grade student’s minds. What better way to jump into a tough topic than with a great book?

3) Work with what you’ve got (which is probably way more than you knew you had). Supporting materials can (and should!) be more than fill in the blank exercises, vocabulary lists, or discussion questions.Now more than ever authors and publishers are creating materials for teachers, librarians, parents, and booksellers to use along with nonfiction picture books. Many publishers compile guides on their sites. Here’s a list of some of the guides that go along with books published by the Macmillan kids group.

But don’t stop there. Many authors link to guides on their websites and guide authors list most or all of the guides in their portfolios. One of my favorites is Natalie Lorenzi’s site. (Natalie prepared a wonderful guide for my book , SOAR, ELINOR! as well as a super one for Audrey Vernick’s SHE LOVED BASEBALL: The Effa Manley Story) And check out the wonderful reader’s theater script Toni Buzzeo created to go along with WHEN MARION SANG.

When I put together my website for SOAR, ELINOR! I included a special page called Look Listen and Learn where I post unexpected links to Elinor Smith’s world. Elinor was a pilot in the late 1920s so I linked to an online radio station that plays nothing but music from that era and I posted actual newsreel footage of Elinor breaking altitude and endurance records.

Plus I added a link to live broadcasts from aircraft control towers all over the country. When students follow this link they aren’t just passive readers anymore. They’re pilots. In my teacher’s guide students are given news photos and challenged to write a story to go along with it.

So now what do you think? Are nonfiction picture books obsolete? Are they for little kids and babies? No way. These picture books are worth way more than a thousand words. They’re worth their weight in classroom gold.

What are your favorite ways to bring nonfiction picture books alive?

Tami Lewis Brown was a librarian at The Sheridan School in Washington, DC. This fall she’s been on the road talking to kids about her new picture book biography SOAR, ELINOR! but she’ll always miss the classroom.

A Book Club for Teachers

Barbara Bosworth is the Reading Teacher at Haycock Elementary, a bustling school of over 800 students in Falls Church, Virginia.  In addition to her many duties at Haycock, Ms. Bosworth took it upon herself to initiate a Children’s Literature Interest Group at Haycock – in short, a children’s book club for teachers!  How can a reading children’s literature fit into a busy teacher’s schedule?  In a word – beautifully.  Welcome, Barbara, to the Mixed-Up Files!

When and how did the children’s literature interest group come about?

This is our third year for the group.  Several years ago, I attended a Greater Washington Reading Council Conference with author and educator Shelley Harwayne.  She said that,

“Teachers should be reading great children’s literature on Sunday afternoons instead of writing lesson plans.”

That comment resonated in me as I would reflect on what really makes a difference—whether it’s creating lifelong readers, being passionate about a nonfiction curriculum topic, or conferencing with children about their reading or writing. Good literature can be used to teach and inspire in all curriculum areas. So bringing this idea in a very practical way to teachers in my school was always a goal.

How often do you meet?  Who decides what kind of books you read?

We meet monthly during the school year.  Our librarian Sue Sugarbaker and I discuss the genre and plausible books together.   We are always glad for suggestions as well from teachers!

What factors go into book selection?

Our book group includes teachers in grades K-6, so our selections have to be appropriate for all the range of age levels.  Therefore, we frequently have two books going, one for primary and one for upper elementary in the same genre or by the same author.  Another factor is cost.  To keep costs within range, we usually select paperbacks.  This may mean that books are not current best sellers or that sometimes we are unable to discuss a book we would have selected.  We usually have two months when we select from among Virginia Readers’ Choice titles, since we want to encourage our students to read these books.  When it is a particularly busy month, such as the start of the school year, we will choose a quicker read.  As it happened, we have selected one highly popular best seller each year so far.  We read Wimpy Kid two years ago and The Lightning Thief last year, which simply delighted many of our students to see teachers carrying around a book most of them were carrying as well.    Once, we wanted teachers to learn about a nonfiction data base and utilized that for individual selections.  Another time, we had teachers select from a multitude of poetry books and then shared individually during our discussion.

In what ways is your group similar to a book club, and in what ways does your group approach books differently because  of its educational standpoint?

My first intent is that we are more similar to structuring of an informal book club and I want to create that friendly and relaxed feeling at our discussions.  I bring snacks and a welcoming ambiance for our teachers to speak and comment.  However, we also want to discuss instructional implications for various texts, appropriateness for various ages/interests and may want to show teachers either an instructional strategy or even an author web site.  So ultimately the focus is how the book could be utilized in the classroom.

How is the program funded?

We are fortunate at Haycock Elementary that our principal encourages the program and supports it financially.  Support comes from a combination of text book funds as well as PTA donations.  In addition, principals could offer teachers recertification credits.  Fairfax County Public Schools has a “Professional Learning and Training” web site where our children’s literature interest group is listed, and if teachers sign up and attend, they could earn recertification credits.  That is an additional incentive to teachers to participate.

Do all teachers participate?

Not all the teachers participate, however we have representatives from every grade level and nearly every discipline.  Frequently,  I will invite a particular teacher who may be interested in the particular book.  For example, when we read Vinnie and Abraham, last year’s Virginia Readers’ Choice selection, I invited our art teacher to attend to give us insight into aspects of sculpture, as the book was about the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln now in the Capitol.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the teachers?   What has this program meant for their teaching?  Have there been any unexpected results or benefits?

Meg Monfett, a second grade teacher at Haycock said, “It is such a comfortable literature group where staff can come together and are given the chance to speak their mind about wonderfully chosen books… Having a comfortable “book group” helps staff come together to share a commonality they  may not have shared outside the group. “

Donna Bertsch, a third grade teacher at Haycock stated, “The Children’s Literature Interest Group gives me the incentive to read new children’s literature that I would not otherwise make time for.  I really enjoy the discussions because I always appreciate a book more by talking through it, and the group of teachers  has really insightful and interesting observations to share.”

Meredith Reid, a fourth grade teacher at Haycock said, “When we get together, the meeting turns into informal planning because teachers are always sharing creative ideas of what we could do with our students.  We are always looking for ways to enhance novels we read, so this time allows us to explore new ideas, while we enjoy discussions!”

For anyone who is interested in replicating your program, what advice can you offer?

I would say to definitely try it!  The interest created with a shared book, the acknowledgement for children when, as a group, we commit to reading more to support their learning and lifelong reading is invaluable.  Talk with your principal and/or PTA about funding books for teachers, which is a nice touch and also increases their classroom libraries, which is so critical.  If you do start a children’s literature group, write to me and share

Several members of the Children's Literature Interest Group, including Barbara Bosworth (back row, 4th from right).

your book selections and ideas at bybosworth (at) fcps (dot) edu.  I haven’t tried it yet, however would love to Skype with an author or invite an author for a shared discussion.   So, what are we doing on Sunday afternoons?  Well, we might be reading good children’s literature, as Shelley Harwayne suggests.

Wendy Shang’s first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, debuts January 1, 2011.