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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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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.



  1. Karen Scott  •  Nov 29, 2010 @7:14 am

    You are a very cool librarian and teacher. (I would know…I’m a parent of a very cool couple of kids who love books — and have the unfortunate luck to end up in a school with a dud of a librarian.) Anyway…thanks for encouraging the use of these beautiful and available resources for kids of all ages. You rock. :)

  2. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Nov 29, 2010 @8:25 am

    Thanks Karen! These special activities are fun for the kids, of course, but in truth a day with extra stuff like videos and songs makes everything more fun for me, too. Plus, in our independent school we don’t “teach for the test” or worry about No Child Left Behind – which frees us up to actually learn.

  3. Audrey  •  Nov 29, 2010 @1:03 pm

    Great piece, Tami, and thanks for the mention of Natalie’s awesome guide for She Loved Baseball. I’ve been thinking about this very topic from the author’s side a lot these days and I appreciate your spot-on insights.

  4. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Nov 29, 2010 @1:36 pm

    Audrey your book about Effa Manley is wonderful! I can’t wait to share it with middle grader readers.

  5. Joanne  •  Nov 29, 2010 @5:25 pm

    I think you make some great points. I think the less we pin kids into boxes, the more they are free to explore the written word in all it forms. Using multisensory activities reaches across all learning styles and keeps things fun. There’s a lot to be said for fun and learning–how much more motivating are the activities you mention than a dry presentation on a story that may seem irrelevant without the learning bridges you suggest. Great post.

  6. Cathe Olson  •  Nov 29, 2010 @6:31 pm

    I love The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

  7. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Nov 29, 2010 @7:07 pm

    I love that one too, Cathe! The illustrations are AMAZING. They actually give me a bit of vertigo. One of the highlights of my life as a writer was talking to Mordecai Gerstein about writing The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. That’s a book that raises some HUGE issues and themes.

  8. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Nov 29, 2010 @7:15 pm

    Joanne- this is genuine “interactivity”, in my opinion. Some book app that lets you click to hear a word read aloud doesn’t do anything for me as a teacher or, I’d argue, the child as a learner. But probing and experiencing the world of a book by exploring resources off the page models a way of looking at the world through books (by, in a way, actually touching that world) that I think creates life long learners (and book lovers).

  9. nancy Bo Flood  •  Nov 29, 2010 @8:43 pm

    A terrific description of how to use many resources – including picture books – to teach, engage, and encourage students to explore. Thank you, Nancy Bo Flood

  10. Cathe Olson  •  Nov 30, 2010 @9:16 pm

    A couple of nonfiction picture books that I just got into my elementary school library are Soar, Eleanor (about the youngest pilot) and Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant. The kids LOVE them!

  11. Michele Regenold  •  Dec 1, 2010 @6:25 am

    Tami, great ideas! I think many of these will also work with my community college students. I learned this fall that it was pretty easy to persuade them to analyze kids’ NF PBs without thinking of the assignment as babyish. Many of these students are parents themselves, so it also would give them ideas about how to talk books with their kids. Pass it on!

  12. Susanna Reich  •  Dec 1, 2010 @1:35 pm

    Tami, great post about using nf picture books in the classroom. I especially love the way you use music to provide a multi-sensory experience.

    At one school where I did an author visit, the teacher used my picture book, JOSE! BORN TO DANCE, to teach kids about timelines. The kids worked in groups; each group was given a laptop to research a different time period relating to the book, from Jose Limon’s childhood during the Mexican Civil War to the dance company that still performs today. I talked about the timeline of my life and how it was similar to and different from Jose’s, and the kids also created illustrated timelines of their own lives.