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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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Overcoming Obstacles

Activities, Audiobooks, Inspiration, Learning Differences, Miscellaneous, Op-Ed, Uncategorized

When I was a middle- grade student, two things made me nauseous. One was timed math tests. The other, obstacle courses.

Back in the day, an obstacle course was enough to send me to the nurse’s office hoping for a quick ticket home. The climbing rope that hung from the gym ceiling was the pinnacle of my misery. I should be honest and say that I never got more than six inches off the ground so my fear wasn’t based on any real risk, but on the impossibility of the task and the humiliation of public failure.

I was NEVER going to make it to the top of the rope—especially after struggling to climb over the pommel horse, doing a cartwheel on a balance beam (or not) or sweating through fifty push- ups (ha!). Wasn’t. Going. To. Happen. Ever.

Middle grade students have enough obstacles in their lives with or without a seventy-five foot rope to climb. Unfortunately for some, reading is one of those hurdles.  My next few posts will discuss barriers to reading and what Mixed-Up folks like us can do to help kids to bust through or boost over.

We’ll start with the most obvious obstacle–the reader.  Every reader brings internal strengths, weaknesses, interests and biases that can contribute to success or failure in reading.

Dig a little deeper within the blog to find great ideas to inspire children to move from learning to read to loving to read.

Book clubs: Any time reading becomes a social activity, that’s one less hurdle for some kids. Kurtis Scaletta has had knowledgeable and informative posts about book clubs with a focus on boys. Check them out for the inside scoop.

Books on tape: Take a look at one of Hélène Boudreau’s posts about using books on tape. Audiobooks can also be used to promote reading in a variety of situations.

  • With kids that don’t have a read-aloud routine in their home
  • With auditory learners
  • With children who get overwhelmed by the number of pages in books
  • With those who don’t read well. An adult can start the book on tape and let the child finish reading it once they are established in the story. Or they can alternate between listening and reading. Adult and child can listen to the whole thing together if neither is a strong reader.

Book –related field trips: For hands-on kids or those whose life experiences may be limited, a field trip to a location mentioned in a book can make the book more relevant and help strengthen the book-to- self connections that classroom teachers are always encouraging.

Book projects: I had a previous post on how book projects took reading to a new level for my son. Here is another spot with lots of creative book project ideas for those kids who learn by doing.

Reading together/read aloud: A great way to bond. Stop to ask questions, define new words or make comments while reading to strengthen comprehension skills and vocabulary. For even more fun, try something new.

  • Set up a tent, use a flashlight for light and read a suspenseful story.
  • Read a winter story by the fireplace with a bowl of popcorn to share.
  • Find a fun perch at a local playground and read from a different height.
  • Give an active child some paper and crayons while he or she listens and draws as the story unfolds.

Book to movie connections: A great way to motivate visual learners. Read the book first and look for similarities and differences in the movie version. Add a post-movie pizza and a few friends and you have an on-the-spot book club meeting. Hélène had another great post about favorite book to movie translations.

Reading Buddies: Programs like these match senior citizen volunteers with children to promote reading, vocabulary-building games, mentor activities and shared history which benefits both participants in ways that reach far beyond the book.

Literacy activities and programs: Libraries are full of great book-related activities to promote reading. Incredible to think not every neighborhood or community has a library or an easy way to get to one. I grew up in a small town and the visit from the bookmobile was a highlight of our month. If you have access to a good library, use it, bring a friend and be thankful for it. I never appreciated my favorite library as much as when I moved away and realized that not all libraries are created equal.

Graphic novels: Another great way to promote reading with visual learners, artistic kids and reluctant readers. You can even read classics in graphic novel form with the original text. What a clever way to keep the classics relevant in today’s visual, fast-paced environment and hopefully encourage a kid who might have never read the book to take a look.  See Wendy Martin’s post for more about this non-traditional media.

Non-fiction and how-to books: Some kids better understand the purpose of reading when it is directly related to an interest or as a way to find out more information about a subject. Non-fiction, magazines, how-to books and other forms of print are often ways to keep a reluctant reader connected.  Take a look at another post from Wendy Martin for more.

Reading aloud to pets: Read more here about this creative approach. What a great idea!

Check back for more about removing barriers to reading in my next post coming in May.  I’ve dropped a few hints in this post about the next obstacle we’ll discuss. What do you think the next barrier will be?

Joanne Prushing Johnson looks at the world upside down and backwards, trying to figure out new ways to do the same old thing. Joanne writes funny middle-grade books and is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. To find out more, check out www.joanneprushingjohnson.com. Or hang upside down on the nearest monkey bars for a couple of minutes and you’ll get the general idea.



  1. Karen Schwartz  •  Feb 9, 2011 @10:17 am

    Great ideas here. I’d also add regular trips to the library/bookstore. I used familiar TV characters in picture books to get my son started at 4 years old too.

  2. Book projects for sure! Oh, books on tape are great too.

  3. Brookefav  •  Feb 9, 2011 @3:10 pm

    This is great. My 8 yr old is just turning the corner on whether she enjoys reading. Reading to the pets…gotta be my favorite.

  4. Cathe Olson  •  Feb 9, 2011 @6:02 pm

    Great suggestions . . . I’ve brought graphic novels into my library and they are very popular. I’m trying to get some audiobooks now but it’s hard because we have no funding for materials this year. I started a program on donors choose at http://www.donorschoose.org/nipomoelementary which I’m hoping will be funded so we can get some in. We have not only reluctant readers but many english second language students so audio books are great for them to hear the language.

  5. Joanne  •  Feb 9, 2011 @7:30 pm

    Hmmm Cathe. You might be onto my next topic about barriers to reading.

  6. Donna Gephart  •  Feb 9, 2011 @9:25 pm

    Great timing. I’m working with reluctant readers at a neighborhood school next week. Thanks for the inspiring ideas.
    Btw, I laughed out loud at your P.E. (aka gym) miseries. Vanessa, the character in my first book, had to face every one of those things in P.E. class with the evil Coach Connor.
    Thanks for the excellent post!

  7. sarah aronson  •  Feb 10, 2011 @4:31 pm

    Great suggestions!

    I am currently doing a theater project with a group of fourth and fifth graders and it’s so amazing–you can see their confidence grow every week. Rereading and memorization in theater, followed by performance, can be a great road to reading. It was for me!!!

  8. Pragmatic Mom  •  Feb 10, 2011 @9:17 pm

    Thank you so much for the great post on getting reluctant readers to love to read. This is a topic dear to my heart and I wanted to share a category of posts on this subject for anyone who wants it: http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?cat=3154

    I have about 30 posts on this topic. I also have a book list: Best Books for Reluctant Boy Readers at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=116

    I hope that this is helpful to your readers!