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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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Ruminations On Reading Levels

Learning Differences

Ruminate. Excogitate. Contemplate. Chew the cud. Each of these words means to think about or to mull over. However, some of these words are more sophisticated and erudite than the others. Their use would result in an increased reading level of the text in which they were included.

There are many different ways to calculate reading level. You may be familiar with the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Levels in Word. When I ran the previous paragraph through spell/grammar check, it came out as a 4.7 grade level. I fiddled around a bit with that intro paragraph and changed it to the following.

Ruminate, excogitate, contemplate, and chew the cud: each of these words means to think about or to mull over. However, some of these words are more sophisticated and erudite than the others, and their use would result in an increased reading level of the text in which they were included.

When I ran this paragraph through Word’s spell/grammar check, it came out as 11.6. If you look at the two paragraphs, you will notice that I used the exact same words. The only thing that changed was the sentence structure. Amazingly, the reading level jumped seven grades. There are many different ways to calculate reading levels, but most of them center on length and complexity of words and sentences, not actual content or theme.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I ran across this article, American High School Students Are Reading Books at 5th Grade Appropriate Levels, which features a slide show revealing that The Hunger Games is written at a 5.3 grade level, Of Mice and Men weighs in at 4.5, and To Kill a Mockingbird registers at a level of 5.6. The latter two books are classics, and some believe Hunger Games will become a classic. Most would agree that the content of these books is not appropriate for fourth and fifth graders, but that the themes are important for older students to explore and discuss as they approach adulthood. Focusing on the reading level instead of the content is misleading. The headline insinuates that high school students are reading drivel, even though time honored classics are included on the list.

Curious, I used the Book Wizard tool on the Scholastic site to double check the statistics. While The Hunger Games still came up as 5.3, both Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird were listed at a 8.1 reading level. I began typing in random titles of well known middle grade novels my sons and I have enjoyed. The Lightning Thief showed up as 4.7, Al Capone Does My Shirts 4.7,  Redwall 7.8, Phantom Toll Booth 5.4,  A Wrinkle in Time 5.8, A Single Shard 6.8, Rules 4.5, Hatchet 6.3, The White Giraffe 5.7, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5.3.

So what does all this mean, and why does it matter? It matters when kids are kept to a reading list that is based on grade levels, which as you can see don’t always line up with content level. It matters when parents or teachers judge a book to be less worthy because the reading level seems low, even though the message is rich and timeless. Reading levels can measure length of words; they cannot measure beauty of language. They can count words in sentences, but they cannot count the number of children a story may touch.

Another thing to consider with children’s fiction is that it is usually told in a child’s voice. In order to be authentic, the main character probably isn’t going to sound like Thoreau or Hemingway. Sentences may be short, especially if there is a lot of dialogue and action. In the case of free verse novels such as Out of the Dust, reading level 5.1, the sentences will be fragmented. Contemporary fiction reflects contemporary times. When is the last time you mailed a letter written with the complexity and flair of an Austen novel?

I am not saying that children shouldn’t be challenged, and I fully understand the need to increase reading comprehension and vocabulary. However, I’m not sure if choosing books based on a number calculated by a computer is the way to do it.  I also know, all too sadly, that school systems need a way to sort and measure what is learned. My point in bringing all this up is that when it comes to choosing books for young students, we need to look beyond reading levels.

There is great value in stories. Children gain insight into other cultures, eras, and lives. These things help form them into more well-rounded and empathetic people. Books are windows to places they might otherwise never get to go and people they might never meet.

Although adhering to reading levels may be necessary in some situations, it should not be the only gauge by which we measure the worth of the book. I am no reading specialist or expert; however, I have watched my son grow from reading a steady diet of Geronimo Stilton, Warriors, and Wimpy Kid books to asking for a volume of Phillis Wheatley poetry.

After you’ve had a chance to ruminate and chew the cud on this topic, please leave a comment and tell us what you think.

*Image courtesy of http://www.freestockphotos.biz

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