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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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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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