Category Archives: Book Lists

Surging into Nonfiction!

The last few months have been a whirlwind of events for me. I’ve attended three different conferences, where I either presented or attended workshops — all about nonfiction. Why? Nonfiction is HOT right now.  That’s great for those of us who read it and even better for those of us who write it.

Why is nonfiction such a hot topic? That’s easy.  Between the state standards, the Common Core, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),  publishers are looking to add lots of nonfiction to their lists.  They are searching for everything from picture book to YA, in the categories of history, biography, science, technology, nature, and much, much more.

Looking to find some great nonfiction books? Check out these awards:

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children


The book that won this year’s award was:
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)
Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (“Amelia Lost”;” The Lincolns”) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.


The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal winner for 2015 was:
The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans BFYR)

2015 Caldecott Honor Book2015 Sibert Medal Winner2015 Orbis Pictus Honor BookFor shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time. Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for 2015. This is a pretty comprehensive list of some awesome science books! I will include just a few below, but for all, check out the website here:
Batman Science: The Real-World Science Behind Batman’s Gear (DC Super Heroes) by Tammy Enz

When it comes to fighting crime, technology is Batmans greatest weapon. From his gadget-packed Utility Belt to his high-tech Batmobile, the Dark Knight tackles Gothams criminal underworld. But does any of his gear have a basis in reality? Or is it merely the stuff of fiction? Batman Science uncovers the real-world connections to Batmans techand much of it will surprise you!


Bone Collection: Skulls by Camilla de la Bédoyère (Scholastic)

BONE COLLECTION: SKULLS is follow-up to the beautiful book BONE COLLECTION: ANIMALS. This spectacular collection of awesome skulls will take a closer look inside some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. Learn what an animal’s skull can tell us about how each creature lives. Discover the narwhal, the unicorn of the sea. Marvel at how a hippo’s eyeballs nearly pop out of its head. Take a look at the rhinoceros’ enormous beak. Featuring the skulls of pythons, piranhas, rams, bears and more, readers will be amazed by the wide variety of skulls in the animal kingdom.

Where does one go to find out more about  the type of nonfiction books coming out or how to learn how to write fabulous nonfiction?

Check out some conferences!  Many regional and even the national SCBWI conferences are including nonfiction workshops these days.  To find one look here:


The Highlights Foundation offers conferences about nonfiction. In fact, I just conducted one at the beginning of the month.


And finally, one of the best conferences (in my opinion) to attend to learn about nonfiction — if you are a teacher, librarian, or aspiring writer, is

the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference.

I went this past June and it was FANTASTIC!  With industry professionals from over 28 organizations including publishers, librarians, the NSTA, Bank Street College, and many more, there is something for everyone.

The conference was a great way to connect with editors, educational professionals, and other authors. Workshops on craft and writing were timely, interesting and fun.  They even had intensives for more in-depth learning and also open table discussions to promote exchange of information between authors and editors.


++++ Talk about perfect timing, Publisher’s Weekly just discussed the Surge in Nonfiction in one of their articles yesterday. It is titled “Is Children’s Nonfiction Having its Moment?”  The answer is YES!!

You can read the article here:

It is easy to find ways to “Surge into Nonfiction” all you have to do is to look!

Feel free to share below any other great nonfiction books or nonfiction events in your area. Let’s keep this nonfiction vibe going!!



Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books for children. A self-professed science geek, when not writing, she can be found trolling through the internet searching for cool science discoveries and experiments.  Learn more about Jennifer at her website:



Indie Spotlight: Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Crious Iguana logo
I don’t know which is a greater delight to feature, a veteran independent bookstore that has survived the ups and downs and dire predictions of the last few years, or one that is new and also doing well. Today we’re talking with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner with Tom England of Curious Iguana ( in Frederick, Maryland.
(Have you ever noticed how founders of independent bookstores like to give them animal names: Blue Manatee, Bear Pond, Flying Pig, Mockingbird, Velveteen Rabbit? )

MUF: Marlene, your shop has been open just two years, and already it is thriving! Tell us how you came to found Curious Iguana and what you think accounts for its early success?
Marlene: My husband Tom and I opened Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in September 2000, and a couple of years ago we started dreaming about what a new curius iguana frontretail adventure might look like. Children’s books had been a consistently strong category at the Bear, so we originally planned to open a children’s bookstore. But the message we heard over and over again from our customers was how much downtown Frederick needed an independent bookstore for all ages, not just kids. When we found out a larger retail space was available around the corner from Dancing Bear, we relocated the toy store there in the summer of 2013 and opened the Iguana in the Bear’s former location just two months later.

Our local community, as well as out-of-towners who visit Frederick, has demonstrated so much love and support for the Iguana. I think it helps that Tom and I already had strong ties to the community—because of the toy store, we were a known entity and never the ‘new kids on the block,’ so to speak. We are also extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team of booksellers who are curious (of course!), passionate about reading, and dedicated to providing exemplary customer service.

MUF: The shop name is wonderful, as is the subtitle, “get to know your world.” In what ways do you encourage young readers to do that?
Marlene: We are very thoughtful in our selection of books, being sure to include titles that are diverse and globally focused.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry at Curious Iguana?Marlene: It’s a team effort that involves staff (particularly Kari, our children’s book buyer), publishing reps, online research, recommendations and reviews from other indie bookstores, and lots and lots of reading!

MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending most to 8-12 year olds these days?  Crious Iguana CartwheelingCruous iguana echo
Although classics are always a staple, new midgrade fiction is flourishing at the Iguana. Kids seem to be really interested in strong, Curious Iguana revolution
character-driven stories—books that open their eyes to the experiences of others and help them understand the world around them. Wonder (RJ Palacio) is still a big hit, but also Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan), Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Katherine Rundell)Curious Iguana Butterfly Hill, El Deafo (Cece Bell), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), The Crossover Curious Iguana War(Kwame Alexander), I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Marjorie Agosin), Revolution (Deborah Wiles), and The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). We’ve been really impressed with our midgrade readers—their appetite for reading, their interest in heavier topics.

MUF: Have favorite middle-grade authors appeared at Curious Iguana? Do you have other activities or events designed to appeal to this age group?

Marlene: Last year, we hosted Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) and were filled to capacity. I’m not sure we could have squeezed one more person in the bookstore! We’ve also welcomed Deborah Wiles (a longtime friend of our bookstore and toy store) and Grace Lin (who braved treacherous weather to greet 60+ fans on a very snowy Saturday morning).curious iguana Lin Several of our middle-grade customers attended a Q&A with a panel of authors from We Need Diverse Books, and we have hosted a Kids Go Global book club for ages 8-12, as well as several intergenerational book discussions at the Iguana and at our county libraries for middle-grade readers and their favorite adults.

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

MUF: Curious Iguana is a “benefit corporation.” Please tell us what that means for you, for your customers, and for the recipients of your donations.
Marlene: All benefit corporations have unique goals and objectives; ours is to be a successful business that also makes a difference in our world—that’s why we donate a percentage of monthly sales to global nonprofits that are making a world of difference. Recent recipients include Kiva, The Malala Fund, Room to Read, CamFed, and Children of Promise, Children of Hope, a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic that was started by a longtime customer and friend. This commitment to giving back helps us keep our priorities straight. It’s a constant reminder that helping others is a big part of why we do what we do. Our customers seem to respect our vision and appreciate that the money they spend at the Iguana is having a broad impact far beyond downtown Frederick.curous iguana interior

MUF: If an out of town family on a day trip visits Curious Iguana, would there be family-friendly places near buy to get a snack or meal? Are there other unique Frederick sights or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Marlene: Definitely! Our historic downtown is a thriving ‘Main Street’ community with all kinds of independent specialty stores and restaurants. There really is something for everyone. Of course, we’re just a tad biased and would encourage visitors to stop by our sister store, Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, just around the corner from the Iguana. Many families add some history to their shopping and dining with a visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is also located in downtown Frederick. Two helpful websites to check out when planning a trip to Frederick are and

curious iguana round logoThank you Marlene, for telling us about your bookstore and its mission!  Readers, have you visited this popular shop? (Hmmmmm. I wonder if Curious Iguana is acquainted with Reading Reptile?  Seems like they might have a lot  in common. )

Sue Cowing is author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012}.

Mixed-Up Files Goes to the Movies

Hello, Mixed-Up Filers!

Welcome to my July post! How are you guys doing? Granted, it’s only been two months this time since my last column, but I don’t know, somehow I missed you. Hope everyone has been well and enjoying their summer.

Summer is about vacations, camps, beaches, pools and lots and lots of movies. Because, when you have three kids, you tend to go often. And how does that relate to this site? Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, most of the movies we go to are for kids. And, as you might’ve guessed, many of those are adaptations from our favorite middle grade books! So, for now, I’d like to talk about those movies and call this Mixed-Up Files Goes to the Movies!

Let’s start with none other than the book our site is named after.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. As I’m sure the majority of you know, our site is named after the novel, by E. L. Konigsburg. It is a fun story about two kids who run away from home and go to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The movie for this is called The Hideaways. I have to say right off, that I only recently watched this movie. I never even heard of it as a kid, and I saw everything. First reaction? Not great. I hate to disparage any actors and especially kid ones at that, but I found it difficult to buy some of the things in the film. I just didn’t buy any of the urgency in the kids. They seemed much more like they were just out for having a fun time putting on a show and giving exposition as lines, than being in real situations. I know that there were an awful lot of schlocky 70’s movies for kids, but this one felt overly so. Not that that was the only problem. I found it very slow-paced and if I did, then kids of today stand no shot watching this. In my opinion, read the book and only see the movie for curiosity’s sake, like I did.

from the mixed up filesThe_Hideaways_DVD_cover

Our next Middle-Grade Movie entry is: The Spiderwick Chronicles. The book series, by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, is really enjoyable. One of the more recent stories I really got into. It is about the Grace children, twins Simon and Jared and their older sister Mallory. They move into the Spiderwick Estate with their mother and soon discover a secret library, using a dumbwaiter built into the house. They also stumble upon the study of the late owner of the estate, Arthur Spiderwick, and find his guide to faeries. They then encounter a brownie named Thimbletack, who warns them that the guide is dangerous and not meant to be used by humans.


As far as the movie goes, I have heard a lot of different reviews on it, but I have to say that for myself, I really enjoyed it. I found myself lost in the world of the book. It had the feeling of the series and was spooky and mysterious. The actors were all good and believable. I was disappointed that there was never a follow-up. In this case, I definitely recommend doing both, the book and the movie.

spiderwick movie

Next up on our Mixed-Up Files Movie Excursion is, the Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl. The story is about Mr. Fox, who lives underground beside a tree with his wife and children. In order to feed his family, he makes nightly visits to farms owned by three wicked, cruel and dim-witted farmers and steals their livestock. Okay, this book, I will have to be honest about, I only saw it after seeing the movie. I had been unfamiliar with it beforehand. I did like the book and found it funny and cute and featured a lot of the wit that Dahls is famous for. However, I LOVED the movie. I had many laugh out loud moments watching the film. It is an animated movie starring, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. Not too shabby. The book and film veer off slightly and don’t exactly follow the same path, but it doesn’t matter. This is another one, where I recommend both, and I may even be hunted down for blasphemy, but I have to say that this is one of the few cases, where I enjoyed the movie more than the book.

fantastic foxfantastic fox movie

Number four on our Middle-Grade Movie list is:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

I am a huge fan of the Wimpy Kid books and when we buy them, I probably go through them faster than my kids do. The stories are about Greg Heffley and his best friend Rowley, who are entering middle school band will have to face all the dangers of having kids older, meaner and taller and also the most dangerous ones of all…girls. Besides that, we get to see Greg’s home life with his parents, younger brother Manny and worst of all, Rodrick, his older brother who looks for any opportunity to torment Greg. I know there are some who don’t like that Greg shows a mean side to his friends and looks for the short cuts instead of doing work, well, I know that because I have heard some at writing conferences say it, but honestly, THAT’S how boys are and THAT’S how boys talk to each other…as friends! I like that boys can be natural and still know that they’re best friends.


The movie follows the same tone. Greg is a good kid, but says mean jokes to Rowley, looks for shortcuts to hard work and makes things up to get out of trouble. I love the depiction of boys. The sequels aren’t as good as the first one, but still fun. Definitely read the books and I recommend the movies too. At least watch the first one.

diary wimpy kid

For my fifth and final stop on the Mixed-Up Movie Express, and the one my son would be annoyed about if I left it off, is How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

how to dragon

The books follow the adventures of Hiccup, the Viking, as he captures a dragon and names him Toothless. All the Vikings, in his village of Berk, are expected to know how to defeat and train dragons. The film does not fully base itself on the novel, but takes the basic premise and still gives a fun story where the Vikings and dragons have to work together to defeat a bigger enemy. Plus, the movie is one of my son’s favorites. Definitely read the book and see the movie. As my son will attest, both are good!

how to dragon movie

There are many, many more good movies based on great middle-grade books, including a certain boy wizard, who has received enough exposure on his own without me including him. Well, that’s it for my time! I didn’t include the movie Home, from this year, which was based on the novel, The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I happened to enjoy both book and movie on that one.


I had fun looking these over and I hope you enjoy all of them. In the comments, let me know what some of your favorite movies based on middle-grade books are!

Thanks for reading. Until next time!