Category Archives: Book Lists

Six Titles for Your Writing Workshop Bookshelf

There are some things about being a teacher that stay with you  – even after you’ve packed up your posters and curriculum binders and left the classroom for other adventures. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a classroom, but I still consider the true start of a year September 1 – regardless of what the calendar and my accountant says. And I still create lesson plans in my mind – especially when I come across books that I know my students would have loved.

Lately, I’ve been thinking  a lot about what makes a writer – and how we can nurture and support that yearning early on – especially in kids who would never dare to imagine that being an author is even a possibility for them. So, I’ve put together a book list for teachers (and parents) who might want a little writing workshop inspiration on their shelves for those kids – the ones who just might become our future favorite authors if we only let them see that it’s possible.

Our Story Begins:  Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids – edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

“From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?”

I want to go back in time and give this book to 10 year old me. I was well into adulthood before I saw an early, unpublished draft from a “real” writer’s notebook. I remember the feeling that came over me when I realized that this Pulitzer Prize winner’s work wasn’t just magically wonderful. In fact, his early draft wasn’t really any better than some of the stuff I was producing at my desk late at night. It was the first moment I realized that Writers (with a capital W) weren’t somehow a super special subgroup of our species who emerged filled with brilliance and wit and talent from birth. They were just people who wrote – and rewrote – and rewrote again and again until they got it right. Imagine how empowering it would be to realize that as a young reader and writer.

Some Writer:  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

“Caldecott Honor winner  Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell the story of this American literary icon. Readers young and old will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life. This authorized tribute, a New York Times bestseller, includes an afterword by Martha White, his granddaughter.”

I love seeing glimpses of young E.B. White’s life and writing. I especially love seeing how these young experiences are reflected in the novels he wrote as adult. I think kids will enjoy seeing the revisions White did on the books we know know as masterpieces.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

“The Newbery Award–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical creative writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Jack Gantos instructs young writers on using their “writing radar” to unearth story ideas from their everyday lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires readers to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create, revise, and perfect their stories.”

Funny. Smart. And full of motivation and great tips. This book is a fun way to help kids see that their lives are already story worthy. They just need to notice everything that’s going on around them and write it down in their trusty journal.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

“Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best―herself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:

– How she dealt with being bald until she was five
– How she overcame her struggles with reading
– How family traditions with her Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins and her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye, are so different

Debut author Susan Tan has written a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.”

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is simply a delight. She’s also a great role model for writing about your life (and your feelings) in a fun and interesting way. Kids who like to write will relate to Cilla immediately – and may even begin thinking about (and writing down) their own life stories.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

“Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
 
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.
 
Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.”

The 5th graders in Ms. Hill’s class have a lot going on this year. And they chronicle it all – their doubts, their worries, their friendships, and their desires –  in a poetry project. Kids can see that writing really can make changes in their lives – and that their voice really does matter. Bonus: the book is full of poetry how to’s and prompts to help kids create their own poetry project.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

“Holy unanticipated occurrences! From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black and white by K. G. Campbell.”

So much fun! Part graphic novel/part traditional novel – Kate DiCamillo’s story of comic book loving Flora and her super hero squirrel buddy is page-turning fun. It’s also a great look at imaginative story-telling at its finest. A fun way to get kids thinking creatively about the stories they want to tell – and how to best enhance the telling. Best of all, it will give them permission to  let their imagination go a little wild. Kid me would have loved this – and would have come up with a dozen super hero style stories that would have made me laugh out loud while I was writing.

BONUS Title:
Humongous Book of Cartooning by Christopher Hart

“Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is a great value book covering everything the beginner needs to master cartooning. It teaches how to draw cartoon people, fantasy characters, layouts, background design and much more. This latest cartoon title from Chris Hart, the world’s bestselling author of drawing and cartooning books, packs a wallop. It’s the cartooning book that has it all: cartoon people, animals, retro-style “toons'”, funny robots (no one has ever done cartoon robots in a how-to book before, and movies like “Wall-E” and “Robots” were smash hits and prove their appeal), fantasy characters and even sections on cartoon costumes, character design, and cartoon backgrounds and composition. The Humongous Book of Cartooning is humongous, not only because it’s so big, but also because it includes a huge amount of original eye-catching characters and copious visual “side hints” that Chris is famous for. There is more actual instruction in this book than in any other of Chris’ cartooning titles. In short, if you want to know how to draw cartoons, Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is for you.”

Every writer gets a little stuck sometimes. Sometimes moving from words to pictures helps break the log jam. Doodling some basic character sketches activates a different part of the brain – and can often move you from stuck to full of ideas again. This book makes drawing characters fun and easy – even for someone who mostly deals in words all day. Kids will like the simple how to and the funny characters – and I’ll wager that more than one imaginative story will come from drawing some of these cartoons.

These 6 (okay, 7) books are on my inspirational writing workshop bookshelf right now. What’s your favorite “Get kids writing” book? Or even your favorite “Get me writing” book? Let me know in the comments below.

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“Fall” into Nonfiction with some great new Titles

Looking for some AWESOME Middle Grade and YA nonfiction to add to your shelves this fall?  Check out some of the Amazing titles listed below– from a playful book about cats, to a history thriller about the famous Booth Brothers, two books about women and girls who changed the world, an incredible story of bionic animals, a creepy book about the way poison was used throughout history,  a series on discovering animal secrets, and the first in a series of facts that are too crazy to be true, yet they are… These books showcase Nonfiction as the very exciting, highly intriguing topic it is. #NonfictionROCKS

 

True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties

By Aline Alexander Newman (Nat Geo Kids)


We humans love our cats and these surprising true stories will prove our cats love us back This collection of tales of playfulness, friendship, heroism, and inspiration is sure to touch the soul, tickle the funny bone, and inspire animal lovers everywhere to be the best kitty caretakers and companions they can be. There’s Bambi, whose owners taught her to respond to commands in American Sign Language; Millie, who loves exploring the outdoors and goes rock climbing with her owner; Leo, a rescued lion who changed the life of one South African family forever, and more.

 

The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame and the Death of President Lincoln by Rebecca Langston-George (Capstone Press)


Today everyone knows the name of John Wilkes Booth, the notorious zealot who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. But in his lifetime, the killer was an actor who was well-known among fans of the theater, well-known but less famous and less admired than his brother Edwin. In the 1860s, Edwin Booth ranked among the greatest and most-respected stars of the stage. He lived in New York and sympathized with the Union cause, while his younger brother stomped the streets of Washington, D.C., and raged as the Civil War turned in favor of the North. John fantasized about kidnapping the president, but after the defeat of the Confederacy, he sought deadly vengeance. The night Lincoln attended a performance at Ford’s Theatre, Edwin was far away, knowing nothing of the plot unfolding in the nation’s capital.

 

 

Bold Women of Medicine
21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs By Susan M. Latta (Chicago Review Press)

Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton–the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”–earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.
Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.

Lotta Crabtree: Gold Rush Fairy Star By Lois Harris (Pelican Publishing Company)

With the California Gold Rush reaching a feverish peak, it was up to child performers called “Fairy Stars” to keep the miners entertained. As adventurers from all over the world spent hours scouring the land for gold, the children would dance, sing, and act to raise spirits and money–and the most successful among them was Lotta Crabtree. At just eight years old, Lotta won hearts on the West and East Coasts with her extraordinary talent for performing. Thus began a career that lasted decades, launching Lotta to stardom and making her one of the most beloved actresses of the nineteenth century. In this unique biography for young readers, follow Lotta’s first years, her struggle to support her family, and her spectacular journey to fame by age twenty.

 

Unstoppable:True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals By Nancy Furstinger (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt)


Chris P. Bacon was born with malformed legs, but with the help of a wheelchair made of construction toys, he’s become a hero to people with similar challenges. Nancy Furstinger profiles Chris P. Bacon and many other animals in Unstoppable–all of whom are making their way around with the help of prosthetics, braces, orthotics and wheelchairs Readers will meet the caretakers, prosthetists, vets, and loving families that help to make recovery possible. Furstinger offers a glimpse into the cutting-edge technologies, such as 3D printing and brain-controlled prosthetics, that are helping to improve the lives of animals and humans alike.

 

Poison:Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines By Sarah Albee (Crown BFYR)

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts
For centuries, people have been poisoning one another–changing personal lives and the course of empires alike.
From spurned spouses and rivals, to condemned prisoners like Socrates, to endangered emperors like Alexander the Great, to modern-day leaders like Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat, poison has played a starring role in the demise of countless individuals. And those are just the deliberate poisonings. Medical mishaps, greedy “snake oil” salesmen and food contaminants, poisonous Prohibition, and industrial toxins also impacted millions.
Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

 

The Secret of the Scuba Diving Spider… and More!
By Ana Maria Rodriguez (Enslow Publishing)


Readers will dive along with an underwater spider and also discover why caterpillars need an emergency whistle, how moths talk back to bats, that zombie beetles really exist, and what makes cockroaches so hard to catch. Primary sources include interviews with the scientists and original photos. Simple yet detailed language makes complicated scientific ideas easy to understand. A hands-on activity allows students to take on the role of scientist and examine these basic biological principles themselves.

 

Fault Lines in the Constitution:The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today By Cynthia Levinson; Sanford Levinson (Peachtree Publishers)

Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the US Constitution.

Husband-and-wife team Cynthia and Sanford Levinson take readers back to the creation of this historic document and discuss how contemporary problems were first introduced–then they offer possible solutions. Think Electoral College, gerrymandering, even the Senate. Many of us take these features in our system for granted. But they came about through haggling in an overheated room in 1787, and we’re still experiencing the ramifications.  From the award-winning team, Cynthia Levinson, children’s book author, and Sanford Levinson, constitutional law scholar, Fault Lines in the Constitution will encourage exploration and discussion from young and old readers alike.

 

Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!  By Ammi-Joan Paquette; Laurie Ann Thompson (Walden Pond Press)

Two Truths and a Lie is the first book in a fascinating new series that presents some of the most crazy-but-true stories about the living world as well as a handful of stories that are too crazy to be true–and asks readers to separate facts from the fakes

Every story in this book is strange and astounding. But not all of them are real. Just like the old game in this book’s title, two out of every three stories are completely true and one is an outright lie. Can you guess which? It’s not going to be easy. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable. And they’re all accompanied by dozens of photos, maps, and illustrations. Amaze yourself and trick your friends as you sort out the fakes from the facts

 

Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat By Jennifer Swanson (21st Century Books/Lerner)

“Most scientists agree that Earth is warming rapidly. Glaciers are melting and rising seawaters are submerging islands and coastal cities. In the coming decades, millions will likely have to escape extreme weather caused by climate change. Some scientists say we need to act faster and with radical new technologies—now—to save our planet. They propose geoengineering, or “”engineering Earth,”” to reset our global thermostat. Ideas include thickening clouds with chemicals to reduce the amount of sunlight and pulling carbon dioxide from the air with machines. However, critics say that geoengineering could backfire and create even worse weather. Is geoengineering too risky? Or is it our best hope of survival?”

Meet Catherine Newman, author of One Mixed-Up Night

As y’all know, here at MUF, we are ALL ABOUT From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (c’mon, it’s obvious!), so when we heard that Catherine Newman wrote a middle grade novel, One Mixed-Up Night, about two kids who run away and spend the night in IKEA, we knew we had to feature her and her new book. The Massachusetts-based Newman, who is also the author of the kids’ craft book Stitch Camp and writes the blog Ben and Birdy, talked to us about her inspiration for One Mixed-Up Night, what makes middle grade the golden years of reading, and where she dreams of spending the night.

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors: What does the novel, Mrs. Basil… mean to you? Did you fantasize about running away to the Met?
Catherine Newman: I was probably ten when I read that book, and yes, yes, yes! I completely fantasized about running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art! (I grew up in New York City, so I maybe kind of extra-fantasized about it.) I loved the idea of sleeping in that antique bed, pulling coins from the fountain to buy hotdogs… everything. My book’s plot, set in Ikea, is of course what I was going for. It’s my main characters’ favorite book, and it’s what inspired them (and me). Although someone pointed out to me recently that my book also has a little of the picture book Corduroy in it, which is totally true!

MUF: What is it about your novel that speaks to kids so successfully, do you think? Did your own children read it and enjoy it?
CN: Oh, well, gosh. I really do hope it speaks to kids successfully! My daughter Birdy, who is really the person I wrote it for, did love it. I think there’s an undercurrent of nerd-positivity in the book that really speaks to kids who are on the cusp of teenagerhood. (I mean except for, I guess, kids that don’t identify at all with geeky awkwardness. Are there kids like that? Those kids probably don’t need the imaginary friends that a book can offer.) Frankie (short for Francesca) and Walter, the main characters, are bookish kids who decide to do something crazy. I think that’s a combination that lots of kids can relate to, or at least aspire to. Also, they’re really, really good friends, and they take excellent care of each other. I know that my own kids were always craving books where the main characters treated each other kindly.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

MUF: What gave you the idea of doing an homage to Mrs. Basil? 
CN: I got the idea from the way my son Ben and his long-time best friend Ava used to sit on the couch with the Ikea catalogue for hours on end. (They still do, actually.) They always got so dreamy about it—“If you could live in any of these Ikea rooms, which would it be?”—and maybe that’s what triggered the Mrs. Basil plot overlap. At first I was worried that not that many kids would related to the Ikea obsession, but I can’t tell you how many parents have said to me, “Oh my god! My kids are obsessed with Ikea!” So now I’m not so worried about that.

MUF: What do you hope readers will experience by reading your novel?
CN: Okay, please skip this next part if you’re worried about spoilers: There’s a subplot in the book that’s about grief and healing, and I think that—beyond the fun, fantasy Ikea adventure plot—kids might really enjoy seeing these friends work through something hard together and grow so much, with so much decency. So, I hope they’re entertained, but there’s also something deeper here too, maybe.

Author Catherine Newman. Photo credit: Ben Newman

MUF: What made you want to write a middle grade novel?
CN: Ah. Two things, mainly. First, my daughter Birdy was middle-grade age when I wrote this book, and I knew so much about the books she loved. Harry Potter, of course, but also books like When You Reach Me by (my idol) Rebecca Stead or The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson or Framed (and everything else by Frank Cottrell Boyce). Also books that challenged and inspired her in different ways, like Wonder and Out of My Mind and Counting by Sevens. But the second reason is that, for me, those were the golden years of reading—the years when I was scolded for showing up at the dinner table with Black Hearts in Battersea, or for burying my nose in Harriet the Spy when I was supposed to be doing cartwheels for my grandmother. I have loved books all my life, but there was something special about those middle grades.

MUF: So if you could run off and spend the night anywhere in the world, where would you go? And who would you bring?
CN: Not Ikea! I’m like Frankie and Walter’s parents, who all kind of love-hate Ikea, rather than just loving it like the kids do. Maybe I’d spend the night in Zabar’s, that enormous deli in New York City (I’d eat all the whitefish salad and French cheese). Or at a place with hundreds of cats and kittens, though I don’t know what kind of place that would be! So I would probably pick our campsite at Nickerson Campground, on Cape Cod. Because, besides home (with our cats), that spot, in our tent, is my family’s happiest place.