Category Archives: For Kids

The Social Aspect of Reading OR Books & Friends

We usually think of reading as a solitary activity. Reading a book is so very lovely when we can curl up in our cozy armchair or under a blanket, sipping tea – or Dr. Pepper – and fully immerse ourselves. Shutting out the real world. Being transformed by the experience. 

Even the author who wrote the book disappears when the story is enthralling and the writing transports us to a whole new world.

But this post is how reading is a social experience, too.

First, let me tell you a story.

Childhood-friend-250712I met my childhood best friend in Kindergarten. Her name was Starr and we instantly hit it off. From Kindergarten through 6th grade, Starr and I were inseparable.

One of the things we both had a passion for was a love of books. We read ferociously, taking trips to the library together and purchasing stacks of Scholastic Book Club titles. We talked books constantly and laughed and cried over books for the next seven years. The first picture taken of us in Kindergarten is the two of us sitting together, our heads bent over a book. (I wish I knew what book it was, but alas, the picture keeps this little tidbit a secret).

Every afternoon we were either at my house or her house (although we had to learn how to cross a very busy street), and we spent a great deal of our time together bringing stories alive by dressing up and creating adventures and characters from the worlds of the books we’d read. (Kind of like dramatic fan fiction loooong before the term fan-fiction was coined.)

We especially loved The Little House books and loved to pretend that we were living in the Olden Days. During Friday night sleepovers we talked endlessly, ate brownie dough raw, squealed when our big brothers teased us and made fun of our “characters” when they caught us acting out our stories.

By age 9-10 we began to create our own stories. My first official “novel” was authored by the two of us. My favorite books were historicals, contemporary, and magic elizabethmagical realism , but for some reason Starr and I wrote a science fiction book about two girls kidnapped by aliens and taken to the misty world of Venus far across space. It was full of danger and daring as we hijacked the spacecraft to get back to Earth.

Whenever Starr and I were writing stories we used pen names; our middle names of Elizabeth and Anne respectively. Of course. Because we loved our middle names more than our first names, and they sounded so much more grown-up.

I’ll never forget the power that reading Harriet the Spy had on me. I imprinted with that book. I became Harriet. For many wonderful summer afternoons Starr and I armed ourselves with our notebooks and proceeded to spy on her family. She had a marvelous backyard with a big weeping willow tree, a play house, and a big tree-house with a fire station type sliding pole for quick getaways when *enemies* AKA brothers and sisters came lurking. These various locales – so close to the safety of the back door of the house! – were perfect for surreptitious eavesdropping.

Harriet the SpyWhat followed were many happy years of reading a book a day and pounding out “novels” on my father’s typewriter in his garage office.

High school brought lots of changes and, unfortunately, Starr and I never once had a class together or activity. We drifted apart due to different extracurricular activities and making new friends through our different churches.

College and then marriage took me out of state from where I grew up in the Bay Area. I haven’t seen or corresponded with Starr in over 30 years. I attended my 20th high school reunion hoping to reunite with her there, but she did not attend and nobody seemed to know how to contact her. But I fondly remember the power of our friendship, our closeness, our loyalty—and the power of books that welded us together.

I’ve had close friendships since my childhood days, but none that have been as close or as strong (not counting my husband!) as the one with Starr. Would I be the writer I am today without our live-action fan fiction, story-writing, and endless imagining?

The desire to create my own books and see them published was borne deep within me at a very early age. But I think Starr gave me the courage to begin, to not hold back, to try. I was horribly shy and Starr had much more self-confidence than I did. With Starr, I believed that the magic was real. Because it was so much less scary and overwhelming to dream together, to brainstorm together, and to put those ideas down on paper together. It was a true gift of our friendship.

Thank you, Starr, wherever you are.

Today there are dozens of places online and in the Real World where reading has become more social than ever before. Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Book Blogs, Book Clubs, Literacy nights, or Author book launches are all places readers converge to discuss and enthuse about books.

Book ClubWe discuss books in public and in the privacy of our homes in a more expansive way than I’ve ever seen before. We bond over books, don’t we??

I personally love the fact that public awareness of books, especially children’s books, is at a higher rate than ever before. Statistics show that children’s books are selling at twice the rate they used to just 10 years ago.

In the comments, please tell us about your childhood book friendships, your adult book friendships and any book clubs you participate in. How have they influenced your reading life? The good, the bad, and the enlightening!



Kimberley Griffiths Little’s best ideas come when taking long hot baths, but instead of a sunken black marble tub with gold faucets and a dragon-shaped spigot, she has New Mexico hand-painted tiles in her adobe home along the Rio Grande.

Her seven Middle-Grade novels with Knopf and Scholastic have won several awards and Forbidden, the first of a Young Adult trilogy recently published with Harpercollins. Find Kimberley on Facebook. and Twitter @KimberleyGLittl. Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guides, and fabulous book trailers “filmed on location” at Kimberley’s website.

I’ll Take a Little Science with my Fiction, Please

I have a confession. I’m a huge science geek!  That’s probably why I write nonfiction books– mostly about science and engineering.  But I also like to read  fiction, too.   Even though I tend towards high stake action- adventure, mystery, humorous, and even a little fanasty on occasion, I sometimes miss seeing the science in those books.

So I have to say that I have been delighted to see the trend of science creeping into fiction books lately.  Here are a few good ones that you might want to check out if you are into science, too. These books will surely help you “get your geek on”!


The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Believe in the possible . . . with this “warm, witty, and wise” novel from “New York Times” bestseller, three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.



Wake Up Missing  by Kate Messner

Four kids . . . Two weeks in the Florida Everglades . . . One top-secret science experiment that could change them “and “the world as they know it . . . Meet Quentin, a middle-school football star from Chicago; Sarah, a hockey player from Upstate New York; Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest; and Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.The four have little in common except the head injuries that landed them in an elite brain-science center in the wild swamps of Florida. It’s known as the best clinic in the world and promises to return their lives to normal, but as days pass, the kids begin to notice strange side effects and unexplained changes.


Frank Einstein and the Anti- Motor Motor by Jon Scieszka 

Frank Einstein loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination, and definitely unusual. After an uneventful experiment in his garage-lab, a lightning storm and flash of electricity bring Frank’s inventions—the robots Klink and Klank—to life! Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wisecracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank nonetheless help Frank attempt to perfect his Antimatter Motor . . . until Frank’s archnemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan! Using real science, Jon Scieszka has created a unique world of adventure and science fiction—an irresistible chemical reaction for middle-grade readers.

 Edison’s Gold by Geoff  Watson

Solving a centuries-old family mystery is Tom Edison’s only hope to stop his family from moving to Kansas. His famous name­sake and great-great-grandfather, Thomas Edison, had discovered the secret formula for changing metal into gold, and now Tom and his friends are on a whirlwind adventure to find the key to this monumental discovery. But can the three friends uncover Edison’s secret formula in time and escape the clutches of an evil billionaire?

Full of gadgetry, historical rivalries, secret societies, and bad guys galore, Geoff Watson’s Edison’s Gold is a thrilling adventure for middle-grade readers.



E ye of the Storm by Kate Messner

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms have become a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her meteorological engineer father, Jaden Meggs is surprised at the strides her father’s company StormSafe, has made with custom shelters that keep her family safe in even the worst of storms. At her exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers. Together, they discover that her father’s company is steering storms away from the expensive neighborhoods and toward the organic farming communities that are in competition with his bio-engineered food company, NatureMade. Jaden must confront her father, but when she does, she uncovers a terrifying family secret and must call on both her scientific knowledge and her faith to save the people she loves most from one of her father’s monster storms.

Brendan Buckley’s 6th grade Experment by  Sundee T. Fraizer

Brendan Buckley is headed to middle school on a whole new adventure. When his alternative energy idea gets him paired with new girl Morgan Belcher for the national science competition, Brendan is skeptical. But their partnership clicks, and they embark on a methane-producing experiment involving bottles, balloons, and the freshest cow manure they can find.
As Brendan spends more time on the experiment, he has a lot of big questions: Does his police detective dad really think he’s a science-nerd whimp? Will he and Khalfani, his best friend and Tae Kwon Do sparring partner, remain best friends? And can Brendan prove that his scientific pursuits really “could” be world-changing?


 The Secret Chicken Society by  Judy Cox

When Daniel’s class hatches chicks as a science project, he adopts them. When he finds out that his favorite bird, Peepers, isn’t a hen but a rooster, and therefore illegal to keep in the city of Portland, the Secret Chicken Societyis quickly formed to save Peepers. This warmhearted chapter book about an environmentally-conscious family will provide plenty of clucks and lots of chuckles for young readers.

download (25)The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School by Fowler Dewitt

Wilmer has always known that the greatest science comes from the keenest observations. So when he observes his classmates looking a little green…and orange…and chartreuse-fuchsia polka-dotted…he knows that it’s up to him to find the cause of this mysterious illness—and its cure.

But with his arch nemesis, Claudius Dill, hot on his heels; the eagle-eyed biology teacher, Mrs. Padgett, determined to thwart his plans; and a host of fluorescent classmates bouncing off the walls at increasingly dangerous speeds, can Wilmer prove he has what it takes to save the sixth grade from a colorful demise before it’s too late?

If you know of any more “science-y” middle grade fiction books, please feel free to share below. I’m sure all of us science lovers out there would be thrilled to add them to our “to be read” list!


40891_1381959640245_1569575144_30796630_633978_nJennifer Swanson is a  self-professed science geek and the author of over 20 nonfiction books for kids. You can find her at her website at


The Neptune Challenge (and some thoughts on dreams)

Polly Holyoke’s exciting new novel, The Neptune Challenge, is a sequel to her award-winning Neptune Project. Indiebound says:

“Genetically engineered to survive in the ocean, Nere and her friends are recovering from their treacherous journey to Safety Harbor, an undersea refuge founded by the scientists of the Neptune Project. But plenty of enemies prowl just outside the colony’s boundaries, and when two of the children are kidnapped, Nere, her loyal dolphins, and the other Neptune kids must set out on an expedition even more perilous than their first.”

neptune challengePolly stopped by the MUF to share some of her thoughts about writing and daydreaming:

On the Importance of Daydreaming

There’s no question about it. Daydreaming is an under-valued occupation in today’s society.

Look at how we treat our best daydreamers: our children. We over-schedule them with sports and after school activities and give them electronic gadgets that captivate their brains by the hour.  Worst of all, we chastise kids for daydreaming when we should be rewarding them for staring out the window and letting their minds wander. Chances are, the dreamy student in the back of the class is the person who someday may find the cure for cancer, or a new equation that will help us travel to the stars, or invent a formula that revolutionizes battery technology. If only we could encourage that child to daydream more.

Since I was fortunate enough to make the state reading list down here in Texas last year, I’ve visited EIGHTY different campuses and seen thousands and thousands of children. My Neptune books are about genetically altered teens struggling to survive in the sea. I’m amazed that kids in third to eighth grades rarely ever question the wild premise of my stories. Instead of asking skeptical questions, students stare rapt at the blow ups of my book covers that depict kids their age talking to dolphins and swimming through the ocean. They ask, what is it like to be pulled by a dolphin? Have I ever fired a spear gun myself? What does it feel like to breathe water?

Middle graders accept the impossible and the improbable, and they will happily join a writer on a journey into impossible worlds with improbable premises, as long as writers take the time to make that world rich and exciting and full of detail.  Young people’s minds are so open to daydreaming and new ideas. It is our job as writers, educators, and parents to keep providing our kids with books that fire their imaginations.

Daydreaming is natural as finding dragons and castles in clouds, but it is also a mental ability that one can hone with practice. I’ve been daydreaming ever since I was little (which does not, by the way, improve my driving skills). But I was lucky enough to live in a family and attend schools where writing and daydreaming were encouraged.  We need to schedule our children’s days at school and at home so they can daydream. I’m afraid if our kids don’t slow down and unplug, they will forget this vital skill that can benefit our entire society.

Now, I’m going to follow my own advice. I’m going to unplug from my computer, watch some clouds, and let my mind wander. Who knows what new story ideas may occur to me today!


Thanks so much, Polly! To enter a giveaway for a signed copy of her new book, plus a dolphin bookmark/necklace, please leave a comment below.