Category Archives: For Parents

The Young Presidents

It can stretch the imagination to picture powder-wigged George Washington and chisel-faced Abraham Lincoln as preteen boys, but don’t you wonder what kind of boys they were?

This President’s Day, let’s explore books that take us back into the boyhoods of the extraordinary men we honor today.

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington: Young Presidents by Augusta Stevenson from Aladdin.

The Education of George Washington by Austin Washington from Regnery History. (Note: This book is written by President Washington’s great-nephew and is geared toward adult readers.)

Young George Washington America’s First President  by Andrew Woods, illustrated by John Himmelman from Scholastic.

George Washington, Young Leader (Easy Biographies) by Laurence Santrey from Troll Communications.

Abe Lincoln: The Young Years (Easy Biographies) by Keith Brandt, illustrated by John Lawn from Troll Communications.

Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg, illustrated by James Daugherty from Scholastic.

Abraham Lincoln by Ingri D’Aulaire, illustrated by Edgar Parin D’Aulaire from Yearling Books.

Do you have any good books to add to our list? How are you and your students and children celebrating President’s Day?

Another Pair of Shoes

On a recent gray afternoon, during a desultory spin through the Twitter-verse, I came across a tweet that perked me up. It was from Sara Grochowski. To say Sara loves reading is to say flowers lift their faces to the sun. She and I have met at a few book events, and it’s been a deep pleasure to talk with her about my work, and to keep up with what she’s reading and thinking. (You can meet her yourself, at thehidingspot.blogspot.com or @thehidingspot)

The tweet I read the other afternoon said something like, “I always thought it was my parents who taught me empathy, but I’ve come to realize it was books.” This caught my attention for lots of reasons. One is that the need to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes―lies at the heart of all my work.

Childhood is a self-centered time. Kids have an entire world to learn and process, so it’s no wonder that at first they put themselves at the center of it. Yet a baby gets upset when she hears another baby cry. The capacity for empathy exists from the very beginning, and in my books, that wondrous capacity is what makes characters grow and change, as they come to understand they’re not the center of the world, but are instead an essential, powerful part of it.

There’s another reason I loved Sara’s tweet. Even the best intentioned parents can’t do everything. Neither can teachers. A lot is up to our children themselves. For empathy to grow, they need experience. And next to real-life, a close second to actual experience, is reading.

A 2013 study published in the journal Science proved what most of us already know: reading good fiction increases sensitivity and empathy. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/i-know-how-youre-feeling-i-read-chekhov/

To read we need to understand motivation, make connections, note nuances, seek what’s beneath the surface. Picture books, where illustrations and text sometimes complement, sometimes contradict each other, introduce this. And middle grade fiction? Over the last years it’s been growing ever more wonderfully, deeply diverse. A reader, safe in her own familiar world, can have lead many lives vastly different from her own. We’ve all had the experience of feeling as if a writer had x-rayed our hearts, eavesdropped on our thoughts. Reading makes us feel less alone, yes, but more than that. I love the phrase “lost in a book”. When we read about others different from us, boundaries fall. We lose ourselves to become those others.

These days, lots of people are fretting we need empathy more than ever before. I don’t think we need to worry. Empathy and compassion are essential parts of us all, seeds waiting to be nurtured. This spring middle grade writer Shelley Pearsall and I are lucky enough to be doing a workshop at the beloved Virginia Hamilton Conference.  http://www.kent.edu/virginiahamiltonconference We are calling it “Seeking a Wider Window”, and we’ll discuss the challenges and rewards of being white, middle class writers creating characters with lives very different from ours. I’ll be sure to report back!

Tricia’s most recent middle grade novel is Every Single Second. The third book in her CODY series, Cody and the Rules of Life, will publish this April (and yes, one of those rules is to always ask yourself, How would you feel if it happened to you??)

A Valentine to Our Favorite Books

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Mixed-Up Files team shares the middle grade books they love the most. Share your loves in the comments section! 

“As an adult I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Mackall. Truly heartwarming story about loving yourself, having a positive outlook, and being kind. I cry just thinking about it!”
Amie Borst

 

 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. How can you not love a book about a gorilla who paints?”
—Natalie Rompella 

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages is a perfect blend of emotional journey, immersive history and science on both a large (nuclear physics) and small (inquisitive kid) scale.”
—Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman

 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume sparked my love of reading and writing. It was one of my favorite books as a child, became even more special when I saw it through the eyes of my own children, and will remain one of the most beloved books for the rest of my life.”
—Mindy Alyse Weiss  

“I love Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan for its messages of hope, recovering from a tragedy, and learning to rely on your inner strength.”
Michele Weber Hurwitz  

“I loved Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin for Rose’s indomitable spirit, despite the challenges she faces.”
Beth Von Ancken McMullen

“I love the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. I have read it several times, and in fact, am now re-reading it again. It is filled with mystery, fantasy, and tons of historical figures. The way he weaves history, science, magic and fantasy together is just stupendous. Makes me lose myself in his world every time I read it.”
Jen Swanson

“Two of my favorite books are perfect for Valentine’s Day because they are both love letters in story form. My childhood favorite, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl is the world’s best love letter to dads. More recently, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a heartfelt love-letter to teachers.”
—Julie Artz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve got to give two as well… one to an old love, and another to a new one! Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is probably THE book that made me want to become an author. Seeing Will grow and become capable of surviving meant so much to me at the time. And more recently, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy tugged at my heart in a way few books can. Seeing a kid who thinks he’s broken discover that people can love him for who he is… that’s love.”
—Sean Easley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to give two too!! Also, like Sean, I’ve got old and new.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle will always always hold a special place in my heart because tesseracts are fascinating science and Meg Murray. I always want to read about a brave and smart girl. And A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd because magic, mystery, family, and finding your home are themes I will read again and again. Plus the language is so so beautiful!!”
Heather Murphy Capps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“To choose just one is hard, but I’ll go with Bridget Hodder’s The Rat Prince. I just adored how she used the rat’s POV to share the familiar tale, and there’s even a teeny bit of romance in there.”
Sheri Larsen

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary! And more recently, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Lovable Ramona doesn’t always behave, which is very refreshing in a character. Connor’s character Addie has a way of being upbeat in the face of terrible odds. She’s resourceful in the most heartbreaking way.
Phyllis Shalant

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, a deep and sensitive dive into the heart of a boy. I love everything about this book and the spare language Schmidt uses to communicate so much.”
Amber J. Keyser

“Amber stole mine. But I refuse to change my answer, so put me down for Okay for Now, as well. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And sometimes it did both within the span of a single page.”
TP Jagger

“I have to second Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.”
Dori Hillestad Butler

“My latest favorite is Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for its use of POV switches and voice.”
—Jenn Skovira Brisendine

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Now? If I have to choose just one I’d say Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. SO powerful – feelings like a punch to the chest – but real and hopeful and so true to how kids feel things.”
Valerie Stein

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Why? Because it’s a beautifully written, Jungle Book-inspired tale with ghosts and ghouls and creatures of the night fighting the man Jack who means to harm the orphan Bod. All in an ancient burial ground/cemetery. And it starts with the multiple homicide of Bod’s family by Jack. An exceptional book at all turns and it landed perfectly in my literature sweet spot.”
Michael Hays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My favorite that I discovered as an adult is Skellig by David Almond. I really think it’s the perfect book–spare, lovely, magical, and with so much heart. As a kid, my favorite was Anne of Green Gables, which I am loving all over again now that I’m reading it aloud to my 8-year-old redhead.”Kate Manning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“On the fantasy side, I still love the Harry Potter books and on the historical fiction side, Blood on the River James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone. It’s a story about the founding of James Town. It kept my 5th grade class riveted in their seats.”
—Robyn Oleson Gioia

 

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato has stolen hearts in my family. My daughter has read it more times than I can count. And she cries every time.”
Louise Galveston  

 

 

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is THE book of my tween years–Blume gets kids of a certain age so perfectly right. What a gift!”
—Andrea Pyros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.