Category Archives: middle-grade fiction

Starman – A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List

Starman A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List | http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.comOn February 6, Elon Musk and his SpaceX team had hundreds of thousands of people looking up at the stars again (or at least looking at the live stream) as he successfully launched his Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage. To add a little pizazz to the whole event, he sent his cherry red roadster and a mannequin dressed in a space suit on a little cruise – through space.

Musk’s event generated interest and excitement across the globe. (It also generated some healthy debate). The best parts of the historic launch reminded me of the excitement and wonder surrounding past space missions and our hopes for future exploration. Of course, all if it got me thinking about books and the people who write the stories that help us all imagine life beyond our little planet. So, I put together a list of books to help inspire the Starkid in your life.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Kate Slivensky

Starman - A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List |The Countdown Consipiracy |

Ambassador, you are go for launch in T- minus 5…4…3…2…. Get ready to blast off with this high-action, high-stakes middle grade adventure that’s perfect for fans of Chris Grabenstein and Peter Lerangis!

Miranda Regent can’t believe she was just chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. But as soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening messages…and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

The Martian meets The Goonies in this out-of-this-world middle grade debut where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Holy Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy by Gareth Wronski

Starman: A Space-themed Book List |Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy |http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.comGuardians of the Galaxy meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in this laugh-out-loud funny debut novel about a girl’s journey into space and beyond to find her place in the universe.

Holly Farb is not the Princess of the Galaxy. She may be top of the class in every subject, but she can’t even win a school election, never mind rule the Milky Way. The aliens who kidnapped her have gotten it all wrong.

Unfortunately Holly’s alien pirate kidnappers believe that she’s the princess they’ve been looking for, and so she finds herself hurtling through space on an alien pirate ship together with her teacher, Mr. Mendez, and Chester, the most annoying boy in her class. Now all she has to do is escape the pirates, find the missing princess, and get back to Earth in time for her big test on Friday.

But it turns out that space is a pretty big place, and before they can go home, Holly, Chester, and Mr. Mendez must face down space cruise liners, bounty hunters, giant worms, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, and a robot who is learning how to lie.

Between running from space pirates, defying the President of the Universe, and meeting a host of rather unusual new friends, Holly starts to wonder if there might be more to life than being top of the class after all.

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Starman - A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List | See You In the Cosmos |

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley

Starman - A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List | Margaret and the Moon |

A true story from one of the Women of NASA!

Margaret Hamilton loved numbers as a young girl. She knew how many miles it was to the moon (and how many back). She loved studying algebra and geometry and calculus and using math to solve problems in the outside world.

Soon math led her to MIT and then to helping NASA put a man on the moon! She handwrote code that would allow the spacecraft’s computer to solve any problems it might encounter. Apollo 8. Apollo 9. Apollo 10. Apollo 11. Without her code, none of those missions could have been completed.

Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley deliver a lovely portrayal of a pioneer in her field who never stopped reaching for the stars.

Beep and Bob by Jonathan Roth

Starman: A Space-Themed Book List |Beep and Bob |

Astro Elementary is a school near Saturn attended by the bravest, brightest, most elite kids in the galaxy…and Bob. Bob never wanted to go to fourth grade in dark, dangerous space. He even tried to fail the admissions test by bubbling in “C” for every answer—and turned out to be the only kid on Earth to get a perfect score!

Bob feels he couldn’t be more misplaced at his school—until he meets Beep. Beep is an alien from the planet Orth who was kicked off his home world for being too small. The instant Bob finds him, Beep adopts Bob as his new mother. Soon Bob can’t turn around without bumping into Beep’s squishy little body. Together, they make the perfect team. And Bob logs their adventures on his space blog, or SPLOG, with Beep providing the illustrations.

In their first adventure, Bob is humiliated on a field trip to Pluto when his tongue gets stuck to the ice. Not even Beep can keep Bob from becoming the laughing stock of the school. Bob has to find a way to completely change his personality, just in time for their next treacherous field trip—to the gaping mouth of a super massive black hole.

I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Starman: A Space-Themed Middle Grade Book List | I Love You Michael Collins |

It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship. After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her―until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore? With I LOVE YOU, MICHAEL COLLINS, Lauren Baratz-Logsted has created a heartwarming story about family and being true to yourself.

Do you have a favorite space book that didn’t make my list? Or one that’s coming out soon that I should keep an eye out for? Let me know in the comments section below. Happy reading!

The Art of the Swap Interview and Giveaway

Freaky Friday meets Downton Abbey in this middle grade mystery that features a modern day twelve-year-old switching bodies with a Gilded Age heiress in order to solve a famous art heist.

We are thrilled to have with us today Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of THE ART OF THE SWAP, which comes out tomorrow. I am gobsmacked to be able to report that Kris, Jen, and Simon & Schuster are giving to one reader of our blog an ENTIRE CLASSROOM OF HARD COVERS of this book! Can you believe that? It’s for classes in the U.S. only, and up to 25 books. To enter, leave a comment with your email address below by 5pm Eastern on Thursday. You can get an additional entry if you tweet about the giveaway (just leave a link to the tweet in your comment). If you aren’t a teacher, you can designate any school for the donation, or Jen and Kristine can suggest a worthy recipient.

What a fun story! Can you share with us the inspiration?

Kris: Thanks so much for having us here at the Mixed Up Files. We are so excited to have this book out in the world. We can’t wait for kids to read it!

The origin story: About four years ago, I was visiting Newport, Rhode Island, with my family. My daughter and my husband and I have always really enjoyed historical properties, and we tour them as often as we can. On this particular trip, we were on a guided tour and the tour guide pointed to a mysterious door as we walked by and said, “that’s the caretaker’s apartment.”

I turned to my daughter. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live here and take care of all of this?”

She replied, “That would be a great story, mom. You should write that.”

When I got home, I did a bit of research and found out that The Elms (the house in our story) had a real life caretaker who raised his daughter in the house. He’s still there, in fact. His name is Harold Matthews. I was immediately intrigued.

About a year later, Jen and I were carpooling to SCBWI New Jersey and got to talking about our works-in-progress. When I mentioned this middle grade idea of a caretaker’s daughter, we began to brainstorm. Through the course of our drive, it became this amazing dual voice, Freaky Friday, time travel story that we absolutely had to write together.

I love getting to see what it is like for girls from two different centuries, living in the same house. What kind of research did you do for the book? 

Jen: Kristine had a lot more experience doing research since she also writes nonfiction titles for the school/library market, but my fiction research to date had been more along the lines of “Where are all the penny press machines in NYC?” and “How much paper mache would it take to build a 50-foot hedgehog float,” so this was a new and welcome challenge for me. The best was our in-person research—we made visits to The Elms together and solo, and spent an amazing day trailing the caretaker, Harold Mathews, into spots not normally accessible to the public and listening to him speak about his adventures as a single dad raising his young daughter in the converted servant quarters-turned-caretaker apartment. That was magical insight we couldn’t have gotten from any textbook (though we relied on those plenty as well). Most fascinating to me was a mysterious opening ¾ of the way up a wall between the furnace rooms and the coal tunnel (pictured here). Harold told us they once filmed a Victoria’s Secret commercial in this space, but that in the 30-plus years he’s managed the property he’d never once investigated that space. Kris and I were dying to pull a ladder right up to it! Alas… he didn’t offer.

Kris: The Elms was a private home until the early 1960s when the Newport Preservation Society saved it from the wrecking ball and turned it into a museum. It’s still hard for me to believe that someone actually lived in the house, it’s so huge. It truly has its own story! It was one of the first properties saved from destruction by the Preservation Society—and today it looks a lot like it did in the early 1900s.

You can visit The Elms and tour it–so if you’re ever in Newport, you can actually see the places in the house where Hannah and Maggie live!

You two have created a fabulous Educators’ Guide for Art of the Swap that is Common Core-aligned for grades 4-7 and includes special activities for Women’s History Month. Can you tell us some about what you’ve included?

Jen: Thank you! Maggie’s character arc was always focused on the differences between how girls are treated in her time (1905) versus in Hannah’s modern day, but after participating in the Women’s March last year, we revised the manuscript to make some big changes to Hannah’s character arc that allow her to realize there are still many strides to be made in the fight for true equality. We’re hopeful the book can be a springboard to classroom conversation about this! Our Educator’s Guide offers several discussion points on this topic, as well as focused activities, such as a timeline of events in the women’s rights movement between the two time periods highlighted in the story. 

My daughter and I are in a book club together, and so I was thrilled to see the Activities Guide for Troops, Book Clubs, and Organizations, as well. What are some of those activities, and why did you decide to create that guide?

Jen: Both Kristine and I are moms to young girls (my daughter is eleven and Kristine’s is fifteen). As we took a deeper dive into feminism with this book, we were also doing the same in our personal lives. We wanted SWAP to be a starting point for discussions on equality, but we also hoped those discussions would lead to action. We created this Activities Guide for Young Activists to offer a script for ways tweens and teens could turn awareness into activism. We have a series of experiments kids can conduct to see where imbalances still present. For example, one has them watching commercials and tallying lines of dialogue and examining the roles in which women were cast. Did you know the average girl has seen 77,546 ads by the time she turns twelve and only 5% of those ads feature women without a man present? Men speak seven times as often as women in commercials and are 62% more likely to be shown in an intelligent role, such as doctor or scientist. From this awareness-building, we offer suggestions for concrete action steps to bring about change—with the idea that girls (and any boy allies who want to join in!) can do most of them in a fun group setting and benefit from that bonding time too. I think every author wants their stories to put more good into the world, even if that’s by simply offering a few hours of escape to our readers, but this book’s subject matter, coupled with our passion for the topic, really made us want to go bigger here! We’re including a sample exercise from the guide below, and it’s available for download on our author sites and on We’d love to contribute to the movement!

Can you describe the process of writing collaboratively? How did you share ideas and writing?

Kris: First and foremost, we were (and are!) both super excited about this story. Our love for our characters and the themes in the book really drove the process. Once we realized we were actually going to do this, we started by brainstorming most of the plot in one sitting back in August of 2015. We created a very detailed outline which included almost every detail of the plot. This was important because each of us were writing a different voice and character arc, so we needed to have an outline to keep us on track. Can you tell which girl each of us wrote?

As far as nuts and bolts, we had a shared Google Doc in which we wrote the whole story. We would meet (or talk on the phone) periodically to share ideas, but we each wrote our own parts.

Once we had the words in the Doc we could critique each other’s work and then revise. It worked out really well, I think!

We agree! Thanks, Kristine and Jen, for the interview. Now, dear reader, go enter to win all those awesome books!

Kate Hillyer wants to move to an old mansion in Newport, R.I. In the meantime, you can find her in our nation’s capitol, where she reads and writes middle grade, wrangles three kids, and is sure she’s going to start training for that 10k she signed up for any second now. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a Cybils judge for Poetry. She’s online at and on Twitter as @SuperKate. 









Pitchers & Catchers


“It’s like a—a country or somethin’,” Joey-Mick went on. “Baseball, I mean. A place where everybody’s crazy about the same thing.” – KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park

Pitchers and catchers report!

It’s that time of the year again. Spring training time. Baseball time! Those are magic words to a baseball person.


Baseball at Night by Morris Kantor, 1934 (Photo credit: American Art Museum on

It’s in my blood. It’s been that way since I was old enough to walk. A bat in my hand feels as natural as a clarinet or a trumpet to a musician. To folks who don’t really enjoy or understand sports, that’s about as well as I can explain the importance of sports to sports kids. It’s part of who they are.

Softball and baseball-crazed kids are my kind of kids. I can identify with their love of the game. I also firmly believe this love of sports can help these kids on their road to becoming lifelong fans of another important activity…READING!

Sports books can be used as gateways to draft the reluctant reader onto the reader team. They give familiar and safe subjects to the reader; subjects they can understand even if the text or the narrative is a challenge.

Pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training signals the start of the Major League Baseball season. It also means it’s time for middle-grade baseball books to report to the shelves of middle-grade readers.

To get some of your favorite middle-grade readers off the bench and in the batter’s box, here’s a short list of middle-grade-ish book titles with a baseball component.

And now, for today’s starting lineup,

MUDVILLE by Kurtis Scaletta
KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park
SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon
HOTHEAD by Cal Ripkin, Jr.
THE BATBOY (or anything else) by Mike Lupica
CHAMP by Marcia Thornton Jones
SAFE AT HOME by Sharon Robinson
SOAR by Joan Bauer
CLUTCH by Heather Camlot
ONLY THE BALL WAS WHITE by Robert Peterson
PROMISES TO KEEP by Sharon Robinson

As evidenced by the number of times I struck out in my baseball playing days, I know I missed more than a few great middle-grade baseball books to recommend. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment. 

(And while you’re at it, can you suggest some middle-grade softball books? I know a bunch of young softball players who are searching for some softball books.)