Category Archives: Nonfiction

A Mixed Up Files Book Birthday for Jennifer Swanson

Jennifer Swanson Author Photo We love book launches here at the Mixed Up Files and especially when it is one of our own bloggers. It was my great pleasure to read Jen Swanson’s new book Brain Games this weekend. It’s colorful and packed with great information in an accessible format. I have a confession to make, I’m a total brain anatomy nerd. So right off the bat I have to know which is your favorite lobe? Mine is the temporal lobe, always has been. I’m a musician.
HumanBrainI have to say that mine is probably the frontal lobe. I’m a scientist which makes me think and approach life logically all the time — sometimes whether I want to or not! Ha.
This book is so visually dynamic. National Geographic does a great job of making books that really jump off the shelf and into kids hearts. We sell lots of them at the bookstore because they are so vivid. So which comes first in the book making process, words? Images? A little bit of both?Brain Games_Cvr_FINAL (1)-small
Let me start by saying that this book was a huge undertaking. I was tasked with taking a very popular, heavily video-enhanced TV show and turning it into a 2-dimensional book, but without losing any of the excitement and interactiveness of the show. My first task was to watch all of the episodes of the TV show, Brain Games. Yep, all about 24 hours of them. Then, I had to figure out which challenges from the show would translate easily into a book. I did that by searching for images on the internet. When I submitted my first draft, it was full of images of the brain, images of challenges, and of course, all of the words to explain everything. I guess you could say that I worked with images and words simultaneously. That is not always how it happens with an NGKids book, but in this case, it was the only way to handle this one. 
One of the things I really appreciated about the book is that it wasn’t just an ad for the tv show. Which is great because lots of kids who will love this book may not have access to the show.
How did you got into the field of writing science for kids. Were you a total science nerd as a kid? Did you study science in college?
I have been a science geek since birth, I think. I started a science club in my garage when I was about 7. My mom gave me a microscope which was my prized possesion. We used to look at flowers, grass, trees, even water samples from our creek under it. I have carried my love of science with me ever since. I studied chemistry in college at the U.S. Naval Academy, and went on to earn my M.S. Ed in K-8 science from Walden University. My “day” job is as a middle school science instructor for John’s Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth, where I get to work with gifted students from all around the world. Yep, I’m a science geek extraordinare!!  
Did you have a science teacher that really inspired you?
UnknownAs for a teacher that inspired me, the one that comes to mind is my 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Roth. You see, back when I was in school there weren’t many female science teachers. And she was the BEST!  It showed me that women could do science, too. Couple that with very supportive parents and I was destined to love science my whole life. After all, SCIENCE ROCKS! 
Speaking of science nerds, Hank Green did the forward for this book. How did that come about? Did you get a chance to talk to him? 
No, I actually didn’t get to meet Hank Green. My NGKids editor knows him. Although I do love the Crash Course videos. My daughter who is in high school has to watch some of them for her classes, which is very cool.
What’s up next for you?
SUPER GEAR FC_finalI have a book coming out with Charlesbridge in June 2016 titled SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up!  It is an exciting look into the world of sports and how the microscopic of science is helping athletes to perform better than ever before. Want to hit a golf ball farther, swing a tennis racket with more oomph, or even swim faster? Nanotechnology can help with that!
51DbfLkvsRL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Plus, I have two more books releasing next year. NGKids Everything Robotics takes the reader on a peek inside the world of robotics and how it is changing our world as we know it. Forces and Motion by Nomad Press comes out in 2016 as well. It’s an interactive book full of experiments and activities to help kids learn more about the basics of physics.
Robotics book
Sounds like you’ve got no end of fascinating projects to work on. Blog readers if you’d like to win a copy of Jennifer’s newest title Brain Games, please leave us a comment below and we’ll pick a winner in one week. Jennifer will be glad to answer your questions in the comments section all day today. Thanks Jennifer for sharing this really fun book.

September New Releases

Ready to FALL into some great reads? I’m especially looking forward to CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND A MEMOIR BY JAQUES PAPIER by Michelle Cuevas and CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate. Hey, I still have imaginary friends – lots of them! I’m also excited for HOT PINK, about revolutionary designer Elsa Schiaparelli, because in middle school I was voted “Most Likely to Become a Fashion Consultant.” (My kids have a hard time believing that one.) Look for these awesome books HOT off the press!

Let’s begin with our own Jen Swanson’s BRAIN GAMES: THE MIND-BLOWING SCIENCE OF YOUR AMAZING BRAIN that releases September 8th from National Geographic Kids! Congratulations, Jen! BrainGames

QUICK: Name the most powerful and complex supercomputer ever built. Give up? Here’s a hint: It’s housed in your head and it’s the one thing that makes you YOU. Your brain is mission control for the rest of your body and steers you through life. Not bad for something the size of a softball that looks like a wrinkled grey sponge!

In this fascinating, interactive book — a companion to the National Geographic Channel hit show – kids explore the parts of the brain and how it all works, brainy news nuggets from a neuroscientist, plus fun facts and crazy challenges.

THE BLACKTHORN KEY by Kevin Sands from Aladdin, September 1st

TheBlackthornKeyFollowing a series of murders, an apothecary’s apprentice must solve puzzles and decipher codes in pursuit of a secret that could destroy the world in this suspenseful debut novel.

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”
Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn–with maybe an explosion or two along the way.
But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

HiLO  BOOK 1: THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH a Graphic Novel by Judd Winick from Random House Books for Young Readers, September 1st

HiLOD.J. and his friend Gina are totally normal kids. But that was before a mysterious boy came crashing down from the sky! Hilo doesn’t know where he came from, or what he’s doing on Earth. (Or why going to school in only your underwear is a bad idea!) . . . But what if Hilo wasn’t the only thing to fall to our planet? Can the trio unlock the secrets of his past? Can Hilo survive a day at school? And are D.J. and Gina ready to save the world?

HILO is Calvin and Hobbes meets Big Nate and is just right for fans of Bone and comic books as well as laugh-out-loud school adventures like Jedi Academy and Wimpy Kid!

THE SECRETS TO RULING SCHOOL (WITHOUT EVEN TRYING): BOOK 1 (MAX CORRIGAN) by Neil Swaab from Abrams/Amulet, September 1stRulingSchool

It’s the first week of middle school, i.e., the Worst Place in the Entire World. How do you survive in a place where there are tough kids twice your size, sadistic teachers, and restrictions that make jail look like a five-star resort? Easy: with the help of Max Corrigan, middle school “expert” and life coach. Let Max teach you how to win over not just one, but all of the groups in school, from the Preps to the Band Geeks. Along the way, Max offers surefire advice and revealing tips on how to get through universal middle school experiences like gym class, detention, faking sick, and dealing with jocks and bullies.
In an innovative format that is part narrative and part how-to, acclaimed illustrator Neil Swaab has created a hilarious new reading experience that is reminiscent of video games and sure to engage even the most reluctant reader.

HOT PINK: THE LIFE AND FASHIONS OF ELSA SCHIAPARELLI by Susan Goldman Rubin from Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 8thHotPink

Shocking pink—hot pink, as it is called today—was the signature color of Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) and perhaps her greatest contribution to the fashion world. Schiaparelli was one of the most innovative designers in the early 20th century. Many design elements that are taken for granted today she created and brought to the forefront of fashion. She is credited with many firsts: trompe l’oeil sweaters with collars and bows knitted in; wedge heels; shoulder bags; and even the concept of a runway show for presenting collections. Hot Pink—printed with a fifth color, hot pink!—explores Schiaparelli’s childhood in Rome, her introduction to high fashion in Paris, and her swift rise to success collaborating with surrealist and cubist artists like Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. The book includes an author’s note, a list of museums and websites where you can find Schiaparelli’s fashions, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.


ImaginaryFriendJacques Papier has the sneaking suspicion that everyone except his sister Fleur hates him. Teachers ignore him when his hand is raised in class, he is never chosen for sports teams, and his parents often need to be reminded to set a place for him at the dinner table. But he is shocked when he finally learns the truth: He is Fleur’s imaginary friend! When he convinces Fleur to set him free, he begins a surprising, touching, and always funny quest to find himself—to figure out who Jacques Papier truly is, and where he belongs.

THE ENTIRELY TRUE STORY OF THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from Algonquin Books, September 8th

UnbelievableFib“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid at school with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just the first of many things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. And when the pair find themselves locked in a battle against a dangerously clever enemy, they must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

THOMAS JEFFERSON GROWS A NATION by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst from Calkins Creek, September 8thThomasJeffersonGrows

Thomas Jefferson was more than a president and patriot. He was also a planter and gardener who loved to watch things grow—everything from plants and crops to even his brand-new nation. As minister to France, Jefferson promoted all things American, sharing corn and pecans with his Parisian neighbors. As secretary of state, he encouraged his fellow farmers to grow olives, rice and maple trees. As president, he doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase. Even in his retirement, Jefferson continued to nurture the nation, laying the groundwork for the University of Virginia. In this meticulously researched picture book for older readers, author Peggy Thomas uncovers Jefferson’s passion for agriculture and his country. And Stacy Innerst’s incredibly original illustrations offer the right balance of reverence and whimsy. This is Thomas Jefferson as he’s never been seen before! Back matter includes an author’s note on Jefferson’s legacy today; timeline, bibliography; place to visit (Monticello); and source notes.

THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick from Scholastic, September 15thTheMarvels

Two seemingly unrelated stories — one in words, the other in pictures — come together with spellbinding synergy! The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick’s storytelling prowess. Filled with mystery, vibrant characters, surprise twists, and heartrending beauty, and featuring Selznick’s most arresting art to date, The Marvels is a moving tribute to the power of story.

CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate from Feiwel & Friends, September 22ndCrenshaw

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

I AM DRUMS by Mike Grosso from Egmont, September 22nd

IAmDrumsWhile other kids dream about cars, sports, and fashion, all eleven-year-old Samantha Morris dreams about is playing the drums. But it’s hard to make her dreams come true when her parents are against it, she bangs on dictionaries because she can’t afford a real kit, and her middle school is cutting its music program.

Sam’s only hope to accomplish her dream is to find a private music teacher and pay for lessons herself — even if it means borrowing the family lawn mower without permission to make the money. But when one of her friends tells her she’s the worst percussionist in the band, she starts to wonder if she’s got what it takes. If Sam wants to become a real drummer, she must also overcome her own doubts if she wants to succeed.

JUMP BACK, PAULl: THE LIFE AND POEMS OF PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR by Sally Derby and Sean Qualls from Candlewick, September 22nd JumpBackPaul

Did you know that Paul Laurence Dunbar originated such famous lines as “I know why the caged bird sings” and “We wear the mask that grins and lies”? From his childhood in poverty and his early promise as a poet to his immense fame and his untimely death, Dunbar’s story is one of triumph and tragedy. But his legacy remains in his much-beloved poetry—told in both Standard English and in dialect—which continues to delight and inspire readers today. More than two dozen of Dunbar’s poems are woven throughout this volume, illuminating the phases of his life and serving as examples of dialect, imagery, and tone. Narrating in a voice full of admiration and respect, Sally Derby introduces Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life and poetry to readers young and old, aided by Sean Qualls’s striking black-and-white illustrations.

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin from Little Brown, September 22nd Jellyfish

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.


THE DOLDRUMS by Nicholas Gannon from Greenwillow Books, Septermber 29th

TheDoldrumsArcher B. Helmsley wants an adventure. No, he needs an adventure. His grandparents were famous explorers . . . until they got stuck on an iceberg. Now Archer’s mother barely lets him out of the house. As if that would stop a true Helmsley. Archer enlists Adelaide the girl who, according to rumor, lost her leg to a crocodile and Oliver the boy next door to help him rescue his grandparents. The Doldrums whisks us off on an adventure full of sly humor, incredible detail, and enormous heart.


What books are you looking forward to adding to your library this month?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill).

Cooking for Middle Graders

When my son was 8, he invited a new friend to sleep overnight. As I was passing the kitchen the next morning, I overheard the following conversation:

Bjorn: So do you want pancakes, waffles, or eggs for breakfast?
Friend: Maybe scrambled eggs?
(Sounds of pans clattering, cupboard and refrigerator door opening)
Friend: Hey, what are you doing?
Bjorn: Making you scrambled eggs.
Friend: Umm…don’t you think we better wait for your mom?
Bjorn: Nah. You wouldn’t want her scrambled eggs. I’m a much better cook than she is.

And he was right. As the youngest of 5, he’d learned from the best – his older brother and sisters. Not me. Definitely not me.

So how did I end up with a family of cooks?

I accidentally discovered the secret when my oldest daughter was 3. Having a newborn and a toddler, I was a sleep-deprived mom. One morning I heard Tiffany banging around in the kitchen, but after being up all night with the other two, I was too exhausted to check out the noise. To my surprise, a short while later, my 3-year-old presented me with breakfast in bed, which included slices of French toast.

“Who made these?” I asked, wondering if my husband had stayed home from work.

“I did,” she said with a proud smile. “I watch you do it.”

“You cracked eggs? And–and used the stove?” My voice wasn’t only weak from lack of sleep.

I inspected her head-to-toe for burns, but other than syrupy stickiness on her hands, arms, toes, and hair, she was fine. Then picturing a kitchen fire, I tucked the baby and toddler under each arm and raced for the kitchen. It was a bit messy, but the stove was off. The pot was cooling in the sink. And I realized I’d just found my solution to more sleep in the mornings—teaching my kids to cook.

When they turned 3, they started cooking lessons. By the time they were in kindergarten, they were each responsible for making one dinner a week. They loved it, and so did I. Yes, it meant a messy kitchen and plenty of extra dishes, but by the time they were 8 or 9, they were pros in the kitchen.

So how do you get started if you’re a kid interested in cooking, or if you’re a parent or teacher who wants to cook with kids? Books with pictures and simple recipes are a great first step. If you’re a kid who’s already skilled in the kitchen, you can branch out with recipes from around the world or for specialty foods. And be sure to check out the bonus recipe below.

Oh, and if you want to connect books and cooking, Tami Lewis Brown has a great list of books and recipes to match.

cooking classCooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!) 

Deanna F. Cook

This fresh, fun cookbook for kids ages 6 to 12 explains basic cooking techniques in kid-friendly language and offers recipes for making dozens of favorite foods from scratch, including muffins, biscuits, applesauce, fruit leather, goldfish crackers, tortilla chips, Buffalo chicken fingers, pizza, sushi California rolls.

chop chopChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family

by Sally Sampson and Carl Tremblay

Winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award in the Children/Youth/Family category, ChopChop offers nutritious, ethnically diverse, inexpensive dishes.

GrainesKids’ Fun and Healthy Cookbook

by Nicola Graimes and Howard Shooter

Large pictures and simple instructions for healthy recipes using ingredients such as whole wheat flour, plain yogurt, honey, oats, and nuts.

jr cookbkBetter Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book

by Better Homes and Gardens

Each recipe includes a photo along with illustrations of characters who tell stories to complement the dishes. Special features cover cooking basics, kitchen safety, menu planning, basic nutrition information, and guidance on reading and understanding food labels.

DKComplete Children’s Cookbook

by DK

The more than 150 recipes are divided into nine themed chapters (Breakfast, Soups and Salads, Light Bites, etc.) illustrated with DK’s usual large, colorful photos as well as easy-to-understand instructions. Also includes information on basic cooking skills such as how to cut safely or how to poach an egg along with some unique recipes not usually found in kids’ cookbooks.

jackTwist It Up: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes from an Inspiring Young Chef

by Jack Witherspoon and Sheri Giblin

Recipes developed by eleven-year-old Jack Witherspoon, who used cooking to raise money for cancer when he was battling leukemia. Clear directions and photographs make it simple to follow these tasty recipes.

intl ckbkThe International Cookbook for Kids

by Matthew Locricchio

Contains recipes from Italy, France, China, and Mexico illustrated with photos and pictures. Plan a taco party or make recipes from appetizers to desserts. Some of these recipes are more complicated, but will appeal to those who enjoy trying different foods.

mayoThe Mayo Clinic Kids’ Cookbook: 50 Favorite Recipes for Fun and Healthy Eating

by Mayo Clinic

This spiral-bound cookbook is easy to keep open while you cook. Because it’s from the Mayo Clinic, it emphasizes healthy recipes using vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. This cookbook offers clear directions and tips on how to prepare the raw ingredients.

veganEasy Vegetarian Foods From Around The World

by Sheila Griffin Llanas

For vegetarian cooks, Sheila Griffin Llanas includes a dozen recipes from Russian cabbage pie to Indian sabji. Check out other books in this Easy Cookbook for Kids series for various meals and snacks from around the world.

chinaRecipes from China

by Dana Meachen Rau

Rau includes a variety of recipes for meals throughout the day from different regions of China. Other books in this Cooking Around the World series contain recipes from countries such as India, Italy, and Mexico.


Here’s a simple recipe to try. If you don’t normally cook by yourself, have an adult help with the frying. Hot grease can spit and burn.

Quick Doughnuts


1 pop-open can of biscuits, unbaked
Cooking oil
Sugar and cinnamon


Frying pan
Metal slotted spoon
Paper plates
Paper towels

1)    Pop open the can of biscuits, separate them, and set them out on a cutting board.
2)    Using the cap from a soda bottle, cut a hole in the center of each biscuit. Save the holes for frying too.
3)    Heat about 2 of oil in a deep frying pan.
4)    While it’s heating, sprinkle sugar and a dash of cinnamon on a paper plate and mix it well with a spoon. Also spread two paper towels on another paper plate.
5)    Wait for the oil to get hot enough. If you sprinkle one drop of water into the oil and it sizzles and spits, it’s ready.
6)    Place several doughnuts into the pan, but don’t crowd them.
7)    As soon as the bottom turns brown, flip them over with a metal slotted spoon. Watch carefully, because they brown quickly. And turn gently to keep the oil from spattering.
8)    When both sides are brown, ladle them onto the plate with the paper towels & pat off the grease. Be careful because they’re hot.
9)    Quickly roll them in cinnamon and sugar while they’re still warm.

Makes 8 doughnuts and 8 doughnut holes

Do you have any kid-friendly recipes to share or favorite cookbooks? We’d love to have you add them to the comments.

About the Author

When other parents discovered how well Laurie J. Edwards’s kids could cook, they asked her to teach their sons and daughters. That led to Cooking for Kids classes and a weekly cooking session at the small private school her kids attended. Laurie’s had many other fun jobs in her life, including owning a cake decorating business, being a children’s librarian, and writing for kids. Some of her recent and forthcoming book releases include Her Cold Revenge (Switch Press), The Forget-Me-Not Keeper (illustrations, written by Susanna Leonard Hill), Imperial China, West African Kingdoms,  and Ancient Egypt (Cengage). Read more about Laurie and her books on her blog, her website, Facebook, and Twitter (@LaurieJEdwards).