Category Archives: Nonfiction

Bad News and the MG reader

One of the things I love most about writing for MG readers is their fascination with the wide world around them. UnknownI want that wide world to be a kind and welcoming place, but this last stretch of three months has been awash in very difficult news from the wider world. Much as I’d like to shield young readers from the harsh realities of the events in Ferguson, MO, the activities of violent insurgents in the Middle East, natural disasters–a volcano in Japan, a blizzard in Nepal, it’s too late for that. MG readers also read or see or hear about the news all around them. This news has an impact on how they view the world.

So how to address disasters in the news with young readers who are not so young, and here I’m thinking kids under the age of 8 or so, that they can skip the it and learn later when they are better equipped to understand. 9-14 year olds are old enough to have a discussion about the news. 513lCzmWx3L._AA160_

I’ve found over the years that books are a great way to offer context on horrific events. Two mainstays of my household have been The Encyclopedic Atlas of the World and Children Just Like Me. They offer some context about where world events are happening and a few bite sized morsels about  what life is like there under not-tragic circumstances. I think it’s important for kids to see a country and culture not in crisis to counter the images they see in the news. A few minutes with Aseye, the Ghanian girl featured in Children Just Like Me, gives a useful counterpoint to frightening images from the region. Africa is more than Ebola.

51Slf5+HDOL._AA160_ 61W7Zg3ReIL._AA160_Sometimes a more general book about an issue in the news also helps a child put concerns in context. Understanding something about how disease transmission occurs is a good jumping off place for understanding any epidemic. Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus series both have titles about germs and how they interact with the human body. These are on the young side for MG readers but sometimes it’s not so bad to go back to non-fiction picture books as a starting point for conversation.

Once a child has a grasp of some of the basics about epidemics and how they function, and an understanding of their own risk and the wider risk to the world, it’s great to have a more in depth conversation about how people act during an epidemic and the larger issues of discriminations that occur because of them.

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s newest book, The Madman of Piney Woods includes the epidemic of Typhus that the grandmother endures on her immigration from Ireland to Canada. It has some some parallels to what is occurring now with our talk about who should travel to and from West Africa. It would be a great jumping off place for an in depth conversation.

And lastly I’d love to highlight some of the best biographies of people who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of disease. And here’s where I’d love to have some reader input. Have you got a favorite biography of Louis Pasture, Jonas Salk, or Marie Curie? What other heroes of micro-biology would you like young readers to know about? Please mention them in the comments and I’ll add the covers to this post in the next few days.

November New Releases

Starting to feel the chill in the air? Curl up in a chair with a warm blanket and a cup of cocoa… and one of these great new books.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul   by Jeff Kinney

A family road trip is supposed to be a lot of fun . . . unless, of course, you’re the Heffleys. The journey starts off full of promise, then quickly takes several wrong turns. Gas station bathrooms, crazed seagulls, a fender bender, and a runaway pig–not exactly Greg Heffley’s idea of a good time. But even the worst road trip can turn into an adventure–and this is one the Heffleys won’t soon forget.

 

 Rogue Knight  by Brandon Mull

Magic and danger abound in the second book in a series of “fanciful, action-packed adventure” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series.

 

 

Keeper Lost Cities: Everblaze   by Shannon Messenger

Sophie uncovers shocking secrets—and faces treacherous new enemies—in this electrifying third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

 

 

 

Who Was Gandhi?   by Dana Meachen Rau

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in British-occupied India. Though he studied law in London and spent his early adulthood in South Africa, he remained devoted to his homeland and spent the later part of his life working to make India an independent nation. Calling for non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights around the world. Gandhi is recognized internationally as a symbol of hope, peace, and freedom.

 

Alex Rider: Russian Roulette  by Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider’s life changed forever with the silent pull of a trigger. Every story has a beginning. For teen secret agent Alex Rider, that beginning occurred prior to his first case for MI6, known by the code name Stormbreaker. By the time Stormbreaker forever changed Alex’s life, his uncle had been murdered by the assassin Yassen Gregorovich, leaving Alex orphaned and craving revenge. Yet when Yassen had a clear shot to take out Alex after he foiled the Stormbreaker plot, he let Alex live. Why? This is Yassen’s story. A journey down the darker path of espionage.

 

Absolute Truly  by Heather Voegel Frederick

 

An unsent letter in a first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web leads to a hunt for treasure in this heartwarming middle grade mystery from the author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club.

 

That’s Sneaky!  by Crispin Boyer

 

Do you think spies are stupendous? Ninjas are neat? Mysteries are more than meet the private eye? Then you’ll love That’s Sneaky, the most surprising and suspenseful information that we’re legally permitted to print. Jam-packed into this top secret title is the most classified and downright dangerous information you’ll ever get your amateur detective hands on. Want to escape one of history’s most heinous prisons? Consult chapter 7. Dare to dodge ocean predators by slipping into a sharkproof suit? Check out chapter 1. Prefer to gear up with spy gadgets? Flip to chapter 5. With stealthy Agent ’Stache as your partner, you’ll face elements of surprise and masters of disguise. Embrace the adventure and listen well—you never know when this book may self-destruct!

 

Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist
by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long
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To many, the Civil Rights Movement brings to mind protests, marches, boycotts, and freedom rides. They often think of people like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.  They seldom think of Bayard Rustin.

Raised by his Quaker grandmother to believe in the value of every human being, Bayard made trouble where ever he saw injustice. As a teenager, he was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a theater. More arrests followed, for protesting against segregation, discrimination, and war.  His belief in nonviolent action as a means for social change gave him a guiding vision for the Civil Rights Movement, which he used to mentor the young Martin Luther King.  When A. Philip Randolph needed the best organizer on the planet, he turned to Bayard Rustin to bring 250,000 people to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty   by Albert Marrin

Dubbed ‘The Father of the American Revolution’, Paine began his written reign by fervently proposing the idea of American independence from Great Britain, where he lived before emigrating to the United States in his thirties. As one historical event led to another, Paine continued to divulge his ideas to the public, risking his reputation and even his life. Award-winning author Albert Marrin illustrates the hardships and significance of a man’s beliefs and its affects on our nation in a way that all ages can comprehend.

 

  Amazing Feats of Electrical Engineering   by Jennifer Swanson

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Engineers design our modern world. They combine science and technology to create incredible vehicles, structures, and objects. This title examines amazing feats of electrical engineering. Engaging text explores the global positioning system, solar power plants, and self-driving cars. It also examines the engineers who made these projects a reality and traces the history of the discipline.      

The Industrial Revolution for Kids: Interview and Giveaway

Welcome Cheryl Mullenbach, a former middle and high school history teacher and state education department consultant, to the Mixed-Up Files!

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Cheryl is here to talk about her new book, The Industrial Revolution for Kids, which  introduces young readers to the Industrial Revolution in a “revolutionary” way—through the usual people, places, and inventions of the time: the incredibly wealthy Rockefellers and Carnegies, dirty and dangerous factories, new forms of transportation and communication. In addition, readers experience the era through the eyes of everyday workers, kids, sports figures, and social activists whose names never appeared in history books.

MUF: This is your second nonfiction book for young readers. Given your teaching experience, American history is a logical choice of subject mattter. But what made you decide to focus on the Industrial Revolution?

CM: I like to tackle traditional topics in history by exploring them through new, fresh perspectives. The Industrial Revolution is usually a popular topic for middle school and high school history courses. The focus for studying the Industrial Revolution in America is usually on the “greats” – Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. The era had such a major impact on the way we live today. I wanted to scratch below the surface and feature some of the ordinary and overlooked individuals (including kids) who made the Industrial Revolution possible. That’s why readers of The Industrial Revolution for Kids will learn about the contributions of Andrew Carnegie to the steel industry at the same time meeting an 11-year-old boy who was thrown into a room with rats when he was caught breaking windows.

MUF: The Industrial Revolution is a big topic. How did you narrow it down to information that would be most relevant and interesting to kids?

CM: It was challenging to present an overview of 100 years of American history in only 40,000 words! The role of immigrants could hardly be overlooked in any book about the Industrial Revolution. Labor unions. Child labor. Urbanization. And while those at first blush may not be appealing to kids, the stories of real people who were affected by immigration, unions, child labor and urbanization reel in young readers—the five children of Thomas Healy who lost his life in a gunpowder factory explosion in New York; 12-year-old Charles Neudinger whose body was pierced by needles when a machine in a textile factory accidentally trapped him; a group of school boys in Massachusetts who vandalized their principal’s house when they were banned from associating with the local factory girls.

MUF: Wow, those are some incredible stories. Thank you for giving them a voice. The inclusion of twenty-one hands on activities and crafts really extends the learning opportunities provided by the book. Was it hard to come up with ideas? Can you give us a short description of your favorite example?

CM_head1CM: Well, I think anyone who has taught middle school kids becomes quite skilled at designing resources that capture the attention of those little darlings! One of my favorite activities in the book is “Listen to Talking Walls.” It incorporates local history and language arts as well as research skills. Kids are asked to focus on a section of buildings in their community. They analyze the exteriors and interiors to learn about architecture and history. My hope is that kids will look at their surroundings and realize that there’s history all around them.

MUF: Who is the target audience for your book?

I hope middle school history and language arts teachers, public and school librarians, and home school educators will use it as a resource for their students. I think parents will find it a helpful tool to pique a child’s interest in the past. Children who are learning English as a second language will find stories and activities that they can relate to. As educators look for resources to infuse informational text into their curricula, they seek out text in content areas that will motivate students. I think stories of real people, places, and events from the past can intrigue young readers. The format of the “For Kids” series by Chicago Review Press benefits struggling readers. Text is “chunked up” or pulled out in the sidebars woven throughout the chapters. Reluctant readers are pulled in by the archival photos. Many of the photos capture images of young children—getting dimes from John D. Rockefeller, stuffing sausages in a meatpacking plant, selling newspapers on city street corners, and playing on tenement roofs. A college instructor told me she plans to use The Industrial Revolution for Kids with her undergraduates to give an overview of the Industrial Revolution!

MUF: That’s great! According to your website, you have another book forthcoming in 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about that title?

CM: It’s another in the “For Kids” series. The Great Depression for Kids: Hardships and Hope in 1930’s America tells the stories of everyday Americans struggling to live, work, and play during this troubled time. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Readers meet packhorse librarians; Bossy Gillis, the Massachusetts mayor who encouraged kids to skip school to attend the circus; Scotty, a film star’s dog that had his own pink satin sofa; and 7-year-old Betty Jane Kolar, the “world’s youngest magician.”

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Cheryl Mullenbach, and offering a copy of The Industrial Revolution for Kids to one lucky reader. To enter the draw, please follow the rafflecopter link. Winner announced September 23rd. Good luck!

Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2012) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2011).