Category Archives: Nonfiction

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

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Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

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The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

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To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

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Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

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Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

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The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

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The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

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Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.

My First ALA Annual Conference

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A little over two weeks ago I got to attend my first ALA Annual conference. It was an exciting experience… and so exhausting. I was there not just as an attendee, but as an author. Lucky me!  I  was thrilled to be representing  three of my publishers: Charlesbridge, National Geographic Kids, and Nomad Press.

Why exhausting? I spent four days on  my feet about 10 hours a day discussing all things BOOKS.  It was awesome!

If you haven’t been to an ALA conference yet, you should go. It is definitely something to see if you love the literary world.

So what did I learn in my first adventure into ALA?

1) ALA is HUGE! Seriously. The room is massive and is FILLED with exhibits from every type of book imaginable: children’s (PB, CB, MG, YA), trade, educational, self-published,  Adult books of many different genres, graphic novels, and even self-help books. There are places to buy benches for your library, consultants to help you plan your technical needs, and also representatives from the Library of Congress and NASA.

My recommendation: Go in. Take a deep breath and get your bearings. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

 

This gives you an idea of the massive size of the convention area. This is one of their empty rooms. It  was actually twice this size. The other half stretched under the walkway I was on. See? HUGE

 

2)  Use your Conference Directory

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Yes, it’s a massive tome in and of itself. But it has all of the information you need. In fact, take a good look through it and make notes of things you want to do and people you want to see. There is a comprehensive list of authors who will be signing and if you know where they are you can get in line… EARLY!

That will save you the time of seeing a huge line, wondering who is there, and walking around to see that you missed the one awesome kidlit author that you definitely wanted to meet.  (Yes, that happened to me a couple of times)

3) Get a COGNOTES every morning

20160709_140603 This is the newspaper that the conference puts out. Every morning at the top of the stairs, people are standing their handing these out. Many people (like me) don’t take one. That is not a good idea. This is a GREAT source of everything that is happening that day.

 

 

4) TAKE THE FREE BOOKS!!

Every publisher is handing out books for FREE. They are just stacked on the tables and you can take them. It’s like being a kid in a free candy store.

People kept asking me “Would you like a book?”  UM YES!!

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This is just one small stack of the 20 books we came home with!

 

5) Find the Book Buzz Theatre, the Pop Top Stage and the Graphic Novel &Gaming Stage

These stages host various authors and editor speakers talking about fascinating topics. I was thrilled to be on a panel with Anastasia Suen and Chris Barton talking about STEM books for kids!

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6) Take time to meet up with author friends

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With author Miranda Paul at the We Need Diverse Books Booth

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Meeting author Sylvia Liu for the first time

 

 

 

7) Spend quality time with your editors

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With Alyssa Mito Pusey of Charlesbridge Publishing

 

8) Talk to many wonderful librarians about your books!

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Playing BRAIN GAMES at the Nat Geo Kids booth

 

Whew! Are you tired yet? And I didn’t even get to go to any of the hundreds of fascinating workshops and programs put on by amazing librarians, editors and authors.

There were so many things to do and see, you can’t possibly get to them all. So here is a short summation of some of the highlights of the conference:

For an amazing wrap up, I give you ALA Annual’s very own video. Go to this page and click on it:  http://2016.alaannual.org/

The ALA Archives has a great summary of many of the wonderful presentations here:  https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/alaac16/

Some fabulous images from ALAAC16 shared by School Library Journal here

Matt de la Peña gave an awesome  2016 Newbery acceptance speech.                        It is a must-read! You can find it on the Horn Book Website here 

So are you game? Plan to attend the next ALA conference?

Here is my final piece of advice : Try to pick a few events that you want to attend and then fill in the rest of the time just walking around and seeing it all.  But whatever you see and do, just drink it all in. After all, its ALL ABOUT BOOKS!!

 

***** Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books, mostly about STEM, because, well, STEM ROCKS! You can find her at her website: www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

July New Releases

Happy Summer!! Whether you are lounging by the pool, taking a break from playing in the waves, or just sitting in your backyard getting some sun, you can read a book. Take a look at some of the great new ones hitting the stores this month!

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition Script): The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production  by J.K. Rowling ( Arthur A. Levine Books)

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne,Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

 

 

The World of Norm: Norm 10 Paperback by Jonathan Meres (Orchard Books)

Norm knew it was going to be one of those days when he lost his house…But even when he finds it, things don’t get much better. What could be worse than imagining your parents at a salsa dancing event – with your best friend?! Norm’s not sure what’s got into Mikey, but he suspects hormones may be involved. Flipping typical!

 

Michelangelo for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities (For Kids series)
by Simonetta Carr (Chicago Review Press)

Michelangelo Buonarroti—known simply as Michelangelo—has been called the greatest artist who has ever lived. His impressive masterpieces astonished his contemporaries and remain some of today’s most famous artworks. Young readers will come to know Michelangelo the man as well as the artistic giant, following his life from his childhood in rural Italy to his emergence as a rather egotistical teenager to a humble and caring old man. They’ll learn that he did exhausting, back-breaking labor to create his art yet worked well, even with humor, with others in the stone quarry and in his workshop. Michelangelo for Kids offers an in-depth look at his life, ideas, and accomplishments, while providing a fascinating view of the Italian Renaissance and how it shaped and affected his work.

The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud (Chronicle Books)

What really happened over the summer break? A curious teacher wants to know. The epic explanation? What started out as a day at the beach turned into a globe-spanning treasure hunt with high-flying hijinks, exotic detours, an outrageous cast of characters, and one very mischievous bird! Is this yet another tall tale, or is the truth just waiting to be revealed? From the team behind I Didn’t Do My Homework Because . . . and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School . . . comes a fantastical fast-paced, detail-rich illustrated summer adventure that’s so unbelievable, it just might be true!

 

The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers (Henry Holt & Co.)


Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.
When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she’ll find her place in the world. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.

 

Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux)

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.