Category Archives: Parents

Connecting New Books to Middle Grade Readers

In many classrooms around the country gone are the days of the class novel. Instead classroom teachers are expected to monitor each reader as they move through individual books that are at “just right,” independent levels. This requires a new way of thinking for the middle grade classroom teacher, the school librarians, and the publishers since many of the books the students will read are found in classroom libraries instead of the school media center.

So how can teachers (or parents) stay current in knowing what’s out there for their students (or children)? Here are some tips you can use.

1.  Check out the book lists at blogs like this one!

Since you are already here, take the time to check out our new releases by month. Our bloggers are constantly adding lists of new books for middle graders.

2. Form a partnership with your school librarian and/or media assistant

I would have thought that this tip was a given, but at an American Association of School Librarians conference I attended a couple of years ago I was surprised to hear that many school librarians and teachers do not have good relationships. Librarians told me that many of their teachers were unwilling to go outside the books they felt familiar with and had used in their classroom for years and years to try something new.  Instead, work with your school librarian to introduce new books to your readers.

3. Get to know your local children’s librarians and book sellers

Librarians and book sellers have been matching books to readers for years so it makes sense that they would have knowledge about the most current books. If possible, invite your local librarians into the school to talk to kids about books or to publicize summer reading programs.

4. Sign up for free subscriptions

Many subscription magazines have weekly eNewsletters that you can sign up for without any charge. Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf is my favorite eNewsletter because of it’s easy to read format and article links. You can also sign up for Extra Helping at School Library Journal. Many local bookstores also have eNewsletters where they announce new books. Publishers also have enewsletters with new book announcements. If you are quick, you can sometimes request ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books that have not reached their publication date.

5. Attend book conventions such as Book Expo America, American Association of School Librarians, or NCTE

At each of these conventions, new books are highlighted and ARCs are even handed to teachers as you walk on the floor. Some of these conventions are costly or require membership, but if you can convince your school system to let you attend, they will often pay at least part of your admission.

Once you find all these new books, make a plan to read them. I know teachers are busy and the new common core objectives and curriculums have made us busier than ever before, but new books are worth exploring. While the older books should not be forgotten, new books move at the pace of our readers and connect to their world. A good classroom library has a mix of old and new to help every reader find what they are looking for. By taking the time to read new books and stay current, you are also connecting to the current world of the child. Plus, they are great, quick reads for you to enjoy too.

Indie Spotlight: Some Bookstore Myths and Magic, 2014

Bear Pond #6Quail Ridge logo #2avid logo|
Thinking back on the bookstores we’ve interviewed here on Mixed-up Files in 2014, I realize more than ever that independent bookstores are a  children’s-book lover’s priceless treasure, and that the more we value them the more they will prosper. More is more. The things we give our energy and attention to increase.CBW logo
Fortunately there’s good news out there at the moment, so in case anyone’s worried about the future of your favorite shop, I’d like to mention a few persistent myths about the business, then talk about what bookstores offer readers today, using this year’s interviewees as examples.Fountainhead logo

First, the myths:
Myth: #1 Thanks to Amazon and e-books, independent brick-and-mortar bookstores, like physical books, are becoming a thing of the past. Nope. According to the American Booksellers Association, indie bookstore numbers hit a low of 1,651 in 2009. screenshot_1233But since 2009, the number of stores has grown 19.3 percent to 1,971 and indie store sales have grown about 8 per cent each year since 2011.
That’s only partly due to the collapse of Borders. So what’s happening? Birchbark InteriorIndies are taking advantage of the growing buy-local movement, getting to know their communities and their customers Bear Pond #4and offering them a welcoming atmosphere for browsing and events. They’re hiring staff who read, know, and love books, and are eager to make personal recommendations and connections A number of the newer stores were founded by people with little or no bookstore experience who simply believed every town ought to have a bookstore, and theirs didn’t. (Hugely successful MG author Jeff Kinney is currently planning to open one in Plainville MA where he lives).Bankstreet Bookstore

Myth #2 Independent bookstores are too small. I can find a bigger selection at the chain store. Maybe, if you’re mainly interested in the newest books and best-sellers. The chains, in order to stay competitive with Amazon, have adopted a business model that emphasizes more and more sales of fewer titles. Once you get past the headliners, you may be surprised how many good books are “out of stock.’ The indies are doing just the opposite: stocking fewer copies of a greater variety of books.  And of  course some indies aren’t small.  Think Powell’s.birchbark logo

Myth #3 It’s a lot cheaper and more convenient to order books on line. That’s true. If you know what you want, you can order a book at deep discount cross that off your to-do list, and have the book delivered to your door or a giftee’s without ever having to change out of your pajamas. Of course you don’t meet very many interesting people that way.

Now for the magic: why shop at an independent bookstore?

birchbark booth

“Forgiveness Booth” at Birchbark Books

Magic #1: unique atmosphere
People open independent bookstore owners for the love of it and do their best to realize their dream of what a bookstore could be. These stores are what Janet Geddi of Avid Bookshop calls “third places.” Joy and laughter are not uncommon. When we asked Jane Knight back in July what she hoped people would experience when they browsed at Bear Pond Books, she replied, simply “Nirvana!” Elizabeth Bluemle of Flying Pig Bookstore says, “We often hear from people that they like to come in when they’ve had a hard day.” Independent bookstores are created places as much as they are businesses.Birchbark crafts

Fountainhead camp

Treasure Island Camp at Fountainhead Books

Yippee Skippee

Puppet Theatre at Bank Street

Avid frank #1

Frank, the Fabulous Fiction Fan

The free hand of independents can lead to some wonderful bookstore features like the native American art and the Forgiveness Booth (a converted confessional booth with forgiveness guaranteed) at Birchbark Books, the books camps for kids at Fountainhead Books, the weekend performances of the Fractured Fables puppet theatre at Bank Street Bookstore in New York, or Frank the Fabulous Fiction Fan, who was created by a local 11-year-old boy and is Avid Bookshop’s answer to Waldo.

Magic #2: making memories
More and more we understand that what children will remember from their childhood are not the things their loved ones gave them so much as the experiences they shared. Spending hours together at a real bookstore and coming back with personally chosen books is a long-remembered experience.  Avid books front #1

Magic #3: quality, diversity, & surprise
Independent bookshop owners are curators, free to indulge their own good taste. Valerie Welbourne of Fountainhead Books says: “The main thing we look for is good writing.” Unlike chain managers, independents can buy, promote, and display books any way they want. Of course they need to sell books and are aware of what’s current, but they have other considerations too. Flying Pig paintingAs Elizabeth Bluemle of Flying Pig books says “I can stock some quirky title that no one’s ever heard of and keep it on the shelf forever if I want to.” What that means for us is that in any independent store you will find some titles that are available almost nowhere else. (That is certainly true of the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Lakota language books at Birchbark Books).

Magic #4: finding your people (and your book)
Indie booksellers aren’t trying to sell you reading devices or a company line. They’re passionate about books and their favorite thing is to talk with you about books you might enjoy and help you find the one that’s yours. They care about their community, and when you buy your books there, the profits stay home.
Most indies have a soft-spot for children’s books and their readers, especially for middle-graders. When we asked this year’s shops for their recommendations of middle-grade books, of course they mentioned the well-known and the award winners, but also some lesser known new and old favorites of theirs and their visitors. I’ll list some of these again, in hopes you may find among them something new to you, but you:

From Avid Bookshop, Athens GA (www.avidbookshop.com): Stephan Pastis’ Timmy Failure books, Frostborn by Lou Anders, and anything by Avid Timmy FailureJennifer Holm. (The Fourteenth Goldfish is now widely reviewed and praised, but I first learned about it from screenshot_1351Bank St. Carrot JuiceAvid Bookshop.)Avid Frostborn

From Bank Street Books New York NY (www.bankstreetbooks.com): The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, Carol Weston’s Ava and Pip , and Julie Sternberg’s Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake.

From Bear Pond Books, Montpelier VT (www.bearpondbooks.com): The Meaning of Maggie by Bear Pond Meaning of MaggieBear Pond  Return of ZitaMegan Jean Sovern, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, and anything by Steve Jenkins or Linda Urban.

From Birchbark Books, Minneapolis MN (www.birchbarkbooks.com): How I became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle, Wolf Shadows by Mary Cassanova, Summer of the Wolves by Polly Carlson-Voiles, and Black Elk’s Vision, a Lakota Story, by S.D. Nelson.Birchbark How I Became a Ghost

From Children’s Book World, West Los Angeles CA (www.childrensbookworld.com): The Neddiad by Daniel CBW Neddiadcbw how they croakedPinkwater, Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, How They Croaked:

Home of theBrave

Home of theBrave

The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Lesley M. M. Blume, Temple Grandin, by Sy Montgomeery and Temple Grandin, and Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis by Pete Nelson.

From Edmonds Bookshop, Edmonds WA (www.edmondsbookshop.com) some old favorites10481268Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech , Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes and Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, plus Maile Meloy’s The Apothecary.

From Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne VT (www.flyingpigs.com):
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk and The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner.Dolphins of Shark BayFountainhead: Inventor's secretfountainhead snicker of magicFortunately the milk

 

 

From Fountainhead Bookstore, Hendersonville NC (www.fountainheadbookstore.com): Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer, The Shakespeare Mysteries by Deron R. Hicks, and anything Quail Ridge Revolutionby Donna Gephart.Quail Ridge Gooseberry Park

From Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh NC
(www.quailridgebooks.com): Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Making Money by Tommy Greenwald, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, and Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant.

Readers, It’s almost January. Do you know where your nearest independent bookstore is? Go for the joy of it in 2015!   And please, tell the rest of us where it is.

Sue Cowing is  author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollins UK 2014).

 

 

Reading for Pleasure, Not Purpose

At a recent book festival, I noticed a tween girl eying my table. Finally she walked over, picked up one of my books, and began reading.

When her mom approached, the girl waved the book over her head like a flag. “This one!” she begged her mom. “Please?”

Her mom smiled patiently. “Let me have a look,” she said. She flipped through the pages as if she were searching for something. “What’s the lexile?” she asked me.

“Lexile?” I repeated, even though I knew what the word meant.

She began to explain the concept of “lexile,” then gave up. “What grade level is this book for?” she asked, sighing.

“Fourth through seventh, mostly,” I answered. “Although some third graders read it, and so do eighth graders. There’s really no rule.”

The mom glanced at her daughter, who by then was at the other end of my table, flipping through another book. “The reason I ask,” she murmured, “is because my daughter is a very advanced reader. She’s in the fifth grade, but she’s reading on a tenth grade level.”

My heart went out to this mom, because I know what it’s like to have a kid who’s an “advanced” reader. Advanced readers tend to be voracious ones, the kind of kid who brushes her teeth with a toothbrush in one hand and a book in the other. It’s a full-time job supporting a book-addicted kid’s reading habit. And finding appropriate books can be an adventure: you don’t want your kid to read books that are too babyish, because they will bore her, and possibly turn her off reading. But at the same time, you don’t want her to read YA books that may be intellectually more stimulating, but too mature in other ways–too dark, too edgy or too sexually explicit. After all, your fifth grader is still a fifth grader. A kid, not an adolescent.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned as a parent, a teacher, and an author: if we want our kids to become lifelong readers, we need to let them read for pleasure. This means allowing them to make their own reading choices (within reasonable limits). And we need to support their choices, not pluck books from their hands in the name of lexiles and reading levels.

Because why does any kid choose any book? Maybe she likes the cover, or the title, or the plot summary on the book jacket. Maybe she likes the author’s style, or finds the main character someone she’d want as a friend. One of my totally unproven (and unprovable) theories about MG reading is that for many kids, especially the “advanced, voracious” ones, reading is a social experience, a chance to hang out with the characters, empathize with them, laugh with them, learn from their triumphs and blunders. And to do any of that socializing in a meaningful way, they need characters they can relate to– which usually means kids roughly around their own age.

But what about the parent’s responsibility to educate her child? Is there anything wrong with a mom leafing through her daughter’s book to check if its language is rich, and enriching? No, of course not; but a kid’s pleasure reading shouldn’t be evaluated on the basis of: Does this book contain vocabulary words? Some of the best-written books don’t even have “big” words–The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to give one example. And some of the worst books are bursting with pompous verbiage and gobbledegook. The best middle grade fiction does so much more for kids than just expand their vocabulary.

I recently came across an article about a study conducted by Britain’s Institute of Education, which suggested that children who read for pleasure have a more advanced vocabulary as adults than non-pleasure readers. “The long-term influence of reading for pleasure on vocabulary…may well be because the frequent childhood readers continued to read throughout their twenties and thirties,” said the researchers. “In other words, they developed ‘good’ reading habits in childhood and adolescence that they have subsequently benefited from.” For older kids (age 16), reading “highbrow fiction” made the greatest improvement in adult vocabulary; but for the ten year olds, it seems the frequency of pleasure reading, and not the level or “lexile,” may be the most significant factor. To me this suggests that if you want your fifth grade kid to continue developing her already precocious language skills, let her choose her own books. A brilliant piece by Valerie Straus in the Washington Post makes several suggestions for strategies which encourage reading autonomy in the classroom, as well.

And in case you’re wondering what happened to the mom and the daughter at the book festival: They stepped away from my table, talked it over, and returned to buy the book the daughter had chosen in the first place. When I signed it for the girl, I wrote: “Keep reading!” But something told me that advice wasn’t necessary.

Barbara Dee is the author of the middle-grade novels THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS, TRAUMA QUEEN, THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON, SOLVING ZOE and JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE.  Find her on the web at www.BarbaraDeeBooks.com and on Twitter @BarbaraDee2.