Category Archives: Teachers

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.

Picture Book Conversations in the Middle Grades

In my work as Library Media Specialist at an International Baccalaureate School, my main job was support of the curriculum for students as seen through the IB Organization’s lens. This framework of thinking urges students to dig deeper into a subject, to be open-minded inquirers, and to find ways to apply the thinking they practice across their subjects and ultimately in their interaction with the world around them.

I have found that one great way to connect with students and to engage that deeper thinking is to use picture books. It’s easy to discount this format as “too young” for many students, but in reality, even the simplest-seeming of them can be powerful tools for scaffolding a topic, for generating new questions, and most importantly, for beginning a conversation with students that gets them thinking more deeply about a subject in new and different ways.

A picture book can be a connector through its art and visual nature, through topics and themes which are presented, explored and resolved in a short time (yes, I read picture books aloud to students all the way into middle school in my library), and simply through a layout which invites sharing with others. Engaging with a picture book can open doors for a wide array of students with differing needs and learning styles, and can lead to rich exploration in the classroom.

Picture books aren’t just about princesses and fluffy bunnies. They can help us understand the problems of hunger and oppression or the meaning of friendship or patriotism. They can help us understand differences between people so that we’re free to see similarities. They can help us examine our own lives more closely, all through the safety of the page.  Picture books are my own read of choice with students of any age, and in our recent cry for diversity in children’s literature, they fulfill this need in some wonderful ways while making the curricular connections we need from the books we share with students.

Here are some picture books which can be useful tools for starting conversations with Middle Grade readers on a wide variety of topics. Synopses come from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.

My name is Sangoel, by Karen Lynn Williams and Catherine Stock, illustrated by Khadra Mohammed

9780802853073

Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down proudly from his father and grandfather before him. When Sangoel and his mother and sister arrive in the United States, everything seems very strange and unlike home.(from Goodreads)

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi

9780440417996

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from.

I Pledge Allegiance, by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, illustrated by Patrice Barton

9780307931818

Libby’s great aunt, Lobo, is from Mexico, but the United States has been her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. At the end of the week, Lobo will say the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. Libby is also learning the Pledge this week, at school—at the end of the week, she will stand up in front of everyone and lead the class in the Pledge. Libby and Lobo practice together—asking questions and sharing stories and memories—until they both stand tall and proud, with their hands over their hearts.

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iran, by Jeannette Winter

9780152054458

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library–along with the thirty thousand books within it–will be destroyed forever.

In a war-stricken country where civilians–especially women–have little power, this true story about a librarian’s struggle to save her community’s priceless collection of books reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge know no boundaries.

The Sandwich Swap, by Raina Al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio , illustrated by Tricia Tusa

9781423124849

Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things, and they always eat lunch together. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus-but what’s that between friends? It turns out, a lot. Before they know it, a food fight breaks out. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences? Or will a sandwich come between them?
The smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance. Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Summer 2010 Kids’ Next List

Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

9780374309220

After World War II there is little left in Katje’s town of Olst in Holland. Her family, like most Dutch families, must patch their old worn clothing and go without everyday things like soap and milk. Then one spring morning when the tulips bloom “thick and bright,” Postman Kleinhoonte pedals his bicycle down Katje’s street to deliver a mysterious box – a box from America! Full of soap, socks, and chocolate, the box has been sent by Rosie, an American girl from Mayfield, Indiana. Her package is part of a goodwill effort to help the people of Europe. What’s inside so delights Katje that she sends off a letter of thanks – beginning an exchange that swells with so many surprises that the girls, as well as their townspeople, will never be the same.
This inspiring story, with strikingly original art, is based on the author’s mother’s childhood and will show young readers that they, too, can make a difference. Boxes for Katje is a 2004 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story of Africa, by Jeannette Winter

4010047

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something—and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans. . . . (from Goodreads)

One Hen: How one Small Loan Made a Big Difference, by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

9781554530281

Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many.

The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis

9780374347017

Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country….By joining memory and history, Sís takes us on his extraordinary journey: from infant with paintbrush in hand to young man borne aloft by the wings of his art. The Wall is a 2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year, a 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, the winner of the 2008 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, and a nominee for the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.

Sparrow Girl, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

9781423111870

Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.
As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something–even if she couldn’t stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one…

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, by Meg Wiviott, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon

9780822599753

A neighborhood cat observes the changes in German and Jewish families in its town during the period leading up to Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass that becomes the true beginning of the Holocaust. This cats-eye view introduces the Holocaust to children in a gentle way that can open discussion of this period.

The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton

9781582464503

Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource.
Includes backmatter with discussion questions and resources for further reading.

Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel

9781936261291

With humor and warmth, this children’s picture book raises awareness about poverty and hunger Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and play in the same park, but while Sofia’s fridge at home is full of nutritious food, the fridge at Maddi’s house is empty. Sofia learns that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to fill their fridge and promises Maddi she’ll keep this discovery a secret. But because Sofia wants to help her friend, she’s faced with a difficult decision: to keep her promise or tell her parents about Maddi’s empty fridge. Filled with colorful artwork, this storybook addresses issues of poverty with honesty and sensitivity while instilling important lessons in friendship, empathy, trust, and helping others. A call to action section, with six effective ways for children to help fight hunger and information on antihunger groups, is also included.

Emily’s Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly, illustrated by Lisa Brown

9781596434691

Emily wants to be an artist. She likes painting and loves the way artists like Pablo Picasso mixed things up.

Emily’s life is a little mixed up right now. Her dad doesn’t live at home anymore, and it feels like everything around her is changing.

“When Picasso was sad for a while,” says Emily, “he only painted in blue. And now I am in my blue period.”

It might last quite some time.

There are so many more I could share, some with humor and heart, courage and quirkiness, some that share themes of resiliency and integrity. I hope you’ll find some new ways to share picture books with the Middle Grade readers in your life!

Do you already have a favorite picture book to share?

 

Valerie Stein is proprietor of Homeostasis Press. She’s at work on two historical fiction books, including a historical mystery for middle grade readers.

Vaerie blogs about books  and being grateful at The Best of It.

You can find her tweeting lots, especially about kids’ books, @stein_valerie

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).