Tag Archives: fiction

The Hard Stuff

Have you ever read a book that haunts you? Follows you around like an eager puppy, sticks to you like a cobweb? Do you find yourself thinking about the story while you work or drive or do laundry? Do you see the characters in the grocery store, on the street, at the gas station?

I love books like that, the ones that weave themselves into the fabric of my life and force me to turn the words over in my head until I’ve looked at them from every possible angle.

Wendelin Van Draanen’s latest book, Wild Bird, is my current sticky cobweb.

The main character, Wren, has experienced the trauma of moving to a new city and finding her life and family utterly unfamiliar. What happens next is a spiral brought on by bad decisions and desperation, right to rock bottom. Whisked away to eight weeks of desert survivalist camp, Wren must decide who she wants to be and how she wants to live. Her journey is both heart breaking and inspiring and I held my breath for her until the very last page.

Van Draanen takes the difficult topic of drug addiction and presents it without preaching or passing moral judgments. She simply and beautifully givers us a story of struggle.

Which got me thinking.

With empathy and fearlessness, middle grade authors regularly wade into the troubling issues kids face in today’s complex world. These authors reflect the challenges a child might be experiencing or offer a window into the struggles of classmates and friends, all while telling a compelling story. This is no small feat.

I can’t possibly cover them all but here are some of my current favorites:

 

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

While this novel has some fantastical elements (wish granting fish, for example), it deals with the heroin crisis currently all too familiar in many parts of the country

 

 

 

 

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

This poetic story, told from the perspective of a boy and his pet fox, illustrates the ravages of war to human and animal kind with a subtle and deft hand.

 

 

 

 

OCDaniel, by Wesley King

Edgar Award winning author King offers the story of an ‘eccentric thirteen-year-old social oddity’ who desperately wants to fit in. When Daniel gets caught up in solving a mystery, he illustrates just how he might learn to survive and thrive with behavior seen as outside of ‘normal’.

 

 

 

Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene struggles to manage her mother’s worsening OCD, a job well above the pay grade of a child. This novel deftly illustrates the importance and courage of asking for help when a situation goes too far.

 

 

 

 

George, by Alex Gino

This transgender narrative, written for and about kids, shows a child’s journey from despair to courage. It is at once funny and inspiring.

 

 

 

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books– In the Classroom

We’ve taken a few of the titles from last week’s book list – Science in Fiction Books – and found some fantastic ways to use them in the classroom. There are lots of links and places for teachers, students, and parents to go from here!  Have fun!

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas   by Jacqueline Houtman

Science comes easily to Eddy (Edison) Thomas. Social relationships? Not so much. On her website, Houtman shares a number of classroom activities which will prod middle-grade readers toward deeper discovery and understanding. Here are a couple.  See more cross-curricular classroom activities here. 

Design an experiment to test Fact Number 28 (p. 73): Listening to slow music can lower your heart rate, while music with a faster tempo can increase your heart rate. Who would be your subjects? How would you measure heart rate? What other factors might affect your experiment? How would you make sure that you are only measuring the effect of the music?

Find out how the special effects in your favorite science fiction or fantasy movie were done. (Many DVDs come with special feature discs that explain how the effects were achieved, or you can use the Internet.) How have special effects in movies changed in the last 10 years? 30 years? 50 years? How did they do special effects before there were computers and computer animation?

Eye of the Storm  by Kate Messner

A summer at science camp turns into a life-or-death situation for Jaden and her new friends Risha and Alex in this thrilling science-packed middle-grade novel.  Teachers can find a thorough Eye of the Storm Discussion Guide on author Kate Messner’s website as well as a link to a gallery of Eye of the Storm Resources on Pinterest. 

Is there a Placid Meadows in your state?  Use data from the national weather service to look at where tornados or super storms have occurred in your state in the past year. Map locations and decide if there is a spot that, like the fictional Placid Meadows, seems immune from such disasters. Or, is there a “tornado alley” or path that seems to attract severe weather time and time again?

Using gripping fiction like  Eye of the Storm in conjunction with nonfiction books about climate change and super storms can add a personal element to research and discussion of these topics.

The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson

Truly a story of discovery, this novel takes readers along with Angel, the 11-year-old main character, on a journey in which she’ll find out things about herself and about the universe that she never believed possible.

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) has created a wonderful teacher’s resource for The Same Stuff as Stars here.  (Scroll past the resources for one of Paterson’s other books, but tuck those away for another day!)

As Angel learns more about the constellations, teachers and parents can help young readers do the same with websites such as KidsAstronomy.com and NASA Kids Club.

The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman

Every great story and every great scientific discovery have started with the same question:  “What if?” So, what if every adult in the whole town of St. Polonius fell asleep and the children were left to run the town?

There’s so much fun to be had with a story that mixes science and problem-solving with  politics and mystery.

The Investigative Process and Premise –  Scientists begin their investigative process by asking questions.  Authors create a premise before drafting a novel. They are both asking and answering the “What if” question. Take a look at the books your class had read this year. What is the “what if” question posed by the author. Now, take a look the science topics you’ve discussed this year. What questions did the scientists ask for their investigations?  Now ask your students the following questions:   Can your science topics lead to new fictional story ideas?  Can fiction stories lead you to further investigate a science topic?

What is hibernation? Using the unexpected hibernation of the adults in St. Polonius to launch a study of real hibernation. Which animals hibernate and why? Where and when do animals hibernate?  Use facts found at How Stuff Works  to chart your findings on graphs or maps.

Add to the list!  If you have a classroom activity to accompany a sciencey-fiction book you’ve read, post it in the comments below. We love sharing your ideas!

Michelle Houts is the author of ten books for young readers. Her Lucy’s Lab series is another example of science-filled fiction. Find Lucy’s Pinterest page with classroom activities and experiments here.

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books — Book List

Welcome to December! You’ve heard of science fiction, well this month we are focusing on science IN fiction! These middle grade novels  include  inspiring characters who love science. We’ve included a “cheat-sheet” breakdown beside each book to alert you to the STEM topic included.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Lucy’s Lab chapter book series by Michelle Houts
[book 1: habitats, book 2: states of matter, book 3:fossils]
In book one of the series, Lucy’s teacher tells her that they will have their very own lab in the classroom, complete with lab coats and goggles. Lucy can’t wait! Lucy’s first inquiry-based project? Find out where the squirrels will live once the tree in front of the school is cut down.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtmann
[invention, engineering, physics]
Eddy is a science geek who has problems communicating with others. He must learn to trust his real friends and use his talents to succeed. *Library Media Connection

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Red Blazer Girls by Michael Beil
[math]
A series of four titles for mystery lovers, and the detectives are girls who love math. In The Secret Cellar (book 4), Sophie finds a secret message in an antique fountain pen. To solve the mystery, the girls must solve puzzles which lead to a hidden treasure.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Frank Einstein series by Jon Scieszka
[invention, engineering, physics, robotics]
Science experiments, inventions, jokes, and a kid-genius are the subject of this series. Frank Einstein loves to figure out how the world works by creating unusual household contraptions that are part science, and part imagination. “I never thought science could be funny,” say Jeff Kinney (author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
[science of life and death, genetics, science of aging]
A new boy enters Ellie’s life who looks a lot like her dead grandfather, a scientist who’s always been obsessed with immortality. Could the pimply boy really be Grandpa  Melvin?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Same  Stuff as Stars by Katherine Patterson
[astronomy]
The bright part in Angel’s life is learning about the stars, planets, and constellations from a mysterious stranger. *Kirkus

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner
[climatology]
This title is set in a future time when massive storms are part of everyday life. NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
[zoology, oceanography]
This story focuses on grief, wonder, life, death, and oceanography. Benjamin weaves in details about jellyfish and the ocean into her lyrical text. National Book Award Finalist

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Saving Wonder by Mary Knight
[conservation, environmental health]
Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Saving Wonder tells the story of Curley Hines, who must speak out against Big Coal to save his mountain. Green Earth Book Award

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
[evolution]
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is an inquisitive eleven-year old in 1890 who will inspire budding naturalists. 2010 Newbery Award  (Look for the sequel)

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Cry of the Crow by Jean Craighead George
[ornithology, animal behavior]
Mandy’s family thinks of crows as pests and hunts them to protect their valuable strawberry crop. But when Mandy takes on the care of a baby crow  she is faced with difficult decisions and the struggles of growing up.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu
[health]
A mixture of science, art, magic, and love. Clover and Danny are two best friends who are better together. In fact, Clover thinks they’re symbiotic. In this poignant story, Haydu introduces readers to complex characters who face tough situations with friendship and love.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman
[science ethics]
On Founder’s Day in St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord, everyone over the age of twelve must eat a sliver of bear’s liver to celebrate the town’s history. When Jean Huddy finally comes of age to participate in this great honor, she pukes up her portion. A few hours later, all of St. Polonius’s adults fall into a deep sleep, and the children must run the town. Courage, teamwork, ans science come to the rescue to unlock this unusual mystery.

We could go on and on with lots of other great titles that include science in fiction. Can you name others?

 

STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the 2017 Green Earth Book Award and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips with readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. www.nancycastaldo.com

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Check back every Tuesday of every month:

  • Week 1:  STEM Tuesday Themed Book Lists
  • Week 2:  STEM Tuesday in the Classroom
  • Week 3:  STEM Tuesday Crafts and Resources
  • Week 4:  STEM Tuesday Author Interviews and Giveaways