Tag Archives: How to Survive Middle School

New School Blues


Moving is always a challenge, especially when it involves a new school. Take it from this shy girl who went to three different kindergartens alone and moved more times than she cares to count. Whether it’s a new town or making the leap from elementary to middle school, here are some books to make life easier in the great unknown of a new home.

COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin (Putnam 2016) When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

HootHOOT by Carl Hiaasen (Yearling 2006) Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and–here’s the odd part–wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.
Roy has most definitely arrived in Carl Hiaasen’s Florida.

TheTroubleWithRulesTHE TROUBLE WITH RULES by Leslie Bulion (Peachtree 2008) For Nadine Rostraver, fourth grade means peer pressure and new social rules she hadn t anticipated. For one thing, girls aren t supposed to hang out with boys anymore. So where does that leave Nadine and her best friend Nick?

Then Summer Crawford arrives at Upper Springville Elementary and Nadine s life goes from bad to worse! Nadine loses her job as the art editor on the class newspaper The Springville Spark and gets in some serious trouble with her teacher, Mr. Allen.

But Summer is a free spirit who marches to her own beat. Slowly Nadine realizes that life can be a lot more fun if you call your own tune. Together Nadine, Nick, and Summer decide breaking the rules is sometimes the best thing you can do. Especially when the rules don t allow you to be yourself.

Author Leslie Bulion s sensitive, realistic look at adolescence and her humorous slant on its unique struggles will resonate with young readers who will recognize themselves and their own dilemmas in her well-drawn characters and their responses to a complicated world.

MovingDayMOVING DAY by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Jennifer Emery (Boyds Mills Press 2006) The traumas and trials of moving away are poignantly expressed in new poems from a respected writer. Fletch’s new Diamondback mountain bike and his brother’s new hockey outfit are unexpected gifts from Dad. When Dad announces, “We’re going to move to Ohio,” Fletch’s heart drops to his stomach. Leaving means selling the house, abandoning his best friends,and living next to Lake Erie. . . . Hey, didn’t that lake catch on fire? Ralph Feltcher’s poems evoke what’s hard about moving away as well as what makes moving day, well, maybe, okay.

SchooledSCHOOLED by Gordon Korman (Hyperion 2008-from Booklist’s red review) Homeschooled on an isolated “alternate farm commune” that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection.

HowToSurviveMiddleSchoolHOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL by Donna Gephart (Yearling 2008) Eleven-year-old David Greenberg dreams of becoming a YouTube sensation and spends all of his time making hilarious Top 6½ Lists and Talk Time videos. But before he can get famous, he has to figure out a way to deal with:

6. Middle school (much scarier than it sounds!)
5. His best friend gone girl-crazy
4. A runaway mom who has no phone!
3. The threat of a swirlie on his birthday
2. A terrifying cousin
1. His # 1 fan, Bubbe (his Jewish grandmother)
1/2. Did we mention Hammy, the hamster who’s determined to break David’s heart?

But when David’s new best friend, Sophie, starts sending out the links to everyone she knows and her friends tell their friends, thousands of people start viewing his videos.

AnastasiaAgain!ANASTASIA AGAIN! by Lois Lowry (Yearling 1982) Anastasia has grown to love her new little brother, Sam. But she is in for a new shock as her parents announce that they will be moving to the suburbs. Anastasia is sure that all suburbanites live drab, meaningless lives, and tries to prevent the move by requesting a room with a tower before she will consent to the move. Her parents, however, find just such a house, and Anastasia must confront her misconceptions. Her adventures in the suburbs involve meeting her new neighbors, including a cute boy who mows lawns, and a “witch” who lives next door.

WeAreAllMadeOfMoleculesWE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen (Ember 2016) Ashley’s and Stewart’s worlds collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. The Brady Bunch it isn’t. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it–he’s always wanted a sister. But Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They’re complete opposites, but they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

TheKidInTheRedJacketTHE KID IN THE RED JACKET by Barbara Park (Random House 1988) Can Howard SURVIVE life without friends? Howard Jeeter’s parents have ruined his life. They’ve moved him across the country, and all the kids in his new town act like he’s totally invisible. At least, all of them except for his six-year-old neighbor, Molly Vera Thompson. Howard could use a friend. But a little girl who talks nonstop? Not what he had in mind. Still, when you’re really lonely, you’ll be friends with anyone…right?



NEW BOY by Nick Earls (Puffin 2015) Adjusting to a new country and a new school was never going to be easy for Herschelle. The food is strange, it’s so different to South Africa and, worst of all, no one understands the Aussie slang he’s learnt on the web. But it’s the similarities that make things really hard. Herschelle will have to confront racism, bullying and his own past before Australia can feel like home…




ELLIE MCDOODLE NEW KID IN SCHOOL by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury 2009) When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, and even the teachers can’t get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue―and if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?



WonderWONDER by R.J. Palacio (Knopf 2012) August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school―until now. He’s about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has crafted an uplifting novel full of wonderfully realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and writing that shines with spare emotional power.

What other books can you recommend to help kids ease into the daunting world of a new school?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Razorbill). 

Can You Judge a Book by Its Color?

color wheelWhen I was in high school, one of the electives offered was Fashion Design. I  never could fit that particular class into my schedule (I was a choir geek through and through), but I had many friends who took the course. And I noticed they spent a lot of time talking about the color wheel and its affect on fashion (and people, too).

I have always been fascinated by this idea that color affects our mood. As a gardener, I’m often surprised how much time I spend thinking about the colors I want in my flowerbeds and how each of the different plant colors make me feel. A few years ago, my chiropractor husband and I spent countless hours picking out just the right shade of green paint for the walls of his new clinic, since we needed something that made the place feel…well, healthy.

So, I began to wonder, if we talk about color in our clothing, and the color on our walls, and the color of the world outside our doorsteps, should we talk about color when it comes to our books, too?  I decided to take a look at some of the MG books sitting on my bookshelves at home. What do the colors on the covers say about the stories themselves?


Yellow is a happy color, but it’s also draining on the eyes, so frequently people surrounded by yellow can become agitated and angry.

On my shelf, the books in which yellow dominated the cover were in both of these camps. Many of the humorous titles were predominately yellow, such as Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School.

I also had many titles which were stories where mystery or intrigue played a large part in the book. For example, in Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle, the castle itself senses trouble. (As a side note, this book cover spirals from blue, a soothing color, to yellow, which mirrors the rise in tension as the story progresses.)


Red is a color of power. It evokes strong emotions such as love, intensity, and excitement.  The books on my shelves do the same.

In Scumble, by Ingrid Law, the main character is given a extraordinary power which makes the things around him fall apart…literally. You can’t get much more intense than that! (As a side note, this book also has quite a bit of yellow, which I think adds to the agitation this cover evokes, but is grounded in green, a color of good luck and prosperity, which in my opinion hints at the awesome natural powers this boy has been given.)

In Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the title itself tells you that this is going to be an adventure–that excitement awaits. (Not to mention that the red dragon on the cover looks terrifying–is the girl really going to let it loose? And that hint of yellow makes me slightly uneasy about this whole idea of releasing the dragon into the wild.  How exhilarating and alarming at the same time!)

School spiritsBLUE

Blue is a soothing, calming color, but it can also be associated with feelings of sadness, loneliness, or alienation.

In Michael O. Tunnell’s School Spirits, the main character is new at his school, so he feels isolated from the rest of the students. Oh, and there’s a ghost in the book, too, who just happens to be blue-green.  And lonely. And very much the sad being you would expect of a restless spirit.

Though there are many different covers for  the classic Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, most of them are predominately blue.  Mr. Popper (a dreamer and a painter by trade) spends his time caring for, and enjoying, the penguins he receives from Admiral Drake who is currently on an expedition in the Antarctic. Though the book is full of the antics of the penguins, and Mr. Popper and his family as well, the entire book exudes a soothing sort of safeness that all will be well if Mr. Popper is around.


Green is the color of nature. It’s also associated with good luck, tranquility, and health.

In Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Treasures of Weatherby, a girl names Allegra literally flies. There is much in the book that is mysterious as well, but the front cover captures so vividly this character’s flying attributes, which mirrors what mother nature has given the birds.  (Side note: this image is not the one on the cover of my book, but I do like how the bit of yellow in this version  captures some of the anxiety and restlessness of these characters, plus the black invokes some lurking evil that is hidden just out of sight….)

In Kim Baker’s Pickle, the main characters want to use school funds to pull off their pranks, and they decide to start  a pickle club as a cover. They are going to need all the luck they can get!  (I’d also like to point out that this book cover uses a lot of blue, too, which helps make this group feel aloof and alienated, because, well, they are are SECRET group, after all. They do stand apart.)


Black is associated with evil and menace, as well as death and mourning.

In Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander, not only is the Underland devoid of sunlight, but it is full of menacing creatures who have captured Gregor’s father.  This cover, though full of lighter buildings, has much hidden in the shadows.

In The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, the main character, Eva Nine, leaves in search of the long-lost (and possibly no longer existing) land of WondLa.  She uncovers a world full of dangers, both of the natural world and of men. (As a side note, note that Eva herself is light against the darkness of the rest of the cover, and as she begins her journey she is the only one innocent of the world around her. Interesting.)


White denotes purity and innocence, but also can be cold, unfeeling, or bland.

In Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, Hazel’s best friend, Jack, is captured by a woman made of ice, and Hazel sets off into the forest to rescue him. (Side note, notice the hint of red in the middle of the cover, which I think helps the readers feels the intensity of Hazel’s love for her friend as well as the power of the Snow Queen.)

In Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, the four children who make up the society are chosen through a random set of challenges…it’s a very cerebral way of choosing some very resourceful children to take on a supervillain the likes of which the world as never seen.

There are more colors than my above-mentioned categories, obviously.  I’m sure there are many more books out there that might not fit into any one particular color category, either.  Or how about those that use lots of different colors?  Where would they fit?

Besides, colors can also be influenced by culture, so one culture may have a different perception of a particular color than another would.  For example, in Western culture white symbolizes purity and innocence, but in some Eastern cultures it symbolizes death and mourning.

Historical cultures attached slightly different meanings to colors than our modern sensibilities do, too: for example, black meant death in ancient Egypt, but it was also a symbol for rebirth and resurrection.

And, if I’m being honest,  color psychology is often met with skepticism in the psychological and scientific world.  I doubt any scientist would take my thoughts seriously, anyway.  So even though this is all in good fun, I hope the next time you pick up a book, pay attention to how the cover makes you feel.  I bet you’ll see that the colors on it might be helping to create the mood the book is trying to portray.

Soon enough you’ll be judging books by their colors, too.


Elissa Cruz likes colors.  If asked, she’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite.  However, she’s not a big fan of avocado.  Or mustard.  Or beige.  She’s not a big fan of 1970s fashion, either, come to think of it.  And in her opinion turquoise is a little too garish in anything larger than a piece of jewelry.  She writes books for kids of all ages and is the ARA of the Utah/Southern Idaho region of SCBWI.

Avid Writing Kids

Although I’m relatively new to being a published author, I’ve done dozens of school visits already. They are often long days, but I find them energizing and they really motivate me to finish the next book. Often a teacher catches my eye during a visit and wants to have a word with me about a student. Almost every time it’s an avid writer who produces volumes of stories or poems—finished, unfinished, skillfully written or simple, wildly creative or somewhat familiar. And what they want to know is what to do with all that writing.  Because teachers are great at teaching children who can’t write or won’t write or need lots of support to write; I am routinely impressed by the dedication of teachers I meet. They can see that the avid writer needs guidance, too, but they are often at a loss about where to begin. Parents of these kids are often equally in the dark—proud, but unsure of how to best support a budding author. I have four school-aged children myself, some of whom are avid writers so it’s a topic I’ve given a lot of thought. Here are three things you can do to nurture the young writer in your life.

avid writer

1. Help them save and safely store their work.

I’m bad at this myself. I love my stories but I don’t take very good care of them.  One of the most helpful things a teacher or parent can do is set up a file to keep stories both those finished and those abandoned. Most working writers begin as many as a dozen stories for every story they finish. So it isn’t important for your avid writer to finish every project they begin. Learning when to set aside a story that isn’t working is an important skill, too. But many times a writer will return to an old idea with a fresh insight and make a new story from one that wasn’t working before. Sometimes a character that didn’t work on a first try is exactly what you need in a different story. So having those files accessible is a gold mine. If your students write on a computer, getting them in the habit of a daily back up to a disc or thumb drive helps. Because thumb drives are easily lost, it’s also good to email a file and store it at the email account.

2. Help them find with a time and place for writing.

When writers get together, one of the most common topics of conversation is the struggle of finding a time and place to write. Some young writers are great at tuning out their surroundings and writing wherever they are—school bus, dinner table, math class. This of course has problems of it’s own.  But students who need a little privacy to write may need help finding a quiet corner of the classroom or an undisturbed nook in the house, and a few free afternoons a week.

I know a 4th grader who came to school one day on fire with a great idea for a screenplay. She begged her teacher for time to write it and he agreed, letting her use the class computer through all the lessons, recess and even lunch that day. In five hours this girl wrote the first three and a half acts of a screenplay. In the last half an hour of the day the teacher asked her if she could show at least a part of her work to the class so they could see what a screenplay looks like. She chose a scene she wanted feedback on and got the class to read the roles out loud. As a result a half dozen other kids got the screenwriting bug for a few weeks. A gift of time like that is a rare and precious gift for a young writer and went a long way to helping this child believe she could be a professional writer some day.

Instructional time is precious and extra curricular activities are valuable, too, but for the avid writing child nothing is so enriching as simply the time and place to create something new.

writing space

3. Help them find a writing community.

I don’t know a single author who works alone. Most of us have critique groups or at least a writing partner. They are people who help us work out all the many details of writing well. It means the world to me that if I’m stuck I can call on my neighbors Heather Vogel-Frederick, author of the Mother Daughter Book Club series, or Susan Blackaby, author of Nest, Nook and Cranny, and go out for coffee and just talk through a writing problem.

For young people community can be hard to find. A teacher who is aware of two or more avid writers might encourage them to join the newspaper staff or school literary magazine. Younger students might find kindred spirits in a Newbery Club or on a Battle of the Books team.

The connection need not be formal and organized. I met two eighth grade cousins on a school visit who have an ice cream date every Sunday after church to work on the YA novel they are writing together. Some kids enjoy fan fiction websites because they create a sense of community and offer a place to share work.

Some communities are wonderful about offering writing opportunities for children and teens. I’m going to list three of the best children’s writing communities here in Portland, Oregon and I hope you will add your local resources in the comments.

Young Writers Workshop at Powells.

Every Second Friday from 4:30 to 5:30 at the Powells Bookstore on Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton.

Come meet your fellow writers, learn the craft of writing from amazingly talented and friendly authors, bring your own work to share and get feedback. Anyone ages 10-18 is welcome.

Young Willamette Writers

First Tuesdays of the month from 6:30 to 7:30, the young Willamette Writers meet in their own space during the meeting of the adult Willamette Writers. They practice the craft of writing in the company of great writers from all over the region. The meeting is held in the Old Church on SW 11th and Clay in Portland.

Oregon Writers Festival

For more than 20 years the Oregon Council of Teachers of English have sponsored a day-long writing festival in the spring for students from all over the state. The festival is held at Portland State University. The next one is Saturday, May 7, 2011.

How about you? What are your favorite events for young writers? Put them in the comments and I will compile a state-by-state resource page and keep it in our own Mixed Up Files

Rosanne Parry is the author of the up-coming Second Fiddle, a story about an avid violin player who finds friendship and adventure in some unexpected places as she travels with her friends from Berlin to Paris.