Tag Archives: middle-grade nonfiction

Sparking the Imagination with Written Imagery

As a classroom teacher of upper MG readers, I’ve been wondering lately on the constant technological pummeling we get from images—gaming, TV, movies, computers, tablets, phones. Screened devices have a powerful attention-grabbing effect on kids, and with so many stimulating colors, photos, Snapchat animations, and videos to look at, the modern-day imagination is contending with a very different ball of yarn than in decades past. It’s great that we can Google-Machine “Roman Empire ruins” and see hundreds of pictures, and it’s fun to test our eye-hand coordination by slashing air-borne fruit, chopping ropes, or helping a chicken across a road. But for many readers, after all that color and movement and music, the imagination may balk a bit when given black words on a white page.

For that reason, it might be pretty difficult for a middle grade teacher, parent, librarian, or writer to hook readers on books with descriptive passages, figurative language, or a generally more literary bent. But instead of avoiding imagery, it may be more important than ever to give readers an opportunity to envision and imagine through the words on the page. We should strive to provide work-out routines and fitness centers for the imagination in our stories through language and description. Inclusion of imagery in MG stories will complement the reader’s experience and ultimately improve and enhance the reader’s imagination. And imagination is important in any setting, as it drives flexible thinking and creative problem solving.

So, in order to spark readers’ imaginations, how do you recognize good imagery in MG works, and how do you write your own? Here are some qualities typically associated with imagery:

  • Imagery is language that employs a mental use of the five senses.
  • It can use certain figurative language devices like similes and metaphors, personification, and hyperbole, but it can exist without any other lit devices being present, too.
  • Good imagery isn’t fluffy or fancy or filled with words you’d find on the SAT. Sometimes, in fact, incredibly simple syntax and short phrases make up excellent imagery.
  • Imagery lets you see, touch, taste, hear, and smell the surroundings  in the character’s world, and it draws the reader in with those experiences.
  • Most importantly, good imagery leads the imagination off-leash—it guides, but never forces. The imagination has to be allowed to run free, if it’s to grow strong.

Here are some scenes in three works of MG fiction with imagery to consider:

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The description of Camazotz is brilliantly creepy in its simplicity. L’Engle’s choice of short, clipped words and phrases reflect the vision concocted in the reader’s imagination of this austere town where anomalies are forbidden:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of land in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door.

Things get more eerie with the rhythmical description of the kids outside all those houses, girls jumping rope and boys bouncing balls:

Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

The imagery prompts our imaginations to not only see Camazotz but to hear and feel its driving beat, too.

Sarah Jean Horwitz’s Carmer and Grit, Book One: The Wingsnatchers. Big, immediate conflicts or surprised exclamations from characters can work beautifully as openers in MG fiction and nonfiction. But atmospheric imagery can be used just as masterfully to hook the reader into the story. In this book, the two-and-a-half-page opener has no dialogue and no loud clatter of forces. But the tone of mystery, the discordant sounds, and the symbolic light/darkness imagery all work together to pull the reader in:

At the South Gate, just outside the winding iron bars, the Autocat waits. Its jeweled eyes gleam in the darkness. It watches as each golden lantern on the pathway blinks out, one by one, and it growls–a rough, scraping sound like metal on metal, a sound never heard in the garden before. The creature slinks off into Skemantis’s black night, its mission accomplished.

Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rivka. Good imagery keeps firmly in the voice of the 1st person character, in this case, a young Russian refugee fleeing to America in 1919 and seeing Poland for the first time:

The same crooked cottages, the same patchy roads, the same bony fences leaning in to the dust. Looking out from the train, we see people dressed like us, in browns and blacks; people wrapped in layers of clothes.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share thoughts you have on imagery in MG writing, or name some writers you enjoy who do a great job at sparking readers’ imaginations.

STEM Tuesday Winner of Copy of Patricia Newman’s Book

Congratulations to Katie G.!  You have won a copy of Patricia Newman’s book:

 

Watch your email for information on how to get us your address.

Thanks to everyone who read the post and commented. We are thrilled that you stopped by. If you have comments/suggestions/ or just want to give us a shout out, feel free to email us at stemmuf@gmail.com

Don’t forget to tune in this Tuesday to join us when we kick of our month of “Science in Fiction Books”.

We have some amazing books to share with you!

#STEMRocks!

Coming Soon– STEM Tuesday!!!

in NOVEMBER


Announcing  a brand new addition to  the Mixed Up Files Blog:

STEM Tuesday!!

 

 

What is STEM ?

STEM covers the topics of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

STEM Tuesday is a brand new addition to the Mixed Up Files blog here to shine the light on books about this amazing and critical topic. With all that is going on in the news lately, it is more important than ever to introduce young readers to the FUN and exciting STEM books that are out there.

STEM books ENGAGE. EXCITE. and INSPIRE young and old readers alike.

<a href="http://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/school">School vector created by Freepik</a>

Image by Freepik.com

 

They encourage students to ask questions, have discussions, engage in problem-solving, and interact across boundaries of knowledge. They invite readers to notice the science all around them!

If you’ve always wondered where to find out about the great new middle grade  titles in STEM , look no further.  You have FOUND your spot!

JOIN US ON NOVEMBER 7TH AS WE KICK OFF

OUR FIRST EVER

STEM Tuesday! 

 

What is STEM Tuesday? 

EVERY MONTH  we will be highlighting middle grade books with a particular topic in STEM

EACH WEEK we will be delving into the ways these books can be used in the classroom, offering resources for how to make connections between these STEM books and other topics,  making real-life connections to these STEM books that will encourage discussions and provide valuable resources, and finally we will be offering an interview with a real-life STEM author plus a giveaway of their book!

We have an amazing team of middle grade STEM authors and enthusiasts to bring the excitement of this topic alive.

Let me introduce you to the weekly topics and the fabulous STEM Tuesday Team:

Week 1:  STEM Book List of the Month

This week will highlight a list of 8-10 titles of STEM middle grade books that fit our theme of the month. They will all have links and a bit of information to intrigue you into learning more about them.

This week’s team is:

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.

 

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 loves sharing her excitement about nonfiction with readers and fellow writers. 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

 

Week 2: STEM Tuesday In the Classroom

This week’s post will highlight a few of the books on week 1’s list and give teachers/librarians specific activities for using these books in the classroom. Designed for hands -on activities, discussions, engaging inquiry and MORE!

This week’s team is:

When Michelle Houts was eight years old, all she wanted was a chemistry set. She got it, and, sadly, she doesn’t remember doing a whole lot with it. What happened to her enthusiasm and confidence? Years later, writing fiction and nonfiction for young readers, she realized that girls identify as “science-y” (or not) at an early age. Her most recent books feature ground-breaking women and curious young scientists. Find out more about author and speaker Michelle Houts at www.michellehouts.com

 

 

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano has been paid to stay overnight at a science center and has enjoyed her share of after-hours staff parties at museums, where she and her husband once won a prize for a costume modelled after the Boston Museum of Science’s Van der Graaf generator exhibit. Carolyn’s work is all about creating vivid science and engineering learning experiences—interactive exhibits, innovative teacher professional development programs, national curricula, and fresh, accessible, and sometimes quirky science and STEM books for kids. She splits her career between STEM educational consulting and writing kids’ STEM and science books. Find her at http://carolyndecristofano.com and on her Facebook author page, AuthorCarolynD.

 

WEEK 3:  STEM Tuesday Crafts & Resources

An out-of-the-box way to use these STEM books in the classroom, library, or at home. Could be an ELA-Science type connection AND/OR a Real-World connection, or even genres of STEM books, how to write, them… whatever. Like the scientists many of us are, this week may be unexpected, but will always be EXCITING!  

This week’s team:

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.wordpress.com. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. The weirder, the wackier, the better. An award-winning educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. She has a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in environmental education and has written a dozen nonfiction books including How Rude! Real Bugs Who Won’t Mind Their Manners (Scholastic) and her upcoming Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill(Bloomsbury). Inquiry is her life. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

 

WEEK 4: STEM Tuesday Author Interviews and Giveaways

This week will highlight one middle-grade STEM book author. You will get a peek inside the mind of an actual STEM author and learn how and why they wrote their book. Be sure to comment this week because you will be entered to win an autographed copy of the book!

 

This week’s team:

Mary Kay Carson is the author of more than fifty books for kids and teachers about space, weather, nature, and other science and history topics. She has six titles in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s esteemed Scientists in the Field series, including Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard and Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt. Learn more at: www.marykaycarson.com.

Evolutionary biologist-turned-author Amber J. Keyser has an MS in zoology and a PhD in genetics. She writes both fiction and non-fiction for tweens and teens. She loves to explore the intersection of art and science in her work. More information at www.amberjkeyser.com. Connect with Amber on Twitter @amberjkeyser.

 

And then there’s me, Jennifer Swanson, the creator & administrator of STEM Tuesdays:

Science Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award winning author of over 25 nonfiction books for children. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017 and an NSTA Outstanding Trade Book 2017Top reviews include a starred review in Booklist, and recommended reviews from School Librarians Workshop, Library Media Connection, and a Nerdy Book Club award. Her book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat, from 21st Century Books/ Lerner received a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can visit Jennifer at her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.

So join us back here on November 7th for the FIRST STEM TUESDAY ever!

Stop by and “Get your STEM on”!!

#STEMROCKS!